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Nervous Systems

Quantified Life and the Social Question

Nervous Systems is an exhibition about how our experience and understanding of the “self” and the “social” are changing. It looks at how we become part of vast networked infrastructures and the way that abstract laws of the market and finance capitalism translate into subjective experience and embodied activity. It asks how the enormous amounts of data about human behavior affect and transform this behavior.

Todays’ agitated nation-states and overreaching institutions often act according to the fantasy that given sufficient information, threats, disasters, and disruptions can be predicted and controlled; economies can be managed; and profit margins can be elevated. This new belief in technological solutions fostered by data analysis, reality mining, pattern recognition, and forecasting increasingly dominates all aspects of contemporary society and replaces political and hermeneutical processes.

The idea of a “nervous system” has become a chief motif to describe this proposed unification of life and technology; the organic and the machinic. Today, corporations speak of “smart nerves” and “synaptic real time connections” as managerial solutions to everything from government and business to natural ecologies. In the exhibition, a different notion of “nervousness” is being explored: the one that haunts todays’ systems and data-driven rationalities and ideologies. Visual, historical, and practical materials by artists, technologists, theorists, and activists cast light on specific ideas of governance, power, and control that have emerged over the last 100 years and how these have influenced the formation of our new data-economies. Against this backdrop, and in the context of contemporary capitalism, what used to be called the “social question”—the relationship between individuals, society, and state—has to be framed anew.

Anselm Franke, Stephanie Hankey & Marek Tuszynski