MFA Computational Arts Blog Week 3

Our lecture and discussion this week traced around the same question phrased a few different ways; What does it mean to be a computational artist? Which is a rather affronting question to ask a room of people who to various degrees believe that for that very answer was why they were sat in the room at the time. Of course, it is more valuable that we may come to a conclusion independently and that we can use this to add to the wider discourse on the topic. But, you know, affronting. And the difficulty of further plumbing that depth within a framework laid out of “Neo-Materialist Aesthetics” in a coherent manner when so new to the subject is self-evident. But I hope my expansions on perhaps mis-remembered thoughts and discussions from the session prove to be at least on some level cogent. Or at least cognant.

We began with a quick evaluation of one of the titans of western philosophy’s position on aesthetics. Two days later I was to sit in a café with some literary theory students asking what the hell a “Hegelian murder” was, after their lecture on the subject had left them standing on shifting sands. As one of them put it, “I understand what both those words mean in isolation, but the more [the lecturer] talked about it, the less I believed I did”. Which I think approaches my own position on the subjects of materiality, aesthetics, expression and art when the term “adequacy” was introduced thus:

“An idea needs to find an expression, and the form of this expression can be adequate to the idea or chosen arbitrarily”. This snatch of thought I’ve taken on board, is the view that for an object or form of expression to carry meaning, the success of the conveyance or imparting of such a meaning is dependent on this notion of adequacy of this method of expression to interact with the idea.

Materialistically this is the success of an idea and how it interacts with its body, its properties of manifestation, how it what done interact with you and the like. Neo-Materialistically, this question of adequacy has a relevancy for the “stuff” of computation. The material with which the world is building itself in the current mode appears to be data. The meta-fossil we leave behind in the combinations of binary bits that constitute our interaction with the computational world. This imposition opens up two inquisitions; the one questioned last week which is what is the materiality of something truly invisible? And secondly, given a premise that the computer as we have them are at least on the way to becoming lowly evolved cousins of a truly universal machine (forgive me, I am not sure if we are using mathematically complete universal machines as Turing speculated. Regardless, they definitely don’t yet carry the power or memory to complete all possible computational problems within computational time), then what is the notion of adequacy within the context of a universal machine? When a device can simulate anything what are its material specificities? How does one approach its material when the very thing itself is also the meaning? It would at this point be the complete “carrier-bag” that Le Guin talks of in her essay.

I think this is a good point now, as I am sat here comfortably uncomfortable on a packed train to go enjoy the current sci-fi epic playing at the motion-picture theatres (hehe apologies for the pomposity), to engage with Le Guin’s concept. Something that I have so much time for. Reading this piece really opened up to me the sense of sci fi as I have always seen it and been unable to articulate. The narrow focus of speculation for militaristic or dominance to build a story or a hero has always been the popular discourse around science fiction as I have known it. But my own explorations within the genre and satellite artistry have always had a grander interest in the totality of the thing. This carrier-bag that holds the food, or the resource or the babe, or the family, tribe, civilization or entire framework of a given set of fictions, in other words, the edges of mythology give away a much closer inspection of ideas at play than narrative convention does. If the environment is the carrier bag that holds a story, it is the hero’s interaction with it, banal or incendiary that reveals the meaning, the specificity of a story.

To further ham-fist through this carrier-bag, I want to bring in Donna Haraway’s cyborg in this sense of encompassing. The more we engage with tools, it is not simply the case that the more proficient we are at exploiting the properties of other things, but it is the expansion of ourselves. I have a relationship with my computer, phone, the CNC machines I work with, that are at once as workhorses, pets, friends and most importantly through all these, an expansion of my own conscious. It would be fair to say that writing on paper isn’t an act of manipulating a pen, but that of thinking through the tip as a known locus to the muscles in the hand. We as individuals are not separated from the tools we use and the nature from which the exist. It is our nature to be tool-users and these tools are where we impart our expanded consciousness.

This idea builds further within the context of a society, such as ours, dominated by technology and as ours is, so much by a singular technology, that of mobile communications. A friend recently lost the use of his phone by damage, and has had to suffer the ignominy of what it is to be without a smartphone in modern times. He still has an old Nokia candy bar phone mind, but the extension of his consciousness and his ability to use the languages of contemporary life have been severely limited. Data security has tied us ever further to these such devices with systems like two factor authentication, and it is conveniences such as these that lock us further out of the world when we cannot breach our own defenses. As my friend found out, he lost access to his bank account. So, although he could use the cards, he wasn’t able to check or transfer money for his business or even to pay to repair the phone, despite ostensibly having the resource to do so. This catch-all device in our pockets is not separated from us anymore, it IS us. Almost more than we are ourselves, they are how technogiants identify us, not by our facial recognition but our digital fingerprints, our idents bouncing around servers and satellites. To the modern world, it is almost apparent that my phone is what gives me sentience. I say this so I can badly segue to a lovely line Mattia uttered: “A cyborg is a sense of sentient active life that does not have a physical unity”.

More thoughts:

The manipulations within social media networks is inconceivable inside other forms of media

On Benjamin:

  • The power of militaries being involved with filmmaking and the militarisation of film
  • A propaganda to show the spectacle of the army
  • Promoting ideology and nationalism through use of film and technology

Problem emerging from computation and digitalisation, expanding faster and faster into spaces that cannot catch up with them

Gang matrix by met police – 80% primarily black bodies had no criminal convictions but had been tracked and their faces put onto the system

Correlation between that surveillance data …

Use of beauty to make critique accessible

Beauty is when the technology and process is adequate for each other, otherwise its kitsch

Technology as a positive? Or is it just a thing that happens?


Philippe Parreno: Anywhen

  • Taking data from yeast, feeding data to an algorithm that created instructions to trawl the web for things to show
  • The universality of the machine was put to ask a question, where is the authorship? Within the yeast, the algorithm, the artist or the viewer?
  • If you want to use computation, making it visible and part of your work

Andy Lomas: Morphogenetic Creations

Pierre Huyghe: Uumwelt

Ben Grosser: Software for Less

  • What does it mean to be human when we are so drawn into social media that we live for the media, exist to fill it?

Ian Cheng: Bad Corgi

Trevor Paglen on AI ‘gaze’ (Unthinking Photography)

  • How AI develop their own way of looking which is becoming progressively different than ours.


Winnie Soon and Geoff Cox, “Aesthetic Programming: A Handbook of Software Studies, 2020

  • How does software access a strange board that receives and reflects aspects of society

How to photograph an atomic

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s