Jonathon Keats: Roadable Synapse


About the Exhibition

Jonathon Keats received a grant for exploring how wearable technology could enhance, diminish, or alter the identity of the wearer in 2015. The artist worked with Lab advisor John Suh and his team from Hyundai Motor Company to extend his ideas about wearables into the automotive realm. Titled the The Roadable Synapse, the project’s first iteration underwent more than two years of research and development before it was realized in the summer of 2017 which had been set up on a Hyundai IONIQ vehicle for presentation.

Keats began his research for the project by posing the question: “Will the future of transportation be driverless?” “What if the car of the future is not autonomous?” Keats eschewed the automotive industry’s fascination with the self-driving car, and instead went in the opposite direction. He followed a line of thought suggesting that our identification with our vehicles would intensify, like it has with other personal technologies such as smartphones. His thinking behind it was that cars may increasingly become a part of us, a cognitive and emotional extension of ourselves. They might become as intimate as wearables, driver and car, operating as a physically and mentally unified human-machine hybrid. Roadable Synapse demonstrates a future driven by automotive neuroscience rather than artificial intelligence.

The Roadable Synapse originated from his early project Superego Suits which Keats proposed for his Art + Technology Lab participation in 2015-2016. The superego suit concept emerged while he studied at the neuroscience lab in France, at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Scientists there were studying how we attain our sense of self, and finding it to be based on interoception—the internal awareness of bodily functions such as heartbeat and breathing. In a series of lab experiments, the researchers showed that subjects' selfhoods could be manipulated by tweaking their perceptions of their own vital signs. Keats started thinking about what wearables might do in the future, as they become more technologically advanced and more deeply embedded in our lives. He began wondering how these enhancements might fundamentally alter people's sense of self and wondered what enhancement would mean for individuals and society.

About the Program

LACMA Art + Technology Lab

The LACMA Art + Technology Lab supports experiments in design, creative entrepreneurship, adventures in art and industry, collaboration, and interdisciplinary dialogue. Inspired by LACMA’s seminal Art and Technology Program (1967–1971), which paired prominent artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol with the resources of major corporations, the program was revived in 2015 as part of The Hyundai Project at LACMA, our ten-year partnership with the museum. The Lab provides grants, in-kind support, and facilities at the museum to support the progress of artist projects that take purposeful risks, and to foster innovation and collaboration across disciplines.

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