Royal College of Art, London, UK | Website
Black Box Formula is an immersive exhibition that reflects on black box theory. Black boxes are imaginary constructs where processes of any sort are influenced by stimuli but remain unknowable. In this show, mechanisms that are normally invisible are made physical. New works explore various aspects of black box theory, incorporating posthuman thought in terms of prosthetics and human networks. Though there are multiple types of black box theory, this exhibition draws from the version explored in cybernetics, where the contents of the black box and its workings are visibly informed by inputs and outputs but are ultimately mysterious. As the French philosopher and sociologist of science Bruno Latour writes in his 1987 text Science in Action,
The word black box is used by cyberneticians whenever a piece of machinery or a set of commands is too complex. […] That is, no matter how controversial their history, how complex their inner workings, how large the commercial or academic networks that hold them in place, only the input and output count.
The ‘Formula’ is a rhetorical device, with an animated text by YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES acting as an input for the audience as they enter the ‘Black Box’ of the exhibition. Inside, works by Zach Blas, Hyungkoo Lee, Lawrence Lek and Harry Sanderson each explore variations on black box theory. On exiting the gallery, the audience ultimately produces the ‘output’ in their reception of the work.
Conceptually, Black Box Formula takes cues from ideas of the posthuman, suggesting a movement towards the unknown: beyond the human and beyond embedded systems of knowledge, work and identity. Each piece is a new work and has not been adapted to fit an overarching structure, but rather created to be part of the whole ensemble. As curators, we also take on the unknown element of the black box as part of the unquantifiable nature of collaboration intrinsic to the artist-curator relationship.