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apexart :: System Failure :: Harris Kornstein and Cara Rose DeFabio
apexart - San Francisco, United States
System Failure

organized by
Harris Kornstein and Cara Rose DeFabio

April 28 - May 25, 2019

Opening Reception:
Saturday, April 27, 2019

An Open Call exhibition

original proposal

Jenny Odell, The Findings May Surprise You, 2016

"Fail fast! Fail big! Fail often! Fail better!"

These oft-quoted Silicon Valley mantras celebrate the high-octane risk taking that has been the hallmark of the tech world. In start-up culture, creators earn points (and funding) for taking the biggest, boldest step, even if that takes them right off a cliff.

But who gets to fail? While technologies enable us to connect and create in new ways, they often intensify the inequities and injustices already present in our world, from racial biases and gender disparities to wealth gaps and job insecurity. In recent years, tech has produced some major blunders: AI assistants that can't parse the accents of non-native English speakers, real names policies that unfairly impact queer and trans people, and algorithms that incorrectly identify African Americans' faces, to name just a few. In this context we ask: who loses most when platforms fail? Who bears the consequences of iterating, pivoting, or bubbles bursting? And are some platforms truly too big to fail?

In SYSTEM FAILURE, we present a diverse group of media artists and culture makers whose work simultaneously critiques ideologies and instances of technological failure and also tactically engages breakdown itself. That is, while many artists bring to light omissions or discrimination in stories of success, others strategically build tools that are never meant to function properly, hack their way through loopholes in source code, or push systems further than they were meant to go.

This new art of failure occupies many forms: from the comical irreverence of Simone Giertz's flailing robots, to the deft scrutiny of Zach Blas and Jemima Wyman's video manipulation of Microsoft's quickly-turned-racist chatbot; or from Jenny O'Dell's wry digital collages of graphics found in publicly-available slide decks of failed startups, to Mimi Onuoha's sculptural attention to missing datasets. It is also popular within the darkly democratic domains of the web itself, from Tumblr's glitch aesthetics that revel in beautiful chaos, made tangible by Phillip Stearns' tapestries, to Youtube channels like FailArmy that promote the perverse attraction users have in watching our fellow humans blunder.

Presented in San Francisco, a hub not only of tech and art, but also myriad interconnected social movements, SYSTEM FAILURE shines a light on industries' and institutions' shortcomings by showcasing work by artists generally excluded by race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or ability, without being tokenized or forced to only speak about injustices. In addition to the work presented, it will include public events and hands-on workshops meant to discuss these issues and offer diverse participants opportunities to learn new skills, as well as tours for groups like Black Girls Code and Lesbians Who Tech.

Ultimately, SYSTEM FAILURE suggests that moments of disruption and collapse manifest in many ways, at different stages, and with different effects. Sometimes it's a failure to launch, to land, or to take root. At other times to hide, to see, to comply, or to surrender. Or even to adequately bend or break. And too often, it's an unwillingness or inability to hold tech culture accountable.

*The text above was submitted to apexart’s 2018-19 International Open Call, and rated by over 300 jurors. Any specific artists or venues mentioned are unconfirmed and subject to change.

Cara Rose DeFabio is an artist, writer, and cultural strategist who enjoys producing live events that examine the role technology plays in our lives. She has explored the intersection of social justice and technology at the Real Future Fair, examined a basic income at the CASH Conference, and regularly performs her own brand of tech-curious theater in her hometown of San Francisco. An avid internet ethnographer, her interests have led her to report on the international slime trend, display her emoji artwork at the first ever Emoji Art & Design Show, and share the stage with Alexa and her mechanical turk bae in her most recent work, Virtual Girlfriend.

Harris Kornstein is an artist, scholar, and activist whose work critiques digital culture and queer politics. He has exhibited internationally at ISEA, MIX NYC, Piksel and SOMArts, and as drag alter-ego Lil Miss Hot Mess, has performed at SFMOMA, OccupySF, and on Saturday Night Live. Harris's writing has appeared in Wired, The Guardian, and Salon, and his work with the #MyNameIs campaign and Drag Queen Story Hour has been covered by The New Yorker, The New York Times, Channel 4, and beyond. Harris holds an MFA from UC Santa Cruz and is pursuing a PhD in Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Buhl Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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