Friedrich Kirschner is a theatre director and software developer. He uses game structures and technology for participatory performances and interactive installations. His work was shown at the Laboral Gameworld exhibition in Gijon, at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the Seoul Media Art Biennale, HAU and Deutsches Theater in Berlin, amongst others. He is currently Professor for digital media at the University of Performing Arts Ernst Busch in Berlin, where he is heading the Masters Program “Spiel && Objekt”.
The Rhizome as described by Deleuze and Guattari is as old as I am. I only ever lived with complexities and contingencies. Or, as Donna Haraway put it: “Nobody lives everywhere; everybody lives somewhere. Nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something.“1
In our global and increasingly connected social worlds, the half life of valid knowledge has been dramatically reduced. The linear narrative, the linear argument even, cannot adequately grasp our means of identifying power relations and negotiating cultural values. Dialectic lost its functionality given the multitude of perspectives, and disparity of knowledge represented in the multiple arenas of today’s micro publics.
What is needed is a form of negotiation, a practice of experiencing complexities and contingencies, poking them, playing with them, so that we may develop affective experiences towards it. Experiences that help us to situate them in our everyday. I cannot think of a better place than theater to negotiate these complexities and contingencies together. For theater is an institutionalized place in which every action can be play, every situation can be aestheticized and thus, everything is contingency.
Just like every other public forum – be it the comments section below a newspaper article, a multiplayer game of Fortnite or the answers to a programming question on Stack Overflow, the theatrical stage is situated in the same paradigm shift of re-negotiating power relations, representation of voices and legitimacy of knowledge. Any effort to shield it from our mediated construction of reality, as Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp would call it, is futile.
It is also counter-productive. I do not want to miss this mediated reality and the knowledge I have accumulated by navigating and interacting in it. I want to see it reflected in all spaces of negotiation, specifically on a theatrical stage. I want to see the cables, the computers, the people pushing buttons in the dark, the code and its resulting structuring forces, the topologies of cause and effect both socially and technologically mediated. And I want to act towards them and experience their acting on me, on others, and their shaping of the aestheticized social space.
We need to apply our ethnographic methods to devise spaces in which participants can become researchers of our shared complexities and contingencies. In which we can speculate and apply the same methodologies that we attribute to knowledge making processes in the sciences. In which we can make sense and experience agency in sense-making. Protected by the make believe of play.
I will illustrate what these spaces can look like based on theatrical experiences that have been devised and performed internationally in theaters as part of my work at the University of Performing Arts Ernst Busch.
1 Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, 2016.
Hanne De Jaegher
Hanne De Jaegher, philosopher of mind and cognitive science, is fascinated by how we think, work, and play (basically live and love) together. For studying our rich social lives, she put forward the enactive theory of intersubjectivity called participatory sense-making. Its ongoingly developing concepts and empirical methods find application in fields like autism research, therapeutic practices, education research, design, ethics, psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. With Ezequiel Di Paolo and Elena Cuffari, she wrote Linguistic Bodies: The Continuity Between Life and Language (MIT Press, 2018). Her doctorate is from the University of Sussex (2007), she has held various Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships, and is currently Ramón y Cajal Research Fellow at the IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind and Society, University of the Basque Country, San Sebastián.
“In this keynote, I will introduce some of the basic concepts and ideas of participatory sense-making—a theory developed in the fields of cognitive science and philosophy of mind to better understand intersubjectivity, or: how people understand each other. The theory has two basic pillars. The first is the insight that individuals always act and interact out of various cares and concerns. Things matter to sense-makers. Sense-making (cognition, knowing, understanding) always happens in relation to the various identities that people are busy maintaining, e.g. as a designer, as a client, as a politician, as a clinician, as a student, as a technician, and so on. This gives them a perspective from which they interact with the world. They act on the basis of needs that stem directly from these (and many other) concerns (even if they don’t always realise this). The second pillar of this approach is that the social interactions that people engage in can take on a life of their own. Interactions between people can have a certain degree of autonomy, meaning that interactions can pull people in (or push them out), that interactions can influence how easy or difficult it is for everyone to participate, and so on. This theory has been applied in various fields, from sports science over literature studies and psychiatry, to neuroscience, and also to design.
What I will do in the presentation, is to set up and illustrate some of the basics of this theory, and then to open the floor to the audience, so that we can think together about the design of cooperative technologies, through the lens of the theory. Things that may come up are: how to ensure that everybody’s stakes in the design process are not only recognised, but truly addressed (including those of designers themselves!); how to design objects that will really impact people’s lives; how to design for better interactions between people; and design ethics, e.g. how to design for situations where there is high diversity between people, e.g. age differences, cultural differences, etc.. I will be happy to think with you through more theoretical questions, very concrete examples, and anything in between. “