Unit 2: Futures – Research

Predictive text is probably the most common AI interaction we have – and it gets more and more sophisticated as technology progresses. Starting with ‘autocorrecting’ typing on numeric keypads using word disambiguation, the latest messaging keyboard function also predicts likely words, emojis or actions you may want to make based on the context of your and your messaging partner(s) recent messages, e.g. it will set up a shortcut to add a diary entry if a time/date is suggested for a meet up, or give a cake emoji suggestion if you are wishing someone a happy birthday. In fact, the system now does not even require that you first enter any words yourself. Relying on a body of knowledge that is based on the context of all user interactions, as well as your own, it can predict to a certain extent likely sentences and phrases that might come up.

XKCD webcomic https://xkcd.com/1427/ – the predictive text model has not yet learned the context of these movie references… yet.

Since the increasing sophistication of AI is a trend often touted as leading us to fully sentient/self-aware AI in the future (who might then be considered persons/minds in their own right), I was interested to explore generative art, making use of the models to create works that might reveal the state of these proto-minds.

First I experimented by continually pressing the left hand suggested text until I had a complete text (below) and then sent this to my boyfriend. I especially like how the model has fallen into a loop on the phrase ‘and I hope you have a good day’. That phrase is a cursory sort of nicety that serves more as a signal that a conversation is coming to a close than indication of a genuine feeling – i.e. i hope you have a good day since I don’t anticipate us interacting again for the remainder of it. The fact that that sign-off gets repeated undermines that function, so stripping it of even this meaning. The model is also failing to give us a full sentence, the breaking of syntactic convention makes this seem more like a meditative poem or song lyric, and the repetition of that phrase reinforces that. It’s interesting too that the arrangement of the repeated words appears to create diagonals across the block of text (wanna, day, you, have, good, day), almost like the creation of a pattern.

And I hope you have a good day – the first predictive text generated using my phone

It’s interesting too thinking about what the ‘I’ in this poem might signify – is it me? Is the model adopting my voice? Or does the ‘I’ refer instead to the predictive model itself?

Later in the day, my boyfriend and I experimented with sending such predictive messages back and forth between our phones, to see how this context might affect the conversation between the predictive models. The text in the green bubbles has originated from my phone, and the white from his.

It’s intriguing that here again, now from my boyfriend’s predictive model, we see a repeated phrase ‘and then I will have to go to pick up the kids tomorrow’. We do not have any kids, so this context must come from this phrase being observed from other messaging users – it’s interesting though that it first appeared in my text ‘let us get the kids’ and that my boyfriend’s one then repeated this. Generally the conversation between the models seemed to mostly orientate around arranging a meeting time and planning for tomorrow. It’s interesting too that they both made some slight use of emoji, though could not be signifying emotion in themselves.

Intriguingly, many of these messages are related to future events/future planning.

Unit 2: Dérive context

In conducting formative assessments this week within my tutor group, I became aware that I had neglected to fully contextualise my projects thus far in unit 2, and so I am keen to rectify this! Rather than something we complete as a first step and move on, we’ve been encouraged to begin there and return to recontextualise as we progress. I believe I have recontextualised as I went along, reflecting on the direction(s) my work took, but that the broader initial context has gone unseen, so I shall focus on that.

Dérive was one of the strategies created by French Letterist art movement, which was later subsumed by the Situationist International group (and more recently adopted by artists such as Wrights & Sites). A strictly urban endeavour, the notion was to ‘drift’ while walking, subverting the usual way in which humans behave in the urban environment, in order to better reveal the ‘psychogeography’ of the urban landscape. This refers to the precise effects of the built environment on the emotions and behaviour of the people within it, and by studying this the Situationists hoped to better envisage and be prepared for their ideal city.

This notion is interesting to me as I have come across before how building design can have a direct impact on people's wellbeing - e.g. whether you have a window and what you can see out of it can have a measurable effect in length of hospital stays.

These art movements were anti-capitalist and anarchist, building on the teachings of Marxism, and sought to reawaken the consumer to authentic experience (so that they might not continue to merely be passive receivers of mass media/commodity). A direct result of their interventions (so called situations), was the Paris uprisings in 1968.

