Am not much of a writer, nor an art crit, more of someone who keeps asking “art?” and perhaps unable to see/perceive/imagine much beyond that trajectorial reflection of the self. Perhaps this is worth mentioning because it seems that from a beginning of promising to outlay an idea re Erica Scourti’s Life in AdWords, I think the text will move to a more personal sphere..
However, lets go!
James Benning, some years ago, did an autobiography made of youtube clips, YouTube Trilogy. I think the idea was/is/will-be that there is a certain inflection by the media that becomes us. Have noted that work due to some elements of my own evolving autobiographical experiences. Many people think of me as a Jew, or a member/heavily-linked to that religion/culture/ethnic-group-when-if-convenient, just because I was born in a Palestinian Jewish Tel-Avivian context. However, I have always, since about 7-8yo, countered these arguments by claiming an infinite – or un-countable – influences by all sorts of cultures, societies and ideas via media such as books, tv, radio, music, conversations, and indeed these very exchange modes. (..internet came later..)
The other day, when I began noting elements to write re Erica’s stuff, I couldn’t imagine writing the bit above, however, when I received an email from Erica earlier today informing of a sort of link to that James Benning’s work via a showing in http://incounter.eu/, perhaps my mind was too weak for countering what seemed like an inevitability.
Inevitability is, in a sense, a logic, an algorithm – e.g. if X do Y then follow by Z, or else whistle. Once you gave me a coffee I had to add sugar which triggered my diabetes, a certain event had to happen and due to overwhelming circumstances it was out of my hands. Inevitably requires weakness to exist. I could have been more insistent, strong, but it seemed futile.
Erica however, might have had a different algorithm, an overall algorithm for the portrait of her world/life via AdWords. An algorithm that might went like: if you do AdWords each month for 12 months, it will be rather interesting. A simple algorithm, nothing fancy, but one non-the-less, and the 1st thing that seemed noticeable for me was the trajectory gap she allowed to be created between that intentional algorithm and the reality that popped up. In that reality, Erica did 10, instead of 12 months, due to circumstances she chose not to elaborate upon. In my mind this is beautiful, however, in context of the portrait that is rising from Life in AdWords, it seems more important/significant than that – the 10 instead of 12 months became, immanent to the project’s aesthetics. The overall gap between algorithmically expressed intent and life, mirrors the micro, the daily gap between life and the expression of google’s algorithms via adwords. Well, at least in my mind, as I appreciate the whole 10 instead of 12 months perhaps was not entirely intentional. (However, unintentional are the cracks in the “original” large glass, or the missing arms of Venus, etc..)
The video shows Erica reading from google’s adwords as they appear on, presumably, a gmail account. These adwords represent algorithms that track Erica’s gmail “life”. A life presented to the algorithms via her activities linked to and from that account and texts within her emails.
The visual perspective of the videos, seems to be from the screen out. The trajectory of the viewer is as if s/he is on Erica’s screen, as if we the viewing public are the algorithms the outcomes of which Erica reads. This, I think is significant because it places us in the mirror for Erica, and by mirroring her, we – like her – become the bio-organic distance between life of a space-time bio-organic entity and that of entities with algorithmical nature.
The present Erica’s portrait of life via adwords presents us with is, in my view, a way to imagine beyond the constraints of algorithms. The very distance between us the viewers/bio-organic-people, Erica/bio-organic-person and the digitality of algorithms, represented by the adwords, is both the very seduction for using them – i.e. easily automated and operated, unlike bio-organic stuff – and the horror of usage – i.e. the algorithmic outcome Is taken “seriously” in the social, financial, decision-making dimensions, and so they have “real life” effects. In that sense, the algorithms are Draculian, vampiric, they offer a seductive horror that comes to life in the darkness of automated operations – when such operations are being likened to bio-organic life.
Hence, the times when Erica seems a bit tired, felt for me uncanny. Is she about to bite? Has she been bitten? The 10 months out of 12, gives the feeling of former rather than latter, and at any rate, part of that tension between the life of the living and that of the automated decision making algorithm. A sleek, smooth, simple, attractive entity that lives by biting into, getting inside, other entities’ lives, so it, the restricted yet beautiful algorithm can live!
The bite, that of a vampire, or perhaps a zombie, turns the bitten space-time-based bio-organic into the living-dead entity that has popped out of space-time and, a bit like some culture products, acts, ideas and rituals, is timeless in space.
There is a requirement for a bite, an exchange-mode, between the living-dead and the bio-organic entities which is based upon intent. A will. An energy that perhaps can negotiate the way it exchanges stuff between various potential inevitabilities. (Sounds oxymoronic, but perhaps it isn’t from the perspective of an inevitability as a sort of an aesthetic entity that can be negotiated with. ie what makes an entity inevitable is taking the submission exchange-mode between yourself and that inevitable entity.. As I demonstrated at the beginning with seemingly-not-yours-autobiographical type entity..)
James Benning’s autobiography was/is, in my view, an aesthetic of arbitrary choices in the sense that while they might have their own internal logic, the choices and their reason – if any – are not at the forefront. Indeed they are a possible desire and seduction elements for viewers to delve into and explore in speculative terms of “what the artist might have meant”. Or how does it feel for me, an audience member, to be bitten/affected by these elements which the artist was bitten by. Hence allowing, for example, a possible re-experience of the works used in this autobiographical journey.
Erica’s work, while exercising an individual choice and using personal cues from the web, like in Benning’s autobiography, through the usage of expressions by algorithms from an algorithmic point-of-view, presents a shift – or is a part of a shift – that is very different aesthetically from the kind Benning’s work seems to be a part of, in a way that, I think, perhaps points towards a different kind of aesthetics.
Unlike “New Aesthetics” which refers to a rather old usage of the term “aesthetics”, in a reference to visual representational sensibilities which bind various kinds of approaches, am attempting to consider here new kind of trajectory that might take us beyond the binaristic aesthetic paradigm which is concerned with presentation/representation, life/dead, art/life. By “elevating” the object/s – in this case algorithms – from mere inanimate objects to a being, from mere elements we might use, to entities we interact with, the Life in Adwords gains space & time. An elasticity – perhaps plasticity? – that at least points towards an aesthetic exploration from within the elements of the project. The focus is not on object/project/thing, but on a sort of aesthetics that emerge, maybe evolve – sensations, desires and interactions – between Erica, the public, the algorithms, the period, the rhythms of “takes”, and the new whole that is created/being_born.
In a sense, the project creates a new space-time_based entity. I don’t think this entity is alive yet because, it seems to exist in aesthetics/sensibilities of meanings, intents, personal and cultural desires, presentations and representations. However, from my point of view, which might, somehow ironically and maybe even self defeatingly, be all too personal, there is a feeling that a different kind of sensibility – sensual ability, potential, trajectory – is attempting to break out of the old. My life as Adwords, by questioning the affects of the aesthetics which produce Adwords, refuses to accept their premise and points at a possible different way.
It is uncunning, in my mind, that such a strong feeling comes via visual-time based project rather than a code, a split gene soup, or something to that effect.
I think that the portrait of Erica’s life via Adwords, perhaps by the fact that in its nature, it is of-a-being, and questioning the automation in our lives, seems to point towards a technology of art, rather than a technological art, and an art which, while being of a human experience/life, is not, at least, necessarily human-centric. Maybe even beyond the very question of the centrality, or otherwise, of being a human?