A Changing World: Computational Creativity | FACT23 Symposium

A Changing World: Computational Creativity | FACT23 Symposium

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So our next panel this morning explores the work of artists and creators who are using new technologies and methods in their works to explore new forms of computational creativity and how the form, process and nature of all creative practice is rapidly changing. Joining ACMI's Executive Director of Programming Keri Elmsly in conversation are multidisciplinary artists Liam Young, Sam Levine and Tega Brain. Please join us on the stage. Liam Young is a designer, director and BAFTA nominated producer who operates in the spaces between design, fiction and futures. Described by the BBC as the man designing our futures, his visionary films and speculative worlds are both extraordinary images of tomorrow and urgent examinations of the environmental questions facing us today.

Sam is an artist and educator whose work deals with data, surveillance, COPs, natural language processing and automation. He's currently an assistant professor in the Department of Design at UT Austin. And Tega Brain is an Australian born artist and environmental engineer whose work examines issues of ecology, data systems and infrastructure. She's created wireless networks that respond to natural phenomena, systems for obfuscating fitness data and an online smell-based dating service.

Finally, Keri Elmsly is ACMI's Executive Director of Programming. Known for leading and developing creative experience driven ambitious projects and businesses for global leaders in culture, tech and art, Kerry was recently SVP of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Company's Sphere Studios and Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Second Story where Kerry led the experience and exhibition design for ACMI's $40 million renewal in partnership with Architects BKK. Please join me in welcoming our panellists to the stage. Hi, thanks for being here.

Really brilliant time to be here at ACMI and with you all. So we're going to switch it up a bit and each of our wonderful artists is going to take 12 minutes, 13 minutes to share their work with you. Then I'm going to just say some general chat and then we'll all sit down together and you can ask us whatever you want. But I'm going to hand over to Tega now. Hi everyone.

I guess this is the clicker for the slides. Yes, great. Hi, I'm Tega Brain.

Thank you so much for inviting me here. It's really wonderful to be in Melbourne. As mentioned, usually I'm based in New York.

But over the past five years or so, I've been making work that explores the intersection between data-driven computational systems and how these systems shape the way we think about ecology. So how do these technologies like AI and algorithmic media platforms shape how we imagine our ecology, but also imagine what we can do to manage it and to respond to the multiple ecological crises we find ourselves in. And so today I'm going to just give you a little taste of that.

I'm going to share three projects that explore this sort of intersection in different ways. The first two are collaborations with Sam Levine who is up next. And we often work together.

And this first project is called Perfect Sleep. And it is exploring and pushing against the idea and the sort of common way that we think about climate engineering. The first two works I'm going to share actually do this, right? And they try to sort of reframe climate engineering not necessarily as something that should be the way we think about like engineering the biophysical environment, but how can we think of an engineering response in terms of like a cultural and sort of acting upon ourselves. So this first project, Perfect Sleep, is in two parts. And it is trying to look at sleep as a potential climate engineering technology. The first, it takes the form of an installation work, but also a sleep app.

So it takes the form of like an alarm clock app. And the app lets users set a sleep schedule, but then gradually day by day it adds one minute to your sleep time and tries to like just very subtly encourage you to sleep more and more until after about three years you will achieve a state of perfect sleep. That is 24 hours. You can get this at the app store, so we really encourage you to participate, try it out.

Of course, you know, sleep and rest is a privilege that many of us would like more of and not all of us have. And so we really want to ask the question here of what would it take to enable us to collectively rest more. You know, and initially we wanted to make the app like 10 grand in the app store so that the right people would use it and it would become this sort of luxury item. And when I say right people, I mean the people who are most responsible for the climate crisis, but you know, the curators and commissioning organisation wasn't so keen on that idea, so it's actually free.

But here's a potential schedule. So you can see that as the days progress you gradually are getting more on track and by day 329 you're sleeping for 11 hours, working for four hours and keeping your leisure at eight hours and so on. The app also has, the work also consists of a very crude climate model, so we attempted to sort of model what change in sleep, how that maps to GDP and then how GDP maps to carbon emissions.

And the interesting thing about these graphs is you can see that first sort of like part of the purple line there which is you know CO2 emissions, you can see that it actually goes up for a second before it starts going down. And that's because in the data, you know, it's widely recognised that we were focusing on the US that most Americans are kind of under-slept and if we were actually getting eight hours sleep a day we'd sleep more, GDP would increase, we'd get more productive, but then after that it's sort of going the right direction. So yeah, we were sort of pleased with that result. In the app there are some sleep aids that help you get to sleep. So we worked with a number of writers who developed scripts to incubate your dreams and help you imagine a world other than our own.

