Feature | 23 May 2024

Announcing Six Winners of the 2023-2024 Coha-Gunderson Prize in Speculative Futures


The Humanities Institute is thrilled to announce this year’s cohort of Coha-Gunderson Prize in Speculative Futures winners. Now in its fifth year, this competition celebrates mixed media work in speculative fiction from students across campus. It was established by THI’s Speculatively Scientific Fictions of the Future project and made possible by alumni Peter Coha (Kresge ’78, Mathematics) and James Gunderson (Rachel Carson ’77, Philosophy, and UCSC Foundation Board Trustee). 

This year’s prizewinners will have the opportunity to more fully develop their projects through expert faculty guidance and peer review. They will participate in Creativity Workshops in Winter 2025 and will have the opportunity to present their work at our Spring 2025 exhibition. 

The 2023-2024 awardees are drawn from Digital Arts and New Media, Film and Digital Media, Politics, Environmental Art and Social Practice, Literature, and Anthropology. 

The selection committee awarded four graduate student project winners and two undergraduate student project winners.

Graduate Student Winners

Robbie Trocchia (Digital Arts and New Media, 2nd Year), “eroto-system”

Robbie Trocchia

Trocchia’s project, “eroto-system,” examines how desire, intimacy, and pleasure have been shaped by the technologies that mediate them. The project employs live performance, multichannel audiovisual installation, and sculptural elements activated by touch. In this way, it develops “a speculative fiction narrative surrounding a technology that absorbs and converts erotic charge into an alternative energy source.” The multimedia installation will be activated through both live performers and audience engagement in order to “reflect on the status of the queer body in the contemporary moment” and “describe how desire is systemically produced and sustained through these digital platforms.” 

Rowan Powell (Politics, 6th Year), “Wood, the subject, ‘I’, St. George’s Hill 1649 – 2049”

Powell’s project, “Wood, the subject, ‘I’, St. George’s Hill 1649 – 2049,” is a 48-page chapbook that explores the 400-year legacy of the Diggers, known for their radical agrarian commune held at St. George’s Hill in Surrey, England in 1649. The project weaves a series of threads together in an activation that imagines St. George’s Hill beyond the time of 2024, running “multiple temporalities that seek to undo the security patrols, golf courses and exclusionary gated communities currently occupying the land.” The project makes use of unpublished archival materials from Surrey History Centre documenting the transformation of land into golf course, and also includes felled wood, mainly Ash, Oak, and Beech, collected from the St. George’s Hill area, that has been carved into daily use objects, such as spoons.

Yasmine Benabdallah (Film & Digital Media, 3rd Year), “The one with the manes”

Yasmine Benabdallah

Benabdallah’s project, “The ones with the manes,” is a speculative fiction story set in the near future, centering around Asirem, a history professor in Salvador, Brazil, and a descendant of one of the people forcibly taken by the Portuguese colonizers from Morocco to Brazil in the eighteenth century. The story navigates archival erasures through Asirem, her sister, mother, and female ancestors, and traces the ruptures and disconnections that colonized peoples carry. The structure of time travel in the story follows the rhythm of the seven waves ritual, with each of the seven waves of the ritual “opening a rift in Asirem’s body, and a portal for time travel to the ancestors.” The story explores this thread between the two countries as “a space to rethink the complexities of our South-to-South solidarities.” The story is part of a larger multimodal speculative exhibition exploring speculative fiction “as a prism to tell of resistance and revolution in the face of archives and their continuous fabrication/reconstruction of our pasts, presents, and futures.”

Jorge Palacios (Environmental Art and Social Practice, 1st Year), “Nomadic Infrastructures : Foraging, Craft, and New Media” 

Jorge Palacios

Palacios’ project, “Nomadic Infrastructures : Foraging, Craft, and New Media” is a series of iterative interactive installations. The project uses a craft approach to sculpture and an ethnographic approach to foraging in order to create structures that “may reimagine alternative ways of relating to the environment and new media” in potential future societies where humans “can live in mutual reciprocity with their environment.” The structures are made from willow hoops in the shape of domes, similar to those made according to Indigenous Anishnaabe practices. These hoops are held together with zipties and inlaid with pampas grass paper that “acts as both the walls of the structure as well as the projection screen.” The project includes foraging in local disturbed areas in order to “attend to both the materiality of the land, and also to the political life in the midst of the local housing crisis and American policing of foraging practices that adhere to norms of conservation, trespassing, and recreation.”

Undergraduate Student Winners

Chimera Mohammadi (Literature Major, 1st Year), “Computer Angel Born from Pain”

Chimera Mohammadi

Mohammadi’s project, “Computer Angel Born from Pain,” is a multimedia speculative short story imagining the case file for a corporation testing neuralink technology on a Queer trans unnamed “Patient” as a method of conversation therapy. The project draws on histories of electrode-based aversion therapy and serves as a cautionary tale. The narrative proceeds in three parts: the first section overviews the case and is told through notes from doctors and technicians; the second section comprises survey responses from the Patient to medical questionnaires; the third section is the Patient’s monologue after a failed implantation of their consciousness into a new body and is told through “malware.” The project also employs a box TV from the 90s as a “body” for the Patient, juxtaposing a piece of obsolete technology with a description of futuristic technology in order to “parallel the theme of antiquated ideology being enforced through modern technological advancements.” 

Kristine Buriel (Anthropology Major, 5th Year), “Whispers of Wear”

Kristine Buriel

Buriel’s project, “whispers of wear,” is a multimedia interactive exhibit that “sets out to recenter the story of our clothes, away from their societal projections and symbols of status and toward a means to connect the wearer to the maker.” The project imagines a future world with technology that allows the maker to weave their voice into the fabric of the clothes and the wearer to listen to the history of its wearing and making. The exhibit features reinvented garment care tags, an installation of clothes to try on and stories to listen to, and a weaving technology that allows the weaver to embed their voice into the threads. The project imagines a future group of “Selvegers” who travel the world to interview and archive these stories for display in the exhibition.  Interactive dressing rooms offer clothes embedded with RFID chips that contain interviews from previous wearers. The scanner in the dressing room reads the chip and transmits the “whispers of wear” to the visitor. The project thus allows wearers to “curate an aesthetic identity that possesses meaning.” 

The winners of the 2023-2024 Coha-Gunderson Prize in Speculative Futures will have the opportunity to present their work at an exhibition in Spring 2025. We look forward to sharing more about these creative pieces!

Banner Image: Willow hoop structure from Jorge Palacios’ project, “Nomadic Infrastructures: Foraging, Craft, and New Media”