Staying on the Grid: Platforms, Psyches, Paths @REDCAT, Downtown LA

On Saturday the 21st, the California Institute of the Arts MA in Aesthetics and Politics Program and the School of Critical Studies will be holding a conference “Staying on the Grid: Platforms, Psyches, Paths” at REDCAT downtown. We are bringing together community groups, researchers, and artists to discuss contemporary net culture.

‘If Twitter is the canary in the coal mine, then the era of social media may soon be over. Or is it?’ What are the remaining potentials of the internet? More than representing the transition of the internet which we are witnessing, the participants are invited to reflect on the methods that reinvent the promises of the grid. Can we redesign it? What kind of grid do we want to inhabit? Thinking about what it means to “stay on the grid,” participants will discuss the current state of internet platforms, the mental states that come from being on the web, and creative alternatives for envisioning alternatives. 

Providing an off-ramp to the macho planetary land grab that currently drives the internet, the conference aims to join the exodus from mainstream platforms. Discussions will look for aesthetic avenues that offer a glimpse into a new digital future worth inhabiting through three panels. 


Closed Source: Platform Futures

(10 a.m.—12 p.m.) “Closed Source: Platform Futures” critiques mainstream platforms. Panelists include a community group dedicated to a safer intersectional internet: Sarah Roberts, the feminist researcher who broke the story of the exploitative labor of online content moderators working in former colonies; Tom Leeser, digital media artist, educator, curator, and writer behind the CalArts Center for Integrated Media; and Olivia Snow, a writer, dominatrix, and research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry (C2i2). 


U Bored?: Mental States of the Net

(1 p.m.—3 p.m.) ”U Bored?: Mental States of the Net” considers psychic life on the web. Panelists include community-based practitioners examining the social impacts of digital culture: Matias Viegener, writer, artist, and critic who has been examining the connection between intimacy and the digital; Scott Benzel, a multimedia artist plumbing the depths of the internet and technology worlds; and Lauren Lee McCarthy, an artist examining social relationships in the midst of surveillance, automation, and algorithmic living.


Re:re:Reboot: Hacking Failed Systems

(3:30 p.m.—5:30 p.m.) “Re:re:Reboot: Hacking Failed Systems” looks at alternatives to the current state of the internet. Panelists include Cryptoparty LA, an anonymous hub for sharing tools that protect the vulnerable; Ramesh Srinivasan, who researches how new technologies can support Indigenous, non-Western, and other global communities; Dan Bustillo will join Tim Schwartz, to discuss online surveillance culture.

The evening will be capped off by a lecture-performance by Geert Lovink, followed by a dialogue with Ben Grosser.



(8:30 p.m.—10 p.m.) Geert Lovink will discusses the dark side of the net. The mental state of internet users is tragic. Instead of empowerment and self-organization, what we mostly see around the internet is anger and despair. How did we end up like this? This lecture by the renowned media theorist, internet critic, and author will zoom in on the widespread techno-sadness that is produced by dominant social media platforms through “behavioral modification” (also known as “nudging”) with the aim to keep users coming back to the app, exposing them to even more personalized ads. Instead of empowerment and diversity, we witness a “chilling effect” of hyper-conformism, resulting in anger, sadness, depression, and loneliness. This is the social today.

I feel honored to have helped Andrew Culp organize this event and I am excited to see what will come out of it. Having moved to LA recently (and temporarily), I haven’t had enough time to explore the shapes of the internet promises outside of the education institution. Though some of my peers seem to be hopeless about the internet and follow Jonathan Carry’s sentiment in Scorched Earth, the tech optimism persists. We can blame the Californian scale and scatteredness for the lacking discussion of nuances, but San Francisco’s innovative energy is felt in the air. The tech squad power is in the air.

All to say: I am in awe of how much money there is and how much risk money can afford here. I can’t wait for this event. Stay tuned!

P.S. In anticipation of the event, I designed and developed a graphic identity(poster + e-poster) with Hongzhou Wan. For all info about the event with visual experience, click:

P.P.S. The event will be livestreamed online. To buy virtual or in-person tickets, click here.


Maisa Imamovic