Arbitrary Units: Culture in the Age of Quantification will examine the tools and objects that shape our world and, increasingly, shape the ways in which we create and understand art. Our age is particularly concerned with putatively objective knowledge, with the administration of nature, and with statistical categories as the fundaments of identity. The book aims to understand how artists process rapid technological change—whether or not digital tools serve as their subjects or means of production—and how we might understand the effects of recent seismic societal shifts through artworks.

Alexander Provan’s work—which melds writing, art-making, editing, and publishing—is primarily concerned with the relationships between representation, technology, and politics. In his critical writing and his work with the magazine Triple Canopy, and in performances and multimedia projects, he explores the power of technological processes to comprehend and determine social conduct while asking how language and artistic work might interrupt these processes. Recently, as part of a fellowship at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, he developed essays, presentations, and performances that deal specifically with standards, the ubiquitous and largely invisible tools for organizing social and economic life.