Something that I found to be relevant to some of my ongoing research for the upcoming Future project (i.e. a future where work may mostly be done by machine/AI and the human worker is obsolete) is that the Situationists thought work in advanced capitalist society would become increasingly absurd. As technology progresses, and work becomes more efficient, the work itself will by nature become more trivial. 
In researching this context, I found myself tunneling through wikipedia through link after link of related pages that sounded of interest to me. This reminded me of a game I had played at university around 2007, where you had to get to a destination wikipedia subject page from another (unrelated) subject faster than someone else, e.g. from polar bear to ice cream truck. Very good for long library essay writing sessions... The parallel here with the dérive strategy is quite marked, and I was intrigued that there should now be a dérive app to help you navigate out in the real world, but not a dérive equivalent for the now hugely extensive online world.

It could be fair to say that the Situationists politicised an act that had first been popular in French society in the 1800s and particularly espoused by Baudelaire – flaneur. Though the flaneur too walked aimlessly in an urban environment, they were perhaps more attentive to the other people they encountered, hoping to be an observer of society.

Strangely, I came across this term – flaneur – in a book I am reading, On Photography by Susan Sontag:

Gazing on other people’s reality with curiosity, with detachment, with professionalism, the ubiquitous photographer operates as if that activity transcends class interests, as if its perspective is universal. In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle class flaneur…The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoiteuring… the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes… The flaneur is not attracted to the city’s official realities but to its dark seamy corners, its neglected populations – an unofficial reality behind the facade of bourgeois life that the photographer ‘apprehends’, as a detective apprehends a criminal.

It’s interesting that this class tourism rooted in the notion of the flaneur would find it’s expression later in the works of the anti-establishment Situationists. But then this aimlessness for them served a purpose (unlike the flaneur for whom it was more like a hobby).

Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 4)

I was interested in exploring the reflective qualities of metal sheeting as analogous to that of screens, in visualising my screentime data. I was shown offcuts of aluminium sheets that I could use to experiment with. Following the performative clay work I had done, I was eager to incorporate this again, and decided that manually hammering it over an anvil would be a satisfying process to try out. In this way I could again demonstrate the human-screen interaction and also something of the strong impact this has on our lives (for better or ill). This turned out to be really fun!!

I hit it 39 times, to reflect the number of hours of screentime over the 7 day period. The marks of the hammer I used here reminded me of those I had created in my previous exercise using pastels. I like how the surface of the sheet has also distorted somewhat from the force of the blows, warping it and the way the light reflects off it.

I wanted to experiment with a round headed hammer, to see if I could produce marks that were similar to a thumbprint, so repeated this. The effect reminds me of bullet holes/impacts in shooting targets, and gives an added sense of violence.

I chose to then fold the sheet twice, to give an approximate size and shape to a phone, and repeated this exercise.

I like the way that the concave shape (a byproduct of my process) draws the eye, as though a captivating screen itself. I used two hammer types here to produce a variety of marks and depths. I was interested in exploring the folds as marks in themselves, and of pure distortion of the screen, so focused on this only for my next sheet. Placing the sheet so that it overlapped the edge of the anvil, I brought the hammer down at an angle to bend it over the edge. I repeated this action in somewhat random orientations, to produce an irregular form. Much like the hitting, I did not want to create an ordered effect, but instead imply the violence/impact to our humanity of such interaction with technology (messy and unstructured), as well as the distorted view it offers us.

I repeated this with a larger sheet, so that I could produce finer distortions. The result resembled crumpled paper and I enjoyed that this suggested the sheet was more malleable than it was in reality, and that there had been a more manual process at play.

I enjoy the way the light reflects on these, producing dark and light regions and suggestion of texture (dappling, rippling, scrunching). The effect alters as you changed your position as an observer, which was also interesting, and if close up you do get a fragmented, blurred reflection. This reminded me of some interactive reflective works I have seen recently.

Below, a Yayoi Kusama work that I had interacted with at Tate Liverpool, whose appearance altered according to the external circumstances it was placed in, and the position adopted by the observer.

The Passing Winter, Yayoi Kusama 2005 – close-up photograph peering into one of the holes opening onto the mirrored interior (with reflective exterior)

And here, an installation from Tate Modern (in an exhibition focusing on participatory art ‘Performer and participant’). The use of the blue tape is intended to integrate the mirrors with the space in which they situate, erasing the difference between real and reflected space – so that our experience is not only of the work itself but the entire environment.

