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UnProductive Solutions: Stamps-funded Project Humanizing Digital Tech Launches

Realistic illustration of an open space office reception, counter with two laptops on top, windows at the back with swivel chairs around a long office table. The front desk reads "Unproductive Solutions."

In the current era where artificial intelligence and technology are at large, a new project, UnProductive Solutions, aims to offer a humane perspective.

Stamps Professor Rebekah Modrak and curator Marialaura Ghidini launched UnProductive Solutions after three years of collaboration. This artwork/​curatorial project might appear to be an international holding company on the surface, but its mission is to develop digital technologies that challenge the capitalist logic of hyper-efficiency. 

The project was funded by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, the U‑M Office of Research (UMOR), and Institute for Research on Women & Gender (IRWG) grants, and supported by an Institute for the Humanities Fellowship. 

Since its initial launch in February 2023, UnProductive Solutions has launched five new technologies developed by subsidiary companies.” Each subsidiary is an artistic project by an international artist invited to collaborate with the project. 

Artistic projects within UnProductive Solutions challenge the influence of capitalist values, such as optimization and efficiency, on technology and, instead, offer perspectives that bring the human experience to the forefront. By emphasizing feeling, reflection, intimacy, experience, and happenstance, UnProductive Solutions offers alternatives and antidotes to capitalist and hyperrational influences. This process invites a critical discourse around the issues and invites participants to consider technology’s potential to be developed from human perspectives rather than the proverbial bottom line. 

Apps, email, search engines, Canvas, and more, indoctrinate us as machines of ultra-efficiency, and often create more distractions than connections and meaningful engagement. More importantly, they displace non-rational perspectives,” Modrak said. We created UnProductive Solutions to imagine how technologies could transcend hyper-rational thinking.” 

Years in the Making

The founders of UnProductive Solutions have worked together as Modrak&Ghidini since 2017, when they launched the project “#exstrange” – an intervention into the online marketplace eBay. 

After combining Modrak’s interest in creative resistance to consumer culture and Marialaura’s interest in online curation and working with various exhibition formats, UnProductive Solutions was born. 

Modrak says the project is meant for a broad audience. 

The project has deep connections with consumer culture, economics, digital studies, well-being and care, surveillance, data, and other themes,” Modrak said. 

U‑M Connection

In addition to its Stamps Professor co-founder, Rebekah Modrak, and integral funding, UnProductive Solutions is rich in U‑M connections. 

One platform within UnProductive Solutions, titled The Emotional Labor Wage Calculator, was developed by TRK: technically responsible knowledge, founded by 2023 Witt Artist in Residence Caroline Sinders. The calculator offers insider advice on the challenges of e‑delivery jobs and helps consumers calculate what an equitable wage should be. 

Sinders says that TRK was a perfect match for UnProductive Solutions. 

I’m very interested in labor issues within technology and how to circumvent or combat them, so I was naturally drawn to UnProductive Solutions,” Sinders said. It’s been really exciting working with Marialuara Ghidini and Rebekah Modrak for almost the past year.”

When it came to designing the website, the project worked with Friendly Design, owned by alum Geoff Silverstein (BFA 06). Recent Stamps alum, Gabi Mechaber (BFA 22) worked directly with the project as the team’s designer.

Screenshot of a website called proof of word. Graphic of lit candles and chain links. Text: Make your word finally worthy. Sculpt your word in the blockchain and become a beacon of reliability.
proof of word was launched as a platform within UnProductive Solutions.

Honoring Emotions in Technology

The curators behind UnProductive Solutions believe that consumers are tired of monotonous algorithms and technology that may cause harmful effects on humans. 

The project invests in platforms that honor human emotions – a break from productive solutions” that dominate many industries. 

Modrak says that the services are opening new possibilities for digital technologies to be informed by human activity, such as poetry, philosophy, and humor. Modrak refers to her experience as a human search agent for the platform, No Storage, as transformative.”

When I served as a human search agent, I slightly feared the onset of 20 minutes of answering random questions because I wasn’t allowed to rely on stored data for my responses. But over the course of the session, I started to trust my own experiences and shift the logic of my answers from providing information’ to expressing the world from my own sensibilities and to being present for this exchange with another person. It was a transformative experience,” Modrak said. 

Other upcoming technologies developed by the following subsidiary companies include: 

  • proof of word

  • Star Beans

  • No Data Institute

  • Salvia

The new media artists behind these companies are Guido Segni, Matìas Reyes, Bruce Asbestos, Tara Kelton, and Lauren Lee McCarthy.

To learn more about UnProductive Solutions and its upcoming events, visit https://​unpro​duc​tives​o​lu​tions​.com/.