Thoughts on Automated Utopia

There were many interesting pieces of work that were presented during the lecture, but the one that intrigued me the most was the piece by Sougwen Chung.

One of her most well-known pieces is ‘Drawing Operations(2017)‘ It is an ongoing exploration of the synergy between machine and human thought. At its core, the machine employs a deep-learning neural network to categorise, characterise and systemise Chung’s hand strokes. There are many interesting implications to this setup, if we delve beyond the usual aesthetic and novelty aspects.

A.I. as we know it has yet to reach a stage of true original intelligence. The touted intelligence thus far is still human by design, far from being sentient and original. However, neural networks have expanded this frontier by adding into the mix astronomical amounts of probability and variation. Given enough permutations, creative work derived from a well-trained network can start to look and smell original.

Coming back to our example, the beauty of this ‘collaboration’ between wo-man and machine exists on a theological level. The machine observes her hand strokes, reduces it to a database of abstractions, thereby this is theoretically the essence of her artistic impulses. One can see this as a primitive, yet probable abstraction of her creative persona. As the machine participates in more sessions, this recurring feedback loop between raw digital bits and human nuances is slowly codified into something inexplicable and irreproducible(on a human level). I find this is in many ways similar to the abstract representations of how convolutional neural network break down images into irreducible parts.

That said, I think the machine can be seen as a digital extension of Chung’s creative consciousness, a soulless, abstract entity of her movements and creative sensibilities. I think the real work here is not the beautiful pieces that are produced, but the codification of Chung into something more than flesh and blood; something that will surely outlive her and all of us.

31 Mar Update

With reference to Janet Cardiff’s works, I have decided to model a part of my walkthrough in Jurong based on her ‘Alter Bahnhof Video Walk‘. Visually it lacks the fidelity and immersive choreography, but in essence it performs the same function, with some additional little tricks utilising geolocation and dynamic playback control of the clip as the viewer moves through the landscape.

The prototype video mixed with reading and a crafted soundscape can be viewed below.

The process, though straightforward, took a bit of time from acquiring footage to assembly. Here’s a screenshot of the mixing process. The original audio is preserved, but tremendously reduced to be barely discernible. The next track is the reading, where the narrator guides the viewer through the walk. The next few layers of audio are a mixture of ambient sfx that are related to what is mentioned in the reading.

The video is also designed in such a way that there is a ‘soft’ break at around 6 minutes, at the halfway mark. This is to account for viewers’ different walking speeds or level of participation. As the user approaches a certain point, the page will trigger the video to continue playing from a certain point.

I have also experimented with a vertical format style of shooting, and that can be seen below.

I have also experimented with ‘aging’ the recorded readings to increase their level of authenticity and immersiveness.

That’s all for the week.

Art and the Internet by Black Dog Publishing

Since its inception, the Internet has been a life-changing moment for many people around the world. Its effects can be felt economically, socially and culturally. In the art world, its impact has also been significant, to say the least.

In Stephen Wilson’s Information Arts, he identified five key characteristics of net.art:

  • Connectivity between Persons
  • Collaboration and Group Work
  • The Creation of Distributed Archives
  • Internationalism
  • Comment on the Web Context

The wide accessibility of any content on the Internet meant anyone, anywhere could expose their works to a massive audience without the need for conventional institutions.

Compared to the old forms of art that came before, Internet art encompassed a bewildering range of forms and themes. Within the book, many interesting examples were featured. They explored political, ideological and societal issues, or created platforms for participation and exploration, or are simply visual experiments.

 

Jennicam, Jennifer Kaye Ringley

Jennicam was one of the first examples of ‘lifesharing’, where a person shares his/her life through the lens of a webcam for the world to see. The societal and ideological implications of the experiment is highly debatable, and this social phenomena is still observed in traces even till this day. Another prominent artist duo, Eva and Franco Mattes did something similar several years later, by providing complete access to their computer via the net. This expression of opening oneself to public scrutiny can be seen as an open-ended dialogue on surveillance, privacy and the human condition.

