Empathy Loading speculates on the future of feeling and explores the role empathy can play in how humans shape, cohabit and nurture their relationships with machines. Four invited artists responding to the brief have each submitted a creative ‘proposition’ for the project. Acting as unfinished sketches, these artworks reflect upon the interweaving of the synthetic and organic worlds. The emergence of new forms of caretaking and caregiving is at the forefront of their artistic enquiries. The emotional connections between humans and non-humans ground these works by Friendred, Elisa Giardina Papa, Vishal Kumaraswamy and Marie-Eve Levasseur. One submission, by Vishal Kumaraswamy, was selected to be developed further into the project’s main commission.
As part of the commissioning process for Empathy Loading, Vishal Kumaraswamy continues his investigation into the complex entanglements of the synthetic and organic worlds by developing his proposition #algofeels further. The addition of two new chapters – ADI and Sapience – offers a deeper insight into the evolution of relationships between neural networks and humans.
In the proposition #algofeels (2020), Vishal Kumaraswamy ascribes identity traits to an embedded neural network trapped within an assemblage of networked components. The network’s thoughts are derived from open-source machine learning tools, such as poetry bots and speech generators. #algofeels is a portion of a larger body of work that explores imagined dialogues between humans and machines rooted in the geographical context of a computer repair marketplace that Vishal Kumaraswamy frequents. In this excerpt, we hear a conversation unfolding between a programmed AI, dismembered from its physical body as it undergoes repairs, and the computer technician working on it. References are made to an existing bond as the AI cycles through past interactions and draws from its bank of speech generators to put forth cogent arguments for the decline in the health of this human-machine relationship. The ambiguity lies in whether the dialogue occurs in real time or if it is simply a figment of the technician’s imagination and is followed by an ‘inner monologue’ of the AI’s own neural engine. The cadence and choice of words used by the technician are seemingly his own, yet portions of it were generated via a text-based neural network [talktotransformer.com]. These, alongside the visuals, are meant to serve as a simulation of traversing the streets of the marketplace as gathered and interpreted by the very machine that is being repaired.
Chapter 2 begins by making the viewers perform simulated labour activities like those performed by the technician. Only upon completing a series of tasks, can they gain access to the film. In ADI, the neural network begins to show signs of sentience as understood by humans. The conversation is far more complex than in the previous chapter and it is able to display the traits and behaviours learned by observing the humans it has come into contact with. Narrated entirely in Kannada, the language of the repair technician, the non-human protagonist is able to explicitly state its opposition to being gendered and demonstrates the formation of an amalgamated identity. Over the course of the film, the viewers are also privy to the encoding of the socio-cultural reality of the technician onto the network and hierarchies are blurred as the neural network attains autonomy. The work makes explicit references to gender, language and indigeneity. It provides a glimpse into the need for subaltern futurism, one that is encoded in the initial stages of developing algorithms. The futurism in the film is addressing the lack of consideration to address diverse groups of users by technology and tech corporations today.
Sapience shifts timelines considerably and occurs as a nostalgic message relayed by the neural network to a terminally ill technician. Referencing a seminal moment in future history, the viewers discover an incredibly advanced algorithmic being. Questions are raised about the duty of care between humans and machines and the irrelevance of hierarchies now. Decades of machine misuse and neglect by humans has created newer forms of communication between machines and doubts are cast upon past desires to inhabit an anthropomorphic body.
Vishal Kumaraswamy is a new media artist and film-maker currently based in Bangalore, India. He has an MA in Photography from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Vishal’s work has been presented at the Venice Biennale’s Research Pavilion, Galeria-de Arte-Mexicano, Athens Digital Arts Festival, Birmingham Art Summit, Apex Art’s Savdhaan – Regimes of Truth and will shortly be exhibited at The Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. He is Programme Director at Walkin Studios [www.walkinstudios.com], an independent multidisciplinary art studio and project space, and founder of the international artist collective Now You Have Authority [nyhacollective.com], a collaborative practice through which he has curated exhibitions and residencies, and delivered workshops as part of Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange programme, Tanzfest Aarau and The Sluice Biennial. Vishal is currently an artist in residence with Contemporary Calgary’s In-Collider Program and is presenting his curatorial project at [www.the-lack-of.com] as part of The Wrong Biennale.
The Dwarven Brothers
Decisions (2020) is a series of augmented geological phenomena developed by Friendred in collaboration with algorithmic software. Cloud, Mist and Stalactite, each realised with a haunting dynamism, propose a techologised performance of future mediated landscapes. Intertwining the relationship between human and machine, Friendred mobilises the sensory apparatus of interactive systems with an encoded fragment of the natural world, where the resulting projection of spectral colour is entirely unpredictable. Through this process of intra-action, the fractal natures of the organic and artificial are nurtured to become a harmonious technological biosphere, capturing the kindred decisions, distinctions and temporalities between two disparate beings. These living fantasies act as empathetic gestures of how systems of mutual care can manifest in a shared embodied perception to envisage the co-creation and co-habitation of alternative environments.
Friendred is an installation and computational artist currently based in London. He is a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, researching the intertwined relationship between technology and performance arts in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). Since 2015, Friendred has been focused on disciplines crossing arts, technology and sciences. His recent work combines movement and algorithmic machines to explore sensory apparatuses and interactive systems and their relationship to embodiment, technologised performance and the architectural body. His work has been published on several design and technology platforms, including DesignBoom and CreativeApplications. He has won several prestigious awards, including the Shanghai Da Shi Award and the Bronze prize in the third Cultural and Creative Design Competition. His work has been exhibited at Tate Britain and The Design Museum.
