Conversations
with Computers

Symposium
17th && 18th of November 2021
18:00 - 21:00
Kunstuniversität Linz
Domgasse 1, 1.OG
Audimax
Exhibition
10th => 19th of November 2021
Mo => Fri | 10:00 - 18:30
Kunstuniversität Linz
Domgasse 1, EG
WHA Gallery
Workshops
Building the Zombie Cloud
12th => 13th of November 2021
12:00 - open End
Serving Sounds
19th November 2021
14:00 - 18:00

Conversations with Computers is a 2-day Symposium organized by the net culture initiative servus.at in cooperation with the Department of Time-based Media of the University of Art and Design Linz. The symposium addresses contemporary artistic research in the field of AI, focusing on new languages that emerge between humans and machines, but also how work and communication are facilitated through technological means. The discursive event is accompanied by two workshops and an exhibition of artistic works produced during the Silicon Friends Camp, a 5-days retreat with 15 artists in the austrian alps that took place last summer.

Conversations with Computers is a 2-day Symposium organized by the net culture initiative servus.at in cooperation with the Department of Time-based Media of the University of Art and Design Linz. The symposium addresses contemporary artistic research in the field of AI, focusing on new languages that emerge between humans and machines, but also how work and communication are facilitated through technological means.
When we talk about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning today, we must not forget the enormous amount of human labor that is hidden in seemingly autonomous systems. Behind every computer program are an immense amount of people who make it possible, and whose presence, in most cases, stays hidden behind the interface. Moreover, these AI systems are built upon an extractivist logic that inherits and reproduces harmful social biases in their statistical weights. Artists, critical designers, and researchers are playing a central role in excavating AI systems by exposing the work that flows into the creation of large datasets and their refinement.
By stepping back and exploring the codes and symbols we use to create instructions for machines, artists and programmers are fundamentally questioning the desire for efficiency embedded within the act of programming computers. What is discussed under the label of 'Esoteric programming languages' breaks away from the norms of computing and create novel languages and styles with strange syntax and twisted logic. Within these fringes of programming languages, we can find a desire to untangle and obfuscate the building blocks of human-computer interaction, while critical code studies are articulating discourse around feminist, decolonial, indigenous, and queer approaches to AI and the Human.
With forthcoming large language models, new conversational agents are emerging, which distill scraped websites into stochastic parrots. They lead to advancements, which enable more natural forms of interaction between humans and computers.
A look into the future suggests that we will soon be living with anthropomorphized computers, which are designed with an obedient personality that mimics empathy and emotion. Current models of voice computer interfaces already simulate personalities to gain a user’s trust. Designers are optimizing for approachability, efficiency, and by all means, to avoid friction. Yet, at the fringes of computation, we can find points of friction, and exploitation, but also new experiments and poetic communication.
Taking examples from esolangs and analytical design practices, how do we envision new critical interfaces between humans and machines? How do we navigate through our increasingly computational environments with our silicon-based friends?

Day 1
Computers all the way down

While computing finally has become ubiquitous, it has fragmented as well. Today, it appears in countless forms, pretending to be usable, tangible, intelligent, natural, and human. At the same time, user behavior is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from computation. Humans appear as software extensions, as appendages to machines. On the other hand, the stunning achievements of computation themselves often turn out to be forms of hidden human labor. If we assume that it is indeed “computers all the way down” it might be time to ask what a computer actually is – and to return to the roots of the term.

Lasse Scherffig is an artist and researcher with a focus on interaction, cybernetics and the complex relationship of humans, machines and society. He teaches Interaction Design at Köln International School of Design and has taught at San Francisco Art Institute, Bauhaus University Weimar, and Academy of Media Arts Cologne. His work has been published and exhibited internationally.

<-- human-driven condition
On the Relationship Between Shiny Interfaces and Precarious Work

The premise of automation and a post-work future seems irresistible. While the automation discourse steers in the direction of technological inevitability and the replacement of human work, its underlying infrastructures expose a very different picture. This talk reflects on the hidden labour within computational systems and critically explores the narrative of automation's technocratic fantasies, which hides the human and their labour behind a precisely positioned technological determinism, trying to draw them obsolete. The accompanied works find great inspiration within the field of digital anthropology and take a cultural approach: they treat the lived experiences of people involved in the production of necessary datasets and automated engagement as the subject for theorising the complicated structures of contemporary digital capital.