And these are sort of set to a beautiful soundscape by the composer Louisa Pereira. And so these are also available in the app, but also in the installation version of the work which looks something like this. And so this is on show at the moment in the Netherlands at Moo Hybrid Art House. So the next work I'll jump to takes, continues this thinking around like what, how could we reimagine what climate engineering is? But instead of focusing on sleep it looks at media and our media platforms. So how do algorithmic media platforms and the digital advertising business model that drives them shape our understanding of the environment? They're super significant in how we think about our ecology.

And as you can see in a lot of places in the world climate news is still probably not getting the attention that it deserves given the sort of urgency of the issue. And this is because our media platforms are optimised for engagement. Clicks, views, likes, all of these things influence the news we see. And news also gets aggregated based on these sort of attention metrics. So what does it mean that this is the media platform where we're getting a lot of information about an issue such as the climate crisis? The media and the narratives around climate are super significant.

In this project we kind of argue that those who control the media and those who influence out the narratives of how we think about climate have an outsized influence on the carbon cycle itself. And this is something the fossil fuel industry has known for a really long time. This is a sort of well discussed example of BP promoting the carbon footprint and carbon calculator that frames the issue of climate as something that an individual can address, puts it on an individual scale which is sort of a powerful way to distract from industry responsibility. And so this is a screenshot from their carbon calculator launched in 2004.

Similarly, you'll all probably remember back to the wildfires in Australia in 2020 and the bots and trolls that were active in sort of sharing misinformation about the fires being caused by arson. And so although maybe the bot panic is overinflated, it's undoubtable that these forces, these algorithmic platforms, these patterns that occur on them are really influencing how opinions are formed on climate issues. And so the work Synthetic Messenger addresses this. It takes the form of a botnet that goes around the internet looking for news coverage of climate change and then it goes and clicks on all the ads that run beside each article. So we're attempting to artificially inflate the value of each article. Every click means a tiny transaction would go from advertiser to news outlet.

But it also just shows you the bizarre state of the internet today. Like what are these ads? We had lots of community donate their hands and voices to us and we initially launched the project in the context of the pandemic. So it was actually first launched as a Zoom performance and the audience was able to drop into a Zoom call that ran for two weeks and commune with, I think we ended up with about 60 bots. They each had their own Zoom account and just spent their time going around the internet.

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I guess that's probably enough, eh? So we often get questions like, does the project work? How much is an ad worth? sort of increased value are you getting by this? And honestly the answer is these systems are really opaque and we don't know. But also a lot of people advertising on these, if you advertise on these platforms you also don't get, they're not transparent at all and this is something that scholars like Tim Huang have talked about, about how the opacity of digital advertising despite it being the predominant business model of the internet is very problematic. And so yeah I guess we're trying to sort of like bring attention to these systems and the influence they have on our carbon cycle. So quickly if I have time the final project I'll share takes another step. It also is looking at the role of media

platforms and computational platforms in the climate crisis but from a slightly different angle. And this project is called Solar Protocol and so this is a project where we actually have attempted to build a sort of alternative cloud infrastructure all run on solar power. It's a big collaboration between myself, Alex Nathanson, Benedetta Piantella and many many stewards around the world so with supported by volunteers in different places. And the project consists of a network of solar powered servers. Solar powered servers basically just a small solar panel that's powering a small computer that's connected to the internet. So we're using little raspberry pies and these things are

often intermittent right. So if you have a lot of web traffic your server might use up a lot of power and it goes down for a day or maybe in the depths of New York winter you don't have connectivity for a little bit of the day. But we're really we're interested in this these sort of qualities and characteristics of working with solar media right. What does it mean to work with sort of an intermittent source. And however although like one server is intermittent join them up in a network particularly if those network of servers are in different time zones different places in the world you can kind of take advantage of the fact that we you know are on a planet and there's a 24-hour solar cycle. So we work with volunteers like these folks to kindly have a

hosting service for us in locations like this. So there's a there is one in Alice Springs, there's Canada, a few in New York, one in Kenya and basically they each host a copy of the web platform and when the server is the the network shares solar data so each server is kind of telling each other what sort of sunlight conditions they're in and whichever servers in the most Sun becomes the active server and serves the website. So the Sun itself is sort of programming the network and programming which server is doing the work to make the web platform available and it means when you go to the website at different times of the day or different times of the year your web traffic is being sent to whichever server is in the most Sun at a time so it's going to be sent to a different place depending on those sort of natural rhythms and cycles. And so also when you're working with solar you know we it also makes you rethink the aesthetics and the size of the website we use very small assets we're not using really heavy graphics or heavy backend because we're sort of thinking about what does an energy-centered design look like it's not just about the supply side it's also about you know how we're using that energy. And finally I think the work is an interesting provocation when we're talking about AI and automation around what it would look like to let the environment have a bigger voice or let the environment steer some of our infrastructures right so the Sun itself is being used as this sort of agent to make decisions about how the network operates. And yeah and I think I'll leave it there thank you so much.

