Warren Neidich, Neuroaesthetics, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.

Activist Neuroaesthetics and symposium

Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin / Germany

March 5–August 7, 2021
February 16, 2021

Symposium: March 5–6, CET/Berlin

Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
Linienstraße 40
10119 Berlin

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In celebration of the 25th anniversary of artbrain.org, Activist Neuroaesthetics is a festival of events (curated by Warren Neidich, Susanne Prinz and Sarrita Hunn) including a symposium, three-part exhibition, conference, screenings, and publications, developed by lead institution Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. along with various local partners that will take place online and at different venues on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin over the course of 2021. 

Activist Neuroaesthetics symposium
The first Activist Neuroaesthetics symposium will take place online March 5-6, 2021 and includes a number of important thinkers to Activist Neuroaesthetics including Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Cecile Malaspina, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Warren Neidich, Victoria Pitts-Taylor and Charles T. Wolfe, with a panel discussion moderated by Elena Agudio. This event will also form the basis for a book on Activist Neuroaesthetics to be published by Archive Books later this year.

Under cognitive capitalism, the brain and mind are the new factories of the 21st century. We are no longer proletarians working on assembly lines, but cognitarians generating behavioural data that is bought and sold on futures markets (Zuboff, 2019). This data is not passive, but constitutes a new distribution that polices the sensible, perceptible, and cognitive through apparatuses of control such as Google Bubbles and Meme Magic. Just as the pioneers of cognitive capitalism realized the coming digital economy would create a crisis for labor and the production of subjectivity, so too another crisis is brewing exemplified by neural-based technologies (and their corporate counterparts like brain-computer interfaces and Neuralink) which focus upon the brain’s plasticity as its locus for capitalist speculation. 

Activist Neuroaesthetics, as first defined by Warren Neidich, is a generalized theoretical and aesthetic approach that refutes the dogma of what is known as Positive Neuroaesthetics. Positivist Neuroaesthetics is a reductionist methodology that attempts to explain the aesthetic field and its production (artworks) by referring to neuroanatomical models aided by technology (i.e. neuroimaging). Its goals are to explain artworks, such as paintings, through its effects upon the brain’s neural processing itself rather than as something happening independently, or outside of the material brain's jurisdiction (for example, in relation to events and processes happening in the world of art). It refutes the importance of the history of art as a causal factor in art production and conspires with capitalism to recuperate its most radical claims in order to make it palatable and normalized. 

Activist Neuroaesthetics rather concerns artists using their own histories, techniques, apparatuses, materials and theoretical constructs to investigate the same fields of knowledge as cognitive neuroscience, but to produce an alternative discourse concerning perception and cognition where events going on inside and outside the brain coevolve together and our cognitive abilities are expanded, rather than normalized. Here, the brain not only refers to the intracranial brain consisting of neurologic matter, but also the situated body and the extracranial brain composed of gestalts, affordances, linguistic atmospheres and socially-engaged interactions. Activist Neuroaesthetics refuses the cynicism of Big Data, neural consumerism and DARPA generated technologies (such as optogenetics), and instead promotes an ethics of neural plastic emancipation and neural diversity to produce artistic facts, rather than scientific ones, that are organized into a generalized paradigm of resistance.

The Activist Neuroaesthetics symposium will be followed by a three-part exhibition (Brain Without Organs, Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness, and Telepathy and New Labor) at Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. on view May through August.

In July, an Activist Neuroaesthetics conference will take place in collaboration with Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art in continued celebration of the 25th anniversary of artbrain.org. 

About artbrain.org
Over the last 25 years, artbrain.org has developed alternative vocabularies and practices with which to rethink the fields that describe sensation, perception and cognition. Founded in 1996, artbrain.org was established by Warren Neidich and Nathalie Angles. Since 1998, Neidich has continued the project and developed the term Activist Neuroaesthetics to describe an enactive approach to neuroaesthetics that not only understands the importance of neural plasticity in the material brain, but recognizes art as a generator of diversity which has the capacity to induce complexity and variability—an important factor for understanding and consciously enacting social and political transformation.

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds.