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Anywhere where technology comes into play, with any job or institution, a culture develops around that, says Elaine Hoey. “That culture is never static.”
These “digital cultures” are the focus of a new series of public talks co-curated by Hoey, who is artist-in-residence at the Digital Hub in the Liberties.
The talks kicked off on 18 March and are scheduled to run until 10 June as part of a collaboration between the Digital Hub and the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).
Speakers will touch on the impact that artificial intelligence is having on our everyday lives. “It’s one of those technologies that’s invisible,” says Hoey.
“It’s going to silently seep into the background of everything that we do and use as a piece of technology,” she says.
Also, artists working with digital technologies will talk about their practices and the different paths they are exploring, from ethics of machine learning to translating nature into data, and digital economies.
“I wanted these talks to be quite broad,” says Hoey, and to compel difficult conversations on the impacts of these new technologies on our present and future.
Hoey’s own work looks at how common algorithms have become in our daily lives.
She tries to come up with ways for artists and the public to understand these systems and use them themselves in their art.
“It’s a very tricky medium to explore,” says Hoey, as artists might need to grasp coding and maths, and have an interest in the theoretical nature of algorithms.
Rachel O’Dwyer, an NCAD lecturer in digital cultures who is co-curating the talks with Hoey, has been exploring this terrain for more than a decade.
She used to be a curator of the Dublin Art and Technological Association (DATA), which brought artists together with people working in tech to explore the rapid changes underway.
These talks, says O’Dwyer, are a successor to those informal DATA gatherings.
O’Dwyer says she is drawn as a curator to artists and engineers who make algorithms more visible and unpack how these technologies work, for others to understand.
They allow us to grasp what is happening on a deeper level than just knowing it as a fact, she says.
“I think one of the ways that artistic works are really interesting is that they actually change how you feel, or affect you on a different register,” she says.
Take the work of artist Julie Freeman, who spoke in the inaugural lecture entitled “Translating Nature: Data as Art”.
In one of Freeman’s works, called “The Lake”, she electronically tagged freshwater fish within a lake.
She used hydrophones – which are underwater microphones – and specially created software to create a series of artworks translated from the movement of the fish.
Visitors to the exhibition could listen to a soundscape composed from the fish’s movements or watch an animated representation of their underwater movements.
In the talk, Freeman described her thinking behind the artwork.
“I knew that my subjective decisions around the manipulation of data were as equally as important to the work as the so-called objective data from the electronic bioacoustics tagging system,” she said.
The decisions she made in the work included the frequency of the data collection, the parameters in the software she created, and the aesthetic of the fish in the animation. For Freeman, data is as much an art material as any traditional medium.
Says O’Dwyer: “She’s an artist that’s working with data but she’s doing it in a way that also is quite reflective.”
Rather than write that data is political or pretending numbers are impartial, “her whole work is about making visible the decision that she is making in that situation”, says O’Dwyer.
Through the talks, both O’Dwyer and Hoey wanted to put artists in conversation with people working within the industry and researchers, they said.
So that conversations would not be siloed and figures would be able to explore the positive impacts of automation along with its issues.
“It’s important to pose difficult questions and present other points of view,” says Hoey.
The next live talk in the series is “Digital Economies, Digital Intimacies”, which O’Dwyer is particularly excited about, she says.
As a teacher, she has become really interested in themes around digital intimacy, said O’Dwyer, and how “our personal, sexual and social relationships are being transformed by different forms of network media”.
That talk will feature Kylie Jarrett, a media studies scholar in Maynooth University and author of Feminism, Labour and Digital Media: The Digital Housewife, which makes the connection between the hidden labour of women in the household and the hidden labour that goes into producing data.
She will be speaking to Antonia Hernández, an artist interrogating the expression of online intimacy through the sex platform Chaturbate, and the monetisation of online sex work.
O’Dwyer says she’s hoping the talks will blend interesting questions about what it means to be intimate online and when intimate relationships can be quantified and monetised in new ways, for good and bad.
The next webinar is scheduled for 29 April at 7pm on NCAD Gallery’s YouTube channel.