Nobody But Us Birkbeck School of Law 15 March 2019

An event hosted by the Centre for Law & the Humanities, School of Law, Birkbeck.

Birkbeck School of Law 2018-19 Artist in Residence Margareta Kern and artist Susan Kelly will share research from their new collaboration entitled Nobody But Us. The event is an open 2-hour seminar which assembles images and material that explore the connections between positive psychology, technology, governance and soft military power.

Nobody But Us looks at the techniques of persuasion, instruction, coercion and prediction used by companies who specialize in big data ‘behavioural change’ and ‘influence operations’ (SCL, Cambridge Analytica, Google etc.), and the history of ‘dual use’ civilian and military research that enabled them. The project interrogates histories of dual psychological and military practice in counter-insurgency struggles in the former British colonies where ‘rehabilitation’ techniques were used to ‘cleanse’ and re-constitute compliant colonial subjects.

The project begins to assemble documentary images, didactic images, instructional visuals, archives and diagrams that piece together a story that traces continuities between seemingly soft power and violence, then and now. Who are the main protagonists? How can we see the subtle techniques through which subjects are governed, made and re-made today? How are ‘technologies of the visual’ imbricated in these processes of subject-making and persuasion?

This project probes at how psychological discourse and techniques provide acceptable cover for often deeply violent practices of subjugation, control and extraction. It seeks to intervene in the complex knot of processes that are today producing a society that is increasingly driven by protectionist, segmented and fascistic formations and is increasingly controlled by techniques of counter-insurgency and surveillance.

‘Nobody But Us’ (or NOBUS) was a phrase used by the NSA (National Security Agency) in the US to refer to security vulnerabilities that they believed only their agencies can exploit (Zeynep Tüfekçi, 2018). NOBUS evokes an image of an exclusive collectivity, where the ‘us’ is made up of those who are the same as ourselves: a unified collectivity that must not be breached.


Margareta Kern is a visual artist and researcher based in Cornwall and London, originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina. She studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths and Visual Anthropology at UCL. Kern’s practice includes photography, film, performance, drawing and installation. Her works have been exhibited and screened extensively including at Tate Modern, The Photographers Gallery, Impressions Gallery, Rivington Place, Galerija Nova and many others.

Susan Kelly is an artist, writer, organiser and educator living in London. She completed the Whitney Independent Study Programme and holds a PhD in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths. Susan researches the relationships between art and micropolitics. She works individually and in the context of various collectives and movements against free labour, precarity and exploitation in cultural work and universities, and the pedagogical, therapeutic and institutional ideologies that support its proliferation.

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