Exploratory Generative Study — Final Iteration

System:

Looking through texts and identifying most appropriate text sent by person/user objectively, to best summarise feelings expressed on that day. Reflected in work.

Constants:

Equidistant Points on Circumference
Centre Point
Colour/Shape assigned to contact
Size of Circle
Distance between Circles

Dependant Variables:

Number of Solid Lines
Number of Dashed Lines
Size of Area formed by Lines
Density of Lines
Words Expressed

Conclusions:

No connection between third party without intermediary connection through me

Results/Findings:

There was a flow in emotions expressed by each person/myself through the days. Validated that text messages are indeed intimate and are indicative of what we feel. They’re not just superficial.

Process:

Final Outcome can be overwhelming and ‘messy’.

1.Dilemma between adding too many and too little ‘lines’: I did not want to force any sort of connection/correlation upon the viewer and leave it up to themselves to connect it intuitively. I mainly connected the points representing myself to indeed show that there is some sort of consistency in emotions expressed throughout the period. This was to merely guide the viewer in making their own connections between the other elements.

2.Number of Circles Vs Size of Circle: Not too big as to make it obvious. But not too small to make it completely not readable.

Lack of Lines/Negative Space are as important as the presence of Lines/Area.

possible Improvements/exploration:

Hard to predict the outcome as it was not pre meditated.

Digitalise the Data but in a more objective way:  using an external computer etc that will analyse it in a way that is different from human objectivity. (we still are to some extent influenced by our emotions). Interesting to see how an isolated machine system makes sense of the words and assigns the links between them.

Possible Expansion: are there also links between ‘vague’ or ‘expressionless’ words? Punctuation? Emojis? Etc.

Exploratory Generative Study — Update

Contacts:

I will be working with 5 contacts (the few I mainly communicate and have some sort of emotionally intimacy with in this current period). It is significant to note that these dynamics might change over time and completely disappear too — this however will be part of tracking the transient role we play in each other’s life through our phones. If I happen to break communication with 1 out of 5 of the people, the data visualisation representing that respective person will be empty for that period of time. There will not be any additional or new contacts added into the system designed around the initial 5 subjects.

Time Period:

Will take place over a period of 1.5 to 2 weeks so as to have enough diversity in the visualised outcomes yet have some overarching structure/parameter.

Data:

Initially I only thought of recording the connections we made between each other based on similar keywords indicative of the same sort of emotion, and  the ‘background’ third party connections between the other users themselves make (via me as an intermediary). However I have decided to include the types of emotions within the graphs (categorising of them as either positive or negative feelings and taking note how these map out through the days).

The initial idea was to use discrete/isolated and progressive grids that represented each respective days. However I felt like the structure seemed very rigid and would be counter intuitive to the way they were meant to portray the very organic and salient connections of our digital relationships and intimacy. Hence I will be using circles instead (the centre being Myself, and 5 Equidistant points on the Circumference to represent the contacts).

 

 

Instead of organising them in a linear manner, I will be organising the circles themselves as part of a larger circular clock like interface or some sort of spiral — this will allow us to view the entirety of the data as one cohesive pattern/piece that can be taken apart slowly instead of a blatantly broken down grid structure. This improved iteration will require slightly more ‘effort’ from the viewer, increasing engagement and stimulation. Having no discrete start or end in a circular loop also reinforces the concept of transience and fluidity of digital intimacy.

 

Reflection — Amplifying The Uncanny

Overarching Thoughts (on GAN , ‘ The Uncanny’ in contemporary society)

In this article, the authors explores how Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) and Machine Learning have intensified the phenomena of the ‘uncanny’ — described as a certain level of discomfort or unease one feels when a machine mimicking organic human behaviour comes seemingly close to, yet disjointed and ‘faulty’ in its portrayal. It’s the simultaneous humane semblance and recognisability in the machine that plays with our emotional perception, yet our awareness and consciousness that it is a visibly artificial machine-construction that evokes this sensation.

It is provocative, provoking, unsettling and ultimately a unique reflection of our own perception of ourselves. The dysfunction in the machine and its faults are not rationalised in the way we would observe, clinically, the faults of a system like a washing machine or a vehicle (also machines). It is the machine-learned human nuances these machines have and their anthropomorphic form that seduce us into making some sort of ‘involuntary’ psychological and mental connection to them. Their form, appearance and behaviour (though crude, a sufficient enough representation of the human) creates an intuitive intimacy and we project our own feelings, experiences and learned world views onto our observation of this machine. This at the same time is inextricably linked to our obsession, fear and intrigue with technology/artificial intelligence.

It is not just a random discomfort but one that deeply is rooted in some way to our subconscious feelings towards technology’s presence and co-existence in the contemporary world. For example, if a primitive human like a Neanderthal who has no known knowledge or experience with technology sees a work like Ken Feingold’s ‘If, Then’ 2001 , it will probably be shocked and intrigued in a very banal and unintelligent manner.

