Thoughtworks Arts


Ellen Pearlman Appointed MIT Fellow at Open Documentary Lab

Newsletter sent on Wednesday, 27 January 2021
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We are excited to announce that MIT Open Doc Lab has selected director Ellen Pearlman to be an MIT 2021 Fellow starting this spring.

MIT Fellow Ellen Pearlman

Ellen will join a group of distinguished scholars, artists, creative technologists, and journalists - all of whom are exploring new forms of storytelling through emerging technologies and sciences.

While at MIT Open Doc Lab, Ellen will work on Language Is Leaving Me, an on-going project on the inherited traumatic memory of cultures and diasporas, or epigenetics, through the framework of AI and GANs. She will investigate what can, and cannot be retained and interpreted through digital means.

Thoughtworks Arts Presents at Bozar Labs in Conjunction With STARTS Prize 2020

As part of the Starts Prize 2020 exhibition held at Bozar this Fall, Bozar Lab organized a webinar on the topic of artist and technologist collaborations as a model for innovation.

Artist and A.I. resident, Karen Palmer (Storyteller From The Future), presented her immersive film project Perception iO, (developed at Thoughtworks Arts) and shared how it explores the intersection of A.I., bias, policing, and new, innovative forms of storytelling.

Perception iO received a Starts Honorary Mention and was included in the exhibition, Starts Prize ‘20 Speculating On The Future Through Art And Science.

Thoughtworks Arts director Andrew McWilliams shared how cross-collaborative programs at Thoughtworks Arts involving artists and technologists create powerful work driven by issues facing technology and society. Andrew detailed how such interactions are a critical tool for harnessing innovation.

To learn more about what was discussed, and who else presented at the webinar, read our latest blog post.

Synthetic Media resident Nouf Aljowaysir and program director Ellen Pearlman both had new work exhibited at AI Art Gallery.

A grid with lots of tiny grayscale portrait images
سلف [Salaf]: StyleGAN2 trained on an empty dataset

The online exhibition showcased works from the annual NeurIPS4 Creativity Workshop, a leading machine learning conference for creativity and design, which they both took part in.

Nouf’s prototypes from her residency project سلف [Salaf] (2020) were exhibited. سلف Salaf is part of an ongoing exploration into constructing her genealogical journey using two different voices: her own and an AI ‘narrator’.

A woman wearing a suit of light
Sniedze Strauta performing at the AIBO premiere. Her emotions display on her bodysuit of light, akin to an exterior nervous system, and AIBO’s emotions display as red light (negative). Photo - Taavet Jansen

Ellen’s immersive, interactive love story, AIBO: An Emotionally Intelligent, Artificial Intelligent Brainwave Opera (2020) was also included in the exhibition. AIBO is about our infatuation and trust in artificial intelligence played out between a human character Eva, and AIBO, a custom built ‘sicko’ AI.

Deepfakes Masterclass: Thoughtworks Arts and Baltan Labs

Thoughtworks Arts and Baltan Laboratoratories organized the two-week online masterclass: Deepfakes - Synthetic Media And Synthesis - led by Ellen Pearlman and Thoughtworker Julien Deswaef, and facilitated by Leif Czakai of Baltan Labs.

A visualization of ‘information bubbles’
Team Two’s prototype on the visualization of ‘information bubbles’ that included examining the at the time online controversial site Parler

Participants were put into three interdisciplinary teams to collaborate on prototyping a synthetic media project. Teams explored the possibilities of artificially generated media and investigated artistic ways in which to apply these innovative findings. Their work was also driven by questions about the societal impacts of this rapidly growing field.

The masterclass concluded in final team presentations of their synthetic media projects, sharing what they learned to develop future projects on a larger scale.


Andrew McWilliams and Synthetic Media resident Nouf Aljowaysir presented at the virtual Rethink Italy Service Design Festival in June. The live-streamed discussion addressed a Service Design audience with ideas on how art-based technology research informs designers examining a changing social landscape over time. The event showcased cross-collaborative programs by Thoughtworks Arts involving artists and technologists, and how those interactions drive questions about society, and harness technological innovation.

Andrew McWilliams presented Incubating Art & Technology Collaborations at Thoughtworks Berlin in early March, where Rachel Uma, founder of the School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe also spoke.

In London, Andrew gave a talk on The origin of - an initiative he helped build to support and engage the entire tech sector in addressing the climate crisis.

Ellen Pearlman moderated The Grid panel in conjunction with Ars Electronica’s ‘In Kepler’s Garden’ - Life During (and After) Covid-19 - Artistic Strategies and Breakthrough Responses. The live panel discussion focused on how the current global pandemic has impacted art institutions, collaborative work, and audience involvement, especially in relation to innovative indy-led network solutions.

Life During (and After) Covid-19 - Artistic Strategies and Breakthrough Responses video

On November 24th, Ellen gave a lecture, Imagining the Unimaginable and Performing the Unthinkable, at the Baltan Laboratories event ICT meets the Arts: Douglas Rushkoff and Ellen Pearlman.

Ellen presented her paper “Running a Remote AI Livetime in the Cloud for an AI Brainwave Opera” at the NowNetArts conference. The event took place in early November and was co-hosted by the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University.

Ellen gave the keynote at NordiCHI in Tallinn, Estonia on October 29th. She spoke about how she built a “Sicko AI” and the implications of her discoveries.

She also presented virtually at ISEA 2020 Montreal - Why Sentience?, speaking on her work “AIBO: An Emotionally Intelligent Artificial Intelligent Brainwave Opera: Part 2 -The Making Of A “Sicko” AI.

News from Past Thoughtworks Arts Residents

Heather Dewey-Hagborg co-curated for the New York University Abu Dhabi Art gallery “not in, of, along, or relating to a line.” The exhibition, which was designed specifically to be viewed on mobile devices, investigates the mutability of identity through and with new technologies. Heather also has new artwork premiering at Fridman Gallery in NYC in the group show “A stranger’s soul is a deep well.” Her new piece is titled Watson’s Ghost. Heather also presented virtually on November 2nd as part of The Unconference Episodes at the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival 2020. Heather recently became a visiting assistant professor at New York University - Abu Dhabi.

Karen Palmer was awarded an Honorary Mention for the Starts 2020 Prize of the European Commission honoring Innovation in Technology, Industry and Society stimulated by the Arts for Perception iO, an immersive, AI video installation developed at Thoughtworks Arts. Perception iO was also a part of the Expo Starts Prize exhibition at Bozar in Brussels, where art and science joined forces to think about the future.

Catie Cuan was highlighted in an article by The New York Times, Dances With Robots, and Other Tales From the Outer Limits, which highlighted work developed at Thoughtworks Arts. Catie was also featured in the article, Why Robots Need Choreographers by Dance Magazine.

James Coupe received an Honorary Mention from the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica 2020 Awards for his interactive, deepfake installation, Warriors.

Updates from Art-A-Hack™ Alumni

Kat Mustatea was awarded a literature grant by the Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation for her work, Voidopolis, a retelling of Dante’s Inferno, informed by the grim experience of wandering through NYC during a pandemic.

Kat Sullivan along with American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Cassandra Trenary received a Guggenheim Works & Process Artists (WPA) Virtual Commission for their project “Kat & Cassie Make A Ballet” that combines dance, motion capture, and game engine technologies.

Sean Montgomery, head of EmotiBit, presented Introspection and Biofeedback Art at the ISEA Montreal 2020 conference.

Heidi J. Boisvert, (Art-A-Hack ‘18 City Tech partner) is measuring our unconscious response to media and gave a recent TEDTalk: How I’m using biological data to tell better stories - and spark social change. The Denver Center For The Performing Arts announced Heidi as part of the creative team behind the new immersive production Theater of the Mind. As the technology designer, she will be collaborating with co-creator David Byrne.


Ellen Pearlman: AI Comes of Age - Performance Arts Journal(PAJ), MIT Press. Dance for Transformation: “DANCEDEMIC” AlumniTies, Medium. Cyborg Arts Co-Lab: Interdisciplinary Collaboration Enriched Through Art-A-Hack™ Practices -Art Hack Practice: Critical Intersections of Art, Innovation and the Maker Movement, 1st Edition, Edited by Victoria Bradbury and Suzy O’Hara, Routledge Publication. The Resurgence of Russian Cosmism - Performance Arts Journal(PAJ), MIT Press.

Catie Cuan, Ellen Pearlman, and Andrew McWilliams: Output: Translating Robot and Human Movers Across Platforms in a Sequentially Improvised Performance - From the 2019 AISB (The Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour) Machine Movement Lab at Falmouth University, UK.

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