How Do Computers Experience the World? New Digital Exhibition Attempts To Find Out

German artists Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach brought their new show to the Carroll / Fletcher gallery in London last week. Called Computer's World it features six installations that offer atypical views on the ubiquitous machines we share our lives on and with, aiming to playfully jolt us out of our complacent attitudes towards these various technologies.

To do so, the artists imbue computers with human aspects or position us in place of them, challenging us to look at a computer in the same way as we might do, say, a pet. "We're experimenting with the idea that computers could have a personality somehow," Asendorf told The Creators Project. "We buy computers from the industry—a PC, a MacBook, an iPhone or whatever—but then we start to turn it into a personalised version, so it becomes some kind of individual. And we were thinking one step further, how will a computer identify itself? Or how can a computer experience the world?"

The computers in the show also work as metaphors for humanity in the way that pets come to reflect their owners in various ways. "We are inspired by and thinking of human behaviors and charateristics," Asendorf added.

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Kim Asendorf, Digital Painting Bot, 2014 Java Application, Corel Draw Software, monitor, computer. Image: Robin Reeve for Carroll / Fletcher

As you walk in the gallery, the first piece you're greeted by is The Digital Painting Bot—a screen featuring image editing software that looks like it's being used by invisible hands. In actuality, it's controlled by a JavaBot whose entire aim in life is to paint. It's a code-based artist, obessed only with wanting to busy itself with abstract doodlings and incessantly paint one picture after another. "The art of basic programming," Asendorf calls it, creates images based on an animation term called easing—starting slow then speeding up, then slowing down again at the end.

"The idea was to turn drawing machines that are popular in media art back into the digital world," explains Asendorf. The bot uses Corel Paintshop, a software with an interface designed for humans, to create its work, simulating the movements and clicks of a mouse and keyboard as it pretends to be us.

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Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach, SnakePaint, 2014 OSX Application, computer, screen, webcam. Image: Robin Reeve for Carroll / Fletcher

Next to The Digital Painting Bot is SnakePaint, a crowdsourced, generative artwork designed to become, in a way, both an abstract portrait and an archive of all the visitors that come to the exhibition. A camera and computer screen sit dormant until they recognize a face. "When it sees a face it archives, in a work of visual art, what happens in front of it," notes Asendorf. "If the person is far away it draws a green line. If people are vey close it draws a red line. If the face goes right or left it changes the direction of the line. The image is an archive of the observer.”

Working as a kind of compliment to this is FaceTrap, which is also a real-time version of Aesthetics of Surveillance (Miss Universe 2013), another piece in the show. Aesthetics of Surveillance (Miss Universe 2013) is a projection of contestants in the Miss Universe, seen through the eyes of facial recognition software. Faces chaotically flash up on a projection screen in quickfire succession, visualizing the intense and rapid way that algorithms "see" things.

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Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach, Aesthetics of Surveillance (Miss Universe 2013), 2014 HD video. Image: Robin Reeve for Carroll / Fletcher

FaceTrap, meanwhile, consists of four screens (and a camera) that act like mirrors for the audience. Their aim is to unnerve and entertain the viewer. By taking a picture of a viewer's face, cutting it out, and putting it on the screen as big as possible so it's stretched, it creates a recognizable but slightly distorted reflection. Asendorf and Fach refer to it as both creepy and fun—it works as a more ethereal, momentary version of SnakePaint in that it's documenting the people coming and going. “It’s your face in your face,” Asendorf explains.

The two final pieces are both cloth-based: Cloth Animation Update is a copy of a virtual flag designed to restore "the digital animation effect of a cloth blowing in the wind back into the physical world." The other is Cool Cloth, which features a patterned screenwipe cloth being blown by a cooling fan from a computer. The idea is to reference a computer's needs through the tools designed to help it function. "You have this symbiosis of this cloth and textile and then the cooling machine in the back," notes Fach. "And you get the shadow play from the grid of the cooler on the cloth to create one piece. And it gives this feeling of joy, like a computer feeling joyful.”

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Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach, Cool Cloth, 2015 Laptop cooler, cloth. Image: Robin Reeve for Carroll / Fletcher

For both Asendorf and Fach the presence of computers and budding AI softwares aren't necessarily things to be afraid of, as they are in dystopian sci-fi films like Terminator, and in warnings made by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

“We see the show as a representation of our own behavior," notes Asendorf. "And also looking at the future and what computers will be like—what will the computer become? What if they did have personalities? Maybe they can even have a soul? We don't know. And it's that kind of thought that informs the exhibits."

via The Creators Project