For us humans who have some preconceived perception and familiar intimacy with technology and are constantly adapting to live with it, as augmentations of our body/mind, a representation like that is even more uncomfortable and uncanny. It plays on this innate, (irrational?) fear (one that has been propagated by novels, movies and media) of artificial intelligence eventually becoming intelligent enough to adopt and appropriate what we hold on to as our ‘humanity’.

Essentially this concept is what we believe distinguishes us from machines. Though crude in its superficial portrayal, any machine that is mildly capable of replicating some sort of human learned behaviour like speech immediately destabilises our position of supremacy, reminding us that the lines between the real and ‘unreal’ is becoming increasingly blurred. It also plays on this fear of automation and artificial intelligence replacing the role of humans.

However this is not something that is insignificant. In fact, I personally feel that this concept in relation to GAN in this context then opens up the possibilities for a very contemporary personification or reflection of the human condition. The outcomes of these GANs mirror the change in perceptions and emotions the amalgamation of technology has had on us. They mirror the fears, attachment and feelings we have grown to possess with the increasing presence of these artificial ‘bodies’. After all, this is an extremely valid, relevant and powerful aspect of the contemporary human condition that cannot be ignored. It is this then, that I believe, plays a significant role in plunging us into the ‘Uncanny Valley’ (first introduced by Masahiro Mori in 1970). It is only when the ‘humanoid’s’ anthropomorphic form is transitioned into being fully indiscernible from that of a normal human that we find ourselves out of this disconcerting state of Uncanny.

http://www.umich.edu/~uncanny/

Personal experience of ‘the Uncanny’ 

This music video by one of my favourite artists, Bjork came to mind with regards to ‘The Uncanny’. Though it is a music video and I am aware that it is graphically modelled and not real, the portrayed interaction of these anthropomorphic humanoids (the way sexual intercourse and ‘love’ is expressed via turning of gears in the figures, the leaking of fuel liquid etc) evokes an uneasy yet seductive feeling. The song being about ‘Love’ — a feeling that is very humane and far from machine, being portrayed by humanoids then makes us for a moment re consider if ‘Love’ is exclusive to us and if the ‘Love’ we feel/know of is just one possible perception limited by the human experience.

FURTHER THOUGHTS (On Being Foiled)

The article describes the Generative Process of the work ‘Being Foiled’, as a Positive Feedback Loop. By using the initialised system that is pre-trained to produced Unreal, Deep Fake Portraits, (based on the dynamics of the generator and discriminator) and then subverting the function by ‘fine tuning’ the system, the machine goes through a 3 Part Process (Divergence, Convergence and Collapse) which leaves an abstract ‘trail’ or track of the deep fake construction and configuration process. The outcome is essentially a gradual and increasingly intense breakdown from imperceptibly realistic portraits to discrete geometric shapes, bold colours and full abstraction.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

As the portraits breakdown in this feedback loop, we see prominent blue lines marking the face shape, eye contours and silhouette of the hair that intensify and retain giving us some sort of ‘clue’ on how these remaining parameters could possibly be the basis for a Deep Fake face construction. In’Being Foiled’, all the portraits lead up to one identical abstracted image. This suggests that the system in its deep learning process of being fed countless faces, (constant reaction to discriminator by the generator and vice versa), might have determined/learned a standard and arbitrary ‘blueprint’ as a basis to construct convincing Deep Fakes that ‘dupe’ the discriminator into recognising it as a real face.

On Generativity

The unpredictability aspect of the Generative Methodology in the GAN system, is most noticeable in what is described as the ‘peak uncanny’ in the iteration of the early stages of the feedback loop process.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

In this image, the bold red hue pervades through the face and the background, while thin blue lines exaggerating the contours of the eyes, face and hair are present. The eyes are misaligned, the hair highly regularised and simplified as crosshatch lines and the wrinkles around the eyes unrealistically pronounced.

What the authors’ describe as ‘fault lines’ of the system ‘indicative’ of its generativity, these very perceivable and consistent marks in each iteration points to the relative points of the system where it is at it’s ‘weakest’ (in this context, with regards to which features of the face it faces the most struggle in replicating the organic human face). The word ‘weakness’ is used here relative to system’s objective and prescribed function. In fact, this very weak ‘points’ I describe, are probably the most optimal points from which the unpredictability potential of the system radiates from.  In this concentrated areas of ‘fault lines’ where the system breaks down and exposes itself most apparently, there is potential for the designer or artist to then target and expand on propagation in these areas, perhaps by by fine tuning the weights of the generator or by some other relevant manipulation.

However part of generativity and in the GAN system is the lack of control we have over the system. We are able to trigger and adjust the weights of either the generators or the discriminators but the circular loop in which the two entities communication and react to each other, is constant and immutable. The information that is communicated between the two changes depending on how we fine tune the system but the fundamental process remains the same. There is no fixed end state and the systems constantly evolve over the training process.

Concluding Thoughts

How generativity is successfully harnessed in this work and exploration is by fundamentally subverting a relevant and powerful machine constructed system (GANs & Deep Fake). Instead of constructing a generative system from scratch, an existing Generative System with an innate objective function is manipulated in such a way that it’s underlying unpredictabilities cause a feedback loop that deconstructs and reverses the Deep Fake Process into Abstraction.

