[-empyre-] Neuroaesthetics

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Fri Sep 5 03:23:25 EST 2008

Hello Alan,

I really enjoyed your description of the ghosts in the machine project.

I'm particularly interested in some of the following key points (as I
see them) and I'll elaborate on each one:

> conflate the virtual, symbolic and  imaginary worlds in the the moment to moment construction of a self.

The "real" world and the world of scientific truth are not included
here. Do they also relate to this conflation as the work is framed in
science? Where does scientific truth lay in your work? Is it the Truth,
or a symbolic system of selective interpretations of what is seen as
"real"? What I'm getting at is that in my own work I've been fascinating
by moving from (what can be) loose artistic metaphor to the concrete
causality of electronics and computation (and therefore scientific
reality). This is discussed in my M.Sc. thesis (in art):

> EVP, Noise and Perception

I've been playing with the philosophical position that consciousness is
the process of creating meaning from the world, or rather creating a
world from background noise. A shared world results from the shared
structures of consciousness, that is shared structures of filtering and
selective interpretation of sensor data. This is loosely described in my
paper "Untitled Iterations": http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/?p=231

Noise is defined as that which is not the signal. What happens when the
noise becomes the signal? Not to mention the infinity of space between
signal and noise known as chaos.

> Meaning Making

In some ways "Ghosts in the Machine" and my project "Memory Association
Machine" are similar. Both projects are highly concerned with the aspect
of physical, causal and context. In my case as sensed by a camera
exploring visual context, and in your case as the marginalized aspect of
the CCD sensing the invisible.

Both systems make an attempt to interpret this context. In your case the
 system actively attempts to find cases of EVP (and Electronic Face
Phenomenon? EFP) and transform the data in order to make those
interpretations more readable by the audience. In my case the context is
integrated (contextualized) and explored (recontextualized) constantly
by the machine. As I see it, a centre aspect of both MAM and Ghosts in
the Machine is an aspect of the machine finding meaning in the images,
and (to some degree) sharing that meaning with the audience. I'm curious
what you would say about the machine's causal linking between physical
world and its representation as meaning making for the machine/process
itself? If we buy the objectivity of science then we must buy the
objectivity of the causal system. Of course both the instrument of
scientific measurement, and the art system, are designed and interpreted
by subjective people.

Is the vision system in Ghosts in the Machine based on human perceptual
systems at all? In MAM I intended not to give the system a human like
perceptual system in order to feed as sensor data in as raw a form as
possible into the neural network (SOM).

> Context

As I see it this key highly overlaps with the previous sections. It
stood out because of the idea of interpretation and meaning in context.
This very belief is why I do not make art that is meant to express
something, but art that is an embodiment of some conceptual purpose.
Like a machine that attempts to make meaning from its world and do so as
independently from the creator/artist as possible.

I hope I don't side-track the discussion too much here, but wanted to
jump on some of these themes which feel so close to my own work.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak.
B. Bogart

