I am currently working on developing a version of the online site, launched during the degree show.
By playfully navigating a growing digital archive of information, I hope to address our increasingly fragmented relationship with information following our widespread engagement with online search technologies. I have become especially interested in artificially intelligent ‘personal assistants’ such as Siri, that act as the hosts of these encounters, personalising and actualising our engagement with the virtual. Throughout the development of my practice, I have become increasingly aware of the similarities between my own voice and that of an artificially intelligent personal assistant, leading me to consider the role and authorship of the artist in a post-internet age. In my piece, I hope to explore this by personally adopting the role of virtual assistant, and guiding the user through encounters with assimilations of found text, images, and videos relating to the ‘human experience’ as it might be understood digitally. The content is collected using search engines and online generator tools, removed from its hyperlinked environment, and presented inactively as a stream of information that disrupts the poetic reflections of songs and poems.
A Starting Point
5 Key Points – Documentation
5 Key Points – Contextualisation
Following a number of decisions regarding what to, and what not to, include on the site, this is the final outcome that I will be presenting as my exhibition piece.
After watching people use the site, I realised that I had to make it a bit more easy to use than some of the older drafts, I also decided to keep text buttons and the navigation bar to a minimum, predominately the site is navigatable through interaction with the image elements. There are also draggable elements that offer a sort of ‘useless’ interactivity with the site, I was interested in a comment from the gap crit, made regarding the passivity of the user when interacting with the site – I like this passiveness, especially as the information that I present in the videos is usually found as part of a system of hyperlinks but in my work is presented as more of an object.
The homepage welcomes the user home, and offers them a number of gifs and icons that they can drag around for customisation. The ‘cute quote buttons’on the right hand side act as hyperlinks to 3 ‘poem pages’ and one advice page. The top quote about asking for help opens up the help page. Initially I had a help button in the corner, but after user-testing I realised that this was not seen as a clear part of the site – only something to be used if the user came into difficulty.
This is the page activated through the help quote, it gives three question options that are linked to the three main videos.
These three pages are each linked to one of the buttons, they each include a draggable virtual assistant that narrates the search results relating to the lyrics of the song. The tiled backgrounds are selected from image search results relating to the overall theme of the page. I initially was planning on presenting these videos by layering them onto images of hands, however, I felt that this detracted from the content of the video, and confused the page too much, I much prefer the videos being clearer to view and the main focus.
Three of the buttons on the right hand side of the homepage will open up one of these ‘auto-poem’ pieces, each poem is narrated by the virtual assistant.
Opening the ‘About Me’ option on the homepage will bring up this video of my avatar set on a ‘skin’ background. I wanted to keep an element of the physicality of the human body within the piece and explore the manifestation of this synthetic personification that acts as the host throughout this encounter with the web. The character says ‘Who I am isn’t important’ on repeat, this is the reply that Siri will give when you ask her who she is, and is also a nod to my own considerations surrounding the artist’s voice in a post-internet age. The skin once again creates a strong physical textural quality that comments on the attempt made by the interface to replicate something of what it is to be manifested as a someone or something. The skin is also interactive when it is clicked on the ‘Human Touch’ video is presented with a pair of hands (I liked the idea of the hands, and the literal presentation of the videos, this would not have been a strong look if used with every video but relating the ideas of human touch, I think it works) and plays automatically. The assistant once again narrates the video.
I am actually really pleased with how this has come together, I have had several comments from people passing as I’ve been developing the work that have been intrigued with what the work is about and really wanted to interact with it. I’m really pleased that its engaging, and I am excited to see how it will be received within the exhibition itself.
Unfortunately, it will not be ready to be launched online in time for assessment, but I will try to work out compatibility issues over the coming week.
It’s finally set up time!! It feels strange to see our studio spaces being deconstructed, but a relief to be finally able to work in our exhibition spaces.
I have been allocated the glass breakthrough space, which is the space I requested, and so am very happy with it. I think what excites me most about the space is that in some ways it mirrors the computers – as in, it’s a square space that is set apart from the rest of the show and one wall is completely glass, through it you can look out across other parts of the university. There is a strong sense of being a secluded spectator that I feel is well suited to the ideas that I have been exploring the digital space.
One slight downfall of the space is that it has a large sound proofing board on the left wall, it is strongly attached and I will be unable to get it down, it’s not crucial to my piece, but I do worry in case it is read as part of the space as a whole.
As well as the practical, communal effort to build the whole show, I have also been searching across the school for suitable desks and chairs in order to set up my space. I have found some white ikea desks, and am really pleased with how they work with the space. Initially, I had planned to set them up centrally, but this would restrict the seating capacity and so I think I will keep them as seperate workstation set ups. I am not happy with any of the chairs I have found so far, and so have decided to source some small, black stools. I think the stools will work better in the space, they seem less formal than chairs and go far better with the desks.
After building the desks, I played around with the layout of the desks. A few of the compositions resembled something of a classroom – I disregarded these quite quickly as I was keen to avoid this association. It was quite clear in my mind that I wanted a very simple and basic format, which is why the simple desks worked so well, I didn’t want anything to distract from the website. I intend the desk layout to be somewhat familiar, any inclusion of a desk and computers will inevitably be, but with little association with a specific space that could be read as an intentional reference.
This is the final layout, with stools, that I decided on.
The layout I felt worked the best was the one in the final image, however, after I set up the computers, I made a slight adjustment and lined up the two desks facing the outer walls so that they were opposite each other. This largely was in order to ensure the wires were hidden neatly.
Throughout the development of my practice this year, I have been aware of the overlapping between my work itself and the research/information collected in order to develop it. At times it has felt that there has been very little distinction between research and practice, for example in the text pieces developed through autocomplete and generative information scripts, this has led me to consider whether research and information itself need be a separate part of art practice – or whether the two can come together and be worked with holistically.
I have been looking at a number of artist’s work that blurs the lines between information (particularly relating to the digital consumption of information) and art.
Kenneth Goldsmith, Printing Out the Internet
In this quite controversial exhibition, Goldsmith invited internet users to print off a webpage and send it into the Labor Gallery, Mexico City. While many saw Goldsmith’s work as an irresponsible and ostentatious challenge to the nature of art, Goldsmith comments that those who oppose his art do so out of a fear of the democratic nature of it. Through collaboration and appropriation, Goldsmith is able to challenge the nature of art’s authorship, allowing anyone to contribute and thus become an active member of an art project. As well as this, his work challenges the somewhat private spaces that exist within the web – the world of walls and passwords that prevent a complete and open relationship with the information held on the internet.
Perhaps what I am most interested about in this project is the alternative relationship that Goldsmith is able to forge between the viewer and internet content. By collating internet pages into book form, as he has done in a number of his projects, Goldsmith alters the way that we are able to experience the information, it exists in a physical and much more objective format, disallowing the flow of hyperlinks and connectivity. There develops a much more physical relationship with the information, a relationship that frustrates the connectivity.
In some sense, this is what I am hoping to achieve with the video pieces that I am creating. In my videos the collected information, that has very much utilised hyperlinking as a method of collection, resists the connectivity of the place where it has been found. Instead the information is collated and fed into the format of a song, the song lyric becomes the only means of connection, and the user is frustrated from engaging with any wider context or relationship with any other piece of information.
Chris Alexander, Mini McNugget
Kenneth Goldsmith references this piece in his writing ‘the artist as meme machine‘. The work consists of found online tweets containing the word ‘McNugget’ that are collated and printed into a 528-page book. Goldsmith comments that for artists such as Alexander ‘quality is beside the point—this type of content is about the quantity of language that surrounds us, and about how difficult it is to render meaning from such excesses.’