Essentially a system that is trained to produce Images that we are unable to distinguish from real images, is manipulated into accomplishing the exact opposite. What is then significant from this outcome is the fact that a generative system is capable of manifesting itself in this extreme duality — two very different iterations that diverge from a common process. It is then our role as Artists to trigger or explore the divergent and variant outcomes these ‘closed systems’ can produce, by first analysing and then manipulating the interactions between the objects of the system and, our interaction with the system in its design process.

We also need to be conscious in the way the ‘Artistic’ outcomes of these Generative Process are presented: “while initial mesmerising and transfixing, can quickly become banal, monotonous repetitions for the sake of overwhelming the viewer with the “sublime of algorithmic productivity” (Zylinska 2019).”

Though it is argued in the article that this very algorithmic representation is powerful, we have to consider the affect and over saturation these type of repetitive output can have on our audience — we do not want them to be immune or ‘numb’ in their intuitive reaction to the works. Hence it is important to possibly explore how these iterations can be displayed — perhaps via projection or by intersecting the physical and virtual planes. One question we can ask ourselves as Generative Artist is if it possible to enhance the ‘experience’ of the dialogue with a closed system without taking away its essence?

Exploratory Generative Study

Themes

Shared Emotional Space, Virtuality, Latent Influence/Connections, Indirect Affect, Intimacy.

Concept

Exploring how our screens and phones have become augmentations of our psyche and emotions. Our phones are vessels that hold all the information about our lives — private and public.

We leave both digital and physical traces on our phones.

Physical: Fingerprints, the pressure, speed and direction in which we text on our phones is relative to our mood and state of mind – when we are arguing we tend to text faster. Some days we barely touch our phones or reply conversations when we’re feeling existential or disassociated from our world.

Digital: Text Messages are often intimate and representative of our state of mind. We engage with different people via text, creating a shared space with each one of them. We also leave traces on Social Media via Text or Visuals.

Aim 

To create a Visual Map of our emotions by identifying descriptive words associated with emotion in our text messages. While  taking note of the emotion expressed by the person we are texting. Our mood constantly changes and is influenced by everyone around us. Two people who are detached from each other can influence each other indirectly if they both communicate via an intermediary entity. For example if person A texts me and I am affected by his emotional state of mind, this then will have an influence on how I respond to person C. This is ever more so apparent in the contemporary world today where we are psychologically connected (voluntarily and involuntarily) due to the veracity of the digital/virtual world.

We are always multitasking and replying or engaging with multiple people at the same time unlike in real life where we do not have the ability to have multiple intimate dialogues simultaneously. Essentially my idea is to attempt to visualise a map that connects specific people via their expressed emotions and at the same time visualise how they play a part in influencing my mental state. Our phones have become augmentations of us and we barely pay attention to the way in which we engage with it and how this engagement has affect on our cognitive and emotional state.

Part of the exploration in this study is to take a step back and attempt to deconstruct the relationships we form in the virtual world (specifically text conversations) and sequence a set of representations that express this complex phenomena in a clearer way. By forming a sequence of simple ‘data graphs’ over a specific period of time, we can then track and process how  the people we text play a role in our lives.

Constant Variables

Size of Parameter
Positions of Point
Relative distance between Points
People

Outcomes:

Number of lines
Area within Boundary
Number of connections between me and specific person
Number of connections between people

INITIAL Visual Sketch

For each corresponding emotion or word between any two people, a line will be drawn to connect the respective points. The red line represents a connection between two isolated people while the black line represents a connection between a specific person and myself.

i Light 2019 SG — Reflection

1, i Light Experience

i light 2019, involved a serious of light based installation works mapped out around Marina Bay. As part of our Bicentennial Celebration, this series was meant to commemorate aspects of Singapore’s History while articulating and expressing the progress we have achieved today. Personally I feel that the series was meant to visually convey the advanced and state of the art nation we pride ourselves to be. Instead of being displayed or curated in an enclosed and discrete space, each of the installation was integrated into the natural environment of the Marina Bay Area. This seamless and intelligent way of blending the works into the heavily lit Marina Bay Area and it’s powerful landmarks, then make the works accents of our already popular city core.

There is no discrete start or end to this journey and one is free to approach any of the pieces they find interesting as they navigate their way around the Bay Area. Instead of simply reinterpreting the works in conventional ways like in previous years where it was almost always tied back to historic moments, in the 2019 Festival there were some works that commented on contemporary and important issues such as Climate Change and Waste Management. Such issues are relevant national issues moving forward and it was significant to see that the designers were using this opportunity not to just simply pride ourselves in our past but remind the general public of where we want to head towards in the future. i lights also essentially is a smooth movement and flow across and in between significant monuments rather than being pit stops —when we transit from one point to the next, the journey or the space between the points were also filled with smaller interactive elements. This ensures the experience journey isn’t broken and the viewer is guided seamlessly from start to finish.

2. What might the “curators” have to consider to plan such a transformation?

1. Cost — Projections and Audiovisual technology at such large scale is costly and as curators they have to consider the allocated budget and be cost efficient without compromising the end result.

