2018 North Texas Digital Fabrication Symposium

Humanizing the Digital


The 2018 North Texas Digital Fabrication Symposium was hosted at Texas Woman’s University April 20th-21st, 2018. Artists, researchers, makers and students came together at TWU to discuss digital fabrication, its practice, pedagogy and curation. The theme Humanizing the Digital inspired fascinating proposals from artists and researchers working with digital fabrication in a variety of applications.

The symposium events included panel discussions of 5-6 panelists organized around three sub-themes: Embodiment & Technology, Adaptation & Play, and Process & Practice. Six workshops, scheduled each afternoon of the symposium, gave participants hands-on application and learning with digital fabrication tools. The Onstead Institute organized one of these workshops, Conscious Machines: An Exploration of Work in the Machine Age which was led by xtine burrough and Sabrina Starnaman.

Professional Development Workshop
Conscious Machines: An Exploration of Work in the Machine Age

Organized by the Onstead Institute, led by xtine burrough & Sabrina Starnaman


Conscious Machines   Conscious Machines   Conscious Machines


On April 21, 2018 the Onstead Institute organized a professional development workshop within the symposium titled,Conscious Machines. The workshop combined craft and technology to study the embodied crowd worker in today’s virtual factory. It bridged the space between digital job platforms and communities of learners in discussions about labor and bodies.

This workshop demonstrated a historical parallel between revolutionary changes in labor brought about by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century and the digital revolution of the twenty-first. The rise of urban factories brought workers from around the world to burgeoning metropolises like New York City, Chicago, and Houston. So too the digital revolution created virtual platforms like Uber, Task Rabbit, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mturk.com), which unites a global workforce in a virtual space. As American Literary Realism (1865-1900) brought the factory worker to the public consciousness in fiction, workshop leaders xtine burrough and Sabrina Starnaman bring the digital worker to the public consciousness. They facilitate asynchronous dialog between virtual workers and the public in workshop, lecture, and exhibition venues. 

During this workshop, a discussion was cultivated of how the project can be recreated in a variety of classrooms. Conscious Machines used reused materials from Amazon.com’s one-click culture and readily available digital and analog design tools to manufacture the artistic products. Thus, burrough and Starnaman work across disciplines and through the barriers of educational institutions—practical approaches to collaboration are key to their enterprise. 

Workshop attendees became invisible laborers—like workers of the sharing economy—who craft and design the voices of crowd workers or their own voices for a pop-up exhibition onsite in the TWU workshop space, or for a keepsake to use as an example for a future class assignment.

Workshop Structure


Workshop Structure

Workshop Structure

Workshop Structure

Workshop Structure


Workshop Leaders


xtine burrough and Sabrina Starnaman
xtine burrough (left) and Sabrina Starnaman


xtine burrough is a new media artist, author, and Associate Professor of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas. Sabrina Starnaman is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas, where she recently won the University of Texas Outstanding Teaching Award.

Upon meeting at UT Dallas in fall 2015, burrough and Starnaman discovered a shared passion for embodiment, literature, and labor. The two became fast friends and quickly set forth to merge burrough’s interventions with crowdsourcing platforms with Starnaman’s expertise in literature, history, and reform. Together they produced the exhibition, “The Laboring Self,” a project funded by the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), Humanities Texas, and Puffin Foundation West, Ltd. as artists in residence at the Center for Creative Connections during fall 2017. They extend this exhibition in “Conscious Machines,” a workshop series for educators and makers outside the walls of the museum.