Interview with Neural (Issue 53, Winter 2016)
I’ve given a number of interviews over the last six months but haven’t had a chance to post them here. A few of these are some of the best conversations I’ve had within the interview context (thanks to the great people on the other side!).
First is an interview with Neural as a feature in their Obfuscate or Die issue. This was a conversation with Rachel O’Dwyer of Trinity College and the Dublin Art and Technology Association (DATA), where we talked about everything from X to Y. To read this, you’ll need to obtain a print copy as the interview isn’t online.
Next is a radio conversation with Rebecca Pulsifer at WEFT 90.1 FM as part of the Smile Politely podcast series. This is one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in the live interview format. We talk about art as research, art as activism, and whether I’m an optimist or pessimist when it comes to human agency in the face of computational surveillance.
As part of an exhibition this past spring at Black Mountain College, I was interviewed about my work Computers Watching Movies by Sara Baird for the Media Arts Project. We talk about computer vision, expectation vs. surprise in computational works, and the role of software in daily life.
Last are two interviews mostly about a collaborative research project of mine to develop a computer system that communicates with humans using improvised jazz. I chat with Gary Zidek from WDCB Chicago’s The Arts Section about this ambitious project and how we’re trying to tackle it.
And finally I talk with Elizabeth Lent from Interlochen’s Crescendo Magazine about this same project in a piece titled “Music meets machine: The digital artistry of alumnus Ben Grosser.” We also talk about my experiences as an alum of Interlochen’s National Music Camp, as well as how I blend art and music into one practice.
Facebook Demetricator is part of the 2016 SIGGRAPH Art Gallery
Opening this Sunday, Facebook Demetricator will be part of Data Materialities, the exhibition curated by Jonah Brucker-Cohen at the 2016 SIGGRAPH Art Gallery. According to the curator’s statement:
We are constantly surrounded by networks, information, and data. Whether they consist of electromagnetic frequencies or physical wired connections, networks are everywhere, consuming and permeating our offices, homes, schools, and public indoor and outdoor spaces. The SIGGRAPH 2016 Art Gallery exposes this plethora of data and transforms it to incarnations of tangibility that not only showcase their complexity, but also allow us to relate to them on a human scale. By injecting humor and kinetic energy to their exposition, the gallery makes light of these data platforms and presents them on a grand scale to reveal their ubiquity.
As part of the exhibition, I have released a major update to Facebook Demetricator (version 1.7), which hides more metrics than any previous version. The below video demonstrates the work’s new features.
Facebook Demetricator 1.7.1 Demo
The exhibition is open from 24-28 July at the conference in Los Angeles.
Fenia Kotsopoulou in front of “You like my like of your like of my status” at the Athens Digital Arts Festival, Photo by Daz Disley
My work You like my like of your like of my status was the lead piece discussed in a recent review of the Athens Digital Arts Festival by London-based Furtherfield. Marianna Christofi writes:
How are we “feeding” today’s digital markets then? Ben Grosser’s sound and video installation work “You like my like of your like of my status” screened a progressive generative text pattern of increasingly “liking” each others “likes”. Using the historic “like” activity on his own Facebook account, he created an immersive syntax that could as well be the mantra of Athens Digital Arts Festival 2016.
Days before the opening of the exhibition, Ben Grosser was asked by to choose the image that defines pop the most. No wonder, he replied with the Facebook “like” button. What Ben Grosser portrayed in his work is the poetics of the economy of corporate data collectors such as Facebook—with its algorithmic representation of the “Like” button as the king pawn of its toolkit—that transform human intellect, as manifested through the declaration of our personal taste and network, into networking value.
The Festival was directed by Katerina Gkoutziouli.
Wordhack at Babycastles in NYC
On Thursday 16 June I’ll be at Babycastles Gallery in NYC talking about my work as part of Wordhack XXIV. Wordhack is “a monthly evening of performances and talks exploring the intersection of language and technology.” The title of my talk is: Wordhacking Software Culture: Exposing Interface Narratives, Hiding Facebook Metrics, and Scaring the NSA with Generative Nonsense. The night includes several artist talks and performances; I’ll be joined by Carl Ferrero, Elizaveta Shneyderman, Ansh Patel, and Chris Rodley. Wordhack is curated by Claire Donato and the event is hosted by Todd Anderson.
Here’s the Facebook event page, and the gallery’s event page.
