Dina Mohamed: You Are A Libra Whether You Believe In Astrology or Not

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

Despair became a symptom of late capitalist society, a despondency that is orchestrated by structures so complex they can subsume any resistance. We are preoccupied with a certain view of life that is advocated in order to perpetuate the survival of these structures. We perceive the value of life through jobs, titles, certain notions of success, or the price number on our death.

In thinking about capitalism as a system of life and the tendency to quantify ‘life value’, two entities are investigated: life insurance policies and in-case-of-emergency procedures. How does an algorithm price our life depending on multiple categories of age, gender, race, or income; while also protecting us from possible death scenarios?

Antonia Majaca, Ghalya Saadawi, Laura Harris and Rachel O’Reilly responded to the question:

How to rethink agency under structures axiomatically built on deterministic view of humans?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

The audience is sits in a semi-circle in a dark room, some are given helium balloons. Projected above on a screen is a programme designed to establish a base plane. Two people make a rectangle on the floor with white tape. One person stands in the square and both look at the screen. The person in the square lies down. A recorded robotic voice describes the deterministic limitations of humans. The person outside the square reads a story about a man who buys life insurance and dies unexpectedly at the age of 66. The body in the square mimics the projection of a diagram in which someone hides under a table. The voice-over considers the implications of life insurance and values of life at different ages and levels of employability. A live camera superimposes the image of the figure on the floor onto a grid image of a stick figure lying down. We hear a description of the determination of insurance premiums with workers being given fitbits to track their movement. After that the use of algorithms is relayed, and how they absorb social biases in gender, race and nationality. Those who hold balloons leave them behind as they crawl into the square and lie down. The balloons are re-attached to the taped square so that the lines of the square become blurred. 

Critical algorithmists are needed in art and humanities contexts, said Antonia Majaca, noting the danger in algorithms becoming a ‘New Speak.’ 

Laura Harris asked whether the critique sought a better algorithm: ‘Algorithms are attempts to structure and subsume us but do they actually do so? To quote Foucault: “life always escapes”. Or, is the performance a step sideways from the algorithm?’

Rachel O’Reilly noted the temptation to set up the body as solution to the problematic of algorithms. ‘What is missing here is the history of insurance and its connection to race,’ she said, missing the ridiculousness of costing a life, for example. ‘Insurance is arguably the capitalism of law [that] could be explored as well,’ she concluded. 

Ghalya Saadawi observed how the project moved from insurance as a premium on life and way in which a life is valued, to how algorithms and big data control life. To make it stronger she suggested bringing it back to insurance and analogous forms. She was also interested in what the balloons referred to, and what was behind the live filming of the box.