Timo Arnall, a speaker at Improving Reality 2013
Timo Arnall, a speaker at Improving Reality 2013



September 5 2013
Studio Theatre, Brighton


Lighthouse's digital culture conference, Improving Reality, returned for a third year this September. Talks included tours through worlds that artists are growing rather than making, critical revelations of the systems and infrastructures that shape our world, and narratives of radical alternative futures. Here are the talks from Session One - Revealing Reality.

Keller Easterling speaking at Improving Reality 2013
Keller Easterling speaking at Improving Reality 2013

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Session one was introduced by Lighthouse’s Artistic Director, Honor Harger, who called into proceedings an urgency to interrogate the systems that surround us, and imagine how they may evolve in the future:

‘Social, political and technological infrastructures are the invisible “dark matter” which underlies contemporary life, influencing our environment and behaviour. The spaces where we live are being transformed by increasingly interlinked technological and architectural infrastructures. We’re going to see how artists, designers and architects are making these infrastructures visible, so that we may better understand and critique them.

Lighthouse has been actively investigating this terrain over the past two years, through a series of exhibitions that expose invisible technological systems and infrastructures. This began in 2011 with Invisible Fields in Barcelona, and continued through shows by Trevor Paglen, James Bridle and Mariele Neudecker.

We are interested in unveiling the structures, systems and infrastructures upon which we depend for our contemporary life. These infrastructures remain largely out of sight, and therefore, for most people, out of mind. We believe if we can not see something it is harder to comprehend it, let alone be curious about it how it is made, who made it, and who paid for it. Rather than try and advocate for invisible and seamless experiences of technology, we like to actively reveal the seams. For, as in mining, it is in the seams that we find the gold.’

Timo Arnall – ‘How Can We Make the Invisible, Visible?’

Our cities are comprised not only of the physical, visible architecture and infrastructure that we can see and touch, but also of immaterial and invisible technological infrastructures that have a profound impact on how we experience the world. WiFi, GPS, RFID and mobile networks are the invisible materials, mechanisms, and infrastructures which enable contemporary digital culture. But our inability to see these systems thwarts our capacity to understand their importance. Expanding on the ideas explored within the Immaterials exhibition at Lighthouse, Timo will show how making technological infrastructures visible, through photography, animation and film, enables us to develop better understandings about the invisible technological environment we exist within.

Keller Easterling – ‘Are cities only made by constructing buildings?’

Space has become a mobile, monetized, almost infrastructural technology, where infrastructure is not only the urban substructure, but also the urban structure itself. Keller’s talk will show how some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being written, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in the language of this matrix space. Massive global infrastructure systems, administered by mixtures of public and private cohorts and driven by profound irrationalities, generate de facto, undeclared forms of polity faster than any even quasi-official forms of governance can legislate them. The enigmas of this infrastructure space do not distance it from, but rather return it to, the purview of art. In her talk, Keller will outline how access to the real city is found not only in object forms but also in active forms—the information immanent in urban organizations and dispositions.

Frank Swain – ‘How do maps distort our image of the city?’

Cities have never been egalitarian spaces. Those who build them do so to manifest their ideals in steel and concrete. As a key space in which these conflicts play out, it is imperative our infrastructure is made visible. Maps have the power to do that, throwing a light on the city’s secret motives. But maps can also be used to distort our image of the city, further concealing its agenda, defining and even limiting how we see the world. Frank will take us on a guided tour of how maps have helped shape our understandings of built infrastructure, and provided us with powerful tools and metaphors which define how we navigate our environment.

We were then led on to our speaker’s panel, where questions of seamlessness and cultural amnesia were asked by the audience. How do we approach our environment, now that hidden systems are revealed? What are the primary problems with invisibility, why is hiding our infrastructures so troubling?

To Session Two.

Improving Reality 2013 was part of Brighton Digital Festival 2013. It is run by members of Brighton’s arts and digital communities, administered by Wired Sussex in association with Lighthouse and supported by Arts Council England and Brighton & Hove City Council.

With thanks to Brighton Festival and Dome.

Improving Reality



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