Summative Assessment

Statement

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

A question for Siri

5 Key Points – Documentation

The Meaning of Life 

Love Songs

Finding a voice

What is love, life, and happiness? 

Creating an interface

5 Key Points – Contextualisation

Dada – Cut Ups

Cecile B Evans

Craig & Thompson

Love – Michael Samyn

A ‘Naive’ Aesthetic

Final Website!

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.

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This is the page activated through the help quote, it gives three question options that are linked to the three main videos.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Setting Up the Degree Show

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.

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This is the final layout, with stools, that I decided on.

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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.

Latest Website Development

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.

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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.

No More Cayla?

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.

Newest Videos

A while ago I was thinking about relating my collection of digital information specifically to the human body, and considering the blurred line between the physical interface of our body and the digital interface of the web – the space/output that makes an attempt to synthesise the ‘real’ through a mimicking of humans/physical textures etc. However, after a period of consideration, I realised that this idea may be quite confused, and though it is an interesting area that could definitely be developed further, I don’t feel that at this point I should leave behind the work I’ve already developed in relation to the idea of the ‘big questions’, which I believe has been considered a lot more thoroughly.

Instead, I have returned to the sort of questions that I was considering initially, exploring how these questions are answered when engaged with digitally. By this, I mean our changed relationship with the sort of ‘big questions’ (in my work I have decided to focus on 3, What is life? What is love? and What is happiness?) that have perhaps been historically given absolute answers,  but within a digital context – or in the age of mechanical reproduction (to reference W.Benjamin) how such absolute answers are resisted within a situation with no fixed point of context. The internet specifically, offers no fixed point of reference, all pieces of information exist in parallel with one another, and an absolute narrative is resisted by the thousands of results that can be accessed just under one search entry. In some sense there is a hierarchy of information, determined by google’s algorithms, but the hyperlinked nature of the web means that once one link is engaged with, a whole range of possibilities and directions open up to the user.

The interface idea will still feed into the final outcome, and I will continue to work with the idea of the virtual personalisation of fragmented information through my presence as digital assistant, and I would still like to engage on some level in this idea of the physical and digital merged boundary, so may include the ‘Human Touch’ video that I have already worked on.

These are the three videos that I am looking to incorporate in my final outcome.

(The ‘content’ and ‘narration’ videos will be played simultaneously, but they have been uploaded as separate files)

What is Life?

Content

Narration

What is Love?

Content

Narration

What is Happiness?

Content

Narration

Developing a Website

So far, I have explored how to present the videos/text pieces using Microsoft Powerpoint. This has been helpful in allowing me to explore ideas surrounding an interactive interface, however, there is a limit to the amount I can really do with this software, it works in a very linear way and is difficult to share across platforms. The next step for the development of an interface in which to exhibit the work has been to create a website. I have very limited experience with coding but in order to have the freedom to create an interface from scratch, I made the decision to learn a basic level of html coding – and I have also been collaborating with someone more experienced in order to develop the more complex part of html coding.

I have been using the programme ‘brackets’ in order to begin to understand html coding, and I have felt that I have picked it up quite quickly. Obviously, anything that I create will reflect my basic level of skill in this area, but I feel confident that I will be able to create a space in order to incorporate my videos and relate them back into the sort environment they were drawn from. One of the main reasons that I have for doing this is in order to exhibit the work digitally, I want there to be a sort of ‘digital ownership’ where the user is invited into a digital space rather than bringing the digital out into the physical space by means of projection.

Some initial screenshots of my progress in html, these aren’t by any means the end product, but just my experimentation as I learn to code.

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