Edward Krasinski (first installed in this way in 2001)

These other works have not distorted the reflective surfaces themselves, but used the quantity and distribution of them in space to add variation, and the colour/light of other parts of the environment to add further depth. Both also use suspension of these to disrupt our expectations. I would like to think further about how my own distortion works might employ these techniques too for added impact. E.g. perhaps by projecting a digital screen interface demo onto them, suspended in a dark box?

Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 3)

I was interested to become more performative in my exploration of infinite scroll and screen usage.

Taking a handful of paper clay, I shaped it roughly into something that would fit comfortably in my palm, and then began ‘scrolling’ it with my thumb, as I would a phone screen. The effect of this gesture on the wet clay was like a carving out of a groove that fit my thumb – i could have continued this until the block split into two, but I chose to let it remain a singular object. The grip I maintained while scrolling was also changing the shape of the clay, so that it became a rather strange form.

I decided to repeat this, now using a rectangular form similar to a phone itself. It was interesting here to see the ‘rippling’ at the base of the thumb groove, and the warping effect on the underside of the shape from the grip/scroll exercise.

Top: ‘phone’ scroll gesture artefact, Bottom: scroll gesture artefact

We were introduced to different glazing techniques once our works had been fired to biscuit. I chose not to glaze the first object, feeling that it’s ‘rough’ appearance was in keeping with its abstract form. I was keen to explore a the application and removal of glaze and under glaze to achieve a warped sheen/reflective appearance on the phone artefact though. This has been somewhat successful, and has made the rippling effect of the clay seem almost like bodily mutilation of an organic substance (oozing) rather than a piece of warped machinery.

This repetitive motion carving out a form reminded me of a work I recently saw at the Dora Maurer exhibition at Tate Modern. This involved a girl performing a ‘parade’ with her feet painted red, walking in a circle over paper and scrumpled newspaper. Her repeated walking painted a circle and stamped down the newspaper to a pulp.

I think I like the destructive, irreverent and playful nature of this work. For a child to be performing this repetitive act in a fairly sedate and controlled way is an intriguing contrast to the tone of the work itself. The red paint is now only suggested by the red fabric the photographs are now presented on, the black and white images themselves instead more akin to the newspaper she had walked on. I like the very obvious agency that we see being demonstrated in the work. I am intrigued why the artefact of this performance was not itself seen as an artwork (or if it was, why would it not be preserved?).

Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 2)

I was interested to explore in greater depth the notion of ‘infinite scroll’ (something I touched on in my previous post on this project). I began exploring ways I could bring this to life, first in representations of infinity in physical form. I first explored mobius strips, which are like a 3D infinity symbol. I found in constructing them though that rather than create that figure of eight form (though that could be seen from some angles) I had more of a twisted loop. I think if I had shortened the length of my paper I may have gotten this effect more distinctly.

It was interesting to run the days of the week with their related screentime along both sides of the paper that I then formed into a mobius strip – meaning that now the sequence is neverending (it runs from Sunday back into Monday again). This had been explored by M. C. Escher, where he made it seem ants would be walking on this structure indefinitely (below).

But I was interested to explore more of the motion inherent in this scrolling on screens (particularly in social media). That the scrolling would be going on ad infinitum was interesting to explore. I therefore experimented with producing a perpetual motion machine. Generally however, this is considered to be an impossibility (at least in terms of the laws of physics on earth), since there is no way to ensure the perfect conservation of energy to maintain the motion indefinitely, without loss to heat etc. One of the more famous instances of a proof that such a machine would be impossible, is that of Leonardo Da Vinci. I sought to emulate his design to test this for myself.

Various designs for perpetual motion machines in Da Vinci’s notebooks
Here see the spinning motion achieved from the wheel when no weights are added
Spinning with internal weights (per Da Vinci design)
Spinning with external weights shows a longer spin time
Final external weights experiment before completing construction

I liked that the turning motion of the wheel simulated a physical scrolling motion (relating to the cylindrical object that the scrolling motion on a digital screen is named after). The final object I produced still retained the internal segment holes that were created as part of my experimentation with the Da Vinci design – I felt that the story of my experimentation was an important part of it, demonstrating a scientific process in improving the length of motion, and also the impossibility of it being infinite/perpetual.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 4)

On my first walk, I encountered fencing that separated two college car parks in the centre of town, which when layered with the gate of one of these car parks, produced an interesting grid form.