Alan Dunning wrote:
> Hi Everyone,
> I'll kick this off.
> Both Paul and I work inside an art/science collaboration that has been
> in existence for some  twelve years. The project  develops and presents
> systems and installations using analog or digital interfaces to direct
> the  output of the human body to virtual and sculptural environments
> that are constantly being altered through  feedback from a participant's
> biological body. The core of the Einstein's Brain Project is a 
> discursive space that engages with ideas about the resituation of the
> body in the world and its  digital cybernetic and post-human forms.  The
> project's work is focused on how representations of the biological body
> might be manifest in  the world through mediatized spaces and how these
> representation conflate the virtual, symbolic and  imaginary worlds in
> the the moment to moment construction of a self.
> Currently we are working on a series of works that use strategies of EVP
> (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) to look at the development of pattern and
> meaning arising out of random noise.
> These works work use the ideas inherent in EVP to examine ways in which
> we construct the world through pareidolia, (a psychological phenomenon
> involving a vague and random stimulus - often an image or sound - being
> perceived as significant), apophenia (the seeing of connections where
> there are none) and the gestalt effect (the recognition of pattern and
> form). EVP is the recording of errant noises or voices that have no
> explainable or physical source of origin. These recordings are made when
> the recorder is under very controlled circumstances. Most often white or
> pink noise is used as a medium that is (it is suggested) acted upon by
> other electromagnetic forces. This electromagnetic medium produces forms
> that are, occasionally, like human speech.
> In Ghosts in the Machine (2008) two projectors project large images onto
> the walls of a room. One projection shows video static overlaid with
> text and the outlines of bounding boxes, the other shows black and white
> images of what appear to be blurry and indistinct images of human faces.
> Ambient noise fills the space. Just at the threshold of recognition can
> be heard what appear to be human speech in different languages. A CCD
> camera is turned on but enclosed in a light tight box. Its input is
> adjusted with maximum gain and brightness to reveal the video noise
> inherent in the system. This noise forms the optical equivalent of audio
> noise and is used in a similar way to provide a medium that can be
> modified by external forces to produce images and sounds. The video
> noise is mapped to audio by sampling pixels in a QuickTime matrix and
> using the values to manipulate a stream of pink noise. Voice recognition
> software parses the modulated noise and translates any sufficiently
> voice-like sounds into its nearest vocal equivalent. Face tracking
> algorithms using a cascade of Haar classifiers scan each video frame and
> look for any combination of pixels that form the basic characteristics
> of a human face. These are areas that are loosely characterized as eyes,
> nose and mouth with a sufficient degree of symmetry. When the software
> finds such a combination of pixels and symmetry, the software draws a
> bounding box defining the area and zooms the area to full screen, its
> contrast and brightness is adjusted, blurred and desaturated to clarify
> the found images. The images produced are only occasionally reminiscent
> of human faces. More often than not, the images produced are recognized
> as indeterminate organic forms with volume and space, but fail to
> resolve themselves into anything recognizable. But occasionally, images
> are produced that are astonishingly and strikingly like a face, although
> in actuality containing only the barest possibility of being so.
> An audience's response to the sounds and images in Ghosts In The Machine
> is, like all apprehension of works of art, a complex interplay of
> expectation and desire dependent entirely on a contextual, located and
> distributed body. The expanded body/machine field - body, brain and
> world looping back and forth along endless recombinant cognitive
> pathways  - plays an essential role in meaning making in the face of the
> indeterminate. An early incarnation of the series was first shown in the
> Centro Popular de la Memoria in Rosario, Argentina. This building
> contained a former illegal detention center that was used by the
> provincial police between 1976 and 1979 to hold people without formal
> charges and torture them, under the pretense of fighting radical
> left-wing political subversion and terrorism. It was informally termed
> El Pozo: The Pit. The Sound of Silence was installed in a room directly
> above The Pit. Naturally enough the images and sounds that observers saw
> and heard in what was generated by random noise from the camera related
> directly to the horrors inflicted on those incarcerated in El Pozo.
> Noise was interpreted in the context of the lost and invisible bodies
> that had been incarcerated. Another installation occurred at a mental
> hospital in Trieste, Italy. Here the noise was characterized differently
> and altogether different content was built within the work. Such
> contextual imagining is not unusual - works of art are never autonomous,
> but always part of a contextual continuum. But in these works content is
> so completely dependent on context for the any meaning that might be
> generated, that it is seen as a visualization of a momentary and located
> epistemological unconscious.
> In these installations the computer does the hard work of analyzing a
> complex visual field, but the task of meaning making is left to the
> observer as discovered faces barely meet the requirements of a facial
> arrangement, consisting only of blobs and indeterminate grain. Seeing,
> representation and the interpretation of external phenomena has never
> been a matter of objectivity. Seeing is a complex activity, and the
> perception of visual forms, aesthetic experience and cognitive
> interpretation are more at home with the aleatory, the misperceived and
> the phenomena of indeterminacy than with the notion of the world as a
> fixed reality. It is these that drive the installations. The
> installations are generative, closed systems. Noise from a CCD camera is
> analyzed for patterns. An algorithm looks for patterns that match the
> basic geometry and physiognomy of the human face. What it actually finds
> are pixels on a screen that have no indexical relation to a real world
> face. They are not images of people, but another kind of image loaded
> with meaning, which arises accidentally, but irresistibly and
> inevitably, from the hybrid interaction between machine and body and
> world. To all intents and purposes when these patches of pixels look
> like faces, they are images of faces. That such obscure images resolve
> themselves into faces without conscious effort, and that remain even
> when attending closely to them, suggests that it is paradoxically their
> lack of objective meaning that generates their form. It is the very
> ambiguity and intedeterminacy of the images that allows the brain to
> reconfigure them as indexical.
> Alan
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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