Facebook Demetricator in Cosmo (p. 37, June 2016)
Facebook Demetricator is discussed in the June 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan, in an article by Sarah Z Wexler titled “You Are Not Your Likes” (pp. 36-37). Wexler writes:
Although I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to checking my digits, my boyfriend has definitely rolled his eyes at me for pausing our conversation to check how my Instagram or FB post is doing. So to stop tracking my Likes, I installed the Facebook Demetricator, a free web add-on that removes Like tallies from Facebook. It was created by artist Ben Grosser, who recognized how social media plays into our “insatiable desire to make numbers go higher.”
I posted an article I’d written that I was really proud of, and when I checked back later it didn’t say “32 people Liked this” but just “people Liked this.” I opened Facebook two more times during the day, but without an updated tally to track my progress, it wasn’t actually that rewarding and I didn’t care about checking back on it—I actually fell asleep without having checked for hours. The numbers for how many people commented on my post were also erased, but I did still catch myself trying to gauge how I was doing by counting the comments. (emphasis added)
Thanks to Katie Gamble for pointing the article out to me—I wouldn’t have known it was there otherwise (this article isn’t online and I’m not a regular reader).
Update: Cosmo has now published the story online, with a new title as Why Your Likes Don’t Actually Mean Anything.
Athens Digital Arts Festival 2016
You like my like of your like of my status, my new sound/video installation for generative text and speech synthesis, just premiered at the Athens Digital Arts Festival in Greece. The festival is directed by Katerina Gkoutziouli.
Facebook Demetricator at Unlike in Poitiers, France
Facebook Demetricator will be part of Unlike, an exhibition of Facebook-related art curated by Thomas Cheneseau opening Feb 2 at Chapelle des Augustins in Poitiers, France. According to Cheneseau, “the exhibition gathers and explores, for the first time, works of international artists that appropriate Facebook by diverting, confusing, playing, and/or trivializing the initial tool through various creations.” I appreciate Thomas’ work putting this exhibition together, and am happy to be showing along with many friends/colleagues who treat Facebook as a site of intervention.
Autonomous Video Artist (mockup image based on original from tokbox.com)
Today the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved my appointment as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study during 2016-17. Here’s my summary project statement:
Autonomous Video Artist: Seeing the Machine in Human Vision
School of Art + Design
National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Humans see through the lens of culture. Rather than objectively observing our environment, we filter out much of what the eye collects based on prior experiences of the world. This act of gathering, filtering, and interpreting visual input constitutes the act of seeing. But because of this filtering, seeing is always accompanied by an act of not-seeing. In other words, our ways of looking at the world are culturally developed, leading us to see what we have learned to see.
Posthumanist thought argues that a full understanding of human experience requires consideration of non-human experience that sees around our blind spots. Donna Haraway proposed a genderless “cyborg” that would see gender differently in order to disrupt limiting norms of gender and identity. With recent technological advancements, artificial intelligence makes possible the construction of a computational other, a posthumanist outside observer that employs machine vision to see and interpret the world without the influence of cultural history.
To investigate the effects of culture on human vision, I will create a new artwork called Autonomous Video Artist (or AVA for short). AVA will be an artificially-intelligent, self-propelling, video-capture robot that seeks out, records, edits, and uploads its own video art to the web. AVA will be that outside observer that not only looks at our world but attempts to decode it as an artist. But different than human artists, AVA hasn’t spent years watching videos or learning how artists convey narrative using temporal media. Instead, AVA will start from the beginning, using an iterative process of making to develop its own ideas of what video art can be. Most importantly, AVA will see the world differently than we do. This difference will help uncover how culture directs what we see and don’t see, showing us the machine in human vision.
I’m honored by the selection and look forward to being a part of the Center next year. I also appreciate the School of Art + Design’s support of this opportunity. Stay tuned for project updates.
Systems Under Liberty at Galerie Charlot in Paris, France
I’m excited to share that opening this Friday, 27 Nov is my solo exhibition Systems Under Liberty at Galerie Charlot in Paris, France. I will exhibit a number of works: net art, installation, video, and more. As part of the show I am also launching a brand new work (stay tuned). You can see the catalog here.
While curator Valentina Peri and I were always framing the exhibition within ongoing debates of increased surveillance by the French government, we had no idea of the climate we’d find ourselves in as the opening nears. France (and the US) are using the latest terrorist attacks to argue for new expansions of state surveillance; I’ll be in Paris midway through the show to talk about my work within this rapidly shifting context.
