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April 30, 2018 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Hive Mind

Hive Mind is an exhibition realised through a conversation in images between Laura Duffy and Maddy Plimmer, facilitated by Sean Burns.

Softly droning TV screens emit rotating, highly textured surfaces of organic forms. Familiar yet indecipherable, the forms are like a language one once spoke but no longer comprehends. The indeterminate surfaces tease the viewers mind they seem to develop into clearer realisation, only to disintegrate into pixelated nothingness. On the floor lie two complementary images constructed by artificial intelligence from what they knowof our visual reality. Although these initially appear to be low resolution nature photographs, the blurred contours and general lack of sharpness are in fact a result of the bots limited familiarity with the details of a natural landscape or cosmic formation.

Employed here to interpret the central videos, is a system that employs deep learning to intelligently decode images with a near-human level of accuracy. Created by Microsoft Cognitive Services, it identifies images fed to it based on the stores of visual information it has been fed previously. It then captions your image in a way that mimics human speech. Microsoft calls these increasingly humanised responses to data natural methods of communication in their product advertisement.Im not confident but it looks like a body of wateris one of the captions projected via a third TV screen and a neon blue holographic fan protruding from one of the white walls. The first person pronoun leads the viewer to assume that a person is making the aforementioned judgement call. Creepy. Though not as creepy as it would be if the hologram werent accommodated by a small box and usb that inevitably expose the ghostly letterings source. This is not to say that the artist failed in their intent to produce a desired effect; rather, the physical presence of technological objects like wiring, as well as the malfunctioning of one of the exhibitions digital interfaces, reflects the current weight of technological impediments in our daily experience. Instead of a Black Mirror-esque vision of the future, in which intelligent systems are implanted in eyes and taken for granted (to perilous effect), Hive Minds surreal visuals are ultimately grounded in todays technological realities.

The logic that connects the central video works with a group of flame-less, flickering LED lamps cast into butt-plug silhouettes isn’t immediately apparent. In a time of endless imagery, what tools can we use to communicate outside of words? What is understood and what is missed?asks the exhibition text. The disjunction between the works is surely a natural result of the artists’ wordless conversation, and makes for entertaining viewing regardless.

After about five minutes with the screens I managed to tentatively identify oysters and a mould of a face caked in cracking layers of a clay-like substance, impossibly clear honey being drizzled, and perhaps a microscopic cross-section of blood cells. How long did it take the to recognise forms within these visuals compared to my distracted human brain? What is the comparative accuracy of image recognition between a human and machine brain? Sometimes the professed hyper-efficiency of artificial intelligence systems fails to translate when employed in mundane, everyday tasks. They also make mistakes. The incorporation of bots in HiveMind gives us a sense of the futuristic direction that technology is moving in, but also an idea of the stage were in at the moment one that carries the promise of a more efficient future, but a promise that may be overstated by its creators.

Hive Mind is on at The Engine Room until 10 May, at the School of Art, College of Creative Arts, 63 Wallace Street, Entrance C, Block 1 Wellington.

You can see the conversation in images between the artists at

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