The Artist: Means, Meaning, and Impact in the 21st Century

December 9, 2016, at the MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

What new stories can be told—and new experiences created—that are maximally synergistic and complementary with evolving tools and techniques? How will artists map their work on to the changing contemporary brain? Can artistic practice somehow evade—or perhaps benefit from—the changes affecting audiences in virtually every other aspect of their lives? What must managers and theater architects know about artistic practice in the digital age in order to ready their institutions for new modes of creation and distribution? How can technology enhance and extend—rather than inhibit or replace—human potential for expression, connection, and collaboration?

Participants in the fourth debate of the "Generation Elsewhere: Art in the Age of Distraction" series were:

  • Hasan Elahi, Interdisciplinary Artist and Associate Professor of Art, University of Maryland;
  • Tod Machover (moderator-speaker), Composer, Inventor, Professor, and Director of the Opera of the Future Group, MIT Media Lab;
  • Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!), Designer, Artist, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab; and
  • Kevin Slavin, Designer, Social Theorist, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab.  

Mr. Machover of the MIT Media Lab opened the event with an artist’s response to the DeVos Institute’s “Generation Elsewhere” series and a reflection on the most urgent challenges and opportunities facing the intersection of the arts, design, technology, and science over the coming years.


Hasan Elahi
Interdisciplinary Artist and Associate Professor of Art, University of Maryland

Hasan Elahi is an artist working with issues in surveillance, privacy, migration, citizenship, technology, and the challenges of borders. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions at venues such as SITE Santa Fe, Centre Georges Pompidou, Sundance Film Festival, and at the Venice Biennale. Mr. Elahi has spoken to audiences as diverse as the Tate Modern, American Association of Artificial Intelligence, International Association of Privacy Professionals, TED, World Economic Forum, and National Geographic. His work is frequently in the media and has appeared on Al Jazeera, Fox News, and on The Colbert Report. His work has been supported by grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, Art Matters, and Doris Duke Foundation, and he is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. He has been Resident Faculty at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and is currently Associate Professor of Art at University of Maryland.

Tod Machover (moderator-speaker)
Composer, Inventor, Professor, and Director of the Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab 

Tod Machover has been called a “musical visionary” by The New York Times and “America’s most wired composer” by The Los Angeles Times. He is a co-founding member of the MIT Media Lab where he is the Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media and also directs the Opera of the Future Group. Before coming to MIT, Mr. Machover studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and was the first Director of Musical Research at Pierre Boulez's IRCAM in Paris. Mr. Machover's compositions have been commissioned and performed by many of the world's most prestigious ensembles and soloists, and his work has been awarded numerous prizes and honors worldwide, including a “Chevalier” of Arts and Letters from the French government to the inaugural Arts Advocacy Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Most recently, he was named 2016 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Mr. Machover is also recognized for designing new technologies for music performance and creation, such as Hyperinstruments, “smart” performance systems that extend expression for virtuosi, from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince, and also for the general public, such as Guitar Hero, which grew out of his Lab. Mr. Machover is also known for his visionary operas—the most recent being the “robotic” Death and the Powers which was Finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize—and for musical projects that build community and promote collaboration, such as his City Symphonies, which have been created around the world since 2013 (from Perth to Lucerne to Detroit and beyond). He is currently working on his next opera, Schoenberg in Hollywood, commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera for premiere in November 2018, as well as on commissions for the Kronos Quartet, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Montréal Symphony Orchestra.

Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!)
Designer, Artist, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab


Hiromi Ozaki (aka Sputniko!) is a British/Japanese artist who creates music, video and installations exploring issues surrounding technology, gender and pop culture. She is Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Sputniko!’s graduation piece Menstruation Machine—Takashi’s Take (2010), a device simulating bleeding and pain to mimic that of menstruation in order to allow men to understand the experience, was the first of her projects which caused ripples in the contemporary art scene and was just months later exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Since then, Sputniko! has continued to produce playful and cross-boundary work examining technology of everyday life, and has presented her film and installation works internationally in museums such as New York MoMA, Victoria & Albert Museum, and in 2016 created her first permanent art pavilion at Teshima Island in Benesse’s Naoshima Artsite for Setouchi Art Triennial. Considered a pop personality in Japan, she was named one of Vogue Japan’s Women of the Year in 2013.

Kevin Slavin
Designer, Social Theorist, and Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab

Kevin Slavin is an artist/designer and a pioneer in rethinking game design and development around new technologies (like GPS) and new platforms (like Facebook). He received his BFA from the Cooper Union and is currently the Benesse Career Development Professor in Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. As an entrepreneur, Slavin co-founded Area/Code (acquired by Zynga in 2011), where he developed large-scale, real-world games using mobile, pervasive, and location-aware technologies. This included work for major companies, including Nokia, Nike, and Puma, and also for media giants, including MTV, A&E, the Discovery Channel, CBSl, and Disney. Slavin has taught at NYU’s ITP, the Cooper Union, and Fabrica, and as an artist, his public, city-scale work has been exhibited in Frankfurt’s Museum fuer Moderne Kunst, the Design Museum of London, and the Venice Architecture Biennale. He is currently working on a project for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. His very popular TED talk, “How Algorithms Shape Our World,” has received over 2 million views. 

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 410        Washington, DC 20004        P: 301.314.0963     

© 2015 University of Maryland. All rights reserved.