By Anselm Franke, Stephanie Hankey, and Marek Tuszynski
“Nervous Systems is an exhibition about how our experience and understanding of the “self” and the “social” are changing. It looks at how we become part of vast networked infrastructures and the way that abstract laws of the market and finance capitalism translate into subjective experience and embodied activity. It asks how the enormous amounts of data about human behavior affect and transform this behavior.
Todays’ agitated nation-states and overreaching institutions often act according to the fantasy that given sufficient information, threats, disasters, and disruptions can be predicted and controlled; economies can be managed; and profit margins can be elevated. This new belief in technological solutions fostered by data analysis, reality mining, pattern recognition, and forecasting increasingly dominates all aspects of contemporary society and replaces political and hermeneutical processes. The idea of a “nervous system” has become a chief motif to describe this proposed unification of life and technology; the organic and the mechanic. Today, corporations speak of “smart nerves” and “synaptic real time connections” as managerial solutions to everything from government and business to natural ecologies.
In the exhibition, a different notion of “nervousness” is being explored: the one that haunts todays’ systems and data-driven rationalities and ideologies. Visual, historical, and practical materials by artists, technologists, theorists, and activists cast light on specific ideas of governance, power, and control that have emerged over the last 100 years and how these have influenced the formation of our new data-economies. Against this backdrop, and in the context of contemporary capitalism, what used to be called the “social question”—the relationship between individuals, society, and state—has to be framed anew.”
Tactical Technology Collective
Tactical Tech is a collective of practitioners, technologists, and activists who work to demystify the politics of data in an international context. Since its founding in 2003, Tactical Tech’s work has supported thousands of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders worldwide to use information and technology in their work. For the past five years Tactical Tech has been actively exploring the political questions that arise from living in increasingly data-oriented societies worldwide – from questions of the resulting shrinking free space of civil society, to accumulative disadvantage for marginalised communities. Building on this work, Nervous Systems gives us the chance to reflect on and challenge the existing narratives around these topics, that otherwise tend to be limited to questions of surveillance and privacy, or fall into simplistic techno-utopic/techno-distopic framings. We believe that in order to reflect on how living in quantified societies will impact political engagement and shift centers of control and power in the future, a broader framework is needed.
In the exhibition, we reflect on the desire we all have as users to access digital technologies that make our lives more convenient and efficient, and the trade-offs this creates with the parasitical nature of the data business model that makes this available to us at low or no cost. We put into question ideologies, ways of seeing and modes of governance that place faith in data as a solution for social problems and for 'developing' societies and communities, and we foreground the dynamics of these new centers of power – the world's new data superpowers and their outsourced allies.
Most importantly, we invite the visitor to explore, to question and - through hands-on sessions in the White Room - make more informed choices about their digital interactions.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) is a venue for international contemporary arts and a forum for current events and discourse, located in the city of Berlin. Visual arts, music, literature, performing arts, film, academic discussions and digital media are all linked in an interdisciplinary program that is unique in Europe. At a time when local and national issues are inextricably tied to international developments, HKW enables the voices of the world to be heard in their great diversity and gives them a productive place in inter-societal dialogue.
Together with artists and experts in their fields, HKW offers the visitor an opportunity to familiarize with the conflicts, challenges and questions of our time: How do our respective living conditions impinge upon each other? What kind of future do we want to live in? How can we shape our world more intelligently, but also more poetically?
In a time of ever faster and profound worldwide transformations, classical approaches of knowledge production are experiencing a crisis. In its trans-disciplinary projects on art, science and theory HKW is curating “ideas in the making” in order to create spaces of imagination and scopes of possibility. In its programs HKW collaborates with partners from manifold spheres and backgrounds. By including alternative players and key actors – beyond what is commonly understood under the term “expert” – the projects aim not to merely translate expert knowledge for a wider audience but to create new ways of understanding knowledge as an essential part of societal processes. The collaboration on Nervous Systems illustrates that approach. Knowledge from in the field, from activists and experts from Tactical Technology Collective, as well as the visitors’ experience from everyday life was brought together with artistic and theoretical reflections on the shifting meaning of the “self” and the “social” in the light of our data-driven present, thus providing a variety of perspectives on the topic that all together that unclose hidden associations and patterns and providing new starting points for grasping the world as it is.
Organising Team and Sponsors
Curators Anselm Franke, Stephanie Hankey, Marek Tuszynski
Co-initiator and White Room producer Diana McCarty
Exhibition architecture Kris Kimpe
Graphic design Joris Kritis (with Terry Kritis & Julie Héneault)
Project and research coordination Eylem Sengezer
Production coordination Elsa de Seynes
Trainee Adrian Waschmann
Interns Pujan Karambeigi, Dominik Mayer, Johanna Nuber, Alma Seiberth, Brandon W. Scott
General coordination exhibition set-up Gernot Ernst
Architectonical coordination Paul Beaury, museeon GbR
Exhibition set-up team Krum Chorbadzhiev, Oliver Dehn, Christian Dertinger, Paul Eisemann, Simon Franzkowiak, Stefan Geiger, Achim Haigis, Matthias Henkel, Martin Hoffman, Oliver Könitzer, Petra Könitzer, Gabriel Kujawa, Matthias Kujawa, Sladjan Nedeljkovic Nghia Nuyen, Andrew Schmidt, Stefan Seitz, Elisabeth Sinn, Marie Luise Stein, Norio Takasugi, Christophe Zangerle, Margrit Zeitler
Video-editing Matthias Hardenberger Isabelle Lonitz, Norio Takasugi
Managing editors Martin Hager, Eylem Sengezer
Texts on the artworks Michael Baers, Anselm Franke, Stephanie Hankey, Marek Tuszynski
Copy-Editing Mandi Gomez
White Room by Tactical Technology Collective
Concept and research Stephanie Hankey, Marek Tuszynski
White Room design Malgorzata Gurowska
White Room Production Sophie Macpherson
Animations and films Klaas Diersmann, Leil-Zahra Mortada
'Normal is Boring' table co-production La Loma
Research and development Maya Indira Ganesh, Fieke Jansen
Research support Jeff Deutch, Lisa Gutermuth, Gabi Sobliye, Maria Xynou
Technology and tacticaltech.org Alistair Alexander, Christo Buschek, Niko Para, Allan Stanley
Communications and tacticaltech.org Caroline Kent, Helen Kilbey
Production support Daniela O'Halloran, Caroline Kent, Franziska Kursawe
White Room Sessions Claudio Agosti, Evelyne Austin, Crille, Dan Ó Clunaigh, Andrea Figari, Clara Friedrich, Maya Indira Ganesh, Lisa Gutermuth, Alex Hache, Fieke Jansen, Hadi Al Khatib, Helen Kilbey, Franziska Kursawe, Ling Luther, Leil-Zahra Mortada, Vanessa Rizk, Hannah Smith, Gabi Sobliye, Bobby Soriano, Ulrich Schlenker, Kaustubh Srikanth, Maria Xynou
Support from Tactical Tech team members Gillo Cutrupi, Laurent Delleré, Jan Griffiths, Rafael Polo, David Timothy, Chris Walker, Carol Waters
Responsible for content: Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski CEO and founders of Tactical Technology. The content of nervoussystems.org is for informational purposes only.
Supported by Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Publication in cooperation with Spector Booksgo)
Kids&Teens workshops in collaboration with the Kids Hacker Club
Film workshop in colloboration with
Photo marathon in collaboration with
With the kind support of