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Full paper / Summoning the nereid nerds: invisibility and visions within network architectures
- Abstract: This paper explores the impact of invisible and incomprehensible computational processes on human-technology relations via a series of multi-channel video installation art investigations. Historically, gaps in knowledge and understanding have been filled with mystic and superstitious systems of belief. The spheres of computation, from network technologies to machine-learning, are equally susceptible to mystic lenses. I explore how the use of metaphor both anthropomorphises and governs programming and systems design in ways that involve irrational thought systems, such as those associated with mysticism and superstition. The interplay between metaphor and the physical actualities of computational structures has informed my research in making the iterative networked video installations Summoning the Nereid Nerdz (2017) Access Remote Fervour (2018) and Dense Bodies and Unknown Systems (2021). How is the invisible and the unknown shaped by cultural attitudes? In contrast to conceptions of cloud technologies as being formless, quantised, wireless or ephemeral, I discuss how twenty-first century data architectures are housed and maintained by centuries old infrastructures, replete with excessive power draws and pollution. In jarring contrast to common conceptions of computing as an emblem of rationalist innovation, many core processes carry out functions that are unknown, invisible, impractical and confusing.
This paradox of the visible and the invisible in network architectures, of form and formlessness, and of rationality and wilful blindness in understanding computation was the premise for my development of Summoning the Nereid Nerdz (2017), Access Remote Fervour (2018) and Dense Bodies and Unknown Systems (2021). In a 21st century context where art schools are being cannabalised and dissolved into larger amorphic institutional hybrids whilst, simultaneously, computer engineering faculties are staking claim as the rightful centres for creativity and imagination, this paper posits that historically informed creative research remains a formidable toolkit in understanding this current moment of the connected condition.
- Biography: Ella Barclay is a contemporary artist, writer and lecturer at Australian National University. Working across installation, sculpture, performance, electronics and moving image, she maps the terrestrial aesthetics of network architectures and the politics of computation. Recent exhibitions include The Ramsay Art Prize, Art Gallery of South Australia (2021) Experimenta Make Sense: International Triennial of Media Art (2017-2020), Soft Centre, Casula Powerhouse (2018), Light Geist, Fremantle Art Centre (2017), Bodies Go Wrong, Orgy Park, NY (2016), That Which Cannot Not Be, Vox Populi, Philadelphia (2016), Almost, Instant 42, Taipei (2016), I Had to Do It, UTS Art, Sydney (2016). Her work resides in numerous government, institutional, corporate and private collections.
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