“Percepts from Watching (Blade Runner; 2001: A Space Odyssey; TRON)” 2018

Photo credit: Surrey Art Gallery and SITE Photography.

As part of the “Watching and Dreaming” exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery TechLab. Three 47″ x 47″ light-boxes were produced thanks to the support of the British Columbia Arts Council. Each light-box shows a selection of the visual vocabulary (percepts) from “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), and “Watching (TRON)” (2018) installations. The composition of these works is the result of a machine learning algorithm (the Self-Organizing Map), which arranges percepts according to their colour, width and height.

Exhibition text: In Watching and Dreaming on view in our TechLab, media artist Ben Bogart programs computers to “watch” classic sci-fi films by breaking them apart and reconstructing them. The resulting cinematic experience challenges viewers to consider the role science fiction plays in how we think about artificial intelligence and the constructed nature of our own perceptions.

As an artist and programmer, Bogart bridges the fields of art and science. Using complex software algorithms, his machines break the frames and sounds from three popular science fiction films into millions of image and audio fragments: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), and Steven Lisberger’s TRON (1982). The computers group the fragments according to similarities in size and colour to reconstruct a resemblance of the original using this data. The results are abstract tapestries or collages where the viewer may be able to pick out familiar forms, characters, and props from the films such as the silhouette of a figure walking through a darkened streetscape or sitting on a bright red couch.

Dialogue, music, and sound effects blend together into shifting and halting soundscapes that parallel the mesmerizing imagery. Bogart says, “The images and sounds are just at the threshold of readability. The viewer constantly attempts to read the work as cinema, searching for narrative and structure. At some point, this search becomes overwhelming as the image ebbs and flows between readability and chaotic abstraction.”

The exhibition, comprised of three projected videos and three light boxes, provides a thought-provoking meditation on the increasingly blurry boundaries between humans and machines, the limits of cinema, and the future of art. Through his multisensory art, Bogart invites the gallery visitor to consider how machines can be a mirror through which to reflect on what it means to be human.

Photo credit: Surrey Art Gallery and SITE Photography.

“Percepts from Watching (Blade Runner)” 2018

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“Percepts from Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” 2018

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“Percepts from Watching (TRON)” 2018

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