you great. Hi I'm Sam Levine thanks so much for having me here today I'm still a little bit weirded out by speaking to people in real life so just bear with me but as a brief introduction I'm an artist and a teacher I do a lot of work both on the internet and and about the internet I work a lot with with Tiga and specifically I like to work a lot with a technique that's called web scraping so in this talk I'll just go over what web scraping is why I'm interested in it and then I'll show you like two projects that make use a little bit of that technique so what is web scraping web scraping just describes techniques for automatically downloading and processing web content right or converting like online text and other media into like structured data so in short like instead of browsing the web like yourself with your hands you write a program to do it for you right and it's like really you know common practice in Silicon Valley Facebook began as a web scraping project you know it was like Mark Zuckerberg sitting in his dorm room writing a script that downloaded his information about his classmates so he could like rank their hotness right that's the origin of Facebook Google is a web scraping project all search engines are fundamentally web scrapers that powers them and of course like systems like chat GPT and stable diffusion those are all based on material collected through web scraping right so it's a sort of like very like like central important kind of component of of the of the web right and I'm really interested in in sort of questions about how by collecting and processing material that we find online we can learn a bit about how the web is actually structuring our lives right just like a little bit of history like showing this this is like the first automated scraper this is called the wanderer born in 1993 I'd like to show it because it really sort of highlights two very contradictory elements of of the web itself right like one and this is just this guy Matthew Gray basically he wrote the script it it just like looks for websites right and it's interesting to note that like the web has no sort of default index of all available websites right like you don't know what is out there on the web right and that's kind of made by design right it's decentralized but it's inscrutable right it's unindexed right and the other element of it sort of contradictory element is that it's open right so like HTML the web is written in HTML it's a presentation language that like a human being can read it's all open and also it's legible to machines right so like once you know that a website exists you can write a program to look at its source code and then to find the other websites that are connected to it to sort of like make a map right okay so that let's go back to that the kind of like that fundamental openness right like that that fundamental openness of the web right was really kind of like always an intended goal you know this is Tim Berners-Lee describing kind of like the chain of ideas that led to his invention of the web he says suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked suppose I could program my computer to create a space in which anything could be linked to anything all the bits of information every computer at CERN on the planet would be available to me and everyone else there'd be a single you know global information space so this sort of like breathless optimism right but that but that openness right like has always been contested and unfixed you know there's like this fundamental tension between that vision of the open web right and the artificial scarcities that are imposed by like capitalism you know and you know in the form of like intellectual property law data hoarding patents and all that stuff right so that's the sort of first important thing to note about the web it's both open and closed right and so on a kind of like a material or infrastructural level it was literally like built to be scraped the second important thing to note is that the web is a series of databases right and this is something that I think is quite obvious if you ever made a website but not as obvious if you're just kind of like using the web right so when the web was born the vast majority of sites were just like documents like simple HTML documents when you looked at a web page an HTML file was literally just kind of like copied from the web server to your computer this quickly changed though and now when we look at websites a sort of vast majority of web content is stored in databases right so when you look at a page a web server is processing your request and then it generates HTML it kind of reads a database generates HTML and sends it back to your computer from the database right so it's just important to bear in mind like web pages aren't like simple documents they're just they're the front ends of databases and what's a database I mean it's complicated but basically it's like a list of things right you know it's a kind of it's sort of an archive right and when we when we look at a website we're sort of you know accessing a small portion of that database that's backing up the website but we don't have like the ability to directly query the database we don't have the ability to sort and filter it in any way we see fit right and we definitely don't have the ability to like write directly to it or to you know more maybe more excitedly exciting like to delete to delete from it right so our access to the many databases that make up the web they're mediated they're controlled and they're made scarce and like I think interesting okay that's fine so web scraping is always an act of reverse engineering right and it's literally like a technical act of reverse engineering you have to learn how website is like built like kind of like I'm just on a technical level but it's also a kind of sort of almost like an active sort of economic or social or political reverse engineering right like you sort of like have to come to understand like or you necessarily come to understand when you scrape a website like like the sort of role right the kind of role that that that website plays economically or socially or politically right and so like you know some websites are really easy to scrape and some websites are really hard to scrape and that difficulty that varying difficulty is really related to the websites business model to how much the owners of the site consider their data to be like valuable or proprietary right and so you know you try to scrape website it works or it doesn't but either way you learn a lot about kind of the role of that database in structuring your life and that's sort of the power that it might have over you it's also interesting to note that of course like in many cases the databases that make the web are populated with data that we provide or data that's like about us right and even if not it might be data that's sort of of importance to us so I began to call my own work with web scraping scrapism and this is a made-up word that I invented but it's the practice of web scraping for artistic emotional or critical ends rather than business or governmental ends right it's a process of decommodification and