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.

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

  • 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., Josh On

Activism was also a particularly popular theme that threaded amongst 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 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. 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.

dalí lives – inspiring interactive art

When I first read about this piece of work, I was extremely flabbergasted by how well it was executed, as well as how technology and art have both been appropriately employed to create something beautiful and astonishing!

Salvador Dalí has left us for more than 30 years now, yet the dalí museum has brought him ‘back to life’ with an amazing creation of a digital persona that feels, looks and sounds like him! This persona greets and interacts with visitors in a very lifelike and personable manner. It feels really special as Dalí has obviously not known anyone living in this time of day, yet everything about this pseudo interaction looks and feels real enough.

The studio behind this feat has employed A.I.(or machine learning) to first go through all archival footage of him, and managed to extract the way he speaks and his facial expressions. Armed with this knowledge they have been able to procedurally and dynamically re-create a digital version of his face. This is similar to how Gollum is created from Andy Serkis’ facial performance in the Lord of the Rings series. With the lifelike model in hand, digital Dalí can be pre-programmed to say or act in any way.

By further layering many different performances, dialogues and gestures, visitors will receive a tailored, unique Dalí reception every day of the week! But the next mind-blowing aspect of the whole experience was that visitors can actually pose and take a virtual selfie with the famous man himself! This blurring of digital and physical reality has been masterfully achieved in the simple humble act of a selfie. With that, the deal is sealed, and the happy visitor gets to go home with a piece of techno-historical artifact.

Read more about it!