This piece, created by a data engineer, takes the novel Moby Dick and translates the work entirely into emojis. The work not only highlights that through the use of information as medium, all can become artists, this blurs the boundary between what is and isn’t art, and who can and can’t produce art. The work also explores the digital relationship with information and language, exposing the new language of a digital society and juxtaposing this with the familiar language of fiction writing. The more I consider this, the more relevant it becomes to my own practice, in particular, the process of translating a more traditional, structured form of communication into a new digitalised form.
I have continuously been working on my website, considering layouts and the ways in which I can link each page together. I have also been working with technical demonstrator Matt Leighfield, as well as a Computer Science PhD student to seek advice on making my website interactive. I have come up against a number of issues whilst developing the site, and have had to find ways of addressing them.
- Sourcing equipment – in a Mac-dominated environment, sourcing PCs has been difficult. I have eventually gained access to three computers with 24inch monitors. It was important for me that I worked with PC’s rather than Macs as my whole project has been undertaken through a PC, and I felt that I would be happier to continue to work in this format, especially as the way in which I am working, my slight mimicry of personal, virtual assistants, has become a prevalent concept in my work.
- Inclusion of iFrames – initially I had wanted to embed external sites within my own site, but issues relating to the use of the computer within an exhibition context has prevented that. The use of iFrames would have allowed the user to move outside of my site and so would have been a potential risk. As well as this it could have been quite harmful to my work, as it may have meant that when a user came to interact with the piece they could have been confronted with a site that was not my work and possibly walked away from it.
- Online? – I had though that within the exhibition space the site would be displayed live, however, it was suggested that I show the work locally – it would make no difference to the website, but would make it safer and more secure. I have to ensure that the site is never closed, I will achieve this by setting the site to full screen every day and disabling the right click setting so that the user can only navigate the site itself.
- Compatibility issues – due to my limited experience in web design and development, I am struggling to make my website compatible across multiple sized screens. I had hoped to launch the site online before my assessment, however I don’t think this will be possible. I will look into a way of creating an online presence for the show itself, but at the moment the website is acting more as a prototype, designed specifically for the monitors it will be displayed on for the exhibition.
Here are some screenshots of the website so far, it is still in need of some tweaking and formatting. I also need to ask some people to use it in order to examine how intuitive the site is.
The site offers a slight resemblance to frequently used websites, but I am playing around with making this a bit more of a literal experience rather than the usual figurative one. For example, when confronted with the home page, I am taking this language literally and displaying an image of a ‘home’ (one of the top images under a search of the word ‘home’). I am also keen to make use of the texture of skin as a nod to frequent attempts to humanise the digital experience, as well as this I am incorporating the virtual assistant – in doing this I hope to explore the false sense of physical space that is created digitally. I have also looked at presenting the videos on top of an image of outstretched hands, once again to extend this conversation with the human body and physical presentation, taking this presentation of data as literal. As well as the videos I have decided to incorporate some of the ‘poem-generator’ pieces, I felt these would work quite well alongside the song pieces as they would further extend the idea of a disruption of the poetic, romanticised language that offers a familiar, expressive reflection on the human experience.
After quite a while working with a Computer Scientist in order to try to hack Cayla and adapt her responses and words, in order that she might be able to ‘host’ my degree show, I have had to make the decision to not include her in this project. Although we have come very close now to hacking into her code, and have been able to alter some of her responses and make her repeat some of our input text. I feel that the progress we have made has come too late in order to justify her inclusion in the show.
However, I do feel that Cayla has been an important point in the development of my work and that through her I have realised a number of ideas. What I found most fascinating about Cayla was the strange relationship between this childlike doll and the mass of information she was able to access. Being internet connected, her access to information surpassed every human being, and yet all of this was enclosed in this strange childlike body and shared through this strange, electronic, childlike voice. In many ways, I think this is where the ideas behind the interface that I am creating for the video works has come from, and also the inclusion of the animated assistant. In some ways, I have made myself into a Cayla like character, and have used basic ideas of this synthetic ‘human interface’ in order to exhibit the video work that I have produced.