SEMIA artist projects and Alien Visions (Pablo N. Palma & Bram Loogman, 2020)

As the SEMIA project has been completed, we gradually release a few more posts in which we share results and report on what we did and what we learnt during the project.

In the first two items that have appeared in this series (see here and here), members of the University of Amsterdam team reflected on what developments in the field of computer vision can do for access to moving image collections. In the upcoming posts, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences team will discuss their experience of building an interface on top of the functionality for image analysis that our computer scientist developed. Moreover, we share more info on the work and/or reflections resulting from four SEMIA-commissioned projects in which visual and sound artists use the data we generated in the feature analysis process, to devise more experimental alternatives for engaging audiences with the archival collections we sampled for our purpose.

In this third item, we introduce the artists we worked with in the project’s final stage and share a work that one of these collaborations resulted in – the video work Alien Visions (2020) by Pablo N. Palma and Bram Loogman.

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In the final stage of the SEMIA project – in which we began testing and experimenting with the results we had achieved through our feature extraction work – we involved a few artists more closely. The aim of doing so was to obtain an impression of how artists might imagine browsing and working with Eye’s and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s collection based on the data we had extracted. Through these collaborations we also hoped to discover alternatives to the interface we had devised ourselves. In total we collaborated with five artists – three individual artists and one artist duo – a couple of which had already been closely involved in the research process in the context of the workshop and symposium events we had organized in the project.

The Artists

The artists we commissioned to work with the material have backgrounds in the fine arts, film & video art and sound art. Artist Jason Hendrik Hansma (see Jason Hansma’s website here) incorporates a wide variety of different media (photography, sculpture, drawing, text, glass, video, and painting) and explores – to cite Hansma’s own presentation – “notions of the in-between, the liminal, and the nearly articulate”. In relation to especially Eye’s collection, this led Hansma to search for and explore material that in various ways shows the transition of bodies or fluid states – for instance images of water, shimmering surfaces or bodies moving in water. Moreover, Hansma’s work focusses on the transitional nature of film materials in the digitization and restoration process. We also collaborated with media scholar and artist Szilvia Ruszev (for more visit Silvia’s website here). Currently pursuing a PhD in Media Arts and Practice at UCLA, Ruszev’s work explores – among other topics – an interest in rhythm and montage in relation to classic film theory and recent film data visualization tools and strategies. Sound artist and programmer Adam Juraszek works with various sound sources – among other radio and broadcast sound snippets – that he processes in the SuperCollider software (listen to his release Rendered Environments (2016) on Søvn Records here). For SEMIA, Juraszek has been exploring strategies for creating sonifications of the data we extracted from the Open Images collection. Finally, we have been working with the film- and videomaking artist duo Pablo Nunez Palma and Bram Loogman. Among other practices, Palma and Loogman explore a combination of found footage and structural filmmaking and algorithmic, generative approaches to editing archival footage. In doing so they explore the implications of contemporary digital database environments. They have previously worked with Eye Filmmuseum in their successful Jan Bot project (2017) which remixed footage from Eye’s collection based on trending news topics data (check out Jan Bot here). In this post we present Palma and Loogman’s new work Alien Visions (2020) commissioned by the SEMIA project.

Alien Visions (2020)

In their new work Alien Visions, Palma and Loogman use SEMIA feature data as a basis for browsing and selecting newsreel footage. Focussing in particular on feature data relating to shape, they critically explore the data and the moving images retrieved with it in a work that combines found footage filmmaking with a sci-fi thought experiment. In his message to the SEMIA research team, Pablo N. Palma gave the following description of the work’s underlying process and premise:

“We worked with Polygoon material [newsreel footage made available by Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision via the Open Images platform], most of which were black and white. This meant that the only effective sorting criteria, colour, wasn’t usable. So we decided to use shape recognition. The results we got did not give many hints about a visual pattern our human minds could decipher, so we decided to make a film about that, about the mysteries of sense-making, about how machines are capable to create logical patterns that are impossible for humans to understand. In other words, trying to understand a machine can be literally like trying to understand an alien from a distant planet.

And then we thought: what if we were the machine and the human was the alien? That was the experiment”

Watch Alien Visions here:

Christian Olesen

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