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Research Assignment 02 – Proposal

Some turpentine in a jar. Brushes dropped in, pressed down, fanned out, bristles releasing residue from before. Swish them around, bump them down again, draw them out and squeeze them on the edge to remove the excess. The brush taps the side and rings like a bell.
Start with a wash. Simple colours, lighter than you’d think, fat brush, wide strokes, horizontal, swiping. Cerulean blue. Just a tint, a stain in the background. Then start to build the colours up. Where are we? Look up. How do we frame it. Pick the perspective.
Listen to the wind blowing through the eucalyptus trees. The roar of furious bugs near the river, a distant kookaburra, the flies, mosquitos, let it all in and it melts and fades into a hum. 
Dappled in the shade we’re cooking, late summer, languid light and sweat and amber sheen.
Always some pink in the sky. Always some yellow. Always a bit of mauve in the shadow, and build up from the background. Add contrast. Gently add highlights. Ritual.

What it the overarching area of research?

This research is an ontological exploration in the form of a speculative journey. This journey draws from personal memories and experiences in the Australian landscape shared with my family, in particular my father. My father was a self-taught artist who painted landscapes of the Australian outback, and some of my earliest memories from childhood are based around the method and ritual of learning to paint with him. During his later years he was unable to travel and we always had plans to go on another painting trip together.

With this research project my aim is to examine the nature of experience and memory through the construction of a speculative “road trip”, a kind of “virtual Derivé” in the spirit of the situationists.

“One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll” (Debord 2006b: 62)

This research will focus on the relatively new medium of neural network image making, with the network functioning as a conduit through which one may revisit memories and experiences.

In his essay ‘Ways of mind-walking: reading, writing, painting’ Tim Ingold asks:

“What is the difference between walking on the ground, in the landscapes of ‘real life’, and walking in the imagination, as in reading, writing, painting or listening to music?“

He draws comparisons historical painting practices from around the world and finds commonality in their desire to express using outward forms an “inner generative impulse that is life itself.”

I aim to show that Ingold’s insight into historical landscape painting practice may also be applied to neural network based image making. It will be interesting to explore whether a journey through the trained model can also function as a vibrant demonstration of “inner life”.

What are the key questions or queries you will address?

Is there a link between the way we remember memories and the way features are stored in a neural network? By traversing through the virtual ‘latent space’ within a deep learning network, are we able to find new insights into what made our memories unique? What may be revealed by approaching a set of experiences from the perspective of ‘The Neural Model?’

Is there some way we can combine the exploration of space in Virtual Reality with the mathematical journeying through latent space dimensions within a neural network, and how might this work within a framework of fragmented human experience.

Why are you motivated to undertake this project?

Back in 2002 I had the fortune to experience a VR artwork by Char Davies entitled Ephémère. I’d never experienced anything like it before, and found it incredible. It breaks down the border between self and world and allows the participant to melt into a natural environment, to traverse through a space and feel a sense of connection with a greater ecosystem. It was over 15 years ago but I still remember the experience.

I’ve thought about that project a lot over the years, and now there have been a number of new VR works (most recently the Oceans of Air by MLF at Saatchi) which are in a similar vein. The works allow a new perspective on familiar topics (nature and ecology, in the case of the two works mentioned).

In parallel to this I’ve been learning more about machine learning and neural networks, and am fascinated by the idea that when a model is trained, the visual elements (or music notes, or whatever data it has been trained on) are arranged in ‘latent space’ which can theoretically be navigated through. This ‘latent space’ clusters similar features close together. I’m interested in creating a work which moves through ‘memories’ in this way.

Ultimately, the motivation for the research is to understand the neural network as a creative medium, where it sits both in the philosophical and art spaces and therefore understand my own art practice at a deeper level.

What theoretical frameworks will you use in your work to guide you?

Material semiotics will be the analytical framework of this project. I’m interested in how unpacking a web of familial relations and experiences into a digital speculative narrative will allow me to identify the agents implied, the where’s and when’s, and highlight my own entanglement within the milieu.

What theoretical frameworks will you use in the analysis of your project?

At this stage I’m still figuring this out. This research project will be practice led and draw on post phenomenology and speculative fabulation, however it may also lead into hauntology and psychogeography.

How will you document your project?

Blog Post, Research film / Possibly generative art pieces.

Timeline for project milestones:

End of March, Outline
End of April, Full Draft + first experiments
May 13 Due

Expanded Bibliography. This is still work in progress.

Transforming the Commonplace through Machine Perception: Light Field Synthesis and Audio Feature Extraction in the Rover Project
Robert Twomey and Michael McCrea

In this paper Twomey and McCrea detail their Rover project, an autonomous robot that travels short distances and collects light-field capture of the immediate surroundings.
“In light field imaging, a camera or imaging device samples a scene from multiple views, capturing both positional and directional information about incident light. The additional information in a light field image allows for the synthesis of new views of the scene “
The rover project provides a way of perceiving a familiar scene from an alien perspective:
“This intersection of the travelogue form with a nonhuman gaze creates an aesthetic situation wherein the viewer sees the commonplace transformed—familiar scenes observed through an alien subjectivity. “
The light fields it captures are a unique medium, paradoxical in that they are from multiple viewpoints at a point in time but incomplete until processed from a unifying perspective later on.

Geography and post-phenomenology – James Ash and Paul Simpson
An important paper explaining the core precepts of post-phenomenology (as distinct from phenomenology) and linking these to the overarching topic of human geography.

Other References:

Ways of mind-walking: reading, writing, painting – Tim Ingold
Technology, Nature, Software and Networks: Materializing the Post-Romantic Landscape – Chris Welsby
Geography and Memory: Explorations in Identity, Place and Becoming edited by Owain Jones, Joanne Garde-Hansen
The Immersant Experience of Osmose and Ephémère – Harold Thwaites
The Virtual Embodied: Practices, Theories and the New Technologies – Edited by John Wood
New Philosophy for New Media – Mark B. N. Hansen
Autoencoding Blade Runner: Reconstructing Films with Artificial Neural Networks – Terence Broad and Mick Grierson
Landscapes of Feeling, Arenas of Action: Information Visualization as Art Practice – Tom Corby
Embodying Virtual Reality: Touch and Self¬-Movement in the Work of Char Davies – Mark Hansen