Let me start this entry by stating that I’m at a crossroads in my career, where I strive for changes, challenges, and chances…after two years of working in a contemporary art institution as assistant curator, I decided to take the high road and pursue what some call adventurous and brave and/or think stupid and reckless. Anyhow, I have gained substantial experience collaborating with art history pioneers, with art market giants, and with establishing artists, which has definitely influenced my own practice and view of exhibition making.
So I venture into the next chapter and I’m happy to share with you my new project that is hopefully only the beginning of a long lasting endeavor. The idea came during one of these wine soaked nights, when the urge to order another glass is as strong as the urge to produce something meaningful and relevant. Some make babies, others exhibitions. Needless to say, I’m of the later kind, so please meet “Search for…Serendipity”, a project that I’ve created together with Magdalena Stöger. So far, it exists as a roundtable discussion that was held on the 15th of November in Vienna and an international group exhibition running in St. Pölten throughout December 2016.
What I’ve realized from learning about algorithms and their impact is that we not only receive information from within our own filter bubbles but moreover that we mostly recycle information to those inside it. For me, one of the goals is to burst the bubble and reach people’s attention outside of its boundaries. Exhibitions still allow serendipity after all.
Search for… Serendipity
the more you search, the less you find.
Sarah Abu Abdallah (SAU), Paolo Cirio (IT), Constant Dullaart (NL), Brendan Howell (USA), Julian Palacz (AT), Suzanne Treister (UK), Joyce Yu-Jean Lee & Dan Phiffer (USA)
The data you put into your smartphone and computer every day feeds an algorithm that subliminally filters information, classifies knowledge, and influences your (future) mind. You know you are “transparent” but are you also aware that your online behaviour is not only watched and stored but also creates a digital image of yourself?
The mathematical translation of characteristic features into normative interests, choices, and views steers the process of individualization towards a certain degree of predictability – every klick, like, and search term helps defining who you are. Thus, the information you’ll find is determined by your search history and thereby might influence your future self. You don’t decide what gets in and you cannot see what gets edited out – the bubble will not burst1. But who controls this flow of information? Who filters, categorizes, or censors? It’s editors or so-called “gatekeepers” who work for governments or companies and program algorithms with their moral inclinations and economic interests. Klicks, likes, and search terms become as valuable as gold. Our society needs to find new ethical guidelines for balancing what gets in and what gets out and to ensure that whatever is “on your mind”2 does not get institutionalized. We need to guarantee curiosity and let synapses connect to the unknown.
Above all, something significant is getting eliminated from our lives bit by bit: chance, luck, contingency…serendipity – the unintentional finding of something unexpected, unknown, something that could blow your mind. Ironically, the more we search the less serendipity is left. The fast technological progress in targeting algorithms is compromising chance and the freedom to fail. “Chance arises from disorder, not regularity. It demands randomness – it’s light sparkles in dark obscurity. We fail it when we shield it from misfortune, and it’s sparkle abandons it when failed.”3
The ongoing project “Search for…” intends to make aware of the perpetual extinction of something that shapes every day uniquely and our online existence individually. The project will present itself in the form of exhibitions alongside accompanying public presentations in collaboration with artists, researchers, experts, and visitors.
Finally, we want to stimulate a search that makes space for the unknown.
1 see definition of “Filter Bubble” by Eli Pariser, 2 as in “What’s on your mind?” on Facebook, 3 George Bataille
The Screenless Office, Brendan Howell, 2016
Mini-computer, receipt printer, barcode scanner, thermal paper, poster
The Screenless Office is an artistic operating system for working with the Internet without a pixelbased display. The work presents an alternative form of everyday interaction with screenbased operating systems, like computers and mobiles, and allows the viewer to read and navigate news, websites, and social media sites solely with the use of printers for output and a barcode scan- ner for input. By removing the screen, Howell is denying conformity to the forces of contemporary interface culture, which is dominated by a few large corporate players who subliminally manipulate our everyday actions. We are spending countless hours working, socializing, and amusing ourselves while using technical media and their interfaces4 after all. The Screenless Office, on the one hand, enables an undistracted usage of the net that draws our attention to a condensed set of news or tweets, and on the other hand, allows information to be uploaded. What is more, one’s search history only gets stored on disposable paper.
Brendan Howell (USA) is an artist, professor, and reluctant engineer who has created various software works and interactive electronic inventions.
4 In computing an interface is the connection point between the user and the operating system and where they exchange information.
Google Terms of Service, Constant Dullaart, 2014
Video with sound, 10:20 min looped
Have you ever actively read Google’s Terms of Service? Whether yes or no, you agree to them with every search done online! Google Terms of Service is a work that transforms the Google search bar into a face that recites its terms of service (or TOS) out loud. The video was created as a response to the continuously changing terms and conditions of several Internet services, which one implicitly agrees to when using these seemingly public and transparent web services. Yet, these terms are always too long and difficult to read and do not give information about how personal information is stored and used. With this work Dullaart explores the Internet’s opacity and highlights the extent to which data is controlled, enhanced, and distorted. By entering the exhibition, the viewer is unwillingly ex- posed to the Terms of Service.
