Projects

 

I am just now starting out as a artist, having a primarily technical background, so I do not have an arts portfolio to display. Below are some projects, past and future, that demonstrate my expected approach to digital art and my understanding of the concepts I aim to explore.

Past Projects

Geo-Poetry

"Geo-Poetry" is a computational literature project that I produced in collaboration with Josh Tanenbaum while studying in University of California, Irvine's doctoral program in Informatics. "Geo-Poetry" dynamically generates crowdsourced poetic language and mood music that reflect the affects of people in the geographic area surrounding a user.

The software queries Twitter for recent Tweets that are geo-tagged near a user's location. First, it rearranges the Tweets into randomly-generated poetry using a predictive text algorithm. Second, it performs sentiment analysis on them, and feeds the average affect into Spotify's song recommendations engine. The result is a linguistic and sonic reflection of the social geography surrounding the user that responds to their situatedness in both space and time.

You can try "Geo-Poetry" at this link. (Please forgive the aesthetically lacking interface, which was built as a quick demo of the algorithm - the envisioned mobile app was not completed due to time constraints.) The code is available open-source at Github - server • demo ui. A brief paper discussing the project was included in the proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling.

Neoliberalism, Profit, and the New Panopticism

A term paper for one of my classes at UC Irvine, demonstrating critical engagement with contemporary social issues around technology, big data, and power. Read online here.

Abstract:

Philosopher Michel Foucault’s concept of “panopticism” has provided a guiding metaphor for a great deal of critical analysis of modern industrialized society, by highlighting the systematic shaping of individuals using the mechanisms of surveillance and discipline. Foucault focuses his analysis on the central power of the state, and on traditional institutions of discipline such as schools, factories, and conscript armies. With the decline of these disciplinary institutions, many have abandoned the panoptic metaphor, or argued that it does not apply. I disagree, and find Bentham’s Panopticon to be a useful guiding metaphor for analyzing the role of information technology in the neoliberal period since 1970.

 

In this paper, I outline what I call the “new panopticism.” In contrast to Foucault’s original analysis, the new panopticism directs individuals not towards societal productivity, but towards the generation of profit, and the center of panoptic power rests in the corporation rather than the state. The new panopticism utilizes the widespread penetration of information technology for greater surveillance and for forms of “soft” control such as advertising, but also shapes the traditional disciplinary institutions of the school and prison systems.

Incomplete Artwork

Social.virus: An experiment in memetics and participatory media.

Social media platforms are fundamentally built on sharing content, an affordance which birthed the phenomenon of virality, which social media companies now actively encourage. Although social media touts itself as participatory and democratic, the logic of content-sharing is structured around a separation between content and commentary: in the millions of acts of re-sharing that propel viral content across the social media landscape, users may add additional commentary, but the viral content itself remains unchanged.

 

Social.virus will be an experiment in collapsing that separation. It will encourage re-sharing, but at each point of transmission - when a viewer opens a link shared by a previous viewer - the viewer will have an opportunity to mutate the content by making their own edits before sharing further. These mutations will be passed on to all who receive the virus from that viewer. Like a biological virus, Social.virus will spread not as a static unit of information (sometimes decorated with commentary), but as a branching lineage of mutation, reproduction, and transmission.

 

Social.virus will consist of a website displaying editable text (as with any modern blogging platform, the “text” may also include formatting and embedded images, videos, or audio). The specific text content constitutes a strain, and a unique identifier for each strain is embedded in the URL. Social.virus will be “seeded” with an initial strain composed by the artist. Each time the website is visited, a new strain is created, cloned from the strain whose URL the viewer followed to reach the website. When the viewer shares the website, they will share this new strain, including any edits they may have made.


The website will record the contents of each strain as well as the parent strain from which that strain was cloned. From these parent-child links, the entire branching lineage of the virus can be reconstructed. Provided the piece is shared enough times to generate interesting data, visualization and sampling of this lineage may be compiled as part of the Social.virus project.

Live Footprint (working title)

Art is, in some sense, a wasteful activity. Theorists have often characterized art, as distinguished from design or craft, as that which has no functional purpose, no utility.

Ideals of sustainability necessarily entail an elimination of wasteful uses of energy and resources. Yet, art has also been described as being a fundamental human activity, without which society cannot function. As we grapple with global climate change and the Anthropocene, art occupies a place of contradiction that forces us to closely examine our priorities and the concepts of sustainability, utility, and waste.

Live Footprint will be an electronic installation that computes and displays its own carbon footprint in real time. Its footprint is not fixed at the time of its completion, but continues to grow in accordance to the energy costs of the venue in which it is installed and the energy expended by those who commute in order to view it. Its display is inescapably an underestimate, because so many factors in its ongoing footprint are impossible to completely enumerate or accurately measure. For instance, it does not take into account the energy footprint of any images that may be taken of it and circulated online or in print media, nor does it account for the footprint of the food that supplies its viewer's brain with the compounds metabolized in observing the installation.

Thus, Live Footprint will embody several features of the question of art in a sustainable world. Its audience is complicit in its carbon footprint, the energy cost of displaying it rapidly accumulates above the cost of creating it, and the greater its social impact (as measured by the size of its audience), the greater its environmental impact. Like all human activities, the environmental impact of art is not an isolated function of the art practice itself, but rather of the networks and infrastructures in which it is socially embedded.

Reverse Recommendation Engine

Commenting on the ubiquity of personalized automatic recommendations and on the "social media bubble" problem by building a service that automatically recommends content you are least likely to enjoy.

© 2018 by Jordan Rickman.
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