|16 Mar 2024
|15:00 - 17:00
|Cambridge Central Library, 7 Lion Yard, Cambridge CB2 3QD
An event organised by Cambridge Digital Humanities
Faust Shop initially premiered as a co-production between Cambridge Digital Humanities and the Cambridge School of Creative Industries at Anglia Ruskin University. ‘Space Popular’ – an Architecture, Design, and Media Studio – provided virtual stage sets. Kirk Woolford served as Artistic Technical Director and Eva Aymamí Reñé served as Movement Director and Dancer.
Faust is not dead, but AI is. Faust Shop 2.0 transposes two scenes from Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust story into an AI Winter. It explores the impending collapse of the current AI hype as an opportunity to re-imagine machine learning. AI is going offline. Faust Shop 2.0 is set in an age where AI is believed to explode into the physical world. It has spread across the screens, the shelves and into the streets; AI incarnates as mechanical turks, AI agents, court cases, time off work due to automation anxiety, click farms as machine learning invades organisations and businesses and our bodies.
Great projects at the outset seem insane.
But we shall leave chance out of it in future.
– Wagner, Faust’s student, in Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust II, trans. by David Constantine
Staged in the Cambridge Central Library, a place dedicated to public knowledge and learning, this mixed-reality production invites participants to discover their artificial double. Meet Homunculus, a digital, multi-dimensional artificial life created by Collective AI and the Faustian pacts we make in our daily digital lives with tech.
Stepping into our pop-up performance, you’ll be immersed in a story that challenges the boundaries between virtual and physical space. A smart and augmented environment will use prompt farms and live motion capture to generate three AI experiments. Experience how automation creates movement and light and seemingly takes human form. Become part of an alternative digital future that is not inevitable.
How human beings torment themselves, that’s all I see.
Earth’s little god keeps true to type. Humans were
An oddity the first day and still are.
Somewhat their life would be in better plight
Had the Lord not given them the shine of heaven’s light.
Humans call it reason and use it
Only to be more bestial than any beast.
Projecting it on machines now.
– Mephistopheles in Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust I, trans. by David Constantine; adapted for Faust Shop 2.0
The Faust Shop performance is a performance as research (PaR) project led by Annja Neumann and Alex Mentzel. It is part of Neumann’s ‘Re-staging public spaces’ project funded by Cambridge Digital Humanities and the Isaac Newton Trust and of Mentzel’s PhD project on ‘digital topographies’ funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
The performance will be complemented by a talk on anti-computing and digital futures by Caroline Bassett.
Dr Annja Neumann is an Affiliated Lecturer in Modern German Studies, the Isaac Newton Trust Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Digital Humanities and Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge. Her practice-based research explores the staging of public spaces and politics of embodiment, with a particular interest in the theatricalisation of medical spaces.
Alex Mentzel is a second-year PhD student at the University of Cambridge, specialising in German with an emphasis on Digital Humanities, funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Alex’s research delves into the spatial principles and architectures of online ecosystems and emergent technology, resulting in the formation of a ‘Virtual Topography’.
Caroline Bassett is Professor of Digital Humanities, a member of the Faculty of English, and a Fellow of Corpus Christi. She is Director of Cambridge Digital Humanities.