The beauty of the algorithm
→ CORALIE VOGELAAR USES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN COMBINATION WITH DATABASES FOR HER ART. PHOTO CORALIE VOGELAAR –
“We consider it important to provide an insight into algorithms and what they can mean in the future. Initially we are an arts festival, but given this year’s theme it is natural for us to involve media and technology”, says Arjon Dunnewind (51), director of Impakt.
The Utrecht-based organisation is known for its critical view of contemporary media and technology at both cultural and a social levels. During the five-day festival, Impakt seeks to present new possibilities in the area of algorithms and artificial intelligence through art, films and panel discussions. The central question: how do we relate to technology, and to the government?
“Algorithms and online data are not only relevant in terms of the provision of information, but also relate to issues such as privacy and the monitoring of our behaviour,” says Dunnewind. “We don’t want to show how bad everything is, but mainly to show how algorithms work, what place they occupy in society and how we can benefit from them.”
In its infancy
A good example of someone who is trying to use the system to his own benefit is Eliot Higgins, founder of online open source investigation platform Bellingcat, which researched the MH17 disaster via online data available to everyone. Higgins will give a lecture about his research methods at the festival next Saturday.
“The way someone like Higgins works goes beyond researchers and journalists,” says Dunnewind. “It has been found that artists who are engaging with data and technology use the same technique to get information.”
One such artist is Coralie Vogelaar (37) from Amsterdam. Originally a graphic designer, she now makes artworks focussing on artificial intelligence and databases. During the Impakt Festival, she will be exhibiting her work I Enjoyed the Parts in Your Mind. “With this artwork, I want to show the poetic side and the unexpected aesthetics of artificial intelligence,” says Vogelaar. “I am not interested in what is not yet possible. It is the development that fascinates me, because artificial intelligence is still in its infancy; we have the opportunity to create a new aesthetics.”
On the wall: a white screen; a ‘drawing bot'; a couple of small screens and a lot of wire. “I like to show the elements behind it so people understand better how the technology was made.”
For the project, Vogelaar drew on her fascination with databases. “The drawing bot, which looks like a thick pencil with a blunt point, is powered by automatically generated sentences about artificial intelligence, which are placed online by users of the anarchist forum 4chan.
These sentences are then written by the drawing bot on the screen in handwriting taken from a large database Vogelaar maintains. “In my work I look for a visual surprise: the manuscripts from the drawing bot are expressionist expressions. It is impossible to predict what it will look like beforehand,” Vogelaar explains. “Artificial intelligence has many possibilities, but it remains a matter of trying it out. How we deal with it in the future is still a gamble; but at least we can fantasize about it.”
Impakt Festival: until 28/10 in Utrecht. Associated exhibition: until 11/11.
IMPAKT Festival 2018
27/10/2018 |Review —Domeniek Ruyters
Issue no. 5
Oct – Nov 2018
I can’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu when I see the title of this year’s IMPAKT Festival: Algorithmic Superstructures. Didn’t they tackle this once before? Are they running out of media-critical themes, or have I been watching too many innovative TV documentaries this past year?
The list of speakers, which includes Evgeny Morozov, does nothing to lift this feeling of having been here before. The Boris Groys of media festivals has been a guest here many times in the past. A brilliant speaker, certainly, active on platforms most of us can only dream of – but not quite the kind of original ‘keynote’ for which this festival has become renowned.
The feeling of repetition also follows me around the exhibition. Perhaps this is because Egor Kraft – one of the names who has grown up at this festival – has based his monumental video installation very closely on an older project by Melanie Gilligan. Like Gilligan in the cycle The Common Sense, in his installation – created with Pekka Tynlkkynen, Alina Kvirkveliiya and Karina Golubenko – Kraft projects the future onto a present that seems to have changed little, representing Moscow in 2050. The narrative is about our future subjectivity, which has been consumed completely by a huge Artificial Intelligence, in this case called Plasma. The scenes of philosophic musings are filmed as languidly as Gilligan’s were, and just like hers they are presented on a framework of scaffolding poles with LED screens. It almost looks like plagiarism.
Many of the other works on show feature lots of ‘data mining’ as it’s known in the jargon, with artists posing as investigative journalists and combing the net for in-depth research and critical analyses of today’s excessive digital information flows and the mechanisms that lurk behind them. This exhibition contains more than the average number of information-heavy works that like to reflect the kind of investigative journalism with which Bellingcat is conquering the world. Seen in this light, it is not so surprising that Erik Smit of Follow The Money and Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins are special guests here at the festival.
As in recent editions, the festival again has a compact structure in which theoretical reflection is starting to dominate. Which is something of a shame, as in the past this festival excelled as a curator of new and under-represented art. Now, there is less exhibition and more discussion, and what’s more this discussion is principally among insiders in the festival’s extensive ‘professional program’. And this is rubbing off on the festival. Lectures simply work differently from exhibitions. Whereas exhibitions tend to be a showcase for young artists, lectures tend to pull in the big names. Like Morozov.
Nevertheless, I did see enough good, new work during my visit to the festival. I was very impressed by the videos by Chloé Galibert-Laine & Kevin B. Lee. Using social media and blogs, they reconstruct the lives of an ISIS fighter and a journalist captured by ISIS. Interspersed with critical reflection, the interweaving of digital and real lives is presented as impossible to disentangle, and some assumptions about good and evil, truth and lies are thoroughly mixed up into the bargain.
Unfortunately the interesting expressionist drawing machine by Coralie Vogelaar, which feeds off of text fragments, wasn’t working but its construction – it is intended to draw on the basis of text compiled pretty much at random – is fascinating and the quality of the drawing promising. A computer with a talent for drawing is not something you see every day.
Foundland Collective also has an exciting new work for those interested in the war in Syria (Idlib in particular) – although their news analysis of Syrian ‘citizen reporters’ on Facebook pales rather in comparison with that of Forensic Architecture in a competing arts centre a little way away (currently at BAK).
An unsettling intermezzo was provided by the print-out of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed by Klara Vith – on paper, the absolutely endless series of Tweets comes across as even more threatening than online. This chattering paper ‘cash register roll’ also lends the exhibition a nice ‘live’ feel, while at the same time showing how the US president feeds his millions of fans and enemies with an endless stream of opinions and accusations through this – in his case – gigantic mass medium.
My attention was drawn mainly to a recent tweet in which he expressed his distaste for a ‘boring’ article in The New York Times about how he uses his telephones. I think I will go look up that article – it could be very interesting when read in the light of this edition of IMPAKT Festival.
IMPAKT Festival Utrecht 24/10 thru 28/10/2018, various locations in Utrecht, exhibition location Casco/Fotodok
is editor-in-chief of van Metropolis