2. Safety —As some of these works were placed on walkways, obstructing public space has to be taken into account to ensure there is enough mobility for all sorts of people including adolescent and seniors. However they probably had to strike a balance between being too safe and too obstructive —the works being along the pathway of Marina Bay makes the movement through it intuitive and this was a vital intuitive element of i lights.

3. Artistic Choices — Another possible consideration could have been discerning how to complement the landmarks without overly layering them with augmentations to the point they lose their inherent characteristic or recognisability.

4. Sustainability — As these works were displayed over a long period of time over a span of weeks, Curators would probably have to consider sustainable of ways of supplying them with power and avoid unnecessary usage.

3.What alternate ways could YOU imagine transforming these sites to communicate something unique or unknown about Singapore culture?

One way to further build on such works in the future would be thinking about how rather than repeatedly talking about our local history which most people are more or less familiar with, we could instead create conversation about unique cultures or subcultures that exist within Singapore (how they’re unconventional yet uniquely singaporean).

In recent months, especially with the Covid-19 Dormitory breakout in SG,  Migrant Worker causes and issues have been gaining more traction and attention. Many of our landmarks were built by these migrant workers and they  as a demographic occupy a large part of certain spaces in SG — Peninsula Shopping Mall ,  Lucky Plaza, Little India etc. They have set up semi permanent enclaves in these areas and Singaporeans ourselves have grown to associate these spaces in relation them. They have shaped both our cityscape  (laboriously) and these small spaces they frequent (culturally).

Hence one way to make national monument installations more contemporary and meaningful could be layering them with audiovisual elements that portray the migrant worker experience living in SG. This will not only highlight our multiculturalism in a unique way but also create a powerful dialogue by intersecting the labour aspect of our landmarks with the glamour, power and authoritarian aspects of it. Such possible approaches that highlight issues in our current world are important to address, moving forward. Being a nation that only busks in its past glory becomes superficial after a certain point.

Illuminating Embodiments — Reflection

Overarching Thoughts — bodies & Virtuality

Rafael Lozano Hemmer talks about the concepts of ‘body’ and ‘space’ and how they operate in similar manners and are not necessarily discrete entities. A physical space or monument though ‘permanent’, its meaning and purpose is subject to the course of time and mirrors the change in society. Hence it is as equally mutable as our physical bodies. Similarly, ‘space’ is not a static concept and our bodies— through posture, movement etc cuts through space, creating a flow which in itself then harnesses ‘space’. By moving through a space, like in dancing for instance, one commands control over it and redefines it. Different dancers within the spaces will portray a different interpretation to the viewers, depending on their emotions and movements. We are powerful enough to deconstruct and re-interpret space through our fluid bodies. Hemmer creates an intersection and interaction of our physical bodies and public monuments/places by augmenting and layering it with technology inputs such as projections and other audiovisual elements. His works are also interactive in the way these elements are controlled by our physical bodies and the way we move through space with them.

In RE:Positioning Fear, the participants’ shadows trigger portraits of people. Virtuality here then is the bridging entity between people and architecture. The ability for the artist to have control over the virtual realm depending on his predetermined functions, opens up a multitude of possibilities that are not limited by the materialistic aspects of that particular building. He is able to re contextualise and re interpret a historic building away from any rooted fixed meaning. It is important to note that this temporal realm of virtuality does not belong to exclusively the building or our bodies —  it is a shared space with predetermined trigger responses but ultimately mutable and responsive to the interactivity between us, the building and the artist. Though these are three separate entities, virtuality as an intermediary allows for interactivity and contact.

Since no interaction can be fully premeditated (we all have agency over our own bodies), real life interactive works have a high chance of producing unpredictable and surprising outcomes as opposed to the artist’s original vision. In RE:Positioning Fear,  Hemmer points to this as he mentions how the behaviour of passers by was the complete opposite of what he expected to see — yet this does not in any way invalidate the profoundness of the experience but rather just goes to show how layering virtuality on top of a physical building can allow it to be explored and seen in new and unexpected perspectives. This unpredictable set of outcomes also gives the artist a chance to further develop or tap into concepts they might have been insular to previously.

Further Thoughts — Body as Performance

“In fact, Lozano-Hemmer declares that he is ‘interested in the body as a performance, a process of becoming, of change, and less interested in physiognomy, anatomy, forensics and physical ergonomics’”

Hemmer talks about how he views our physical bodies as performance instruments rather than static. He seems them as non absolute and fluid entities that are inclined go through the constant process of change and renewal. It is indeed true that our physical bodies though biologically and clinically are very materialistic, their inherent biological process imbues them with processes such as ageing and mutation. Hence change is inbuilt into our physicality to begin with. On top of this, we are able to also control the way we express our body via its movements to portray different emotions. Our postures and gestures constantly change depending on the situation we are in or the person we are interacting with. They adapt and respond accordingly with intuition. Body language is also not universal and differs across habits and cultures. Each subculture has its own unique set of ‘body language’, further amplifying the mutability of the human body and its movements. This is also why each of us interact with our spaces or redefine it in our own unique ways.

concluding thoughts

As designers of interactive spaces, we then have to study the behaviours of the occupants in our site specific installation/interactive space and adjust our works to potentialise on these unique nuances — movements of a busy train station in Tokyo as opposed to that of a quiet station in Hampshire will be completely different. Space will be interacted with in different manners and the space itself will have a very different ‘memory’ attached to it as it is carved by humans over time. Redefining it then will also require us to take all these aspects into context — we have to understand the characteristics of the body we are working with before we deconstruct and reinterpret it. Ultimately this is to ensure our interpretations are relevant, insightful and meaningful and not purposeless.

