Repositioning Data as Counter-Culture


Letter From The Curator

From October 2020 to June 2021, the ADA-DADA residency provided a virtual gathering space for shared learnings through workshops, readings, and conversations on the multiple economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions of data - critically engaging with its use and role as material, currency, knowledge and power.

Hosted by the South Asian Visual Arts Centre in Toronto, this residency was intended as a critical provocation, asking how we can reclaim and reposition data as a form of counter-culture. How can we use data to speak back, to investigate, to complicate, to re-formulate or perhaps subvert the production of knowledge towards more just data sets and systems?

In coming together to learn, share, and make, the ADA-DADA participants became a community of peers nurturing multiple perspectives on the intersections of data with narratives of power, erasure, embodiment, movement, time, labour, resistance, and the quantification of human life – offering responses that invite deeper reflections and interference into the operations of data through networks, interfaces and systems that structure our experiences in and of the world.

I welcome you to explore Hiba Ali’s auto-generative critique of labour practices in big tech; watch Saira Chhibber’s video-essay and counter-archive reframing the Sanskari Naria ideal through popular cinema; play CAM Collective’s interactive game and speculative reflection on data collection focused through the migrant crisis; read Sheung-King, Aaron Tang’s novel examining Hong Kong’s datafied and post-colonial condition as felt by character Glue (Glen Wu); experience Vishal Kumaraswamy’s video-performance and accompanying assemblage of generative sound investigating the roots of algorithmic bias and injustices; and pause at Lingxiang Wu’s fragmented digital landscape, stripped from Instagram’s platform for consumption, and reformulated as a place for contemplative lingering.

I invite you also to think through some of the inspiring, critical, and generative questions posed by workshop facilitators Paola Ricaurte, Caroline Sinders, LANE Digital, Sherife Wong, Sarah Sharma, Una Lee and Lupe Perez from AndAlsoToo, and Tawanna Petty; as well as the work of guest contributors Tanuja Mishra and Emily Fitzpatrick who through text-based works (fiction and nonfiction), propose new modes and strategies for convivial and relational ways of being with, and animating data.

My deepest gratitude goes to all the participants mentioned above who made this residency possible, including the incredible staff at SAVAC: Indu Vashist, Toleen Touq, Sophie Sabet and Sajdeep Soomal, without whose mentorship and support this project would not have been possible.

Maria Alejandrina Coates

This residency was produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Residency

The ADA-DADA program, curated by Maria Alejandrina Coates, consisted of a 8 month residency that offered participants a dedicated space for collaborative production, alongside a series of practical and theoretical workshops designed to engage with the materiality of data to support the creation of new work. Participants were invited to think through the socio-polital implications of data usage across various applications, platforms and economic models, and to take up feminist and decolonial approaches to data justice in their work. The program paid particular attention to the racial conditions of production for media-based works.

The Curator

María Alejandrina Coates is a Uruguayan-born, Ontario-based media arts curator. Her research interests encompass technology, feminism and socially engaged art practices and pedagogies. Her curated exhibitions include Terraforming, presented by the South Asian Visual Arts Centre and Trinity Square Video (Toronto); Voz-a-Voz at YYZ Artists’ Outlet (Toronto); and Feelings, presented as part of the aluCine Latin Film and Media Arts Festival (Toronto). Coates received a bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia and a master’s degree in Art History and Curatorial Studies from York University (Toronto).