re-databasing a process of eliminating artificial scarcity and it's meant to act as a kind of inversion right so we're like leaving constantly leaving this data in our wake right data that turns into someone else's business model someone else's machine learning model someone else's means of repression and the worst possible situations but we're kind of like all in hell together and power also has to leave its traces online right so you know by collecting and processing and filtering and sorting these traces certain truths can become visible they can crystallize into something and much as we can recreate database from its public facing interface as a website we can kind of reproduce that picture of social political and economic realities from a series of data points and fragmentary media so I'll just show you a few projects that are you know kind of under the umbrella of scrapism the first is called New York apartment which is a collaboration with Tiga and your apartment sort of like the ultimate it's like the ultimate New York apartment it combines every single for sale real estate listing in New York City into the six you know single fictional nightmarish space and it's kind of like broken down it's kind of we're sort of like breaking down every element of a real estate listing and sort of combining it together so it's like if you took all the apartments in New York and and stuck them together they would cost like 43 billion dollars there'd be 65,000 bedrooms and 55,000 bathrooms and 36 million square feet right and then you kind of like go through and usually I would show this as like just like a live website so pardon it's a little different here I wonder if I have to hit the play button let's see maybe oh there it goes okay right so so kind of broken into these columns we start with all the questions that are in all of the real estate listings like are you looking to lease or rent or own a home or you're looking to get a home or you're just earning home buyer are you pressed out of other neighborhoods are you ready for the next level are you ready for this one are you ready to fall in love are you ready to make an investment then it's like all of the images so like 20,000 images of bedrooms right and then just let that go the bathrooms we got 17,000 images of all the bathrooms some of these are like really on stage like that's a good one right kitchens dining rooms living rooms doorways closets exteriors gyms my favorite I love the gyms right then we have every single sentence in all the listings that start with the phrase the apartment I'm not going to read these to you but it's like extensive of course there's floor plans in the listings and so we've taken all the floor plans and extruded them and then created these sort of fictional spaces this is like all the apartments together as a kind of rats maze and then we have it laid out as like a tower a pyramid and then a skinny tower video tours which I'm unfortunately gonna skip but you know like people give video tours they repeat things a lot the features of the apartment which are adjective noun combinations taken from the listings so all the you know all the chic things about the apartment so on the mortgage calculator so your monthly payment is 252 million dollars and then the real estate agents so every single real estate agent in New York originally we had this as there was like a button you could press at the top that would put you into a group chat with all of them on iMessage but this was a commission with the Whitney and they asked us to take that feature down so we took it down but it's actually amazing because it also sort of that it was like kind of crash your computer too okay so that's like that's that's that's New York apartment okay and then I'll show you another one other project which is a bit different in the sense that I didn't scrape I didn't scrape the material myself but it follows a similar process of like after you scrape it what do you do right okay so this is how to describe it okay so in November like 2021 and some anonymous source leaked about 600 hours of police aerial surveillance footage to a transparency organization called distributed denial of secrets and these are videos that are mostly from police helicopters in Dallas Texas the total collection is about 1.8 terabytes and when I heard about the leak you know I immediately purchased a large hard drive and got to downloading and this sort of just by chance was the first video that I that I looked at right so this is footage of a police helicopter it's closely following a pro-Palestinian protest as it snakes its way across Dallas right and I think two things were immediately striking to me here one the kind of level of detail that the camera is able to capture right that kind of proximity that it's achieving so like the police aren't really just tracking groups of people they are nearly able to or perhaps they are able to clearly identify individual faces right and the second thing that's I think quite notable at least it was for me was the kind of like interface itself right that kind of sci-fi overlay of street names borders parcel numbers target distances and so on so I'm like looking at this and thinking like it's almost as if the makers of this camera system have like used the fantasy surveillance aesthetics commonly found like caught movies and TV shows as like a design guide for their real system you know and they're kind of transforming those cliched surveillance tropes into reality in a way I was fortunate you know to stumble upon this footage first and that kind of like 600 hours that I downloaded because the corpus does contain moments where like things happen but I would say actually the vast majority of it is a kind of aimless wandering looking right and I'm just gonna go ahead and I apologize in advance for maybe nauseating everyone with this okay so as I noted like you know in my work I'm true I'm frequently trying you know to find ways to like reduce and filter like vast tropes of material and in this case what I did is I I started to explore the idea of reducing the footage from that aimless kind of like wandering eye to the moments where something captures the camera's attention or in other words like to the zooms you know and so I wrote a script that you know analyzed all of that footage the 600 hours of it and then automatically recut it to only include shots where the camera zooms in and I was expecting you know to discover moments similar to the ones in that protest footage right moments that showed the police were targeting particular groups individuals and instead what I sort of discovered was that you know for the most part the zooming shots were kind of as aimless as the panning shots right most are like zooming into nothing in particular at least nothing unledgable to me right and and and you know now this footage is an hour total rather like down from the 600 right it's just an hour of this and you know as I'm kind of like watching it and like nauseating myself and also realizing that nothing is gonna like happen right I keep returning in my mind to that question of the interface itself to like how that fictional fantastical cop movie interface somehow