Jeff ThompSon (USA)

Parasitic Computer

Salzburger Kunstverein | free admission

The promise of transhumanism is one of human-centric positivity: our bodies will fuse seamlessly with networked computers and tiny machines will live in and flow through us. As computers shrink and multiply, this project seeks to explore what always emerges alongside human activity: bugs and parasites, feeding off our garbage and bodies. Ants, roaches, and ticks all live not so much with but in spite of us – as they become more intelligent, we have to assume that some computers will evolve to do the same.

Attached to the body of the artist and encased in an algorithmically-generated, 3D-printed metal “shell”, this parasitic computer slowly charges its battery using a device that generates electricity from the heat of his body. When charged, the computer turns itself on for a short period of time, runs, and turns itself off when it runs out of electricity, hibernating until its battery is charged again.
Much of this project is inspired by biology: desert snakes that feed once every few months and pacemakers that convert glucose into fuel, and the form of mollusk shells, exoskeletons of insects, mineral deposits, and spiderwebs.
The 3D-printed shell was “grown” using custom-written software, a typical part of the practice of Jeff Thompson that merges art, research, and engineering.
This project extends ideas that run through recent artistic work of Jeff Thompson, especially projects developed last year while artist-in-residence at Bell Labs: the materiality and incremental awareness of computers, collaboration with technical systems as a way to investigate our social relationships with them, and attempting to break out of the one-directional and tool-focused ways that we use computers. This has come in the form of a robot trained to touch visitors the way he touches his phone, a hand-built inkjet that draws its own shadow on the wall, and a 2-micron piece of dust from his hard-drive imaged on an electron microscope and fabricated a trillion times larger.

portrait Jeff Thompson
© Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson (born 1982, Minneapolis/USA) is an artist, programmer, and educator based in the NYC area. His work explores collaboration with, empathy for, and the poetics of computers and technological systems. Through code, sculpture, sound, and performance, Thompson's work uses conceptual processes like remix, translation, and visualization to physicalize and give materiality to otherwise invisible processes. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director of Visual Art & Technology at Stevens Institute of Technology, and co-founded the experimental curatorial project Drift Station.