Conrad Weise is a Cologne/Cluj based artist and researcher. In his work he looks at socio-political settings where he locates computation and its implications. Through investigative and computational approaches from within these systems, his works attempt to contextualise the intransparent and uncertain arrangements. His current research focuses in particular on the hidden labour and automated engagement within computational systems.

XOXO – DBFF*!?
Emotional Machines

Imagine it's 2040, and you are living together in a collaborative network of diverse digital entities. The project "How are you, my digital friend?" investigates the possibilities of inscribing the "vibrant matter" (Bennet, 2020) of "emotions" (Damasio, 2011) in a socio-technical interface in HCI. Living and working in coexistence with digital actants means that we begin an intimate relationship with them. In this fiction, digital actants can show us their emotion and react emotionally to a particular situation. Emotions are part of the human experience and play a significant role in our life, (maybe) even more extensive than the rational one.
According to the repertoire of the emotional digital machines, the interaction can vary greatly. A subtle-dominant thing is more likely to show its anger and rage if faced with an unpleasant situation. In contrast, a submissive-friendly thing is more likely to react anxiously to the same problem. The emotional repertoire of a thing and the definition of emotional triggers/appeals involves inscribing cultural values and socio-political aspects.
What sorts of emotions/moods are relevant for interaction in the coexistence of humans and machines?
*Digital Best Friends Forever

Marianne Lechner is a specialist in user experience. She teaches UX/UI as an associate professor at the Institute of Visual Communication of the University of Art and Design Linz. Together with Tina Frank and Sabine Kienzer, she developed splace magazine – a digital multi-format of the University of Art and Design Linz for interactive art encounters in space, word and image. In the last 4 years, her focus has been on communication between people and the Internet of Things. (IoT). At the moment she is working on her PhD which deals with the simulation of an emotional repertoire in a smart living context. 

NOT ALLOWED FOR ALGORITHMIC AUDIENCES

A big number of audiences online nowadays is mainly algorithms. Algorithms are trained on the auditory information, that is produced and uploaded by humans. In the video 'Not allowed for algorithmic audiences', an Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA), situated in the extremely hot city of Athens in Greece, exhibits an odd behavior. They borrow an avatar and appear before their users. For a brief period of time, for seven consecutive days before they shut down for ever and end up in an e-waste, the IPA goes into seven monologues. During their length of operation, they have managed to scan the entire contents of the Internet and gather all sorts of information, information that they long to share. The IPA uses their seven brief monologues as an opportunity to introduce themselves, talk about their skills, their ancestors, their anatomy and origins, and about voice and its significance. They reveal data regarding the listening infrastructure as well as the social dysfunctions on which their programming and operation are based. Just before they reach the end of their monologues, in a final effort to reconcile humans and machines, they share tips with humans on how they can manage… not to be heard by algorithms

Kyriaki Goni is an Athens born and based artist. Working across disciplines and technologies, she creates multimedia installations. She connects the local with the global by critically touching on questions of surveillance, distributed networks and infrastructures, ecosystems, human and other than human relations. Her works get exhibited worldwide in solo and group shows. Recent solo shows were presented at Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens; Aksioma, Ljibjana; Drugo More, Rijeka. Recent group shows 13th Shanghai Biennale, Ars Electronica2021, Modern Love (or the Lone in the Age of Cold Intimacies) etc. She has published in Leonardo and Neural Magazine and presented at conferences such as ISEA and SIGGRAPH. She is a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts with an MA in Digital Arts, before that she had pursued a BA and an MSc in Cultural Anthropology and Developmental Sociology from Leiden University.

Day 2
Deny usability, explore possibility
Delving into the world of Esoteric Programming Languages

Deliberately weird programming languages made their first appearance in the 70’s, when many of the computational concepts and paradigms taken for granted today were still being formed and explored. Today, even though there is a wide variety of programming languages available, only a small fraction of them explores what is beyond the conformant models of what could be considered our day-to-day human-computer interaction, usually because their highly experimental and challenging qualities prevents them from being introduced to a larger public or incorporated by the software industry.
This niche but prolific community introduces programmers, artists, computer scientists, linguists and the curious to new possibilities that challenge and subvert the preconceived notions of high-performant, westernized, and English-spoken rules of computation, incessantly pushing the boundaries on the limits of computation, representation and logic systems, inspiring us to see how radically different computation could have been – and may become - with the interesting languages that are yet to be found.