became a reality you know and that slip between the fiction and the reality I think speaks probably more broadly to the role of law enforcement itself to how you know self mythologizing police narratives go on to shape the world or to put another way the footage is like a product of that fantasy that the role of the police is to protect us from ubiquitous hidden danger a fantasy which is you know generated in no small part by the police themselves and it's a kind of needed fakery right like a kind of needed fakery maybe to make the police feel okay about what they do but of course also and more importantly to prod us into accepting like their existence so I think I'll end it there and thanks all so I'm a filmmaker and artist but I guess the medium I dominantly work through is that of world-building and I build imaginary worlds for the entertainment industry I tell stories about the architectural urban and global implications of technology and if you like me you might feel that for the last three years you've been in a never-ending panel discussion about the metaverse in the context of today's conversation I want to talk about a different kind of metaverse you know it's a landscape that both is everywhere and nowhere this luminous alternative world suspended in the cloudscape but with my ten minutes I want to talk about a different kind of site of computation in the metaverse to explore its physicality what does the metaverse smell like what's it like to stand amongst it what does it sound like how is it made what is it made from and how is it changing us I try and frame my talks not as PowerPoint presentations but rather as illustrated narratives all these kind of storytelling safaris woven together from documentaries we've made or the science fiction worlds we construct so for my 12 minutes I want to try and give the conversation on computation this context with a few little stories from behind the scenes of the metaverse I guess I press this oh there's some sound we have some sound so these are some of the worlds that we create and whether it be through my own films or our world building for film and TV we use imagined fictional worlds as a site in which to prototype important ideas who doesn't this idea that fiction is an extraordinary shared language it's how culture communicates and disseminates ideas and we're all literate and these are some scenes from Planet City a film exploring the thought experiment of a single city for the entire population of the earth that premiered at the NGV triennial as we think about the making of the new worlds of the meta scape I want to take us through the screen and beyond the fog of the cloud on a whirlwind tour to the other side of the metaverse to visit the real people and places that might dwell here so on our tour we might make our first footprints out in the distance in the uneven edges of the metaverse where we crunch through the salt flats of the lithium triangle in South America this electric earth that will soon power this new world almost all of the world's lithium resources is buried here the key ingredient in all the batteries inside our computers and headsets and the indigenous population that belong to this land they tell of a creation story of lithium they talk about the tears and breast milk of a mythic volcano that mixed together to form this lithium lake and this massive mining landscape carved out of one of the most rarest and precious ecosystems on the planet is the geology enacted when we step into the metaverse and wander the digital fields it's the landscapes that are hidden behind the glare of the picture and we must remember that we will power the metaverse truly with the breast milk of volcanoes and now we might head into the beating purring and whirring heart of the metaverse and together we're gonna wander along the aisles of Zucks meta machines in his data center in Prineville Oregon so to survive in the wilds of the metaverse we need this forest of data points all of us are endlessly scanned by countless sensors and gyros and lasers cameras and satellites that feed the meta operating system optimizing and customizing our experiences and the flickering LEDs we pass like fireflies are tiny reflections of you buzzing around within someone else's marketing portfolio and we can start to ask in this space are we truly customers or citizens of this impending better because the metaverse relies on these systems and machine vision and data collection to shape its parallel worlds this for example is how autonomous vehicles scanners and the cities in which we live in the computational world were all rendered as these 3d point clouds in this film of ours we follow a group of teenagers across a single night as they drift through the near future city in a driverless taxi that's scanning them constantly as they go and they're part of an underground rave community and they dance with explosive contortions as they invent a new choreography that distorts the silhouette and disguises the proportion of their frame so as to evade body detection algorithms that are used by the metaverse surveillance cameras the white skeleton we see is the computational body the algorithm attempting to understand us and process us and map us and then the blur of flesh tunes in at the point at which the algorithm fails and the body disappears it's a new vocabulary of movement that's sort of exuberant in plain sight but through the eyes of the meta machines two bodies become one entangled with fractured limbs and fuzzy frames and lost connections and to evaporate further into the laser point clouds have this group might adorn themselves in machine vision camouflage textiles and they might reimagine their fashion cycles to follow the rate of Moore's law or the latest phone model or software update rather than a change in natural season and the iridescent textiles they wear reflect the light of CCTV laser scanners as they dance in these hidden spaces of the city so the weave of iridescent silks in the fabric distorts the way the laser scanners reflect off their bodies and all these tactics might become these new but necessary ways in which we might carve out private spaces and intimate moments amongst the meta clouds where all of us are inevitably tracked with this millimeter precision and perhaps inevitably all of us are always searching for these new spaces where the cities can't see and this computational reality of urban life is all amongst us and is here today not just tomorrow and and this perhaps is our AI city a mode of governance that's outsourced to the cloud to manage our lives and spaces and soon we're going to be sharing our streets with an autonomous city of machines where the sky is filled with drones and cars are driverless and the sidewalk is draped in augmented reality and everyone is connected to everything what does it like to talk to the city in this film we hear from a chatbot we trained on city data sets and urban management protocols man as a band go yo it's reading a love letter it wrote to the citizens of the city it affectionately managers II II is a nice I expand every moment. I am older than the newborn, but younger than the universe. I am older than the universe.