 

theyrule.net, Josh On

Activism was also a particularly popular theme that threaded amongst net.art. Josh On’s They Rule allows the user to explore the relationships between powerful people of the world’s biggest conglomerates, all via a web interface. Through these explorations, the implicit messages of accountability, conflict of interest all come to mind. Yet, the piece is simply presented as purely informational, without any carefully tailored messages. The participatory nature of the piece allows the user to discover and synthesize his own conclusions.

 

241543903, David Horvitz

Participatory art is one of the unique aspects of net.art that is hard to replicate in traditional forms. David Horvitz’s 241543903 turns a cryptic sequence of numbers into an ongoing internet sensation, where participants takes a photo of his/her head inside a freezer and posts the resulting photo online with the mentioned tag. This innocuous, insignificant request has gained such an astounding amount of traction that highlights the strange, intangible inner workings of social media and the Internet.

 

I Am Unable To Fulfill Your Wish, Owen Mundy

The last piece that I found really interesting was Owen Mundy’s I Am Unable To Fulfill Your Wish. To me it was a piece that explored the complex visual language achievable only through code, and the absurdity of the ‘interconnectedness’ of the modern world. Through visualisations made of line drawings, the program Owen created draws out the infinitely complex, unseen connections between people, objects, institutions and entities. To me, the piece is at the same time deeply captivating, yet utterly meaningless to draw any useful conclusion out of. This is also representative of the idea of big data’s promise of uncovering patterns and trends from arbitrary combinations of datasets.

Net.art is sophisticated, yet unsophisticated; everywhere yet nowhere, thought-provoking yet meaningless. It is an art-form truly suited, for the chaotic, unordered, random, unpredictable modern world we live in.

Update 17Mar

National archives map

Annotated Google Map

Transcripts

 

Areas of focus

Theme-based:

  • Education (Early educational institutes)
  • Industry
  • Residential (Growth of community)
  • Transportation

Site-specific:

  • Hong Kah Village
  • Jurong Brickworks
  • Rulang
  • Jurong Sec Sch
  • Yung Sheng Food Center
  • Chinese/Jap garden
  • Jurong Lake

General:

  • Development of Jurong Industrial Estate
  • Taman Jurong – first housing estates

Voices:

  • Excerpts from workers in 60-70s (pg.42)
  • Hong Kah Village before redevelopment (pg.48)

 

Prototype updates

 

Reflections: Hamlet on the Holodeck

It is interesting to see how multimedia was developed from the early days as a derivation of early cinema. In modern day, the change in how media is designed and delivered as an experience is more often more aesthetical than theoretical or conceptual.

Eliza as an early piece of work is revolutionary. I am particularly impressed by how convincing (though primitive by today’s standards) its conversations appear to its audience. This is all done by the simple yet effective mechanism of mirroring, which has roots in psychology and therapy. From this it’s evident to me that when humans interact, we are subconsciously ‘looking’ into a mirror of ourselves, constantly searching for answers to our deepest questions or fears. Many times, we feel as if we don’t have an answer, but when the same question is re-contextualised and mirrored back to us, we are mysteriously able to work through our thoughts and convey an understanding. Here, Eliza simply functioned as a soulless intermediary in bringing our hidden thoughts to the surface.

There is also something much more powerful with text-based adventure games of the past. The written word is infinitely much more expressive than any complex high-technology graphics-loaded game could ever be. Its fidelity, richness and believability, is only limited, by its authors’ choice of words and the players’ imagination(most have incredibly expansive ones). There is also unsaid power in immateriality; in the world of computer graphics, there is a constant definitive benchmark for what is believable, immersive. And there is always room for improvement. Yet, when left in the realm of unknown, imagination is boundless, promising infinite levels of richness and personalisation. Thereby lies the paradox of a creation that is not quite polished, yet it feels more complete than something that is definitely tangible and quantifiable.

There is also the issue of spatial limits. In prose-form, there is literally no boundary. The boundary extends as far as the player wants it to go. But for the graphically-enriched equivalent, it can only extend as far as the budget allows.

Vivid descriptions can draw an audience into a complex sequence of interactions and deep immersion, but when the same is attempted with visuals, every little detail that is invested has to be seen/heard to be fully absorbed and processed into the player’s psyche. Textually, no such obstacle exists. The player is singularly, reading and reliving every letter and word. Nothing is missed. Everything is ‘seen’ and ‘heard’.

There is truth in less is more after all…