PhD thesis

Speculative Fabulations for our Sensor Society

This thesis brings attention to what comes to matter in our entanglements with biosensing and biometric technologies in our sensor society. I seek to creatively defy and carefully disrupt the instrumental applications of these technologies through the work of art.

This research project has been defined by five of my artworks, or speculative fabulations (Haraway). The works share the materiality of digital technology—they all rely on sensors and software to respond to various aspects of the human body, including heart rate, breath behaviour and facial features. These installations offer new ways of relating to and critically engaging with technologies that have been promoted in many Western societies as the solution to perceived health, economic, and security problems.

I have used the epistemological-ontological-ethical framework of agential realism (Barad) and a diffraction methodology (Haraway) to read through the relentless contingency of relations in such phenomena. I call on heterogeneous theories from consciousness studies, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, and philosophies of art and aesthetics. Recognising the situating and embodied experiences of our fleshy, cyborg bodies, this research understands human perception as distributed well beyond the epidermis. A performative aesthetic theoretical framework is developed to consider how the work of art involves the development of embodied aesthetic experiences.

This thesis presents a contextual analysis of my artistic praxis, alongside other artists working in this area, and in relation to the material-discursive practices that use such technologies to manifest the human body quantifiable, surveillable and increasingly controllable. I take a multi-perspective approach when assigning meaning to these artworks, relying on the experiences of those who have encountered the artwork as well as the intentions and reflections of the artist.

I conclude by shifting focus from ‘matters of fact’ to ‘matters of care’ (Puig de la Bellacasa), and propose an ‘aesthetic of care’ to consider response-able applications of instrumental technologies, in artistic endeavours and beyond.