The Last Frontier of (Un)Consciousness and the Arts: On Neurodiversity and Artistic Thinking in Times of Self-Observation, Evolution’s Most Recent “Killer App”

Nina Stuhldreher

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: ongoing
venue: De Bijloke Music Center, Mezzanine
format: in absence
practice: performance
keywords: apparatus, lecture-performance, neurodiversity, singularity

abstract about the author(s)


This presentation, connecting my own performative knowledge with recent debates, discusses neurodiversity as a potential game-changer for the notion of art. Applying two key concepts of contemporary identity politics (disability studies, postcolonial theory) to the highly idealised but never closely analysed process of artistic thinking, it aims to parallel the global rise of self-observation (social media, post-Snowden era) with the increasing self-reflection and contextualisation that artists are both forced into and voluntarily choose nowadays. It will seek to describe examples of artistic perception processing, provide a historic background for the concepts of dis/ability and neurodiversity, and reflect upon the benefit of introducing these subjects to the debate about the epistemology of art. Finally, it will culminate in Deleuze-Guattarian (anti-)cyberneticism, surfing the current battlefields of knowledge production on desire machines and testing base-jumps from an (assumed) natural to the cultural matrix that nowadays dominates. Here, artistic research is revealed as a twenty-first century cyborg-utopia conceived to heal the phantom limb pain of cultural scientists permanently bordering on a lack of practice, before reporting live from the fields of artificial intelligence where the sun of cognitive singularity rises above the ocean of collective media consciousness.

More in depth, I will explain in a rule-of-three-like method how the construction of “dis/abilities” was related to the emergence of wage labour in early capitalism, introduce the new claim for “neurodiversity” as demanded by the disability and mad pride movements, and probe the application of this idea to artistic thinking in the context of debates about university reforms and practice-based PhD studies. Initial descriptions of “neuroatypicalities”—especially of visual-based thinking that is supposedly predominant in artists and people with Asperger’s syndrome—will lead us to theories about different intelligences, including language-related nuances in perception processing, showing that the pre-verbal and the pre-conscious are not to be confused. By doing so, I intend to offer an artist’s perspective of the non-verbal structure of Deleuze and Guattari’s desire machines, before subsequently pointing out comparisons between their “unconscious” and other topical cognition theories, scientific findings, and art projects (such as, the Otolith Group’s “Sensitives,” Crary’s daydream, Google’s Deep Dream, new findings on “desire”/the reward system).

It appears that the overall expansion of a consciousness addicted to media and shaped by labour, squeezed into eternal attention and self-awareness, perfectly mirrors the ongoing colonisation through theory that artists are permanently exposed to in the environment of academia and of the apparatuses of public project funding. While claiming to stand by artists when designing artistic research programmes, theorists often actually ignore the artists’ needs, implementing “curriculised” versions of their own fantasies about an ideal artwork and ideology-driven wishes for a certain social function of art. Whereas—with the assemblage being the potential epitome of artistic production strategies—the link between Deleuze and artistic research is obvious, a debate is still missing that connects Deleuze and Guattari’s theories to a more general and also factual-political view of “the last frontier of (un)consciousness,” as one could call the youngest evolutionary shift in the anthropocene that has become even more visible thanks to the Snowden revelations about its techno-governmental preconditions. Regarding these parallels, the artistic research debate might actually profit from zooming out to a macroscopic point of view and co-engaging in the attempt to answer to the question, Where is collective intelligence going and what role is (mass)surveillance taking in that?

Previous versions of this talk were presented at “Compared to What?,” an annual conference of the German Society for Media Sciences (GfM) Vienna, Austria, January 2015 (for abstract see, and at the Inaugural (Rest of the World) Conference of the SLSA (American Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts) and SymbioticA, University of Western Australia, Perth/AUS, October 2015.

about the author(s)

Nina Stuhldreher

Nina Stuhldreher (Berlin/Vienna) describes herself as a reality researcher who operates with artistic strategies. She is an ex-photography prodigy, ex-media curator, ex-magazine editor, ex-collaborative workforms junkie. She was a member of the curricula commission for the PhD in Practice programme at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, is currently an artist in residence at Löwenpalais Berlin, and a future lecturer on “Neurodiversity and Cognitive Disobedience” at Kunstuniversität Linz. A selection of her exhibitions/performances include at ZKMax, Munich, Shedhalle, Zurich, 20er Haus, Vienna, Secession, Vienna, Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, Galerie Koch and Kesslau, Berlin, LeRoy Nieman Gallery, New York, ATA Contemporary Art Center, Bulgaria, the House of Art, Brno, Lentos Museum, Linz, 3. Berlin Biennale, Tin Sheds Gallery, Sydney, and the Bristol Biennale (upcoming).

info & contact


Independent visual artist, Berlin, DE, and Vienna, AT


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