Beth Coleman — Reality Was Whatever Happened: Octavia Butler AI and Other Possible Worlds

Beth Coleman in conversation with Zach Blas
February 20, 2024

Join us for an event with artist Beth Coleman exploring her project Reality Was Whatever Happened, published by K. Verlag. She will be joined in conversation by artist Zach Blas.

Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy is a compelling meditation on the existential human fear of depending on other species to survive; Beth Coleman’s Reality Was Whatever Happened: Octavia Butler AI and Other Possible Worlds relays questions of kinship, community, survival, and transformation through generative processes of image production, serialization, and fabrication. Operating as an interspecies vehicle with which OBAI prompts us to reconsider race, cognition, and computability, Reality Was Whatever Happened attends to the wild edges of computational culture and politics. Contributors engage with questions of black computing, indigenous AI, relational temporalities, and the hummmm of digital repetition, while Coleman’s conversation about the process and reality of contemporary AI-driven artistic practice frames the broader ethical and aesthetic stakes of OBAI. To see beyond the current hype of AI and explore the radical potential for (de)generative reconfigurations of images, bodies, and worlds, Coleman invites readers to become complicit in and through OBAI’s project of promiscuous liberation and provocative drift.

Beth Coleman works across locations of text, sound, and visuality, playing with frequencies of a generative aesthetic. Coleman’s work is located at a blurring of boundaries between visible/invisible, subject/object, past/futures. An obsession with technology, aesthetics, white dogs, black cats, and formulations of power and agency are evident across the body of Coleman’s work. Coleman has a history of international exhibition at venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Pioneer Works, Centre International des Récollets Paris, Waag Society Amsterdam, among others. In collaboration with Howard Goldkrand, Coleman led the decade-long SoundLab Cultural Alchemy project that transformed New York City’s “electrotectural now,” along with other international sites. During daylight hours, Coleman is an associate professor of Data & Cities at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology and Faculty of Information, University of Toronto with previous academic appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Waterloo. Coleman’s publications include Hello Avatar, “Race as Technology,” and “Technology of the Surround,” among others.

Zach Blas is an artist, filmmaker, and writer whose practice draws out the philosophies and imaginaries residing in computational technologies and their industries. Working across moving image, computation, installation, theory, performance, and science fiction, Blas has exhibited, lectured, and held screenings at venues including the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern, 12th Gwangju Biennale, and e-flux. His newest artwork CULTUS addresses a burgeoning AI religiosity in the tech industry and is presented at arebyte Gallery, London and Secession, Vienna. Blas’s book Unknown Ideals was published by Sternberg Press in 2021. In 2024, he will publish Ass of God: Collected Heretical Writings of Salb Hacz with Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König. With Melody Jue and Jennifer Rhee, he is co-editor of Informatics of Domination, forthcoming from Duke University Press.