The Current // Identity

Published on 2018-01-11

In preparation for our first salon, moderator Nora Khan offers a framework to guide the discussion:

“What do we talk about when we talk about identity? The word is its own double bind, used as a tool to be seen and a tool to objectify, depending on the hands deploying. It is charged and paralyzing, spurring blistering, inchoate debates in circles left, right, and center. As institutions and media and cultural producers mine the subject for content and social capital, and political movements based on identity divide the extremely online, “the conversation” only continues to intensify and fracture and fold in on itself. When there is stasis and silence and impasse, maybe how we approach the field might need a little rework, a strategic shift.

A compelling, useful bottleneck is how identity is, by definition, an elusive object, a changing position, the state of being in relation to. Fluid, and not-fixed, identity – manifested through experience, language, artistic expression and form - will always generate speculation, narrative, new anxieties. And it is this primary aspect of not-fixedness that a number of contemporary artists, working online and with looser digital materials and emerging visual languages, argue for and insist on.
Through experimental use of digital technology – through social media theater, simulation and model-building, VR and AR, bots and lesser AI-building - they explore “identity” through negative identity, by rejecting and playing with how others close the sentence, “You are ___.” Often drawing on their experience of the art world, a concentrated microcosm of inequities and violences in society at large, they use “identity issues” (class-based, cultural, racial, sexual) to sort through enormous philosophical and theoretical questions.

This panel will explore how these artists subvert, disassemble, and undo the standard language we have for identity, and in doing so, offer new paradigms for framing and exploring old questions. We take up identity as a point of access, identity as mode for collective meaning-making, and identity as the exquisite and universal search to mediate who we would like to be through how we wish to be seen.”

- Nora Khan for The Current // Identity


Salon #1 – The Current // Identity

📅 Tuesday, February 20th

📍 SoHo Salon with Members of The Current from 6-10PM

🔊 Livestreaming in 360° on Facebook Live at 8PM EST
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​Nora Khan is a writer. She is acting editor at Rhizome, after serving as contributing editor for several years, and a former research resident at Eyebeam. Her art criticism, essays, and fiction have won a Thoma Foundation Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, and been published in Mousse, 4Columns, Conjunctions, Flash Art, Art in America, Mousse, The Village Voice, After Us, California Sunday. IN 2017, Primary Information published her book with Steven Warwick, Fear Indexing the X-Files. She currently teaches a course on hybrid art criticism at Hunter/CUNY. She is also a fiction writer,
with an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was both supported by an Iowa Arts Fellowship and taught fiction and poetry writing.

She frequently collaborates with artists with overlapping intellectual interests, like Katja Novitskova, Ian Cheng, Sondra Perry, Yuri Pattison, and Jeremy Shaw, writing exhibition essays commissioned by Serpentine Galleries, Sternberg Press, and Chisenhale Gallery. She speaks frequently on issues within the philosophy of technology, and art practices that engage with artificial intelligence, this past year at Triple Canopy, Gray Area Festival, transmediale, the Whitney Museum, UCLA, New Museum, NYU, and New School.


Excerpts from recent essays by Nora Khan:

"Designers of technology love to propagate the myth of a just world, in which people always get what they deserve.
In erasing the messier and unsolvable elements of social experience that shape subjecthood, technology attempts to frame us as clean and uncomplicated. We become reducible, mapped by a programmable sets of traits with defined, singular meanings. Our digital choices and consumption patterns give a portrait of who we are. We are easily represented by our avatars."
- Nora Khan for flash art 'No Safe Mode – Sondra Perry’s Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation'

"Augmentation demands attention, a sharpened quality of seeing, and an active balance between multiple competing modes of vision. The power of augmented reality is to reveal how our perceptive habits are formed by our values. AR’s play and games point obliquely at our assumptions and prejudices, gently directing the viewer along multiple, often competing modes of interpretation. The effect is a moral challenge posed through aesthetics."
- Nora Khan for Mousse Magazine 'Light Play: Twisting Reality and Deepening Narrative through Augmentation'

"I would love to see productive discussion spaces in which practitioners of diverse backgrounds can converge to explore lacks and blind spots in criticism. Maybe this would look like a room in which the same piece – say, a simulation installation in a gallery – is examined by an art critic, an economic historian, a philosopher, a scientist, an engineer, a novelist. Talks would ensue. Critics and writers can always learn more, and most, I suspect, from extreme, varied exposure to every perspective under the sun."
- Interview with Nora Khan by the Thoma Foundation