A lab set in the future, looking back at a convergence of media and the human mind.

Sabina Rak’s “The Connector Lab” was an temporary installation in one of the spaces at Concordia University’s Hexagram center. This work reflects RAk’s current practice in print media, but also places print in juxtaposition with the digital realm. The central conceit of the work sets it in a laboratory in 2062, looking at the convergence of the human mind and thinking machines. This theme of techno-optimism reflects Rak’s attraction and amusement at mid-twentieth century speculative fiction such as Star Trek. Her work however, like that the famous science series, is actually hand crafted icons that create an imaginary of a technological future. A table features an array of what appear to be hand-shaped control pads– suggesting haptic interfaces similar to the increasingly ubiquitous touch screen we use today. Rak’s work suggests that these are more than that, connecting us directly to our computing devices, yet the presentation has a ‘retro’ quality, reminding us of the large, brightly flashing buttons of mid-sixties space vessels.

Another element of “the Connector Lab” are the large panels that suggest data streams, perhaps of DNA pairs or some kind of computer code. Yet these patterns are hand drawn, each “data point”  slightly different. This use of subtle variation appears in the formal aspects of Rak’s earlier work as with Briques de couleur/Bricks of colour, a watercolour painting from 2010.

Despite the references to human computer interaction and the possibilities of what Ray Kurzweill calls ‘the Singularity’ where the barrier between human and machine dissolve entirely, Rak’s vision of the future suggests a less utopic vision. Gently, with humour she observes “The administration has your interest at heart” suggesting a cynical pose  underlies the quest for greater knowledge and technological power. The work relies on the intentionality of the audience rather than digital systems. The printed circuit boards apparently attached to the touch table do not actually operate. Although the wires extending from them are apparently connected to the touch pads, these devices have no electricity to power them, and the wires are merely wrapped around components, rather than actually attached to connection points. This was not immediately obvious to some visitors who were concerned they might receive an electrical shock if they touched the paper panel, with its pen and ink ‘touch screens’.

Hands drawn onto the paper suggest a tactile electronic interface.

As a print installation, this piece creates a fetishized laboratory, which doesn’t actually have a digital underpinning. Perhaps its most compelling aspect is how it throws agency back onto an audience who expect a more energetic response. in this respect it makes reference to the notions of art and agency developed by the anthropologist, Alfred Gell. He observed how different cultures activate objects, granting them an agency that seem grounded in the metaphysical rather than a materialist world view. In that respect, “The Connector Lab” interrogates the relationship of people to the technology we operate, and the uneasy relationship between our technology and self-expression.

Close up of wall panel.

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