Let’s Make a Monster — Exhibition at Shriram Center for Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering


Works from the course “Let’s Make a Monster: Critical Making,” which I co-taught this quarter with my art practice colleague Paul DeMarinis, are currently on display in the Shriram Center for Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. The show, which officially opened today, is up through Friday, June 8.

We are particularly excited to take this work across campus and show it in the context of a space devoted to cutting-edge engineering work, where we hope that it provokes thought and discussion about the transformations of technology, experience, and life itself taking place in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Thanks especially to Prof. Drew Endy for his help in facilitating and making this show possible.

Here are just a few glimpses of the work on display.

Nora Wheat, Social Monstrosity (2018)

Hieu Minh Pham, The Knot (2018)

Raphael Palefsky-Smith, Brick (2018) — more info here

David Zimmerman, Eigenromans I-III (2018)

Jennifer Xilo, Mirror for Our Upturned Palms (2018)

Jackie Langelier, Creepers (2018)


Syllabus: Let’s Make a Monster! Critical Making (Stanford, Spring 2018)

Somehow I forgot to post the syllabus for “Let’s Make A Monster! Critical Making,” which Paul DeMarinis and I are currently teaching as a hybrid Film & Media Studies and Art Practice class in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford. The main focus of the course, as the title indicates, is the production of monsters in a variety of media and informed by reading literary, philosophical, and other critical texts on making and monstrosity. Students have been making some truly astounding work, and I look forward to being able to present some of it later in the quarter. We will be organizing an exhibition of works on campus, and I will post images here.

Let’s Make a Monster! Critical Making (Stanford, Spring 2018)


Ever since Frankenstein unleashed his monster onto the world in Mary Shelley’s novel from 1818, the notion of “technology-out-of-control” has been a constant worry of modern societies, plaguing more optimistic visions of progress and innovation with fears that modern machines harbor potentials that, once set in motion, can no longer be tamed by their human makers. In this characteristically modern myth, the act of making — and especially technological making — gives rise to monsters. As a cautionary tale, we are therefore entreated to look before we leap, to go slow and think critically about the possible consequences of invention before we attempt to make something radically new. However, this means of approaching the issue of human-technological relations implies a fundamental opposition between thinking and making, suggesting a split between cognition as the specifically human capacity for reflection versus a causal determinism-without-reflection that characterizes the machinic or the technical. Nevertheless, recent media theory questions this dichotomy by asserting that technologies are inseparable from humans’ abilities to think and to act in the world, while artistic practices undo the thinking/making split more directly and materially, by taking materials — including technologies — as the very medium of their critical engagement with the world. Drawing on impulses from both media theory and art practice, “critical making” names a counterpart to “critical thinking” — one that utilizes technologies to think about humans’ constitutive entanglements with technology, while recognizing that insight often comes from errors, glitches, malfunctions, or even monsters. Co-taught by a practicing artist and a media theorist, this course will engage students in hands-on critical practices involving both theories and technologies. Let’s make a monster!

ARTSTUDI 233, FILMSTUD 233/433 — Spring 2018 — Profs. Paul DeMarinis & Shane Denson — Thursdays 3:00-5:50pm

Weird DH at MLA 2016


On January 7, 2016, I’ll be participating in a panel, organized by Mark Sample, on “Weird DH” at the MLA Convention in Austin. Here’s the lineup:

107. Weird DH

Thursday, 7 January3:30–4:45 p.m., Lone Star C, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the forum TC Digital Humanities

Presiding: Mark Sample, Davidson Coll.

1. “Speculative Data: Postempirical Approaches to the ‘Datafication’ of Affect and Activity,” Shane Denson, Duke Univ.

2. “Analyzing Belligerent Erasure: Weird Digital Humanities and/in the Native,” Jeremy Justus, Univ. of Pittsburgh, Johnstown

3. “‘Weird Tales of Super-K’: A Synesthetic Journey into the National Security Archive’s Kissinger Correspondence,” Micki Kaufman, MLA

4. “Danger, Jane Roe! Using Embroidery and Electronics to Make Data Weird,” Kim Knight, Univ. of Texas, Dallas




And here’s the abstract for my talk:

Speculative Data: Post-Empirical Approaches to the “Datafication” of Affect and Activity

Shane Denson, Duke University

A common critique of the digital humanities questions the relevance of quantitative, data-based methods for the study of literature and culture; in its most extreme form, this type of criticism insinuates a complicity between DH and the neoliberal techno-culture that turns all human activity, if not all of life itself, into “big data” to be mined for profit. Drawing on recent reconceptions of DH as “deformed humanities” – as an aesthetically and politically invested field of “deformance”-based practice – this presentation describes several methods by which a decidedly “weird” DH can avail itself of data collection to interrogate and critique “datafication” itself.

The focus is on work conducted in the context of Duke University’s S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab, where literary scholars, media theorists, artists, and “makers” of all sorts collaborate to produce computational and data-driven “things to think with” that blur the boundaries between art and digital scholarship. One such project, Manifest Data, uses a piece of “benevolent spyware” that collects and parses data about personal Internet usage in such a way as to produce 3D-printable sculptural objects, thus giving form to data and reclaiming its personal value from corporate cooptation. Another ongoing project uses data collected by (scientifically questionable) biofeedback devices to perform realtime collective transformations of audiovisual materials, opening theoretical notions of “post-cinematic affect” to robustly material, media-archaeological, and aesthetic investigations. These and other projects, I contend, point the way towards a truly “weird DH” that is reflexive enough to suspect its own data-driven methods but not paralyzed into inactivity.


S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab. Manifest Data. Collaborative art/theory project. Description online: <http://s-1lab.org/project/manifest-data/>.

S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab (with contributions from Luke Caldwell, Karin Denson, Shane Denson, Amanda Starling Gould, David Rambo, Libi Striegl, and Max Symuleski). “Manifest Data: A Kit to Create Personal Digital Data-Based Sculptures.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures 13 (2015): <http://hyperrhiz.io/hyperrhiz13/sensors-data-bodies/manifest-data.html>. Web.

Sample, Mark. “Notes Towards a Deformed Humanities.” Samplereality (2 May 2012): <http://www.samplereality.com/2012/05/02/notes-towards-a-deformed-humanities/>. Web.

Samuels, Lisa, and Jerome McGann. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History 30.1 (1999): 25–56. Print.

Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010. Print.


Out Now: Hyperrhiz 13


Hyperrhiz 13 is out now. The special issue on “Kits, Plans, Schematics” includes the Duke S-1 Lab’s contribution “Manifest Data,” along with a variety of other great projects utilizing data, physical computing, bodies, and other living and nonliving things. Check it out!