Are Algorythms Conceptual Art’s Next Frontier?


Nicholas o’brien

March 24, 2015, 1:22pm


“Are algorithms art? What happens to the intellectual property at the point of sale? What is actually acquired when one purchases an algorithm? Who would even buy an algorithm?

When I discussed some of these initial questions with Sebastian Chan from The Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, he said, “It’s interesting what happens to things that aren’t able to be contained as a physical thing. We should consider them in another way and we should try to look at what their role is.”


However, Artsy engineer Daniel Doubrovkine commented that contemporary museums and institutions are still struggling to present code-based works in the same faithful fashion as conceptual art projects: “I think we need to put code in social context. For example, early programmers were mostly women, and creating exhibitions around women programmers and the art of their programming is a needed social context.”

A structural problem with algorithms is that they render the underrepresented into the invisible. If such a process is applied to culture, anything that falls outside the scope of an algorithm is viewed as an anomaly. As a result of the crunching and sorting of data, the process of culture becomes the product of an algorithm. Algorithms are “results- based,” designed objects—machines that use parsing in order to create significance, relevance, and meaning. Algorithms produce evidence to substantiate speculations of all types: financial, informational, social, ideological. What becomes truly troubling is not when statistical aberrations are left out of the mix, but when the results of algorithms create or substantiate a narrative of exclusivity.

Unfortunately, the narrative of contemporary algorithmic culture is one that is dominated by particular voices—mostly male, mostly white, and mostly from classes of some privilege. It is not that other voices within the development of code-based works don’t exist, but rather that these voices go unrecognized as a result of being filtered out through algorithmic processes. Although many initiatives are currently undoing and combating exclusion and under-representation, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so when the algorithms we use (and are impacted by) are built upon parameters that disavow the existence of populations that defy categorization or exist contrary to a privileged narrative.




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