Özgün Eylül İşcen is a media theorist whose scholarship engages with critical theory and arts. She received her PhD in Computational Media, Arts and Cultures from Duke University in 2020. Her dissertation examines the geopolitical aesthetic of computational media as an imperial apparatus within the context of the Middle East. Her recent research dwells on the idea of counter-futuring at the intersections of materialist media theory, digital arts, and decolonial politics.

She has published in a variety of edited books, art catalogues, and academic journals such as Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Organised Sound. She currently teaches at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and collaborates with Professor Shintaro Miyazaki for the project Counter-N, web-based publishing, exchange, and research collection supported by Humboldt-Universität.

Black Box(ed) Allegories of Computational Capital
Affiliated Project 2022-24

Expanding upon her work on counter-futuring, İşcen’s current project unpacks the cybernetic and logistical modeling of the world and the future to be quantified, predicted, and (re)programmed. İşcen resituates such modeling, which seeks to manage the uncertainty of externalities through flattening and dominating locality and difference, as an imperial aspiration manifested within post-World War II history. In this respect, she focuses on the entangled trajectory, whether historical or symbolic, of the (cybernetic) black box and oil as imperial allegories underlying late capitalism to grasp its inherent contradictions, such as modern fantasies of total oversight and limitless growth. Indeed, this project is ultimately an aesthetic inquiry with theoretical and political implications since both the black box and oil have shifted the regime of visuality since the mid-20th century.

They speak to the changing dynamics of capitalist accumulation, labor force, and subject formation while unsettling the visibility/invisibility dichotomy. Within the context of the Middle East as a setting for both high-tech, post-oil futures and the colonial, imperial violence of petro-politics, both allegories converge to highlight the dialectical nature of computational capital as a matter of mediation between different realms and scales, and thus as a totalizing force. Ultimately, İşcen engages with artistic practices affiliated with the region that animate an allegorical model of analysis, which goes beyond a mere gesture of unveiling or mapping and invests in alternative modes of world and future-making.

The End of the World: The Limits of Cybernetics and Decolonial Thought
ICI Project 2020-22

For the current project, İşcen builds upon her research on counter-futuristic practices as a lens to examine the trajectories of artificial intelligence and decolonial thought at the intersection of critical theory and radical futures. With today’s ever-growing economic and ecological crisis, the dominance of technical rationality marks the cybernetic management of an uncertain future. Instead of reducing computational processes to the instrumentalization of the life-world, her project explores how the logico-cognitive models of computation and their performative executions can challenge the exceptionalism of human thinking stemming from colonial and patriarchal epistemologies.

What are the aesthetic forms that are not reducible to the instrumental logic of capital and computation, but generative in the process of decay that we are all unevenly part of? This inquiry turns toward the speculative socio-technical imaginaries from the Middle East that remodel the relationship between computation, materiality, and thought. Such artistic practices reflect the possible entanglements of computational aesthetics, decolonial practices, and urban struggles that are developing intelligence of their own, local universalities that could respond to our current times.