Visited the Oodi Central Library Public Art opening and saw works by Jenna Sutela, Tuomas A. Laitinen and Samir Bhowmik. The works were curated by Shannon Mattern and Jussi Parikka. The process was managed by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York (Ilari Laamanen) and named Other Intelligence. Mattern and Parikka gave an well thought introduction to the curatorial process. They framed the library as an avant-garde public institution of knowledge distribution and gave a media-orientated introductions to the institutions history. The artists presented works which referred to artificial intelligences.
Sutela and Laitinen had very practical approaches to AIs and their artworks utilized machine learning and music generation algorithms. Bhowmik’s approach felt more advanced. His “Memory Machines” tour, performed together with the 00100 Ensemble, offered an analysis of the library as a culture-memory-factory.
Sutela explained that her piece is a fragment of an ongoing art-research process, in which she is investigating (among other things) the development of languages and exploring links between bacterial livelihoods and human-intelligences. She presented a unique artist-book titled “nimiia ïzinibimi” which was written using characters produced by a computer program. The book was available for the public to read and possibly for lend too which is very interesting (all public art should be distributed this way!). The characters for the writing were drawn by a machine, which based it’s designs on the movements of a branch of bacteria called Bacilli subtilis. The texts referred to a French medium Hélène Smith, who supposed had received messages from the planet Mars in the 1800s.
The concepts behind “nimiia ïzinibimi” are intriguing and the idea of using an artificial intelligence to fuse together the movements of bacteria (as seen on the plane of a petri-dish) and alphabet characters, for the purpose of presenting the uttering of a long-gone psychic-medium is inspiring! The characters looked like asemic writing.
Unfortunately the way the process was displayed at the library didn’t do justice to the complexity of the work. Visitors entering the library are introduced to it trough a short video, projected on the lobby wall. The video offered some hints to the thinking (texts were only in English, which felt rude). The projection was overcasted by a array of other media-displays and projections in the same space, which the library uses to announce it’s programming etc. Also using a binded-unique-artist-book to show the bacterial writings, felt offbeat in the Oodi context. Oodi as a the new central library, with its maker-space, emphasis on co-learning and event programming is not about books at all.
Tuomas A. Laitinen presented a “Swarm Chorus”, an ambient sound composition and a series of abstract videos, projected on a see-trough space divider. At the opening, three singers wandered the main lobby wearing beekeeper protective gear. They sang long vowels to wireless microphones and Laitinen effected their tones from his workstation. They also projected sounds using an ultrasonic speaker but I didn’t understand why. The work reminded me of surrealistic art. Both artworks felt like documentations or aestheticization of artificial intelligence driven processes but didn’t offer an engagement with the AIs themselves.
Bhowmik’s work fitted Mattern’s and Parikkas definitions of the library best. He organized a tour into the hidden territories of the library-culture-memory-factory. His work facilitated inquiries to the ecological sustainability of cultural institutions and the role automated systems play in knowledge production. Some parts of his approach felt very familiar from his dissertation: “Deep time of the Museum – The materiality of Media Infrastructures” from 2016 (mentioned earlier). During the tour we were introduced to automatic book sorting machines, temperature regulation systems, the backstage of movie projection halls, different service areas and the interior-and-exterior ceilings of the building.
Bhowmik paused the tour at key locations, were he made short introductions to the technologies present at the location or the 00100 Ensemble performed gestures and dances, which were illustrated and furthered Bhowmik reading of the site. The hands of the performers were painted blue, perhaps as a hint of the labor of the invisible hands which keep the library systems running. The actors visualized the cybernetic nature of library workers. As workers the tasks which constitute their work, are so fragmented and intertwined with mechanized automation processes, that their existence is reduced to a node of the institution-intelligence.
A walk or a tour is a great format for a performance, because in motion groups begin to make sense of themselves as an organization. Our group stretched into a think belt and which followed Bhowmik, like a fermented milk strain. People took their time to experience the site and thanks to Bhowmik presentation, we could witness how the library-culture-facture performed with us. We learned how the different building sensors read us and how the building changed its processes, according to the data it collected from us. We formed a temporary co-agency with the site. In some moments the actions of the 00100 Ensemble obscured the buildings own performances.
A fun coincidence took place in the temperature regulation room. A member of the 00100 Ensemble was reading a book at the corner of the room. Our group walked around the temperature regulation machine. I saw a worker adjusting the machine and printing a label using a Dymo Label-Priter. The label showed an abstract series of numbers and letters, which possibly refer to the service manual or are intended to be read by a scanner. The text and the act of writing a code, on the machine, with a machine felt like a small miracle. It felt very odd being cornered by an actor (faking reading), a worker writing code and a machine which was interpreting the temperature of the library and making adjustments to the heat regulators. Culture production, information production and heat production (or energy consumption) got intertwined in one view.
Bhowmik focus on the heat regulators felt very engaging thanks Dr Jiat-Hwee Chang presentation on the matter in the Imagining infrastructures podcast (2017), which looks at how the cooling systems of Singapore are linked to the cities colonial history. During the colonial era, building designs was westernized and traditional construction materials/technologies were abandoned. The local designs were well equipped in dealing with the heat but the interior temperatures of the westernized building had to be regulated using mechanical devices, which are depended on imported fossil-energy sources. Chang presented this is a prime show-case of the destructive nature of colonial thinking. It the case of Oodi the view to this process was reversed, as the primary function of the temperature regulation is to keep the space habitable by humans and to protect the books (by setting the humidity).
The last part of the tour was visit to the library ceiling, were we stood in the cold snow for a while. When we returned from the ceiling back inside, I had a flashback from the temperature regulation room. While returning inside, I imagined how our heat signatures would be identified by the temperature regulating machine-intelligence. The heat we had lost from our bodies was identified by the intelligence and it would make adjustment to the temperature of the building to compensate for the change. The walk made me capable to read my body as a mere composition of information (or heat), which needs infrastructure to sustain itself… Much like a book. Feeling cold as a part of an artwork was an interesting aesthetic experience (entropy?).
In a chat with the Oodi maker space staff (whom I befriended trough the Oodi Modular working group), I got a nice introduction to the new services the library is offering to it’s guests. I was told that libraries in Finland have been very influential in the establishment of the contemporary information society. Libraries provided the first public internet terminals, the first public access printers and copy-machines. From the staffs view, the 3d-printers, meeting rooms, media studios and soldering stations (which the second floor of the library is committed to) are a natural extension of this process. The staff made a joke: “Next year we’ll have DNA sequence CRISPR printers and the first the Peoples Artificial Intelligence”. I’m exited to see what kind of art will be developed by guests of the library.