Technology – Human – Design: Paradigms of Ubiquitous Computing

Ubiquitous computing technologies and the Internet of Things are currently being discussed everywhere, as they have an imperceptible but lasting impact on our everyday lives through strategies of intelligent, networked omnipresence, invisibility and seamless immediacy. Increasingly, we no longer interact consciously with individual media, but become part of a “General Ecosystem” consisting of organic and technological actors that influence our perception and behavior. We speak of “natural-technical continuum”, “environmental sensibility”, “sub-perceptual dimensions of human experience”, “hetero-genesis” or “non-sensuous relatedness between organic and inorganic matter”.

The associated processes are to be investigated through the following perspectives and research questions:

  • Technology: How does perception emerge in a technologically based sensor-actuator system in contrast to and in resonance with human actors?
  • Human: What strategies do humans develop to cognitively and emotionally open up a technologically expanded, responsive environment?
  • Design: Which design principles can be derived for an environmentally driven human-machine interaction and how does environmental (ubiquitous) interfacing between the human and the machine work?

Relevant paradigms shall be derived from the theoretical groundwork, which will then be artistically staged and tested in an interactive research facility. The essences of Ubicomp can thus be experienced and evaluated, whereby the focus is not solution- and application-oriented, but a rather critical one. Using sensor data and qualitative ethnographic survey methods, the experiences of the test subjects are recorded, triangulated and evaluated. In this way, the project should contribute to a better understanding and critical assessment of current technological developments and their influence on our living environment, agency and privacy.

Cycles of Circulation

Cycles of Circulation creates new ways of relating to and representing ecologies, and interventions in climate governance processes through creative and scholarly practices. The project examines historical as well as contemporary and speculative relationships at the intersection of political ecology, science and technology studies, and art, design and media as knowledge practices. It is interested in contemplating the entangled metabolisms of organisms and their environments, and instances in which ‘cycles’ are used and abused in ecological, technological and political histories and communications, and in the ramifications of these in public imaginaries.

Automated Innovations

Creativity is regarded nowadays to occur in an interplay of humans, objects and activities. It happens especially in combination with machines like the computer and techniques like AI. Such situations of shared agencies involved in creating the new are raising a number of questions: Which roles do media, machines and automation play? Who is the inventor or the author? And: Can creativity be automated? These questions pertain to art, design and architecture and their cultural innovations alike.

The direct investigation of creativity or creative processes is fraught with problems. Thus, the reconstruction and analysis of creative processes of the past is of great importance. This is the point where the art historical research project starts: With the analysis of Machine Art projects of the 20th and 21st century – like drawing machines – creativity becomes accessible via arts in an indirect way; artists are regarded as creative persons par excellence. The case studies of the project will be understood – in the sense of actor-network-theory (ANT) – as human-machine-media-networks, to take also the obstinacies and relations of all inolved actors as well as subject-theoretical implications into consideration.

The project aims at investigating Machine Arts in a historical-systematic manner and to join these insights with discourses of creativity. It shall be worked out, how three aspects of artistic production, which are seen as decisive parameters in the discourse of creativity, are reflected critically: the subject, the involved media and the processes.

Methods of art history, image and media studies will be used, especially these of notational iconicity and diagrammatics. Furthermore, a praxeological perspective is pursued by the development of drawing bots that will be built in order to foster a practice-based understanding.

The gained insights are relevant for theories of artistic production as well as studies of drawing and media, not least for the current debate on human-machine relations.

Shift Register

Shift Register is an investigation into how human technological and infrastructural activities have marked the earth. It is a project by artist-researchers Jamie Allen, Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp.

The earth has been transformed into a ‘planetary laboratory’ subject to further study, control and comprehension. Knowledge of these interactions render to experience global scale phenomena like climate change, dissolving modernist illusions such as the separation of ‘nature’ and ‘society’. As such, it is critical that we engage in new means of composing more public understandings of this global experience. This project attempts to register the shifts between industrialised capitalism and the knowledge afforded by techno-science, between the global scale effects of such activities and the experience of individuals and communities, and between earth as an natural object and as an agent of culture. The project addresses the interdisciplinary problem of how to identify, catalogue and make publically legible these shifts through methods related to natural science fieldwork, artistic research, and critically oriented translational practices of media and technology.