A bit from Valentina Peri’s curator’s statement:
… Grosser approaches his subject matter through the lens of an artistic practice of «culture jamming», or cultural sabotage. [He] sets out to hijack software platforms that have become part and parcel of our everyday life through a tactic of «poaching». By imagining unintended applications and designing new extensions for Facebook, Gmail, Artificial Intelligence Systems, IP Localisators etc., the artist subverts the mechanics of IT services that are in the same time surveillance systems and data collectors. His ironic approach elicits an effect of detachment, which alerts users to some of their automatisms and to their place in the dominant cultural order. In so doing, Grosser lays the groundwork for an anti-discipline that enables us to assert ourselves as active historical subjects from within the current regime of technological power. A healthy antidote to passive victimhood and an instrument of peaceful resistance, his «digital disobedience» points towards chances of escape.
My thanks to Premio Arte Laguna and the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts for their partial financial support of this project.
The Music Obfuscator will alter music in order to evade Content ID systems
At this year’s PIKSEL festival in Bergen, Norway, I’m showing a preview of my in-progress work Music Obfuscator. The preview includes an eight track playlist demonstrating the current state of my obfuscation algorithms. Music Obfuscator has grown larger than I originally intended (which is why I’m showing a preview), but I expect to release it this spring (including all the research and code I’ve been doing as part of the project). I’m happy to once again be a part of PIKSEL, which is directed by Gisle Frøysland and curated by Maite Cajaraville. PIKSEL is spread across many venues in Bergen; my work will be up from 19-22 Nov at Ungdomshuset 1880.
Computers Watching Movies at DATA DRIFT in Riga, Latvia
My work Computers Watching Movies is part of the exhibition DATA DRIFT at the kim? Contemporary Art Center in Riga, Latvia. Curated by Lev Manovich, DATA DRIFT is part of the RIXC Art Science Festival. DATA DRIFT “showcases works by some of the most influential data designers of our time, as well as by artists who use data as their artistic medium. How can we use the data medium to represent our complex societies, going beyond “most popular,” and “most liked”? How can we organize the data drifts that structure our lives to reveal meaning and beauty? How to use big data to “make strange,” so we can see past and present as unfamiliar and new?” The exhibition is on view from 10 October to 22 November.
I was selected as a finalist for the Transitio MX Prize in Mexico City
I’m happy to share that I’ve been named a finalist for the Transitio_MX prize. Transitio_MX is an international electronic arts and video festival held at the National Arts Center in Mexico City, and “has become Mexico’s most important platform for expression and contemporary practices in artistic creation that are linked to technology, as well as hybrid productions created by the merge of art, science, technology and humanities.” My work Computers Watching Movies was selected as one of the seven finalists; the winner will be announced during the festival on September 29th. The festival opens on September 25th and runs through October 4th, and my work will be part of the festival exhibition as well.
SECRET at Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
This week I’m in Dublin, Ireland for the opening of SECRET, an exhibition at Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin. SECRET, which is curated by Julian Oliver, Tad Hirsch, Marie Redmond, and Ian Brunswick, is an international exhibition and events program that “explores the social and technological aspects of secrecy, particularly the future of surveillance, espionage, and privacy.” The exhibition opens on Thursday, August 6 at 18:00 with a launch party. On Friday at 1pm I’ll speak about my work in the gallery.
Before SECRET opens, I’ll give an extended artist’s talk for the Dublin Art and Technology Association (D.A.T.A). This talk is on Wednesday, August 5 from 7-9p at Dunlop Oriel House at the corner of Fenian St. & Westland Row. Thanks to Rachel O’Dwyer for hosting this.
Computers Watching Movies at Incubarte 7 in Valencia, Spain
Running from 18-21 June, Computers Watching Movies will be part of the video art program at Incubarte 7, an International Art Festival in Valencia, Spain. The program will exhibit at MuVIM, the Museu Valencià de la Il·lustració i la Modernitat. After the festival finishes, the works will stay on view throughout the month of July. Incubarte 7 is curated by Jorge Montalvo, Lourdes Casany, Emanuela Loprieno, Cristina Ghetti, Toni Cosin, Kasia Nagorska, and Javier Marisco.
Screenshot of interview with South Korea’s EBS program G News
In the last couple weeks, I’ve done interviews with two media outlets in South Korea. The first was a television interview on EBS’ nightly program G News (roughly the equivalent of the USA’s News Hour on PBS). You can watch the four minute segment on EBS’ website. The second was a radio interview on BEFM, an English language station in Busan (90.5 FM), for a program called Inside Out.
Both interviews were about Facebook Demetricator, how metrics drive behavior, and other questions around Facebook.