‘Become the other, feel its body conditions and optimise your empathy.’ 🐙
surface 4.0 [chromatic chatter no.2] (2020) is an atmospheric teaser for a poetic tutorial, in which Marie-Eve Levasseur proposes a science-fiction narrative featuring a symbiotic extension, a becoming-octopus. This extension acts as an empathetic device that allows the wearer to share other beings’ sensoriums, translate hugs and cuddles from a distance, communicate emotions, have chromatic conversations or just show the involuntarily changing colours of one’s personality. Through exploring the role of the prosthetic skin as a site for human and non-human encounters, comparable in its role to interfaces in computing, Marie-Eve Levasseur envisages a future in which the anthropocentric ideas of general intelligence and communication are broadened to include sensorial ways of knowing and becoming with others. Taking inspiration from octopi colour-changing signalling systems, the artist advocates for technologies that could eradicate the idea of difference as a negative, and embrace more-than-human diversity at a time of blurring divisions between organic and synthetic worlds. surface 4.0 [chromatic chatter no.2] is accompanied by an augmented reality face filter available on Instagram. By trying on the symbiotic extension themselves, the viewers are encouraged to explore their ways of being with others in the networked reality.
As part of the proposition, Marie-Eve Levasseur also prepared an Instagram filter which can be accessed here.
Marie-Eve Levasseur lives and works in Leipzig, Germany. She completed a BA in Visual and Media Arts at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada, and obtained her Master’s and Postmaster’s diploma at the Academy of Visual Arts of Leipzig. Using diverse media and techniques like video, installation, sculpture and 3D animation, she questions the proximity of technological and organic surfaces in a post-human context as well as our perception of device-mediated content. Inspired by thinkers such as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti, her projects use speculative fabulation, imagined situations with fictive devices to open a space to reflect upon how we get along in the system we live in. Her works have been shown in many group exhibitions in Montreal, Berlin, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Zurich. In 2020, she received a research and creation grant from the KdFS (Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen), Germany.
Bot? Virtual Boyfriend/Girlfriend?
Elisa Giardina Papa
‘What’s an invisible boyfriend?
A digital version of a real boyfriend without the baggage.
Conversations are powered by real creative writers.’
Bot? Virtual Boyfriend/Girlfriend? created by Elisa Giardina Papa as part of the video installation Technologies of Care (2016), is based on a three-month-long text conversation with the ‘Invisible Boyfriend’, an online service in which a cluster of gig workers interchangeably pose as a single chatbot lover. The workers contracted by the Invisible Boyfriend company are part of an emerging class of precarious freelancers who labour between the crevices of artificial intelligence and automation. This video piece reframes the question of human empathy towards machines by focusing on the anonymous and invisible work performed by online caregivers, who are increasingly used as proxies and surrogates for artificial emotional intelligence systems. For this proposition, Elisa Giardina Papa has taken the opportunity to break apart the previous piece – Technologies of Care – expanding and reediting the conversation with the invisible boyfriend as a stand-alone piece for online fruition.
Elisa Giardina Papa is an Italian artist whose work investigates gender, sexuality and labour in relation to neoliberal capitalism and the borders of the Global South. Her work has been exhibited and screened at MoMA New York, Whitney Museum [Sunrise/Sunset Commission], Seoul Mediacity Biennale 2018, Unofficial Internet Pavilion of 54th Venice Biennial, XVI Quadriennale di Roma, [rhizome.org] [Download Commission], The Flaherty NYC and Institute for Contemporary Art Milano, among other venues. Elisa Giardina Papa received an MFA from RISD, and a BA from Politecnico of Milan, and is currently pursuing a PhD in film and media studies at the University of California Berkeley. She lives and works in New York and Sant’Ignazio (Sicily).
Artist in Conversation
Public Programme Information
Thank You! to everyone who joined us for this online conversation accompanying Empathy Loading between artist Vishal Kumaraswamy and Zarina Muhammad, co-founder of The White Pube. We hope that all attendees enjoyed this insightful look into the creative process behind Svāyattate (Autonomy) (2020) and the exploration of alter-global perspectives on the role empathy plays in shaping and nurturing relationships between humans and machines.
This conversation was held on Zoom and recorded. This recording is available to all interested parties via our social media platforms! More details can also be found on our Eventbrite page or follow @empathyloading on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for all updates.
Public Programme Information
From the 18th to the 21st of June 2020, artist and designer Amina Abbas-Nazari launched a dynamic experience exploring sound as a medium to create alternative futures with technology.
Participants were encouraged to create their own ‘sonic fictions’ by interacting with a fictional agency over the phone. Callers had an opportunity to respond to the sounds by leaving voice messages at the end of the call. Feedback and responses about the phone calls can be found on Empathy Loading’s social media handles.
The telephone experience provided callers the opportunity to explore the process of collaborating with machines and consider how the intertwining of collective voices and bodies together with digital technologies can formulate new ways to listen, be heard and communicate with each other.
The telephone number was advertised on the 18th of June. Registration link here to receive the number or follow @EmpathyLoading to stay updated!