Shift Register investigates and renders legible the material evidence of human activities on earth, registering these not as indicators of human achievement, but as ambiguous negotiations and signposts of planetary exhaustion. The project undertakes fieldwork and research re-routed from the natural and physical sciences as the means to bear witness to these sites of human impact. Project outputs (writings, media and works for exhibition) seek to complicate environmental science with other cultural, affective, inter- and sub-cultural perspectives in order to take into account the complexity and always contradictory nature of the energetic and communications infrastructuring of the earth.

The project investigates a single impact site, and translates earth media and findings to a specifically developed Earth Lab, a research, workshop and exhibition location. The Earth Lab is both a conceptual and local outdoor working environment, a structure that serves as longitudinal, comparative site through the two years of the project. At the Earth Lab, material samples are mediated, presented and documented, media documentation and dispatches are prepared, and public project discussions take place.

The production, presentation and representation of the impacts that human activities produce outside of their ‘naturalised’ domains include markers that register in the ring patterns of growing trees, on the surface structures of rock minerals, as radioactive isotope signatures and as changes in soil, atmosphere and microbial compositions. Such markers allow us to reconstitute “earth” as a non-linear structure, an archive of human and nonhuman endeavour. Through workshop formats, publications and an experimental public exhibition derived from fieldwork at a primary impact site, these interdisciplinary complexities and resonances are registered. These serve to better understand, critique and re-route the developing public discourse around how to recognize or memorialise the planetary effects of industrial, communicational, and technological activity. The context of the scientific and social, artistic and critical media work of Shift Register involves ongoing work in ecological and environmental humanities, as well as contemporary geo-scientific debates. We trouble the appealing simplicity and growing popular debates around a singular ‘anthropocenic marker’ and its supposed import, seeking instead multiple, gnostic ways of knowing our earthly traces.

The Sensorium of Animals

This research project explores the possibilities of technology mediated systems to alter the human sensory apparatus from artistic-experimental and media historical angles. One part of this research focuses on possibilities of expanding the human sensory system beyond its biological limits, taking inspiration from sensorial abilities found in certain animals. Artistic-experimental systems, for instance in the field of wearable technology, will be tried out, researched and made available. The other part of this research is concerned with the historically informed study of cybernetic man-machine-structures in media history, along a history of knowledge of sensory physiology of non-human organisms that have continuously provided repercussion into the cultural history of media. This project is situated at the intersection of biology, media technology, experimental media practice and media aesthetics, design research and media history.

Augmented Space

The research project springs from the assumption that knowledge and its production in digital cultures is spatially organized, structured, formed, and received. It is inquired, how the the visibility and legibility of a place is changed and reconfigured by the use of interactive and locative media technologies. Center to the inquiry are the design practice and the end-user: How does the user orients in these hybrid spaces and what are the effects of this kind of knowledge production on the spatial navigation and reception?

These questions are pursued by the example of the former warehouse and open depot at the Dreispitz area in Basel. The Dreispitz is currently one of the largest urban development areas of Switzerland. The establishment of the new Campus of the Arts together with the settlement of Academy of Art and Design FHNW is paradigmatic for the transition from an industrial to an information society. The transformation of the are becomes a metaphor for the structural changes of a material world based on physical goods to a data-based, virtual, fluid, networked and digital society. Based on this diagnosis, the project assumes the form of an on-site research laboratory to explore production of space by digital media.

Designed Immediacy

Mobile, networked, multi-sensory systems and technologies with open and modular interfaces are about to change our established concept of technical extensions for humans. Thus, it will not only be on the level of prosthesis or implants that humans are connected with machines, but as well on the level of wearable sensors and intelligent environments, which make interfaces disappear and allow “unmediated” contact between the human and the technological system. Departing from a notion of holistic bodily experience and media developed in current phenomenological approaches, we want to examine the affective human perception in a mediated responsive environment. By this, we aim to explore the connecting area between the human body and a sensitive environment that feels like it connects to the body as a “second skin”.

Times of Waste

1979 the report “Beyond the Age of Waste” warned of global consequences facing the continuing and increasing waste of resources. Although it has not yet resulted in a more thrifty management of resources, “waste” may be thought of nowadays as a reverse figure: extensive cleaning and recycling processes as well as recent developments like “urban mining” regain reusable raw materials out of waste. Waste is hence considered as a “new resource”, dynamic and transformable.

In Times of Waste this transformation processes and its stages are of interest. The research project looks at the purification, treatment and reuse respectively disposal of objects and materials as well as at involved actors and fields of activity. On the transport and recycling routes extending from Basel’s local context into global connections, objects are not only undergoing material transformation, but also economic, social, aesthetic or rhetorical reassessments. It is a matter of perspective what is considered when or at which stage of materiality as waste respectively as a “new” resource.