Tokyo Train Station

Bentley Railway Station (Hampshire)

Reflection — Marius Waltz, Closed Systems: Generative art and Software Abstraction

Overarching Thoughts 

Waltz mainly discusses how generative art in itself though highly precise and ‘controlled’ in the way the system which produces it is designed, its aim is to reproduce an outcome that is as close to nature as possible — organic and spontaneous phenomena which carry the inherent characteristic of ‘life’ itself — mutability and hence unpredictability. As artists and designers we want to create experiences that replicate the poetic nuances of what constitutes ‘living’. Yet we are acutely and admittedly aware that we are inextricably limited by our logic and human perception. Though we are able to ‘feel’ various intangibles such as emotion, we mostly attach these ‘feelings’ to objects or people to give them some sort of physical association and meaning. Science explains that chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are responsible for these ‘feelings’ yet there is a somewhat spiritual and noetic aspect to these emotions that we simply can’t fathom — concepts of the soul etc.

Aware that we are only limited by our own human condition and perception, and that we simply do not have the power to ‘play god’ and detach ourselves from this schema or worldly experience to deconstruct everything from a completely unbiased, pure and distilled approach, we then turn to the use of software systems and algorithms. In a way these systems operate out of the parameters that confine ‘life’. They lack intuition and perception and their ‘learning’ depends on what information we choose to feed them. However this then renders these highly precise systems with  the ‘non existent human-objectivity’ to assist us in deconstructing our experience as a detached entity. What we have inbuilt in us, that these computerised binary systems lack is the very thing that limits us from fully taking apart (and hence recreating) the condition of ‘to be living’. We cannot put together something we do not even know how to take apart.

This then brings us to the systems we rely on. Though these systems are inanimate and devoid of any sort of ‘lively’ essence, they too produce unpredictabilities. A ‘glitch’ in the matrix or a ‘bug’ that comes up once in awhile, derailing the system from producing its supposedly premeditated outcome, resulting in moments of deviance and dysfunctionality. This capability and propensity for highly objective and parametric systems to produce unpredictabilities while lacking life, forms the key fundamental basis for generativity to exist as a significant philosophy or methodology in answering the questions we have always sought out.

The implications of a set algorithms having some sort of possible innate biases that ‘mimic’ or rather come close to mirroring the similar unpredictabilities seen in nature, while being tangible and adjustable to our touch, is highly significant. Essentially we now have in our hands a modifiable, parametric ‘replica’ that comes as close as possible to ‘life’- something we have zero control over. Whether the way it manifests is indeed controlled by a ‘higher being’ or simply operates on some sort of universal code, or balance, it is beyond us as humans as ‘life’ in itself is not in our power. We are executioners of life in the way we carry it in our physical bodies, yet when we age it is ‘taken’ away from us. We reproduce but we cannot ‘ inject ‘life’ into something. ‘Life’ in itself is not exclusive to our race. Yet given our highly developed cognitive functions and emotional perception, we are inevitably unable to simply dismiss it — existentialism, nihilism, solipsism, absurdism are all simply manifestations of the human acute awareness and frustration of our inability to understand or comprehend fully the greater world we live in.

As designers we have to apply this intuition with suitable technical skills to create a complex and interesting generative system. Waltz explains that ‘reverse engineering’ is an essential approach towards generativity — we try to ‘plan’ the intended outcome (together with its possible ‘set of unpredictabilities’) and decide what type of software, input algorithms or data set we can utilise to produce this result.

Further thoughts

In the  ‘void loop()’ section, Waltz talks about the rise of the net and how advancements in technology, together with our fascination of it, led to early exploratory works of generativity. Though they were relatively ‘crude’ and rather simple (far from the likes of veracity and complexity with associate with technology today), they fundamentally operated as valid generative closed systems. Waltz suggests that because of this closed system characteristic, and the lack of need for interactivity, coupled with the focus on the infrastructure and nature of the system itself, generative art is closer to fine art than it is to media art.

This then contextualises the approach he is suggesting for us as designers to adopt. Rather than creating an experiential piece that capitalises on user-system interaction, we should analyse the materiality of the system, it’s patterns and behaviour and modify it to our desire. It is then a process that requires a sufficient level of ‘stringency’ and discipline. We have to be precise about how we piece the elements of the system together the same way a painter precisely places brush strokes onto a canvas. It is only with this precision that we will be able to create a system that is able to function to produce profound yet meaningful outcomes.

