Hybrid Thoughts on “Emotions” in the Arts

Image Workshop Donnarumma

“AI Ethics & Prosthetics”

Our new series called »Hybrid Thoughts« deals with a topic which is illuminated, discussed and rethought from a scientific and artistic perspective. In this way, we strengthen our vision beyond our expertise, show how close and distant science and art can be, or create new ideas, networks, intersections in interdisciplinary work.

Today's second contribution comes from Marco Donnarumma. Being a performance artist and researcher, he completes the subject of “Emotions” with his artistic point of view, yet also taking part in the scientific discourse.

Which potentials can you find in the study of emotions for the arts?

As the cognitive and neurosciences delve deeper in the material basis of emotions, in other fields such as affective computing, the concern is more far reaching. Researchers are increasingly drawn to the implementation of artificial mechanisms allowing machines to exhibit what we may understand as emotions. The questions often asked by those strands of life sciences working on the topic are how an emotion is produced and how it can be evaluated. However physiologically conditioned, though, an emotion is hard to pin down. Recently, giving a talk in London, I asked the audience: “How can machines understand our emotions if we don't ourselves? How do you describe the fear of being in love to a machine?” These are of course provocative questions, yet they manage to raise the issue of the fuzziness and unpredictability of human emotion and behaviour. It is hard to imagine a person feeling one, and only one particular emotion at a single moment in time.

As you read this, I hope you find yourselves happy, but I am pretty sure you are also feeling something else, perhaps many different things. What one feels arises from experience in a world made of relations with others, human and non-human. This multitude of feelings, this amalgam of emotions certainly has a physiological basis, but it cannot be reduced to it. Psyche, corporeality, relationality and context are integral to the experience and development of emotional states. So this is when the arts come into play. What art is particularly apt for is to resist reductions. Creating, as well as experiencing an artwork or a performance are good examples of how complex our emotions, or better our economy of desires is. Yes, because feeling is an economy in itself; not much in the corrupted sense of today's financial economy. Rather, in the sense of a networked system of links and nexus across human, non-human and technological things. It is up to the arts to alter, disrupt or reinforce the connections in one's own network of desires.

This does not imply that art and science cannot work together. I myself work across the two fields since a while, and advocate critical approaches between the disciplines. In my newly started project as a Research Fellow at the UdK Graduiertenschule called “Configurations” I bring together people from cognitive robotics, computer music and performance art. It is challenging to collaborate at a creative level, but having a common vocabulary is a great stepping stone on the way towards a fruitful collaboration. There are many ways in which the arts can join life sciences while preventing reductionism; as well as there are methods whereby life sciences can join the arts without lack of scientific rigour. Given the current landscape of relentless technocratic regimes, it is especially important to actively develop those methods to foster wider, transdisciplinary views on emotions, the human body and its relations with others, human and non-human.

– Marco Donnarumma

Marco Donnarumma is performance artist and research fellow at the UdK Berlin Graduiertenschule. He also actively participated in the STATE Festival 2016 where he gave a talk (“Expanding relationality, testing affect”) and held a workshop (“AI Ethics & Prosthetics”).