Disability Futures






Taeyoon Choi: Thank you. I wanted to start off by answering the initial question about the futures: What types of futures do we want? I’ve been thinking about non-binary futures and what does that mean. And to think about that we have to start with the binary futures and look at what binary actually means in the context of art, technology, and society at large.

            If we think about the notion of binary, it’s essentially zeros and ones. It’s a numbering system. It’s a form of containment, of identities and states, into two distinguished finite states. If we think about the digital, which is a term that is oftentimes used and conflated with technology, digital signals are either on or they’re off. That’s the fundamentals of computation. And we can even stretch this notion to the dialectical or the foundations of Western thinking at large and the binary of true or false. I can even stretch it to the religious notions of heaven or hell. And these are all finite states to which we have subscribed. So, you’re either a man or a woman, abled or disabled.

            I’m interested in an unknowable future. In other words, ungovernable or indescribable futures which could potentially be uncomputable as well. Because if we’re thinking just within computation or digital thinking, everything is predictable. And it’s not very fun. [Laughs]. It comes to the notion of a speculation rather than imagination. I’m inspired by this because a friend of mine has invited me to the wonderful world of disability studies and disability and Deaf culture.

This is Christine Sun Kim, a sound artist based in Berlin. She was born profoundly deaf and she has encouraged me to be a part of Deaf culture in New York City. I’ve been learning sign language and also about Deaf culture. We’ve collaborated on a performance called “Seven Futures: Imagining different types of deaf and disabled futures.” The title of this video is, “Future Is Deafhood.” There are about 100 audience members who are interacting with us. We are connecting strings that are activating wind chimes that are motorized. In this performance there are about five different languages coexisting: American Sign Language, Korean Sign Language, English, Korean, as well as computer code. This plurality of languages is one thing we think about as the future.

I have been continuing this work at the School for Poetic Computation, which is an artist-run school based in New York City that I co-founded. We work with students from around the world — artists, engineers, and designers — to explore what is poetic about computing. Ishac Bertran, a designer from Barcelona, wanted to slow down time as one of the student projects. He created a game that operates one clock cycle per day.

Another project, a collaboration between Zach Lieberman and other students, their projects were shown at art and music venues, such as Sónar Festival in Barcelona. Our idea was to think about code itself as an artistic language.

     I’ve been teaching Deaf and hard of hearing communities in New York and Seoul how to code. It’s really important to think about the accessibility of technology and I think this comes to your question about capitalism, because on the one hand, I don’t want capitalism, but I also want students to do well in capitalism and have well-paying jobs and find a language with which they can communicate.          

            So how do we get to the future?

            This workshop is from Korea where we were thinking about languages in code as a form of language. I worked with Deaf and hard of hearing communities, people on the autism spectrum, and other parts of disability communities in Korea, their families, caretakers, and museum professionals, to run a summer school where we taught code. It was a really good experience to think about languages as common resources because a lot of participants were not able to verbalize their emotions, but they were able to communicate through code and other forms of expression.

I think access to code is very much like access to physical spaces. Sara Hendren, who is a designer and disability scholar, interacts with wheelchair and powerchair users in Korea and I’m translating between them.

     This is an image of a museum educator in Korea holding hands with Hayun Chung, an autism spectrum cartoon artist. 정도운 (Jeong Do Woon) is fantastic — super prolific — but he does not verbalize in the way that we do. And the museum educator was very empathetic and excited for them to work together but they just couldn’t find a way to engage. But through coding and performance art we can find a language that is shared and I think that is almost like a future that is present and a present that is the future as well.