Description of seminar by Joost Rekveld for KASK / Conservatorium 2017-2018

The Religion of Technology

Under a title taken from a book by David Noble, this seminar will focus on the ideas, fears and fantasies that humans have articulated about the phenomenon of technology.

Reasonable-sounding voices will tell us that technology is just a neutral means to an end, and that any technology is based on universal laws of physics and mathematics that are of themselves value-free. Values are embodied by humans, not technologies, and any technology can be used as a cure or as a weapon, depending on the human hands that guide it.
Many thinkers and artists, however, seem to think otherwise, and a very wide spectrum of views on the inherent value of technology has been formulated over the last century. Many of these views start from the idea that all technologies share some fundamental characteristics that determine the way in which their development will influence the future of mankind. On the gloomy end of this spectrum thinkers can be found that explain to us that technology by definition subordinates and replaces the natural world, and that in the end humans will have no choice but to collaborate and to be enslaved by the forces they have themselves unleashed. Voices on the more euphoric extreme of the spectrum will celebrate technology as the means by which humanity will be able to finally liberate itself from the constraints of the material world and enter a world of unimaginable freedom and leisure. These two extremes are surprisingly present in our culture, and of course many positions other than these have been formulated too.

We will look at views between the two ‘enslaving’ and ‘liberating’ extremes sketched above, but we will also look at another important dimension in thinking about technology; is technology autonomous ? is the development of technology something we humans can determine ? Who is responsible ? What does it even mean if we think of technology as something outside of ourselves ?
In this seminar we will look at a range of views on technology that is as wide as possible and we will investigate how such views are manifested and articulated in art works and art practice. We will look at how they manifest themselves in consumerism, in ‘the californian ideology’, in politics and in ideas of post-colonialism of all kinds. We will look at how artists relate to the technology they use (or choose not to use) in making and developing their work.


The backbone of the seminar will be the reading and discussion of a range of text fragments by authors such as Michael Adas, Karen Barad, Nick Bostrom, Jacques Ellul, Fereidoun Esfandiary, Donna Haraway, Katherine Hayles, Lewis Mumford, Mary Shelley, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Langdon Winner and the Unabomber. These text fragments will be made available via Chamilo at the beginning of the seminar, and in the course of the seminar, students will be asked to prepare a short presentation about one of these texts.
The seminar is also a research tool, and one of the aims is to use the variety of approaches and expertise within in the group to help find interesting examples of how artists in different disciplines reflect on technology. The aim is also to help eachother in articulating our own views on technology in relation to art.
It is the first time this seminar is being offered, and the subject matter might be adapted to the group of participants and to insights that emerge along the way.


The students are expected to be present at all sessions and contribute to discussions. Each participant will prepare one presentation in relation to one of the texts made available. After the seminar, each partipant is asked to write a paper relating one or more of the texts discussed to a work of art.
The evaluation will be based on these four elements: presence, discussion, presentation and paper.