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Q&A: Caroline Sinders, 2023 Witt Artist in Residence

Award-winning designer, researcher, and artist Caroline Sinders is the 2023 Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence. During the past few weeks, Sinders has been engaged across the campus and presented on the topic of using design and art to create equitable artificial intelligence. She recently took a few moments to share her thoughts on her work and upcoming projects.

Caroline Sinders: Using Design and Art to Create Equitable AI / Presented by the Center for Ethics, Society and Computing (ESC)

How has the residency been so far? What do you hope to accomplish? 

It’s going well so far! It’s been nice to adjust to Michigan and travel around the region slightly slowly. I’ve been to Detroit and Chicago already. I’ve been slowly chewing over the workshop I am designing for student participants. It’s been nice to give talks (and have planned talks) in different parts of the school. I’ve already done talks in different programs. My plan is then to hold my speculative design workshop in my studio. I hope to generate research materials, document my process, outline the website, and build some prototypes of my sculptures. I’m further connecting with Detroit’s anti-surveillance and design justice activists, informing my project. 

Are there any other projects you’re working on in your residency?

In my research phase, where I’m talking to different anti-surveillance activists across the US, I’ve been thinking of creating a zine or a toolkit. While documenting my work, I am also making myself available to activists fighting surveillance in their cities. I’ve spent the past eight years focusing on privacy and technology. For example, I’m from New Orleans and spent the entire year of 2020 and 2021 working on this project with the criminal justice blog, the Lens, documenting the extent of the surveillance apparatus in New Orleans. I’ve also been talking to reproductive justice activists in states where abortion is banned and figuring out how to do a workshop for them on combating surveillance in their states. I see all of this as a part of my project, given my project is thinking about intimacy and privacy. 

How did you get involved with this UnProductive Solutions project? What intrigued you or motivated you?

I saw an open call on an artist residency website. I love the premise of the project, which aligned with a project I was working on called technically responsible knowledge.” I’m very interested in labor issues within technology and how to circumvent or combat them, so I was naturally drawn to UnProductive Solutions. It’s been really exciting working with Marialuara Ghidini and Rebekah Modrak for almost the past year.

What do you do in your role as a media artist?

I do a lot of things! I’m an artist and researcher who works at the intersections of civil society, and the private sector looking at the impacts of technology in society, and its effects on marginalized groups- specifically, I also look at how design impacts policy and people. One of my areas of expertise is researching online harassment and how social media and the design of social media create specific kinds of harm. I’ve held residencies with BuzzFeed and Eyebeam, Pioneer Works, Mozilla Foundation, and the Harvard Kennedy School. I’ve worked with the UN on a special working group on data privacy and children.

My background is in photojournalism, research, design, and art. I see everything through the lens of legibility, data, and research storytelling. These are skills I honed as a photojournalist. And with these skills, I make art, I do human rights research, and I look at how technology impacts society, and the complications and complexities of data-but again, focusing through the lens of how design and technology affect’s people and their lives. Two things: I am a human rights researcher as much as I am an artist. I take my art as seriously as my writing and my policy work as seriously as my artwork. But I love what I do because they feed each other.

Dichotomies are hard for people to understand once they are explained or shown. Complexities and complications are easier to sense or articulate once they are known or made legible. During 2020 and 2021, I worked to figure out how to blend these two spaces more and not keep them apart.

That’s to say, I do a lot of work of art as pedagogy (think interactive exhibitions on technology), essays, and video art projects exploring all different facets of technology and research papers on similar subjects. All of these practices intertwine and intersect.

How are you combining these two concepts of web and art?

The web is a material to explore, a material of creation, and a place where life happens. My friend Eryk Salvaggio describes my practice as feeling like you’ve walked into the Internet with a camera and documented what you found there. Memes, screen grabs, and ripped YouTube videos are unusual topics for photojournalism,’ partly because the Web is already a flat space — it’s already images. You’re taking the Web seriously as a place where we live and things happen. That’s at odds with the common excuses for online abuse — it’s just the internet. It’s not real.’”

The web is a space of exploration and inspiration, of how it is architected, and how people engage with it as a public space of discourse online.

A pop-up exhibition of Sinders’ work from the Witt Residency is scheduled to open April 7, 2023 at Cultureverse in downtown Ann Arbor. More information on that event will be released at a later date.