We need a holiday to justify the offal in our bowl and so we invented one. The charivari and its long legs and extra fingers have been invited to take a seat in the quire. This is not a battle to be won or lost, but a site of reversal where the possibility of change might be celebrated. The vulgar and the erudite shall share their fetid breath and for two days we will uncrown our algorithmic masters.
We spend most of the year inside a monstrous marvel, a pulsating mass of gears, wires, and the gnashing teeth of an insatiable hunger, devouring all in our path, belching forth a rancid fog of margins and metrics. It’s all tremendous fun, but a rest, at times, is deserved.
Carnival is inversion and mixture. We happily tithe the counting machines and we demand in return our moments of overflow and excess. The illegible, the joyous, the grotesque, and the uncertain organize our efforts.
We bear no malice but rather advocate mirth. We celebrate the body and its needs, the earth and its gifts, and our ancestors and the stories that they give us. We do not hate the artificially intelligent but we would be remiss in not finding the humour in it.
What to Expect
The Carnival of Algorithmic Culture (June 23 + 24, 2023) brought together researchers, artists, activists, technologists, and community members for two days of revelry and release, talks and connections, installations and performances, the weird and the wonderful. We obliquely and joyously explored the impacts of artificial intelligence on the culture we create and the cultural products to which we have access.
What do we mean by Carnival?
Prior to being turned over to institutional uses (religious, political, economic), carnival served as a mode of popular culture that celebrated freedom, creativity, and social inversion. Although likely dating back to traditions of Saturnalia in Rome, carnival was defined in medieval times by certain qualities that we hope to preserve:
Suspension of hierarchies: During the carnival, traditional social structures and hierarchies are temporarily suspended, allowing for a sense of equality and freedom among participants. This inversion of power and authority often involves the use of humour and satire to mock those in positions of power (in our case, the algorithms that increasingly supervise our lives)
The body: Carnival emphasizes the importance of the physical, material aspects of the body, particularly in terms of its exaggerated features. This focus on the body's functions and desires stands in contrast to the more restrained and idealized view of the body in other areas of medieval culture (and on TikTok, Instagram, and elsewhere today).
Laughter: The carnival is a space for laughter, a powerful tool for subverting authority and challenging established norms. Laughter in the carnival context is collective, liberating, and often directed at the powerful and the sacred.
Regeneration and renewal: Carnival is also a time of renewal and regeneration, both for individuals and for society. The chaotic and lively atmosphere of the carnival allows people to break free from the constraints of everyday life and imagine new possibilities.
Why a Carnival of Algorithmic Culture?
We are living in a world where machines make an increasing number of decisions about our lives. In service to this, we explicitly or tacitly make ourselves more legible to them. The benefits are well-documented in terms of efficiency and scale, but do we have the spaces to reflect on the costs? The Carnival of Algorithmic Culture is an opportunity to interrupt the hegemony of these systems, to poke a bit of fun, and to imagine the world going forward. In service to this, curation for the Carnival emphasized:
Temporary inversion of social hierarchies: Carnival provides an opportunity for people to temporarily invert the established social hierarchies, allowing those without power to mock and parody those with power, and vice versa. This temporary suspension of social norms allows for a release of tension when the social order returns once the festivities end.
Relief from ideological constraints: The carnival offers a break from the strict social and cultural constraints that govern life. During the festivities, people can indulge in behaviours that are otherwise frowned upon, such as excessive eating, drinking, and merrymaking (or megaphones, video games, and hidden identities).
Social bonding and solidarity: The carnival fosters a sense of communal identity and solidarity, as people from different communities came together to celebrate, laugh, and engage in shared activities. The carnival atmosphere allows people to feel connected to one another.
Renewal and regeneration: Carnival marks a time of renewal and regeneration, both for individuals and for society. The chaotic and lively atmosphere of the carnival, with its emphasis on the physical, material aspects of life, allows people to break free from the constraints of everyday life and imagine new possibilities.
Cultural expression and creativity: The carnival has always been a space for creative expression, as people engage in various forms of artistic performance, such as music, dance, and theatre. This creative energy allows for the development of new ideas and forms of cultural expression.
This project was made possible through the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.