Recently, Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center’s Executive Director Maiko Tanaka began thinking about the institution’s present mission and what Squeaky’s mission could look like 300 years from now. This thought experiment took the form of a series of questions: What do you fear about technology today? What do you desire from technology today? What do you need from technology today from both an individual perspective and a collective perspective? These questions of the future begin to inform the frame within which Yvette Granata’s first solo exhibition – #d8e0ea: post-cyberfeminist datum – could be understood. What can we do about the technology today, and what can we attempt to anticipate in the technology of the future, as an unfurling from our current desires and anxieties.
Concurrently, the most pressing point within Granata’s exhibition is the responsibility to look forward, and the anxiety with which tomorrow’s vision can so often be met. The most direct piece within the exhibit is a storefront display on the Main Street entrance to Squeaky Wheel helmed by an Alexa-enabled device, a Siri-enabled device, and a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed by the artist, named Evie. The piece, Hello Evie (2018), shouts prompts to both Alexa and Siri, causing them to argue, engage in conversation, get stuck in conversation loops, and even pull up Youtube videos on an attached television screen. The piece unmasks the imperfections within our digital assistant led culture, while also engaging in a critique of female, femme-voiced digital assistants, existing as proverbial genies at our beck and call.
Hello Evie offers prompts such as “send a message to the future”, or “create and operating system that doesn’t suck”, and these vague directives begin to highlight the imperfect nature of so much of the AI of daily life. Importantly, the conversation between Alexa, Siri, and Evie can be livestreamed at any time through the run of the exhibition, playing off of the uneasy junction between humans and AI, while also gesturing toward the fear of surreptitious eavesdropping on behalf of our digital assistants.
The bulk of #d8e0ea: post-cyberfeminist datum is found within the Squeaky Wheel gallery proper, with a single wall given over to Womxn with a Google API (2018). This piece is a desktop documentary moving through a fictional cyberfeminist design office, and jumping between cubicles, computer screens digging through banks of images which interrupt Google’s machine vision, as well as footage from the United States Senate’s hearings investigating the misuse of Facebook user data in conjunction with the 2016 presidential campaign. The created space within the piece begins to visually demonstrate the siloing off of data across the internet, and how it is broken down into finer and more minute components.
Directly opposite Womxn with a Google API is XDDDDDDDD (2017-18); a double-screen video which cycles through both images which seek to disturb or flummox the capacities of machine vision. One screen cycles through representations and glitches of bodies, highlighting everyday objects which trigger nudity censorship across social media; this screen also moves through data sets collected by the artist, as a means of training (or diluting) machine vision against authentic representation and recognition control. The second screen echoes thematic elements of Womxn with a Google API, jumping between 3D scans of of the artist’s body and a slurry of HTML coding awash in rainbow hues of color and undulating waves, thus making visible a visual disturbance to aforementioned machine vision by working against the very skeleton of its abilities.
These pieces lean into what is known as steganography, or the ability of encoding something without actually encrypting it. This is a significant theme within the exhibit and is evident within even the exhibition’s title, which is a hexadecimal code for a pale shade of blue that escapes machine recognition and works beneath legibility, and reads as the word “data”.
The most provocative work within the exhibit won’t be found on any screen, however. In a vitrine between the aforementioned artworks are a suite of thumb drives glittering within glass vials, which recall both lab samples and Catholic objects of reverence culled from the bodies of martyrs. For this piece #d8e0ea (2018), Granata has collected all available data about herself from the internet in the event of its inevitable collapse, destruction, or the obliteration of specific sets of data in the wake of internet neutrality being repealed. This gesture moves beyond the simple act of hoarding, and Granata instead reconfigures her personal data for potential future scenarios and data emergencies. Writing in the exhibition pamphlet Granata explains:
“In the event of the AI apocalypse, whereby killer robots aim for their targets based upon current recognition categories for humans, these data-sets subvert current identity categories and human-machine categories. They can be broken in case of emergency, and used for aiding the reprogramming of machine recognition categories gone awry.”
This planning for multiple possibilities within the future reflects not only a decentralizing of humans supplanted by technology, but by planning for every potential future allows the viewer into a space with technology that may not yet exist, and fears that have not come to pass. Granata’s exhibition advances the cyberfeminist history of women operating on the front lines of technology, and using this tech to anticipate tomorrow’s needs. It may have been Mark Zuckerberg who invented Facebook, but it is artists like Granata who will be able to tap into its latent potential, in much the same way Mary Shelley foresaw the horrors of Frankenstein’s monster from the long shadow of Guttenberg’s press.
Yvette Granata is an artist, media theorist and current PhD candidate at the University at Buffalo. #d8e0ea: post-cyberfeminist datum is on view until August 25, 2018 at Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center. More information, along with events tied to the exhibition can be found at www.squeaky.org.