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Inside the Black Boxes by Fabien Zocco

Humans are constituted as humans from the moment there is technology, and it has been so since the origins of humankind.

This plastic artist questions the boundary and relationships between technology and language, between robots and humans. Black Boxes is the project on which he works in residence at the Art Factory of Orange Gardens, Orange research and innovation site based in Châtillon.

Inside the Black Boxes by Fabien Zocco
Inside the Black Boxes by Fabien Zocco
Inside the Black Boxes by Fabien Zocco
Inside the Black Boxes by Fabien Zocco

Can you present your background and your approach?

I am a plastic artist. I studied in Poitiers where obtained a degree in history as well as Fine Arts. That is where my passion for digital art began. I was interested in the relationship between technology and language, an approach I developed in a post-diploma course at Fresnoy, National Studio of Contemporary Arts. Language is indeed a privileged attribute of humans if it deals with spoken language and an attribute of the living when one considers the language of animals. This question of the relationship between the living and the non-living is at the centre of my work, knowing that machines are endowed with linguistic and semantic attributes that break down the boundaries between these two polarities.

Are humans modified by new technologies?

This is the question at the origin of my approach, in the sense that humans are constituted as humans from the moment there is technology, and it has been so since the origins of humankind. Anthropology and the philosophy of techniques consider that what brings mankind out of animality is precisely the tool. Today, the total disruption of the tool by digital technologies reconfigures, in my view, first the relationship between humans and the world, and secondly the very definition of what constitutes a human being.

How did you join the Art Factory that welcomes you in residence?

The Art Factory is a facility that Orange launched on the occasion of the inauguration of the Orange Gardens site. A call for projects was published a year ago regarding two development areas that are dear to Orange, Internet of Things and Materiality of Network.

I submitted my application and was selected to come and spend six months to develop a project that involves LoRa, a communication protocol with very low power consumption that allows the connection of objects (Internet of Things).

How does the residence work?

I come here every week. I benefit from financing and in addition to this the technical skills of the LoRa technology and a location – Le 3e Lieu are put at my disposal. I can talk with Orange engineers and I also met a sociologist who works here. Le 3e Lieu is a Third Location with a range of tools and skills that would be difficult to find elsewhere. It is its specificity, that of making research projects like mine possible.

Can you describe the Black Boxes project that you are developing here?

Black Boxes will be a robotic sculpture whose starting point was a cybernetics concept, a line of thought that emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s among American researchers who, in my opinion, laid the ideological foundations of a technological society. I find it interesting to compare the concepts of cybernetics and Internet of Things. Cybernetics developed this “black box” concept to describe the element of a system (technical, social …) whose internal functioning is inaccessible.

This has nothing to do with the black box in aircraft, then…

No, the black box in cybernetics is a mysterious object which receives information as input and redistributes the transformed information as output, but without knowing the changes that this information has undergone. It is also a metaphor to describe our relationship with technology, since we are confronted with mysterious objects whose ins and outs are not always known. The idea behind my project is to give an effect to this metaphor by making black boxes of 15 cm by 15 cm cubes that will move on the ground. They will be motorized and will develop languages and behaviours together. These cubes will be dispatched in two separate spaces connected via the LoRa network, which will enable them to transmit a kind of remote language.

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