The point of generativity is not to directly intervene/alter in the system’s process but rather to first deconstruct it and understand the potential underlying unpredictabilities it is capable of producing on its own. We then modify or add elements to it to ‘capture’ or record these unpredictabilities. We are hence required to be careful in the way we construct the system — whether digital or analogue, that each of the element is calibrated and not artificially biased to ‘rig’ the outcomes. The beauty of the outcome is not in its visual appearance or how close it is to the artist’s ideal but rather it being a meaningful and conceptual representation/manifestation of the non visible nuances and characteristics that are inherent in the designed system.

However by designing the system with some sort of discretion, we will then able to predetermine one that is able to also produce visually/mentally stimulating outcomes. Here our intuition and understanding of world views come into consideration as we make deliberate choices. Choosing to add Element A instead of B can and will result in a very different set of outcomes but which would be a more effective representation of the system? ‘Effective’ in a sense where it targets and attacks or destabilises our worldview. Does it satiate our craving to want to process intangible phenomena or offer any sort of visible, identifiable respite to deepen/expand our understanding of the relationship we have with these non discrete, poetic entities.

Data Scultpures

In the final section, Waltz fantasises about the idea of generative art completely moving off the screen (he is careful to remind us that it is indeed not limited to just pixels displayed on a screen). He believes that with technology enabling us to “extrude virtual forms” onto three dimensional space itself, this opens up the possibility for generativity’s exploration to expand even further in the contemporary world. Waltz also mentions the experimentation of data sculptures, ‘representing normally intangible information flows as physical manifestations.’

Refik Anadol, Engram : Data Sculpture for Melting Memories

The above work is an example of data sculpture I personally find fascinating.

‘Anadol gathers data on the neural mechanisms of cognitive control from an EEG (electroencephalogram) that measures changes in brain wave activity and provides evidence of how the brain functions over time. These data sets constitute the building blocks for the unique algorithms that the artist needs for the multi-dimensional visual structures on display.’ 

Earlier I mentioned how we as humans are constantly looking for ways to grasp and portray the intangible processes that we experience in our brains and body. ‘Engram” successfully harnesses and measures the empirical aspect of our cognition to then use it as input data to essentially produce an organic visual ‘life-like’ representation of our memories. The outcome is profound and mesmerising — through Generative Methodology we are able to appreciate the sheer wonderment of our brain and its functions via an almost spiritual experience. Though there is no direct interactivity and it is a closed system, there is psychological and emotional dialogue between the work and viewer intuitively. This dialogue then helps us process and internalise the intangible phenomenology surrounding our memories.

‘Home’ — Reflections & Sketch

Words

Dominance, Transience, Restraint, Comfort, Obligated Rootedness.

Personal Reflections & Analysis of ‘Space’

 

1. My Room (Dominance)

In my home, I share my room with my brother with our beds set apart, flushed against each side of the wall. I personally do not have a good relationship with him and more often than not, we only speak when we need to. This discomfort and tension in one shared space that has no physical divide has inherently prompted me to come up with interventions in order to artificially or psychologically demarcate my own space or my ‘half of the room’ to create a comfortable area for myself. Silence, amplifies the awkwardness when both of us are in the room. Silence can be peaceful and calming but an awkward kind of silence gets under your skin. One way of establishing my dominance over my space sometimes would be me turning up the volume of the music on my speakers. Sometimes this draws some retaliation and he turns his speakers up too. We don’t physically content for our own spaces in this shared area but it is interesting to take a step back and analyse how the pervasive nature of sound is powerful enough to assert spatial dominance. Imagine if you were sharing a room with someone who hates classical music and you crank your speakers up to the max with the sound of an orchestra; it’ll either coerce the person into naturally wearing their headphones — a sign of suppression and surrender, or walking out of the space entirely to the main hall (in defeat).

Most recently I installed fish tanks right beside my bed and although they don’t fully split the room in half, the presence of some physical ‘wall’ or barrier further establishes my side of the room, psychologically making me feel more comfortable. The tanks have this iridescent blue night light that illuminates the walls at night — in some sense while being stationary, that personal object with its light attached, then projects itself onto the entirety of the room, marking territory of my presence.

2. ‘Home’ out of the ‘House’ (Transience)

As I have been staying in Hall at NTU now, I rarely go back home as I live all the way in the east. I am also someone who prefers socialising with people a lot and am often outside. Hence home to me is just a transient place with innate strong memories. The idea of ‘home’ is not limited to any physical space. One could consider any safe space their ‘home’. More importantly the space we inhabit and we often refer to as home is a ‘house’, a clearly defined physical space in which we co inhabit with our family members.

My idea of home is transient as I find ‘home’ in places I’ve had significant memories with people — rooftops, coffee stops, water banks, the bench at East Coast Park;  all these at one point in my life were landmarks that I shared with someone important, a place of intense emotion and they have nostalgic tentacles tethered to me. In each phase of my life, there was some place I would visit to feel good, or safe if I needed to just sit and ‘exist’. One really significant place is a small rooftop at Greenwich — a place I spent a lot of time in, with my best-friend, the only person I’ve ever called my soulmate. The emotions tethered to this space are so strong that even though it has been physically closed off by authorities, it occupies a psychological space in my mind and I do not have to physically travel there anymore to feel the comfort I derive from being there.

