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James Irwin: Tapping the digital black box for signs of life


This project tracks the resuscitation of dead, flat digital sounds and images through the latent potential of electronic systems. If silicon-based life is evolving, and we are forced to widen biocentric definitions of what constitutes living matter, then what do we look and listen for to identify digital life? Which processes provide digital media with vitality? Through web-based artworks, artificial intelligence and computer generated sounds and images, the project works to probe at the aesthetic potential for silicon-based system-objects to inherit, from us, a life-like force.

I take a cybernetic approach throughout. When making digital sounds and images, I mine the black box of the machine for flickers and tendrils to hook onto as pathways of emergence to follow. In this sense, vitality is characterised by how it is channelled as visual and audio output through computer displays and audio speakers. These are the surface effects of complex underlying processes and interactions.

I've chosen the text-based language of computer programming to form and shape these electronic entities. Working in this way allows me to work with the building blocks of digital life in a similar way to how biological life can be modified through genetic engineering. I see the use of code in this context as intrinsically physical — code embodies matter in action. As scripts compile within machines, chains of physical processes are enacted that bring about the emergence of electronic beings as tangible, sensory forms through digital sounds and images. There is no software. The artworks that emerge can be seen as the flowering or fruiting of these inner, hidden workings; outward facing signifiers of inner electronic vitality. Like mushrooms to mycelium networks.

I work according to a cyborg methodology. As I work, the boundary between my body and the machine dissolves. In place of discrete, separate entities, a recombinant body is formed that merges human wetware with different forms of hardware, their mechanisms, and their combined intelligence. Within this cyborg body a transaction occurs between the wetware and hardware that channels the production of electronic life. At this vital time within the development of Artificial Intelligence, this project uses the critical time and space offered by Contemporary Art to meditate on the inter complexities of our relationship with machines. The carbon-silicon-based artworks that emerge from the project are born from these ways of working.

Deep Objekt [0]

For the Foreign Objekt residency I will be writing up the research by tracing the path that I have taken through the practice. As a 'contextual document', this writing will be developed through a series of blog posts published through the Posthuman Art site over the coming months. The posts will outline what I have found out during the course of this five year project and how I have come to make the discoveries that I have.

The journey of discovery distinct to the research has been woven by ideas spilling out from texts adjacent to the line of inquiry, via a back and forth relationship with computational technologies that has been guided by embodied intuitive decision making. The artworks have evolved through a symbiotic relationship with written theories and fictions, and key ideas from thinkers and authors have worked their way into the digital sounds and images in various ways. The philosophies and critical theories provided by the Foreign Objekt residency programme have so far been incredibly useful in helping to circumscribe the research - helping me to find its edges through ideas and philosophies that define what the work is and what it is not.

A murky overview of what lies within these edges can be found by clicking the image below, which links to the Miro diagram.

This video offers an informal outline of the research project as it is mapped through the diagram:

That's all for now. Future blog posts will focus on (and flesh out) the individual sections of the diagram, using the plans developed in the maps as scaffolding from which to build a contextual argument around.

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