On the basis of current network-, subject- and materiality-theories (e.g. Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, Jane Bennett, Timothy Morton, Gay Hawkins/Emily Potter) the research team is following up on questions like:

  • What are the transformation processes and value changes of (waste) objects or materials?
  • What materiality changes do they pass from creation to reprocessing respectively disposal or removal?
  • How are specific actors involved into these processes?
  • How can such a topic be presented for public reception using transmedial techniques?

An interdisciplinary team realises different tracing projects of three exemplarily selected objects/materials and their routes from a (cultural)scientific-aesthetic perspective: e-waste (biography of a smartphone), urban mining (recycled material from buildings, streets etc.) and water ecology (pesticides, nano-silver). To develop the biographies the researchers work with different media like video, sound, photography and text. The gathered and edited material will be collected in a “digital archive” developed during the research project.

In order to realize the tracing projects methods like “participant observation” will be synthesized and combined with transnational or global research and transmediality. The qualitative methods and procedures are observing or performative. The used media is auditive, visual or textual and the presentation formats will be interactive, installative and essayistic. The team will work with partners from environmental fields of activity (offices, universities, NGOs) and exhibiting institutions (Museum der Kulturen, House of Electronic Arts, both in Basel) in order to realise joint input events which will involve also the public. Thereby different perspectives will be directed to the transformation processes and related discussions and reflections will be incorporated into the project. Questions of knowledge design and collaboration will be fundamental. We aim at displaying how, where and with whom knowledge is created and how the form of representation affects the reception.

An application as a “digital media archive” will be developed and unite all resultant (intermediate) products in space and time. Simultaneously it will contain their evaluation and serves as a repository. In addition to breaking-up cultural connotations of waste the aim of the project is to influence the discussion on sustainability in the region of Basel and beyond by applying an artistic-scientific process-oriented approach and its aesthetic implications. A discourse that should be seen within the context of globalised developments.


Times of Waste Research Team. Metals never die. In: Johannes Bruder et al. (Ed.), Lost & Found, continent, issue 5.1 2016: 11-13. (available online).

Times of Waste Research Team. Times of Waste. In: Linda Kronman, Andreas Zingerle (Ed.), Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting and resurfacing data, Linz: (available online), 2016.

Yvonne Volkart. Müll zu Gold? In: springerin 1/16. (available online)

Project Archive



The river Rhine as flowing border area forms boundaries of communities, cantons and countries from his origin in Grison/Eastern Switzerland until the entrance into the sea in Rotterdam. It is water and power provider, living and working space – an ecological, socio-economical and cultural divers microcosmos.

The interdisciplinary research project “RhyCycling – Esthetics of sustainability in the Basel border area” examines in the border region of Switzerland-Germany-France how the human and non-human environment is linked together and what interdependences, problematics, un/balancies and scenarios are resulting. Beside of the audiovisual research on recent (waterecological) circumstances over, under and along the water – a.o. fish fauna, aspects of energy, utilisation of the riverbank – also future changes, planned or imagined for that space, are examined. The special foci allow to show interdependencies inside of the ecosystem with local and global relevance, like for example the character of fish ladders for fish species migrating upstream or downstream.

The research relies on the so-called “esthetics of sustainability” which is found in (media) art and is affected by a perception of current theories of aesthetics including nature. It differs for example from scientific and technical positions by the choice of the focal points in content, methods and the forms of presentation.


The goal of the project is to give an inside view into the network and interdependencies of this ecological microcosmos to the interested public, through an innovative form of presentation which adresses divers senses (see below). Local and global aspects are focused – like water ecology generally and fish fauna in particular, current as well as prospectiv.


The material of the audiovisual research – videos, sound essays, texts, graphics – representing the current situation and reflecting the heterogeneity of this area is organised on an interactive computer platform. Users may select and surf through those materials by themselves and discover individual facets, relationships and dependencies. An open “dramaturgy” of trials, opportunities, approaches emerges. At the exhibition “RhyCycling – Border area in flux” which took place from 13.10. – 4.11.2012 at the harbour in Basel the platform was integrated into a scenographical setting of installations and video projections. One especially was representing visions of a possible or imagined future of the area. The audience had the possibility to experience the Basel border area and specially the rather difficult accessible world of the fish fauna in a multisensual way.

The research project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF/DoRe) and is running from December 2010 until March 2013. The planned follow up project “RhyCycling revisited” is pre-nominated by IBA Basel 2020.

Current Projects


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