Unknown algorithms at work

By Rhonda Dredge Anyone who has tried to book in for a Pfizer vaccination and spent three hours on the government website will have been at the mercy of an algorithm. Algorithms are complex binary formulas that govern most human/machine interactions. Some might see them as evil; others as ways of managing large amounts of data. Not all algorithms have a specific purpose. Looping digital videos may merely be beautiful or eye-catching or not even that. At the Guild building opposite the Victorian College of the Arts there is a little thought experiment involving digital videos displayed in the vitrines at Assembly Point. Even during the lockdown, the exhibitions change here and are always a cut above the laneway mural. Often the work is delightfully obscure, like the screens currently on display in Full Light. The viewer is encouraged to interpret the content of the screens as well as the silver linings in the glass boxes, both of which deal with patterns of reflected light. Do the two sources interact in a meaningful way? This is the question posed by the exhibition and the answer is no, except in the vitrine in which the mylar lining fills the box and acts as a textured bed for the video. Texture is an urban phenomenon loved by designers and there are some who use it to great effect, particularly the architects of the surrounding complex. The exhibition by Rhys Cousins and Lucy Maddox uses algorithms to explore the impact of light sources on each other, those filmed and those present. A text explains what the artists are doing with the feed to the screens, and this is quite stimulating. It is easy to be dismissive about text, but the commentary is an intelligent, if short, collection of jargon such as artificial intelligence, looping digital videos and algorithmic generation that is quite seductive in itself. Unfortunately, it is difficult to connect these terms with the actual visual content on display – random correlations of light patterns on Melbourne’s city surfaces with artificial intelligence. The work is not really about emotional engagement nor curiosity. In fact, it is quite distancing as if some foreign intelligence was playing games with the viewer. Artificial intelligence is technical, hidden and a welcome hideaway for the stray intellectual. It doesn’t try to explain itself or give a potted history of its own development. But in this exhibition, it does do the work of distraction and for that it should be applauded even if it doesn’t offer any insights •

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