I recently had the opportunity to present my robotic sound installation ‘Do You Like Cyber?’ – part of my ongoing research in Critical Media Practice – at Rome’s MAXXI – National Museum of the 21st Century Arts for the exhibition ‘Low Form. Imaginaries and Visions in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,’ curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi.
‘Do You Like Cyber?’ is composed of three parametric speakers attached to swiveling robotic arms. Playing with the idea of deceitful messages, the speakers broadcast a series of short audio messages that were used by bots on the dating website Ashley Madison, which I retrieved after the site was hacked. These bots were programmed to engage the website’s users in online chats, getting them to subscribe to the website’s services. Despite the fact that the bots were designed to only contact males, they didn’t always function as they should have. This work focuses on a series of insubordinate bots that, in a post-anthropocentric fashion, displayed anarchic and unpredictable behaviors, such as chatting with each other for no apparent reason or contacting female users even if they weren’t programmed to do so.
With ‘Do you like Cyber?’ I wanted to put the autonomy and interaction between artificial entities at the center, while leaving humans only partially aware of their presence. For this reason, I decided to use unpredictable robotic arms and parametric speakers, which radiate sound in single focused directions rather than in all directions like traditional speakers. Additionally, their sound bounces off hard surfaces such as walls, creating virtual sound sources and making it difficult to detect its origin.
As an artist and researcher, I am particularly interested in exhibition formats that encourage theoretical reflection, and I also contributed to the exhibition catalogue, edited by CURA, with a short speculative text entitled “What is it like for a computer bot to be a computer bot?”.
A big thanks goes to GALLLERIAPIÙ for its backing, to FabLab Bologna Makeinbo for its technical supervision, to Kevin Ramsay for the sound editing, to Annalee Newitz for her fundamental insights on Ashley Madison’s data, and, obviously, to Harvard University – Critical Media Practice for its continuous support.
Featured artists in the show: Zach Blas & Jemima Wyman, Carola Bonfili, Ian Cheng, Cécile B. Evans, Pakui Hardware, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Nathaniel Mellors & Erkka Nissinen, Trevor Paglen, Agnieszka Polska, Jon Rafman, Lorenzo Senni, Avery K Singer, Cheyney Thompson, Luca Trevisani, Anna Uddenberg and Emilio Vavarella.
“What you make should be something that hasn’t been made before,” advised artist Xu Bing at a lively lunch with CMP students and FSC fellows last Thursday. Xu was visiting Harvard to show his film “Dragonfly Eyes” at the Harvard Film Archive and deliver a Kim and Judy Davis Dean’s Lecture in the Arts at Radcliffe Institute.
Xu described his desire to push people’s ways of thinking into a corner – to take things to a logical extreme so that they must question their assumptions. This approach definitely shows in “Dragonfly Eyes” and many of his other fascinating projects, including his wordless “Book from the Ground” which tells an entire story with only emoijis, icons, and punctuation. Xu said he was interested in the idea of this “new type of pictograph that is emerging globally – something everyone can read.”
Students sought advice on how to approach their own media projects, thoughts about working with found materials, and Xu’s feelings as one who collects things to be the object of contemporary art world collectors. Xu responded with inspiring words and great humor. Thank you to Radcliffe, Xu Bing, and translator Menglan Chen for making this happen!
We just finished a very inspiring master class with Lebanese filmmaker and artist Ali Cherri – part of his visit to Harvard that includes last night’s Artist Talk and tonight’s Harvard Film Archive screening.
A gathering of Critical Media Practice Students, Film Study Center Fellows, and undergraduates who are engaged in artistic practice got to hear in detail how Ali conceptualizes and technically realizes his work. Ali explained how his trilogy of “The Disquiet,” “The Digger” and work-in-progress “The Dam” began with an interest in how moments of catastrophe in his home region – from natural disasters to war – can become extended forever in time as the agony seems to never end. How does one represent the experience of violence when it’s not always “spectacular”?
Ali sometimes starts from a place of documentary, gathering images observationally and building relationships with people in their daily lives, and then slowly moves into fiction as he choreographs scripted using involving people in their space as actors to create the meaning he seeks. His imagery can ultimately cross over into the supernatural, as in the striking last shot of “The Disquiet.”
Participants seemed particularly interested in Ali’s process of creating installations, including those related to single-channel works and free-standing pieces like the striking “My Pain is Real” that explores ideas about the digital mediation of violence through manipulation of his own face.
Thanks to Ali Cherri, HFA, and CCVA for this inspiring visit!
Last night marked the first-ever gathering of CMP students from across the university in our welcome event for the new semester. It was great to hear from graduate students in Anthropology, Literature, Design, Public Health, and other fields describe their research and media projects.
We look forward to more opportunities to build community through regular critique group meetings, workshops, and other gatherings.
This summer three Film and Visual Studies graduate students from the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and the Critical Media Practice secondary field presented installations at the Graduate School of Design’s Kirkland Gallery in a series titled “Neither/Nor, Any/All”. These exhibits explored “the limits and possibilities of research as practice, exposing and probing the nature of art-making as a multi-modal activity.”
Lindsey Lodie and Megan Alvarado-Saggese’s “Unspecified Objects, Marfa TX: The Built Wall” explores the contradictions of site-specific practice at America’s borderlands, in particular the case study of Donald Judd, who in the mid-1970s used Marfa, Texas as a backdrop for his art installations while “largely ignoring the cultural, demographic and geo-political dimensions of the region”.
Brandon Evans presented “By Listening, Pain and Sin Are Eradicated,” which included a performance in audio works, curated materials, and textual translations of gurbani (Sikh sacred text) exploring “the dimensions of language, performance, and listening as shared spheres of practice in the Sikh religious tradition and in Western contemporary art”.
Jessica Bardsley’s installation “Unearthed” mapped “an internal geography, exploring relationships between surface and interiority, matter and affect. Taking inspiration from topography, geology, and theories of emotion, this exhibition assembles artifacts from a quiet, eerie galaxy, a desaturated land, light-years from within.”