Your hair style is beautiful under the neon moonlight. The light of the dead skin is winking at you. You get older, eat, blink, and breathe. I am older than the universe.

And these same machine- vision algorithms that coordinate the physical city also enact our fantasy of a mixed reality gesture-controlled future where the metaverse leaks out into the real. And like the exaggerated mime of silent movies, we will dance and jig our interfaces to life. We can't have one future without the other.

And we can't have one future without the other. This is some of the augmented reality interfaces we were visual consultants for on the Apple Plus film Swan Song. This is the future that the metaverse promises us. Skylines filled with digital confetti of our desired worlds projected just for us.

But on our final stop on this journey through the meta-metaverse, we now visit the renderlands. And the CGI farms of the entertainment and gaming industry. In most computational art projects, we're really wandering the luxury aisles of the metaverse. The Christie auction NFTs and seduction of the 360 ore. But in the suburbs of the metaverse, the everyday infrastructure that will populate it will be made here, away from the gaze of the collectors in India and Indonesia or across the other side of the planet where we live.

A massive anonymous workforce are crafting the high fidelity digital architectures of video games, Hollywood blockbusters and soon the metaverse. In our film renderlands, here we meet Prakash, a render farm worker who makes and shapes the digital worlds we all inhabit. Prakash has fallen in love with the digital model of a beautiful Hollywood actress. After spending his 14 hours a day in the sea, rotoscoping and rendering, her into blockbuster films, he is lovingly airbrushed across every pore on her face, every strand of her hair as he 3D models her superhero silhouette, scene by scene and day by day. And by night, when the for a sense of switched off and everyone else has gone home, he straps on his VR goggles and they wander hand in hand through the streets of the metaverse that he has collaged together for them from scavenged VFX movie models and 3D game assets.

And while we inhabit a digital utopia that exists in the thickness of a screen, in reality the metaverse stretches from Los Angeles to Bangalore, a world of digital labor and content moderators, data processing, rare earth stacks and digital simulated actors in our outsourced pixel projected dreams. And at the end of our tour as we rip off our headsets and AR lenses, perhaps we could say that the metaverse is not necessarily going to be a late capitalist Zuckerbergan fever dream, but at the same time it's not going to be an escapist fantasy digital utopia either. It will be both of these things because no technology has really ever been a solution to anything. What technology does do is exaggerate the conditions that already exist. And in this way the metaverse is equal parts fear and wonder because in the end, so are we. So these are the stories we must tell imagining the multiverse metaverses that can hopefully begin to scaffold the versions of the metaverse that we do not know.

