Transcultural cybernetic futures Back

Transcultural cybernetic futures

The Digital Witchcraft Institute is a group of feminist hackers based in Rotterdam. They want to connect ancient European cosmologies with tech prototypes. Using fiction and speculative methodologies they draft strategies of solidarity and safety for communities at the margins.

The team is cross-national, all of them being immigrants in the Netherlands from different European countries and they want to incorporate their experiences of migration into their project. The Digital Witchcraft Institute focuses on issues as migration and forced displacement, but mostly on the possibilities of transcultural alliances. This will be visible in their syncretic tech prototypes that borrow from spiritual traditions and their current areas of activism.

We interviewed Danae Tapia. She is a Chilean-born multimedia artist and technologist, lecturer of hacking at the Willem de Kooning Academy. After a fellowship with the Mozilla Foundation she founded The Digital Witchcraft Institute.

courtesy of The Digital Witchcraft Institute

“We want to promote a use of digital technologies based on solidarity, we are in a crucial moment in which automated tech (artificial intelligence, machine learning, algorithms) has to be adopted by communities instead of corporations that will replicate the discriminatory biases of the “offline” world,” says Danae.

This is an ambitious goal that needs to be addressed by switching the narratives regarding the use of technology. To do so, The Digital Witchcraft Institute uses a methodology that mixes ancient knowledge with advanced tech to develop prototypes. Through a targeted collaborative action with artists and activists from Europe they promote the understanding that technologies have to be emancipatory.

The project “Transcultural cybernetic futures” entails a series of virtual workshops. They explore different ancient European traditions and connect them with possible technical solutions to today’s challenges such as the post-COVID situation, the climate emergency and the radicalisation of discourses of hate. The workshops will tackle different European realities and geographical areas. Borrowing from the Greco-Roman tradition of alchemy, participants will apply the logics of chemical transmutation of materials to a fictitious device. The revision of diverse European cosmologies will connect participants and audiences to their personal stories and will make them realise that our heritage plays a role in the technological field. In this process, materials of hate mutate to proposals of equity, so The Digital Witchcraft Institute hope. In addition to these workshops, the institute will produce a catalogue of prototypes and researches that will be disseminated strategically through open channels. This project has an artistic-research-activist approach that contributes to an understanding of the different traditions and cosmologies and at the same time proposes a progressive philosophy to actively change the status quo.

courtesy of The Digital Witchcraft Institute

“I’ve been studying the relation between the supernatural realm and the development of digital technologies,” Danae tells us, “I’ve conducted fieldwork all over the world interviewing people who are challenging Silicon Valley’s approach by creating advanced technologies borrowing knowledge from their own tradition.” She created different works of comparative artistic-research, such as the study on hackers and shamans, on bots and oracular wisdom, on digital obfuscation and Cuban Santeria.

On the one hand the pandemic shed light on the spiritual crisis that exists in Europe: weak community bond, loneliness, lack of self-knowledge. It has become clear that mainstream tech and social media do very little to cure this spiritual crisis. Therefore, this projects aims to promote joyful collective approaches to technology that encourage community relations.

On the other hand the COVID19 crisis puts technology in a very central position, for instance: the intention to track citizens through apps in order to control the spread of the virus has raised many questions among defenders of digital justice. Technology can certainly be used in facing situations of emergency, however, any implementation has to consider the decentralised participation of different communities in order to avoid any discriminatory situation.

The projects of The Digital Witchcraft Institute show that our technological realm is not independent from the socio-cultural infrastructures. “As a technologist, I consider the cyberspace as a matter that needs to be moulded for the public interest. In that sense, I connect this project to Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture: he considers society as the foremost “material” of the artist, therefore it can be sculpted through aesthetics,” explains Danae.  Digital Witchcraft is an invitation to engage with that healing force and to participate in the transformative process.

What they admire in the original mandate of the internet is its’ borderless quality and the open source logic behind it. This facilitates an understanding of what collective property is. Unfortunately, this scenario is challenged every day by the tech corporations who centralise the digital content creation. Digital Witchcraft will contribute to delineating the political scenario that will come after this era of obscene accumulation and individualism, and guides us towards a new future: a open public space in which everyone can participate.

“Every time I listen to I Feel Love by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, this incredible synthesis of woman and machine made in Munich, I experience that pan-European spirit that connects energies and traditions from all over the world into a work of art,” concludes Danae.

Granted: 21400 euros