Thuistezien 220 — 30.03.2021

Shailoh Phillips
(post)critical tools

Perhaps, you were one of the persons witnessing a group of people carrying an abnormally large inflated yellow tube throughout the streets of the Hague. This event took place in 2018 and was the material outcome of the cybernetic summer school ‘The Cybernetic Advertising Agency’. In the end, this large yellow pipe with the hashtag #mindthepipe was placed into a school since the summer school initially was concerned with the fact that gigantic companies such as Shell are funding education and how bringing this big, corporate fossil fuel company into the intellectual sphere is not banned or questioned. In fact, this combination might even be encouraged.

Shailoh Phillips is an artist, activist, researcher, educator, hacker, and community organizer who teaches research methods at the Royal Academy of Art, den Haag. For the ‘Making Matters symposium’ in 2019, Phillips was invited to give a talk on the critical making tools that were created but also reflected upon in the ‘The Cybernetic Advertising Agency’ summer school that took place a year prior to the symposium. Bringing together a configuration of different fields of expertise which collaborated on using various thinking methods and making methods and exercises. They used strategic tactics coming from the history of cybernetics. By looking deeper at the roots of cybernetics. Functioning almost as a precursor to what is today seen as posthumanist and new materialist theories, cybernetics had a way of seeing units as active feedback loops rather than inactive objects. It is a dynamic system.

One of the things that they were taught at the summer school through the use of cybernetic history theory was the fact that changing a system, by definition, is next to impossible. Still, it is possible to get access to each iteration of a complex system and, by doing so, have the possibility to create more responses than already available and, therefore, expected. In that way, there is a chance to temporarily create an unexpected space. The yellow inflated pipeline was a highly visual material example of that temporarily changed space and, therefore, also the possibility of a space. It is hard, as it requires to think outside of the normal, expected outcomes of the system because systems will always, by default work based on their prior knowledge.

As Phillips admits, it is difficult to condense all that happened at the cybernetic summer school into a talk of approximately 20 minutes but she manages to evoke some of the spirit that took place and also to critically reflect on the critical making they were activating.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg