Thoughtworks Arts


Nouf Aljowaysir and James Coupe Conclude Their Residencies

Newsletter sent on Wednesday, 21 April 2021
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Thoughtworks Arts’ Simulacra & Similitude: Synthetic Media Residency began in the summer of 2020. Due to Covid-19 it was entirely remote with Nouf working from her studio in Brooklyn, New York and James from his studio in Seattle, Washington.

A grid of images in black and white
A collection of images generated from training a generative adversarial network (StyleGAN2) on absent figures in a historical dataset

Nouf Aljowaysir’s residency developed Salaf [Arabic: سلف , ancestor] (2020), an ongoing project investigating the cultural transmission of ideas and worldviews across generations.

She shared her untold Middle Eastern genealogical journey using two different voices: her own and an AI ‘narrator’, trained on the constrained datasets from Western models.

The development of her residency project highlighted how Western AI models perpetuate the colonial western gaze and subsequent stereotypes. Using U-2 Net, Nouf erased the ‘oriental’ stereotypical figures in her historical archives, creating an “absent” dataset.

Salaf exhibited at NeurIPS, the leading machine learning conference for creativity and design. You can learn more about Salaf Arabic: سلف , ancestor and how Nouf plans to move forward with its development in our project write-up.

James Coupe’s Continous Integration (CI) Art Toolkit

Synthetic Media resident James Coupe recently shared a Continous Integration (CI) art toolkit, now available for free on Github. The CL toolkit evolved from a project discovery, which took place online via various cloud-based tools and servers.

A diagram
A sample workflow using Github Actions

The remote workflow opened up new ways for him to organize, store and potentially exhibit his ongoing residency project, Birds of a British Empire - which explores colonial archives and the training sets used in machine learning.

By sharing this CI toolkit, James hopes to enable galleries and exhibition spaces to show new media artworks more easily and lessen hardware and technical expertise demands.

CI offers an alternative solution by relocating most of the hardware and software resources away from the physical gallery and into the Cloud. Cloud-based computers run in dedicated facilities where they are maintained, powered, cooled, backed up, and upgraded by others. This removes the responsibility from the artist and the gallery. When errors occur, or updates are required, the code can be modified remotely without anyone having to be present physically in the gallery.

To learn more about James Coupe’s CL Art Toolkit and the sample framework he designed for testing these applications, read his recent blog post.

Forbes Highlights Catie Cuan’s Work With Training Robots Movement

The recent Forbes Magazine article, “The Arts And Humanities Deliver Untapped Value For The Future” spotlighted Catie Cuan’s residency at Thoughtworks Arts, where she bridged her work as a choreographer and dancer to train robotic movement.

Person dancing with robot
A sample workflow using Github Actions

One of the main takeaways of the article was the need to integrate the humanities into the mechanical engineering industry.

“As we have robots in more public-facing spaces—offices, hospitals, airports, doctor’s offices—that design space needs to be very deliberate,” said Cuan. “There’s a lot of research that shows the primary attribute of an object that humans react to is how it moves. It’s not color. It’s not what an object sounds like. And you only get a few chances until people are completely alienated by the new thing. So I think either all professional roboticists need to be taking classes in dance and movement generation, or a lot of tech companies are going to be hiring dancers and choreographers to come up with the movement personalities of these robots.” - Catie Cuan

Catie Cuan’s film "liminal"

The article also features her new film, “liminal” from her residency project OUTPUT. The film beautifully captures parallel, nuanced movements between her and a 15 foot industrial robotic arm, nicknamed Wen.

Thoughtworks Arts Partners With BeFantastic & The U.S. Embassy in Singapore

Thoughtworks Arts, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Singapore’s Small Grants Program and BeFantastic, an Indian/Singapore online tech art CoLab, will develop an Art-A-Hack(TM) workshop focused on the theme of climate change for September 2021.

Person with headphones, people on monowheels, bright acid colors

Additional international partners thus far include the Indian liaison office of the Swiss Foundation ProHelvetia, with more partners to be announced. Local participating arts organizations in Singapore include Supernormal and In the Wild.


Ellen Pearlman was a guest speaker at OLAP (Online Live Art Performance) on March 14th. Ellen shared breakthrough network collaborations and experiments in performance, biometrics, and machineLearning. The event was hosted by Harvestworks and Experimental Intermedia.

On March 18th, Ellen presented online at the Neurotechnologies Freedom Conference in Moscow, Rusia. The event was organized by the Centre for Cognition & Decision Making, HSE University, and supported by I-Brain Erasmus+ project. The conference focused on the social and economic consequences of the rapidly growing NeuroTech industry.

Ellen 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.

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.

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.

News from Past Thoughtworks Arts Residents

Karen Palmer was featured in the article “I put the participant in the middle of the experience”: Karen Palmer on AI storytelling, by Goethe Institute DE. Karen 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 wrote the recent article Dances With Robots for TDR Cambridge Core, on her work with robotics and movement, “…revealing how dancing with robots may provoke a more interanimate everyday world.” Catie was highlighted in an article by The New York Times, Dances With Robots, and Other Tales From the Outer Limits, which spotlighted work developed at Thoughtworks Arts. Catie was also featured in the article, Why Robots Need Choreographers by Dance Magazine.

Moon Ribas recently released Seismic Garment, a video of her performing in a soft robotics bodysuit that reacts every time there’s seismic activity - triggering a response. Seismic Garment was made in collaboration with Adriana Cabrera and Montserrat Ciges, and was produced by Worth.

Person bent backwards with a white lace dress
A still from Seismic Garment

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 was a visiting assistant professor at New York University - Abu Dhabi.

James Coupe received an Honorary Mention from the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica 2020 Awards for his interactive, deepfake installation at the International Center for Photography (ICP), Warriors.

Neil Harbisson presented at the Impakt Event: Cyborg Futures on March 11th, where he spoke about being the only person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull.

Updates from Art-A-Hack™ Alumni

Annie Berman celebrated the world premiere of her new documentary film, The Faithful, on March 19th, with a live-stream event taking place on the new platform, Cinnamon. This project was decades in the making and is about iconography, legacy, and faith. It’s “ruminative, haunting, and strange” raves The Boston Globe.

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.

Gal Nissim and Heidi J. Boisvert, (Art-A-Hack ‘18 City Tech partner) shared new work that they developed at NEW INC. New Museum, for the February 18th event, Radical Evolution - 10 Glimpses Into The Future with New Inc’s Creative Science Track.


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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