That can begin to scaffold the versions of the metaverse that we do want, not the ones that can be most effectively sold to us. Because there'd be monsters in the metaverse. And while the pixels are still gooey and it's still fluid in form, the more we imagine the intended and unintended consequences that it sets in motion, the sites where these monsters might dwell might get just that little bit smaller.

Thanks. Well, I think the three people who just shared their work with us, for me it's a great example of why I work in this industry. It's to create spaces and platforms and opportunities for people to share imagination in ways that not all of us are capable of. So yeah, the topic we were supposed to be exploring was computational creativity. I think Sam, Tiga and Liam just took us through a wild journey of all that's possible. But I think a lot of maybe people in this room are thinking about it's hard to do this kind of work.

But I'm here to tell you it's not that hard. And in fact, their practices exemplify that. So I'm going to push some buttons and see where we go. So I think it's important that we recognise that art's shape and challenge what we perceive as creativity. But yesterday we talked a lot about it not being the responsibility of the artist to solve our problems. But what imagination does and storytelling has always done is gives us the possibility to push further in ways that we couldn't do ourselves.

And when I think about how we talk about labour and work, and what's interesting is labour and work has come up in every single conversation in the last few days. And turns out the national cultural policy agrees that artist work is actual labour. Your work is labour, our team's work is labour, and that should be equitable and looked after properly. But what does an invitation and an open invitation look like to practitioners who are unafraid of the black boxes that technology has presented to us? The blobs without legs that are tried to be sold to us is a miracle. The goggles we kind of tried on and felt a bit sick in.

Our challenge when we come from institutions in many cases or small organisations is how fast we have to move. And I think it's just something, it's like what needs to go fast and what needs to go slow? What needs deep thought and what needs quick response? And I think if you start to separate out those two things, you can kind of remove the calcification in some of the conversations you have with your teams and your organisations and your boards and your funding applications. And I think I heard someone say they've got chat GPT writing funding applications for them. So all I'm saying is what and how you do it doesn't need to cost a lot. It doesn't need to take your whole organisation. But what it does need to do is inspire ways of thinking the way that Victoria was sharing all that information.

There's a ton of knowledge out there that enable us to embrace what kind of computational creativity we want to do to change how people experience the world, how we imagine the world and how we tell stories. I've been thinking about practical stuff because largely I'm quite a practical person. And I just thought I'd put this forward as a maybe provocation for you to think about how you engage with creative people, how you make the invitation. I'm very interested in how we make contracts. That sounds super nerdy and boring, but it's actually an art.

And the distribution of information and the continued distribution of the product that is actually the intellectual property of the artist and how that's traceable is all infinitely possible now without there being a big hoo-ha about it. But I think it's like that assumption of we have a template, so therefore we do it like this. Well, make a better template. I don't know how many of you all got tech teams, but they're great. Have a budget for them, train them, listen to them, invite them in.

And then think about maybe your modes of display and exhibition and conversation with the public and yourselves might be okay to not be finished. Like what does it look like if something's iterated? And I know in theatre that's a really common thing. And I think that kind of some of the modes we're talking about in tackling this field of making are not different to theatre making.

It's not all new. We don't have to invent new solutions. We just have to think about it a little bit iteratively. So people talk about digital work as kind of high capital work like the render farms, the computers that drive it, the media servers, the generative engines.

They're all high skilled. Software licences are often expensive. So I kind of think we need to challenge ourselves about how we display and how we play things back. Because frankly, if we're talking to an audience of like multiple millions of gamers in the world and we can't even get it together to present something that's as good as someone's home game console, we've kind of got a problem with how we're thinking about display. Real, because you can just go down the shop and buy one. Have you noticed the difference in credits and collaborations lately? Have you noticed the way people credit on Instagram now? Instagram is actually a really interesting way for artists to distribute the full credit and full stack of what's involved in their project.

If you now look at a work as it's launched, you can see like the credits roll for like, I don't know, up to 20 lines. And that's happening in commercial digital production as well as in artist production. I think it's really important for us to pay attention to that. And again, to have the language and the team's understanding that the credits are actually really, really do matter. So you can't just shove them aside.

Tiga and Sam both mentioned their commissioners asking them to take stuff down or technology partnerships that maybe don't work out that well because the artist wants to do something that doesn't suit the commercial mission of the technology company. I think there's a lot of responsibility that lies with organisations and institutions to navigate those relationships and create safe space for the artists to express because otherwise what are we doing other than joining DOTS? So it's work to interrogate that. But if we don't, then you end up with people doing a ton of work that gets in a weird conversation with, you know, artists backed into a corner and often the organisation struggling to know which side to support and often you support where the money comes from, which is not a good place for anyone to be. We talked about archives and preservation.

