Brooke Smith

DarkMatter Optimizer_01: Patrol, is an autonomous system that explores emergent behaviors and bias through physical movement and programmed mechanical elements. This is an initial contemplation of the contrast between how algorithmic systems are authored and how they are presented as dogmatic fact. This work aims to play into the austere, highlight the absurd, and reference the human hand in algorithmic automation.

The underlying programming and learning of this machine references heuristics central to geographic crime mapping and police surveillance algorithmic products. The work strives to draw parallels between the absurdity of the aforementioned algorithm and its inherent capabilities rather than serve as an immediate, materialized data visualization of these systems. Not only is the surveillance and optimization of a strange, liquidesent substance futile, it posits the following questions in order to uncover the incomprehensibility of this human guided algorithmic machine: why and for what purpose is this machine existing, why do its material perimeters exist, why this physicality? This work asks the viewer to scrutinize those algorithms with which they interact on a daily basis, as well as those on the periphery of their experience.

Read more about the research behind this work here

DarkMatter Optimizer_01: Patrol is intended to be the first work of a series that stems from the artist's criticism of how algorithmic decision making, increasingly automating life altering choices, are perceived and how they actually function. The research guiding this project reflects on the danger of suggesting that the results of algorithmic processes—each highly manufactured—could and should be directly translated into executable instructions for larger systems to carry out.

This work is an initial exploration of machine choreography in which the artist has complete authority in designing the machine, building the machine, determining its material components, programming it, choosing the hardware and software that animate it, imbedding it with a goal, and instructing a performer how to utilize it as a ‘tool.”

This machine currently consists of a modular steel frame raised on industrial trestle legs that contains a motorized linear slider system, custom electronics, and a wirelessly connected central server and database. The linear slider system moves a platform the length of the x-axis of the machine as a performer drops DarkMatter —a black goo-like substance of the artist’s creation— into the top of the machine. The machine receives instructions of how to move via the server that contains a database of information, collected throughout the performance, related to when and where this material collides with the sliding platform.

On a basic level, the programming implements a positive feedback loop in which the history of its training leads to a strengthened belief that it is moving in a meaningful way that “works” given the goal it is provided. This outcome will always become biased every time it is run based on the initial action on which it is trained, much like crime mapping algorithms.

One unexpected result of these initial performative experiments was the sound generated by the machine caused by the amplified vibrations of the motor against the machine as it updated its movement patterns over the course of a performance. Not only does this audio serve as an additional indicator of changes in speed and movement occurring visually, but also possess a mechanical yet otherworldly quality that highlights the absurdity and eeriness that this work aims to produce. This machine soundtrack will be different with every performance as sounds are directly generated by movements that are a result of interactions of each performance.

Another artifact produced by these performances were the visually interesting 2.5D canvases generated by physical marks, stains, and clusters of goo that were left on the seamless papers beneath the machine. These work as an abstracted documentation of each performance. The material that fell to the floor was a false negative of the performance - i.e. it was material that did not collide with the platform and therefore was not accounted for in the machine’s learning and updated movement pattern.

These two works act as interesting contradictions of one another. While the sounds produced are a result of the machine moving in response to all collisions with the input material, the canvases of these performances tell a different story; all the potential data points the machine did not capture, and are therefore not reflected in its resulting rhythms. The artist intends to grow this body of artifacts in conversation with continued iterations of this sculptural machine and accompanying performances.

Brooke Smith is an artist based in New York City. She is generally unenthused with the goings-on.
Brooke Smith is an artist based in New York City. She is generally unenthused with the goings-on.
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