I quite simply can think of it, look at curated pictures of it on my phone album, and reminisce in the moment and the details of our marks left behind — spit stains, cigarette ash, prints from our shoes etc. The power of the human brain; its memory and the way it creates association via all its senses enables us to own spaces we don’t physically own. It gives us the ability to enter these spaces in our heads. Fragments of sensorial memory —  smell of the flowers, sound of the cars whizzing by, the colour of the blocks that form the skyline, the shade of the trees planted there, all amalgamate together to form a virtual yet profound realm that we can freely access whenever we want, for life, regardless of the physical permanence of the space.

Here is a poem I wrote for my friend with the imagery of the rooftop in mind:

3. ‘Home’ in the ‘House’ (Restraint)

In the same way, growing up in a house in your formative years leads you to associate emotions to certain objects or spaces. I never had a good relationship with my brother and was not so close to my parents as I was mostly brought up by domestic workers while they were working. Love was not explicitly conveyed but rather translated via obscure actions or mechanisms — a very Asian thing I suppose. (The inability to express love or rather the awkwardness of having to express love without using assertion and chiding as a facade, often passed down through the generations. ) With this in mind, when I was younger sometimes it would be awkward when we were all seated in a common area like the hall or the dining table — a place where everyone sat at but barely spoke. Being in a shared space in silence makes you acutely aware of the objects around you and sometimes I’d finish up first so I could excuse myself from the table and walk away — not because I hate them but more of to relief myself of the disconcerting awkwardness of the situation.

However in the past few years my relationship with my family members, except for my brother has improved. We are more open about our feelings and we addressed past ‘grudges’ or mistakes that were previously swept under the carpet. Covid  19 especially amplified this — arguably in a pretty forceful way since we had no choice but to stay home. However surprisingly though I dreaded the idea at first, I was pleasantly surprised by how I ended up finding comfort in a place I always convinced myself didn’t have that much to offer (since I was mostly out all the time). It is ‘funny’ and significant how when we’re confined in an area, we somehow adapt and inherently become suddenly aware of ‘loopholes’ or ‘gaps’ we never paid attention to, that were always available to have sought comfort in.

All the common space needed was shared noise or shared conversation to rid it of the awkward stigma it had in my mind. So I started speaking more, sitting out of my room more, making a conscious effort to not only float around the house but ground myself in these shared spaces and have pleasant meaningful moments in them.

4. ‘Home’ in the House (Transition from Restraint to Comfort)

We have a corgi who is allowed to roam the house freely. And Corgis being hyperactive and needy as they are, he is always running into my room, scratching doors for them to be opened or jumping onto us ecstatically with his toy in his mouth. To him, the house is his world and he runs wherever he wants to with only one aim in mind — to interact and play with his owners. Somehow the addition of this animal ‘family’ member that ran across all our rooms, also brought as closer. We stepped out more and interacted more naturally. The artificial boundaries that we set up as humans (rooms, doors etc) were invisible to him and he freely crossed each boundary whenever he wanted to. Overtime, I too became less affected or obsessed by the boundaries of my room and started to feel comfortable in any space in the house.

The human condition is such that we are often blind to our own inhibitions until a third party intervenes. In this case, the addition of my dog and his constant running around, leaving his shedded hair everywhere, broke these spaces and in a way connected them. His physical movement overtime, created a flow in the space and amplified the openness of my ‘home’ in the ‘house’. Psychologically, he connected all the areas that were kept apart in my head. (Spaces I saw as discrete places with specific functions — to eat, to watch tv, to cook). When these boundaries broke down, a sense of openness and fluidity emerged and my physical body did not feel like it was confined, relative to the space around me, anymore.

5. ‘Home’ and ‘House’ as we Perceive it to be (Obligated Rootedness)

Space as an entity is omnipresent, it is infinite and it is not limited by the physical boundaries we have learnt to set up. This being said, whether we consider our house our home or not, we all have an obligated rootedness to this physical enclave we grow up in. For some people who grew up in an abusive household, home is a traumatic trigger, and the sight or even slightest memory of it can be distasteful. (even long after physically removing themselves from that space).

Concluding thoughts (On Homes and Houses)

For me home has grown to be a place where I am more comfortable as opposed to when I was in my formative years. Within this space, in my room due to my strained relationship with my brother, I still rely on means to establish some sort of boundary that separates me from him. Home essentially to me can be any place you feel comfortable at. You can feel at home in the most unsuspecting and unexpected of places as long as you have a personal and unique attachment to it. A House on the other hand, is a physical space we are bound by, and grow up in, whether we like it or not. Bad or good memories associated with this physical space, leaves a permanent mark, distorting or rather influencing how we eventually end up making a ‘home’ out of our own houses when we finally have the autonomy to move out and do so.

Visual Representation of ‘Home’

It is possible to alter or morph the perception of a fixed physical space by adjusting the psychological space it represents in our mind. This can be done by intervention (in my case, the simple yet powerful affect of my dog’s movement and trail).