Constant Dullaart (NL) seeks to expose the technological structures that inform modern visual culture on the Internet. His practice includes websites, performances, installations, and manipulated found images, presented both offline and in the public space of the Internet.
FIREWALL, JoyceYu-Jean Lee & Dan Phiffer, 2016
FIREWALL is a socially engaged research and interactive art project designed to foster public dialogue about Internet freedoms and restrictions, and examines how “truth” is transformed by technology. The goal of FIREWALL is to investigate censorship and ma- nipulation of information by highlighting the disparities between simultaneous images searches on Google in Austria and Baidu5 in China. Participants can compare search results from within Austria with what the Chinese population finds within the restrictions of the “Great Firewall of China” (government’s domestic internet firewall.) The work demonstrates that the information we find online represents a national perspective and that our understanding of the world is shaped by technologies and its gatekeepers6.
Joyce Yu-Jean Lee (USA) is a Chinese American digital media artist based in New York who is interested in the formation of collective national biases by mass media. Dan Phiffer (USA) is an artist and technologist, specialized on Internet based art and programmer of FIREWALL.
5 The most popular Chinese search engine that has a long history of being the most restrictive online censor and is ranked among the world’s worst abusers of In- ternet freedom. 6 Gatekeeping is the process through which information is filtered for dissemination to the public; in China the government employs a huge number of gatekeepers/censors.
Open Society Structures – Algorithms Triptych, Paolo Cirio, 2009
3 Inkjetprints on cardboard, each 42 x 59,4 cm
Algorithms as such are mathematical approaches to solve a series of complex conditions. We find their application not only in the systematization of search results, advertisements, or information proposals but they also saturate our society in, for example, the legal system, educational systems, or as war instruments. It is not the algo- rithm itself that poses the problem of these systematization processes but the moral and ethical foundations on which they are programmed. In the work Open Society Structures, Cirio sketches essential social principles on which algorithms should be based on. The Algorithm Triptych can be seen as a model for an ideal society, which is described on the reciprocity of culture, politics, and economy.
Paolo Cirio (IT) works as freelance artist in Berlin, London, New York, and Turin. In his work, he examines fundamental connections of information systems, the impact on social interactions, and how our society is influenced by the control of information.
HEXEN 2.0, Suzanne Treister, 2009- 2011
Deck of Tarot Cards, red table cloth
HEXEN 2.0 consists of a deck of 78 tarot cards that bring together technology, philosophy, politics, and literature to discover dystopic and utopic futures for humanity. The cards look into histories behind government programs of mass control, investigating parallel histories of countercultural and grassroots move- ments, and chart the coming together of diverse scientific and social sciences through the development of cybernetics7, the history of the Internet, the rise of Web 2.0 and increased intelligence gathering, and of societal manipulation towards a control society. HEXEN 2.0 allows to reconfigure history or map out individual narratives with which to construct alternative futures. The cards selected for the exhibition exemplify important aspects of the overall topic of Search for…Serendipity, such as “The Devil”, which depicts the “control society”; “King of Pentacles” shows the economics of cybernetics and how algorithms control the stock market; “Five of Swords” tells Google’s history; some cards trace precursory ideas such as those of Henry David Thoreau (“Civil Disobedience”), Norbert Wiener (father of Cybernetics), Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), or Ada Lovelace8.
Suzanne Treister (UK) is a pioneer in the digital/new media/web based field of art. Her massive body of work engages with eccentric narratives and unconventional research methods to reveal structures that bind power, identity, and knowledge and to examine the existence of covert forces within the corporate, military, or paranormal.
7 Cybernetics is about feedback loops, which is simply defined as something that is led back to modify a process of production (algorithm). 8 Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the first computer programmer, as her notes on the Analytical Engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm.
The Turbulence of Sea and Blood, Sarah Abu Abdallah, 2015
HD video installation, 5:15min
Since the opening of information throughtheInternetworldwide,wehave access to perspectives and knowledge about the world, which does not necessarily accord with our specific cultural conceptions and corporate images. The Turbulence of Sea and Blood works with an entanglement of mysticism and realism, with ordinary domestic scenes in SaudiArabia, and historic events. In this interaction, Abu Abdallah describes a young Saudi generation that stands between the old social patterns and new online generated ideas. It is not about presenting a contradiction but about revealing the intergrowth within the contrasting reality of a young Arabian woman. It is about orientation in a time when we are influenced by cultural role paradigms but also by the supersaturation of information and pictures.
Sarah Abu Abdallah (SAU) works primarily with photography and film because of its documentary and performative quality. Frequently situated in the Saudi Arabian context, she discusses the interaction of social norms and an Internet-inspired younger generation in her works.
Content Type Image, Julian Palacz, 2012
Book, 15 x 22 cm
For two and a half months, Palacz has monitored himself with an HTTP proxy program and saved all the images that appeared in his browser. Uniformly scaled and in chronological order they were then printed on 538 book pages.
Julian Palacz (AT) works with monitoring systems and digital strategies by using instruments of digital surveillance. Through new contextualization of methods such as facial recognition or algorithms for data processing, he assumes a change of roles thereby enabling new modes of information systems and technologies.