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Joni Zhu

MA work

Black Box Formula

Black Box Formula is an immersive exhibition that reflects on black box theory. Black boxes are imaginary constructs where processes of any sort are influenced by stimuli but remain unknowable. In this project, mechanisms that are normally invisible are made physical. New works explore various aspects of black box theory, incorporating posthuman thought in terms of prosthetics and human networks.

Though there are multiple types of black box theory, this exhibition draws from the version explored in cybernetics, where the black box’s contents and workings are visibly informed by inputs and outputs, but are ultimately mysterious. As the French philosopher and sociologist of science Bruno Latour writes in his 1987 text Science in Action:

The word black box is used by cyberneticians whenever a piece of machinery or a set of commands is too complex. [...] That is, no matter how controversial their history, how complex their inner workings, how large the commercial or academic networks that hold them in place, only the input and output count.

The exhibition opens with a commissioned animated text THE MYSTERY OF MANZONI'S MERDA by YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, questions the nature of the unknown within cultural production. It acts as an ‘input’ for the audience who then enter the metaphorical black box. The ‘formula’ is a rhetorical device that can be used by the viewer, an overarching ideology and further explored within the artwork on display. Works by Zach Blas, Hyungkoo Lee, Lawrence Lek and Harry Sanderson each explore variations on the black box, including its intersections with prosthetics and networks such as the internet, ethernets as well as alternatives to the mainstream net. On exiting the gallery, the audience ultimately produces the ‘output’ in their reception of the work.

Conceptually, Black Box Formula takes its cues from ideas of the posthuman, suggesting a movement towards the unknown: beyond the human and embedded systems of knowledge, working and identity. Each piece is a new work, whether it is part of a body of artistic research or a commission. This means that none of the pieces have been adapted to fit an overarching curatorial structure, but were rather created to be part of the whole ensemble. The act of commissioning or creating new work is in itself a foray into the unknown, with the final results never being predictable. The unknown is understood to be intrinsic to the artist-curator relationship, and as organisers, we implicitly accept the unknown elements of the black box as part of the unquantifiable nature of collaboration. At its core, the Black Box Formula exhibition looks to unravel aspects of the construction of artistic identity and processes, towards a future where prosthetic enhancements and contra-internets are the norm, manifestations of social concerns slowly coming to the boil.

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Humanities

    Programme

    MA Curating Contemporary Art, 2015

  • My practice focuses on developing collaborative curatorial frameworks and co-producing with artists. My work and research engages the knowledge of technology and its impact on cultural transmission. I recently co-curated Black Box Formula, an immersive exhibition of newly commissioned works by artists YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, Zach Blas, Hyungkoo Lee, Lawrence Lek and Harry Sanderson exploring various aspects of black box theory and posthuman thought, predominantly prosthetics and human networks. I undertook research on issues of organisational collaboration examining the question of curatorial cooperation, labour relations, networked curatorship and the think tank as a curatorial apparatus. I seek to conduct further research on the curatorial aesthetics through practitioners who practice with new media and produce engagement with the radical potential of artistic practices.