 

 

Generative Art Example — Subway Drawings by William Anastasi

Subway Drawings by William Anastasi

Thoughts

The most interesting or rather central aspect of this work is its simplicity and sublimity. In this series of graphite drawings on paper, the artist sat on the subway, allowing the motion of the train determine the resulting ‘artwork’. The train’s motion – it’s halts, acceleration, sudden bumps, manoeuvres and direction determine the resultant line’s size, direction and weight. It also controls the speed and the direction in which the pencil he holds moves. The simple act of sitting down on a train, and obtaining different generative sets of artwork is significant as it amplifies the mutability and transience of life and in this example, life in transit/journey.

No one drawing is consistent as the tracks on which the subway train operates on, may also vary in orientation, condition, temperature spending on the destination/location. Anastasi noted below on each drawing the destination he was heading towards. The drawings then become an abstract manifestation of the transient journey between two points. They are almost cartographic in the way they record the unique and discrete motions for each specific journey to the respective destination. Fundamentally the resultant drawings then become a map of different journeys to to different locations.

Most of us when we take a ride on the bus or the train, especially in today’s fast paced society, we are often fixated and obsessed with simply reaching our destination on time — to meet a friend, get to work, or get home etc. However each time we take the train, no single journey is the same — some days we might be in a bad mood, we may have a different playlist plugged into our earphones, the train might be more densely populated or the train might even break down or halt momentarily.

However these poetic nuances are intangible and we often don’t pay attention to the process even though the ride itself has more affect on our emotional and cognitive state than the reaching of the destination. (If we happen to be on a crowded train we will probably feel more exasperated by the time we reach our endpoint as opposed to if it was peaceful and empty). Anastasi’s Subway Drawings manage to capture this process or phenomenology of travelling by using the tangible and physical factors that take place simultaneously with our experience. By letting the movement of the train control and determine his automated drawings, Anastasi is able to visualise and manifest a unique identity and portrait for each of these ‘journeys’. Apart from the movement of the train, his subtle and spontaneous movements in his hands (due to muscle memory) would have also played a role in the lines’ visual outcome. These then in a sense also capture the human experience of the journey on paper.

Generative Aspect

Anastasi’s Subway Drawings is generative in the way the constant factor is the act of taking a subway train ride, with a piece of pencil and paper. The unpredictabilities which constitute the motion of the train and mildly, the spontaneous movements of the body, make the work generative. No one outcome is identical and will never be identical. Yet they all share a common visual appearance (haphazard, overlapping lines) that expresses the underlying constant function/’algorithm’ of the designed system.

Personal interests & Further Exploration

I personally am interested in analysing the human condition and the way our experiences alter the perception of the world around us — relationships, spaces, memories. As humans, most of the time we are travelling between places and destinations. While we physically travel, our emotional and mental state also ‘travel’ and wander off to psychological or virtual ‘places’. This work could be built upon to explore this intersectionality of these realms and how the experience of travelling is a significant representation of ourselves.

It is interesting to think about how a work like this might differ if it were to take place in our current Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) System. In a densely populated city like Singapore where we rarely are able to get seats on the train, will the motion of rubbing against passengers of all sorts, having to navigate the space to find a comfortable spot, and other movements caused by congestion/rushing result in visually interesting drawings? This might be something I would want to explore for Project 1 — extrapolating the idea of recording and mapping the transient nature of journeys in today’s world. It is also interesting to think about how this work could perhaps be modified to be produced on our phones or devices instead as it is the main object that accompanies and occupies us when we travel. We are either texting, watching a movie, browsing social media or listening to music. The way our fingers interact with the screen (speed, direction, pressure) all depend on these factors. Perhaps, one interesting and powerful exploration would be thinking of a way to map the motion and traces of our fingerprints on our phone for each journey, over a period of time.

Intervention — Reflections

“Our bodies remember trauma and abuse — quite literally. They respond to new situations with strategies learned during moments that were terrifying or life-threatening. Our bodies remember, but memory is malleable.’

Our intervention involved triggering spontaneous and unpredictable muscle memory, while tethered to the other person. A highly emotive and powerful spoken word poem by Lydia Lunch played in the background, acting as the sensory trigger. We were not allowed to speak and could only interact via our momentary physical response to some of the harsh words in the track. The experience was very vulnerable in the sense where each of our muscle memory and consequent body movement were physically influencing, reacting to and culminating together (since we were tethered by a blanket on one arm each). We performed this intervention live within a restricted space.

Our main sensory trigger was the aural input from the track and the psychological effect the harsh words used further induced spontaneous reaction from our bodies. Though we did not physically touch each other, the intervention made us completely vulnerable to either of our bodily reactions, resulting in a very emotive and profound experience. There were some parts where it got mildly violent and tense and we could feel our heart rate increase and we also became acutely aware of each others’ breathing.

The inspiration for this intervention was to explore how two bodies with their own unique muscle memories, communicate intimately without speaking. Being able to literally and physically feel a person’s spontaneous body reaction to an emotional trigger was truly profound.