Mariana Marangoni is a Brazilian artist and researcher based in London, whose work explores the materiality of media and new forms of narrative. Her interdisciplinary practice takes many forms, from web-based experiments to sculptural installations. Recent work has been focused on critical explorations of the Internet crisis, the aesthetics of decay in digital media, and the potentialities of esoteric programming languages in arborescent structures. She holds a MA in Interaction Design at the London College of Communication and is currently an Associate Lecturer at the University of the Arts London and a part of the Supra Systems Studio as a Research Assistant.

Beyond Runnability:
Conceptual and Impossible Languages

Esolangs are experiential art: the nature of a language is revealed by programs exploring its logic and eccentricities. So it seems very odd to deliberately create an esolang that has no valid programs. Yet there are many esolangs that exist as pure idea-art; those that can run only in our heads. These include self-contradictory rulesets, ambiguous languages, or perfectly well-defined ones that only run on computers that break the physical laws of our universe. By refusing to acquiesce to runnability, these esolang offer the sharpest critique of how we define language, code, and computer.

Daniel Temkin makes images, programming languages, and interactive pieces that use the machine as a place of confrontation between logic and human irrationality. His blog and research project esoteric.codes documents work engaging with the text of code, including experimental programming languages, code art, and other systems that break from the norms of computing. It was the 2014 recipient of the ArtsWriters.org grant, further developed at the New Museum's New Inc tech incubator in 2018, and exhibited at ZKM in 2018 - 2019. He has published in Leonardo and World Picture Journal and presented at conferences such as SXSW, GLI.TC/H, and SIGGRAPH. His work has been a critic's pick for Art News and the New York Times. 

No More Smooth Art

Contemporary computer art is smooth — from the characteristic look and transformations of GANs to the ongoing pursuit of higher resolutions and faster processes. In this way, even critical art’s aesthetics can serve support the ideology of AI as all-seeing facilitator of a better future, rather than as the bias-laundering facilitator of a brutal capitalism — one in which the actual is subsumed by the probable. This talk will briefly outline examples of the former before considering optional ways to work with computers that reveal their weak points and limitations, and reconfigure the relationship between machines and people away from the current mechanization-as-progress teleology.

Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo is an artist, programmer, and erstwhile data designer. Her practice centers around methods to make computers and data more humane — more accessible, more flexible, more contextual. Her works include data-obscured art sites, new computer languages, and hybrid nostalgia machines. She’s an alumna of the School for Poetic Computation, Recurse Center, Brown University, and NYU Tandon.

Expressing the generic: after post-internet art

Natalya Serkova recently suggested that we're seeing a trend in the newest corners of the art world that tries to go beyond the post-internet label. In my talk, I will try to engage with her statement through the artistic practice of Slovenian artist Matej Mihevc and his newest project defnot_abot. In his project, Mihevc scrapes the images from different Instagram artists associated with the post-internet art, and then, in the second step, the collected dataset is accessed by a generative adversarial network (GAN) that through the established latent space selects a random coordinate each day, from which the image is generated and then published to the defnot_abot Instagram account. I will argue that in Mihevc practice we see a potential for a new kind of aesthetic expression, i.e. the generic. I will try to substantiate this claim with additional examples from Spotify and Balenciaga to Tzvetnik curatorial practice and explain in what way are these approaches different. How are they positioned in terms of meaning making, intentionality, artistic expression and the talk of the posthuman.

Maks Valenčič is finishing his Master's degree in Communication Science at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana, and will soon be a Research Fellow at The New Centre for Research & Practice. He's a managing editor of Šum: journal for art and theory-fiction and a co-founder of Fast Right blog. His main theoretical interests revolve around accelerationism, neorationalism and non-standard philosophy. 