Again, thinking about how you preserve this work, what choices you make to preserve. And that goes back to ownership as well. It's like if you're not able to look after this work, then maybe don't own it. And then I was also thinking about all the brilliant artists that are in How I See It and in the shows that are on ACMI that, you know, were many years of work for everyone before I got here. And I want to think about what are we doing with the communities and relationships we've built ongoing to build careers with people together that are collegiate, mutual, open? How can we share the work we've made with other organisations in a way that's more open-handed and more generous? So those are the practical points I've been thinking about. And then I just wanted to whip through some quick examples of like what's going on right now because everyone's like, what's going on? There's so much. And I think the thing to be is you don't have to be good with it. You don't have to love it. You don't have to like it.

And an artist doesn't have to like it either. It's their choice. And I think these kind of commentaries around, well, AI is doing everything. AI is going to do that. And, you know, Nick Kay's response is kind of really funny and true. And I was listening to Rick Rubin the other day talk about like the trust you have to have as a creator in yourself and your own taste and your own choice and that gut feeling.

And so we can't undermine that just because the sort of force or the tsunami of information about machine learning is rolling over us and therefore everyone should be interested in it. We don't have to be. And, you know, a bunch of stuff does fail or never really gets where it should be.

I think a really good example of that is, I don't know if you remember Magic Leap, multi, multi billions of dollars company raised the future of augmented reality. They started doing really amazing, quite incredible entertainment and arts projects. And, you know, they got taken over by a CEO from Microsoft and the use case pivoted to defense and industrial uses. Like VR is a really difficult challenge in a museum context because of, you know, how you can get people in the headsets, out of the headsets, all that stuff. But what that does is it limits the number of your audience.

But VR has done a tremendous job in medical training industry. So some things are just remain to be figured out and they're never going to be figured out. And like you might not have a great position on Web3. The NFT boom came and went. Crypto is a nightmare. Everyone's in prison.

So, you know, there's no easy answers. But I think it's like you've got to just say I did that then last year, but I don't do that now this year. You know, and some people do figure out.

I think this, the acquisition of the pompadour of Jonas Lund's smart contract is a really beautiful way. And I want you to really consider why the hype around NFTs happened from an artist perspective is most artists make almost no money. They have to have teaching jobs. They have to have other jobs. Is there they feel lucky if they can have an income and then all of a sudden they could make a bunch of money real fast.

Why would you not do that? And actually, there's some really, really interesting systems and structures that came out of that. But I think we lose sight of it because of Sam Bank Friedman. Again, crypto bros getting in the way of everything. But what that forces us to do is think about earning power, intellectual property, ownership, distribution. These are all critical, not new news, but the rise of the NFT kind of forced us to confront that.

You know, and it's OK to work in like multiple modes. It's again, this project was the first piece I visited when I arrived here and moved here. It's a brilliant show. I don't know the artist personally, but I was super impressed that in the substation we were watching a performance that was done live in engine with crocheted outfits.

Also, crochet was big in this project. A live performance in Taipei. Really, really beautiful dance. And it's these kind of projects that I think you can say it's really possible to operate in multiple modes without, you know, really, really high budgets. And then what are we going to do with projects like this once they've been done at that scale? Where do they go next? And I think that's the development pipeline that we can all help each other out with is why can't we pick something up that someone else did and then iterate on it, like from institution to institution? And I think one of the other pressures is when we engage with commissions, we often go come to us with your new idea. Start from scratch.

And here's a small amount of money. Please make it the most brilliant thing ever. And we're all counting on you and we'll work with you. And it's going to be so great. But actually, how about having that conversation where you can say, what have you got going on right now? My commission could advance your work in a way that you haven't yet done.

And I think the work we have in Gallery 5 right now is Chapter 5 of the artist's work of this body of work. And I think that's the right way to do it, because if you have a humble budget, then be humble about what your expectations are from your exchange. It doesn't mean the work isn't good. And lastly, just because it's made with tech or it's a game doesn't mean it has to be all weird future looking. Like the aesthetics and Jara's work that's downstairs, that's 90s video game nostalgia, but it is absolutely powerful, political, and it's a game.

And that game can continue to be developed from what we've got here. So I think I just wanted to share a few of those thoughts of where the state of play is in dynamic creativity. And I hope you've got some questions for us all.

2023-03-18 10:17

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