Residency: January-February 2008
My residency at sculpture space allowed to complete two projects, a public billboard titled Who owns you? and an electronic installation titled Captivated. Neither piece would have been possible without the space, time and funding Sculpture Space offered.
Who owns you? was printed on a billboard two blocks from sculpture space along the State St. exit ramp. The piece is simple and conceptual; it simply asks passersby, Who owns you? The words are written in the unmistakable style of the Google logo, raising questions about the nature of information ownership, internet privacy, and new marketing techniques. In addition to the public billboard display I had the opportunity to show documentation of the billboard process in an exhibit at SUNYIT, the local technical institute.
I have been wanting to do a billboard piece for years, but never could pull together the funding to rent one before. I am very grateful to Sculpture Space for the opportunity to make this vision a reality.
Captivated is an installation which was constructed in one of the Sculpture Space installation rooms. When the viewer enters the room they are greeted first by a strongly earthy smell, and second by a strange series of sounds, vaguely harmonic, vaguely mechanical. The room is filled with shredded hardwood mulch and at the center stand a small plywood shed. The door has a lock on it, but the key sits beside it, beckoning the viewer to enter. The shed has no windows, but on the back side a single pipe is twisting out with a face to the windows of the encapsulating room above.
Upon taking the key, opening the lock and entering the shed, the viewer is left in almost total darkness and surrounded by the resonating frequencies of the wood beams comprising the sheds structure. A solitary circle of light filters in from the pipe outside, and a softly glowing orb illuminates a structure of stainless steel and wires. As their eyes adjust they begin to detect that the creature is actually moving ever so subtly. A rib cage and a heart expand and contract on asynchronous frequencies. Wires comprising the nervous system of the creature bind it to the walls and vibrate sympathetically, creating the sound initially heard upon entry.
The piece is a metaphor, or literalization of my current thoughts about the limitation and actual imprisonment of our media extensions. The creature has only a single light sensor, this one pixel of color is all it knows of the world, and the wires which connect it to the light pf the outside world also hold it back, preventing it from getting to close.
The billboard and the electronic installation are dealing with the same questions, asking the viewer to question their technological environment and the unintended consequences it has brought with it.
I have been interested in Artificial Life (Alife) since I learned how to program a computer. Right away I started playing with neural networks, genetic algorithms and artificial life. I built robots and explored ideas of emergence in language and collective behavior. The field immediately appealed to my artistic sensibility. Coming from a background in electronic art it seemed a natural path to explore. Conceptually, it takes John Cage's idea of indeterminacy and chance operations one step further; the work is not only free of the artist's hand, it actually has a life of it's own. In this way I am synthesizing the two quotations above to create an art form which abstracts nature's manner of operation as the seed of a new nature.
I approach to Alife as a conceptual artist. I begin with a subject I am interested in exploring; in this case the emergence of creativity. I research and experiment with the tools and media necessary to determine my own opinion and I present the process and outcome of the experiments as art. It is conceptual because the art is the idea itself. It is my concept of artificial creativity and a record of my work towards it. In other words, the art object is de-materialized and what remains is the evidence of process. It is in this sense research without development.
The fundamental question for me now is whether an artificial mind is possible, or mindfulness is a quality peculiar to human beings and human society. My goal is to examine how the theoretical nature of the human mind arises from the parallel distibuted system of the human brain, and derive what this might look like in the electronic nature of the machine. By working with a machine brain to abstract processes associated with the human concept of mind, I am hoping to better understand how seemingly undefinable concepts like "creativity" emerge and whether they are particular to humanity or applicable to our experience of and with machines as well.
About the Artist
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an electronic media artist who is interested in exploring new definitions of life through art as a dynamic form of public inquiry. Combining diverse media ranging from robotics to sound installation her work seeks to facilitate the emergence of autonomous systems as tools for education and expression. Examining the relationship between perceived intelligence and environmental abstraction, Heather creates frameworks embodied through situation, freed from the artist's hand.
Heather has displayed work at Third Ward, Galapagos, Artist Television Access, California College of the Arts, Dorkbot in San Francisco and New York, Tisch School of the Arts and Bennington College. She also writes a regular column for Servo magazine.
Heather has received grants from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Bennington Student Endowment for the Arts. She received a National Science Foundation award for the RESNA student design competition and ITP/TSOA as well as Tisch Achievement Scholarships from New York University. She has also been awarded artist residencies at the General Store gallery in Elk Horn Iowa and Sculpture Space in Utica New York.
Heather has a BA in multimedia arts from Bennington College and a Masters degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.