Ekheo is a duo, formed by Aude Langlois and Belinda Sykora, that explores the crosslines of the musical, visual and sonic art of performance. Equipped with synthesizers, microphones, instruments and projectors, Ekheo creates a transcendent and dreamlike ambient, that drags viewers and listeners onto a psychedelic trip and expands one's perception of sound and vision. Each performance is unique, since improvisation, adaption to surroundings and communication between each other is key to the world of Ekheo. Nonetheless, there is an overall thread and distinctive approach, that carries each performance. They are occasionally joined by the jamaican-born and New York-raised Rodger Brown, who works as a multidimensional artist in Berlin and takes care of the visual aspect of Ekheo.  Aude and Belinda met at university, while studying “Sound Studies” at the Berlin UdK (Universität der Künste). They are both dedicated and experienced musicians, that focus on interdisciplinary art. Although they are both multi-faceted artists, Belinda focusses on binaural sound walks, sound installations, radio plays and performances, while Aude works on the interceptions of music, sound design and technology. Before they met, Belinda was a studied actress in Vienna, while Aude finished “Music and Musicology” at the Sorbonne University in Paris. This concert is the sonic trace of the silicon friend camp and our ongoing research about the voice, improvisational music and AI. 

The event will be hybrid online only and you will find a stream and chatroom on this page.

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Camping with Computers

10th–19th November 2021
Kunstuniversität Linz
Domgasse 1
WHA Gallery

Opening 10th November 2021, 18:00
Opening time: Monday-Friday 10:00-18:30

With: Błażej Kotowski, Dasha Ilina, EKHEO (Aude Langlois & Belinda Sykora), Erica Jewell, Lina Schwarzenberg, Maks Valenčič, Mariana Marangoni, Naoto Hieda, Sebastian Mira, So Kanno, Yuxi Liu, Matthias Pitscher, Giacomo Piazzi, Hess Jeon, Davide Bevilacqua

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For participation in presence a 3G proof (vaccinated, recovered, tested) as well as a registration in our form is necessary. The number of participants is limited. Participants are asked to wear a mask during the workshop.

Building the Zombie Cloud
12th-13th November 2021
from 2pm, open end (both days)
Hardware Hacking Workshop with Chipp Jansen
ExPostMusik 4.OG

register now   Max 10 participants.

The world is becoming littered with old mobile phone discarded as “upgrade” culture entices us to the shiny latest thing and obsolete Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets which turn into useless plastic bricks when their dependent cloud services go dark as the start-up fails and goes bankrupt.  In addition, while manufacturers are increasingly locking and securing the devices we have “purchased”, the right to repair movements aim to re-use these electronics in new and surprising ways.  The first step towards this culture of circular use is to be able to re-purpose a device for general purpose computation.  In this “hardware hacking” workshop, we will look at a typical IoT internet security camera and discover how to talk to it and re-program it for our own customised uses.  The spirit of this workshop is to also to generate ideas for an eventual system for combining discarded electronics into a re-usable general purpose computational system.  No previous hardware or software “hacking” experience is necessary for this step-by-step workshop, and all the necessary supplies will be provided.

Chipp Jansen is a PhD candidate in Robotics at King's College London researching human-robotic interaction in in visual arts. In the past, he has worked as a creative computing consultant and interdisciplinary artist in the areas of data visualisation, information aesthetics, interactive installation, and computational architecture.  Previous projects include exhibiting a light-enhanced sculpture (Tampa Public Mood Ring), a cartographic Rorschach generator for Turbulence.org’s Net Art Commission (Invisible Influenced), and experimental fabrication research involving carbon fibre architectural composites.  In addition, he has taught students of computer science, fine arts and architecture in the US and in the UK, most recently at Brunel University and King's College London.

Serving Sounds
19th November 2021, 14:00-18:00
Zeitbasiertes Wohnzimmer 4.OG

Canceled

“Serving sounds” - A listening session and compositional workshop with Ekheo The server room is a place carrying other seemingly endless digital spaces. We can experience it as a trace of online files and data it stores. How does this mysteriously layered space sound? Is there a way to give it a sonic materiality through the way we listen to it? This is what we would like to attempt with you in this workshop. Divided in two parts, we will do a guided listening session in the morning and produce a collective sonic composition in the afternoon.
What do you need? For the morning listening session: Paper and pens of your choice For the Afternoon production session: A computer with a DAW and headphones (audacity is free for mac and windows)

supported by

servus.at timebased media Kunstuniversität Linz Land Oberösterreich Bundeskanzleramt Stadt Linz