I wanted to explore this structure and so produced several studies, exploring the negative space and outlining of this form. I think the cut paper is particularly effective here with field-ground effect.

I decided it would be most interesting to focus the eye by enlarging one section of this image/simplifying the structure. I chose the mid-right section of the upper grid as this held an interesting combination of the two layers, and a symmetry in the gaps of one to give a uniform kind of pattern.

Section traced in outline using pen and tracing paper

Having done this I was also interested to outline my leaf sketch also – I was concerned that my work was taking me further away from the nature that had interested me so much in the second walk and wanted to see how I could continue with this theme also.

Overlaying the two traced outlines revealed a surprising similarity

I was truly surprised to find that the two forms showed a great similarity when I overlay the tracing paper. Striking especially in the primary diagonal and the bisecting verticals in the top right of the image. This, like the composition repeat that I observed in my photography, suggest that my mind is unconsciously replicating patterns and drawing me to these without my knowledge. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it!!

The Tree A c.1913 Piet Mondrian

Mondrian, in his first forays into abstraction, was seeking to simplify the form of a tree into geometric line. This is a fascinating project that he undertook, where he gradually became more and more abstracted, and one that is now used in machine-learning. He later went into pure abstraction, without recourse to objects in the world.

I’m interested to understand whether the fence-work itself has in any way been inspired by the proportioning/structures witnessed in natural forms – or is it purely coincidental that this should be observed now? Unfortunately St Peters college does not have information on the gate for it’s fellows car park online (!). But from my desk research, it seems that this is not a style of gate that is currently widely available (it would be a bespoke piece) so it is likely these gates are somewhat historic, though the modern design makes me think it is likely 20th century. The rust evident indicates iron or an iron alloy, though whether this is cast, wrought or rod I am unable to really say. Similar styles of design describe the pattern as either chevron or diagonal box section, and claim it to be an especially sturdy design owing to the diagonal supports, with no mention of the aesthetic itself. As such I think it may be more coincidental that it resembles the natural leaf form, though it is hard to conclude!

Below I experimented with masking tape, to gain a clean line for my grid system. I originally intended to cut away the edge so that the ends would not be visible, but in removing the tape, I found it tore away some of the edging of the lines, and that the ends of the tape produced an interesting tear, which juxtaposed with the uniformity of the lines and the strong black squares. I like the stark contrast of the monochrome here making the grid jump out. I am interested in exploring other masking approaches.

Acrylic on paper.

I decided to experiment with the form in the way I had done previously with crayon/wax resist (i.e. sectioning a piece of paper and completing several instances at once). I explored different marks and organic forms here, though I found the bottom right the most satisfying (where I quickly made expressive marks to form the grid). I continued this expressive form in various colour palettes using soft pastels, experimenting with the layering of the grid systems in different colours.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 3)

On one of my walks, I was interested in drawing, and drawing with, natural forms and materials. This began with an interest in the trace I was leaving through my action of walking, the impact I was leaving – my footprint.

I then proceeded to print my muddy footprint on pieces of paper that I had brought with me, using different types of mud that I found around me (varying in their viscosity). Here I prefer the clearest print – the one from the path itself – and I feel this most clearly represents the impact of my walk. I enjoyed using the surface on which I was walking as a material in itself and transposing this onto another surface. It felt a fitting way of capturing the moment. I chose then to experiment with drawing one of the leaves I had been stepping on in the mud, using the mud itself. I used a dipstick to achieve a linear sketch, and printed the leaf itself. I found it interesting how similar the linear structure of the leaf came out in the print and my sketch.

Top: Dipstick drawing with mud of leaf, Bottom: Mud print of leaf
I repeated this exercise using drawing ink back in the studio
I repeated this once more with the remains of a pine cone that I found at the base of a tree, which had been gnawed and deconstructed by a squirrel. To the left, I experimented using ink wash as well as drawing, and on the right I also used pencil to sketch the pine cone, to gain a more in-depth study of tonality and shade.

This exploration of structural forms in nature, and their linear form, is interesting to me. Most interesting for me in the printing is how it reveals hidden forms that might otherwise be missed by the eye – particularly in the pine cone above. It was also interesting to see the transition of the printed image from when saturated with ink to after several prints – the big contrast and interesting silhouetted shapes created in the saturated images are very abstracted and intriguing I think.