[ISEA2011] Paper: Brad Miller – augment_me: algorithmic memory, absence and presence in the cloud


Can you have a memory without photographing it? Where does a memory live? How do we make sense of them? If it’s online, who owns it? What is association at a global scale? What are the conventions of western time and how might that be visualised or utilised? Can you live forever in the cloud? This paper examines these questions through the media art installation augment_me.

augment_me is a responsive visual database; a memory machine of sorts but a live and developing one. The images that constitute the database are a sequence of photographs and videos, collected over the past 8 years and tracks my relationships with people, things, places, scenarios (all of which are viewable on the photo-sharing site Flickr®). They are sequentially embedded with contextual associations arranged (initially) by time and date. This, combined with being able to access and make those images move, appear and disappear – by anyone or anything within view of the camera/sensor in the space where the installation is exhibited, makes manifest the metaphor of memory.

These images can take on a particular and slightly voyeuristic significance. For others, I imagine, it is the generic face anyone. We recognise these compositions, these tableaux vivants, these experiences – the urban middle class individual’s photo of leisure and tourism. All that distinguishes this collection from the endless expanse of similar imagery is their artist. The vector of all these moments is the artist own existence, “which they affirm and erase simultaneously. We are seeing his life through the eyes of an invisible protagonist. Or are we seeing his life flash before his eyes? Is this how it will be at the moment of death? The ordinariness of our existence spread before us. The objects, people and places that have made up our lives flowing, like data, away from the organizing principle of our own subjectivity.”

“The ultimate promise is that the flow of data may restore the flow of life when it is temporarily halted. Biological death becomes a small death, data becomes the through-line that joins old subject to new.”  vimeo.com/11225461

  • Brad Miller is an Artist and Design Academic at the University of New South Wales, College of Fine Arts; he lives and works in Sydney.  In his early works, he typically manipulated found images and sound to create single channel video. For the past six years, he has used original photographic and video content in his interactive works in which he explores identity, memory and mnemonic associations. Miller suggests, through his installation work, that the associations created by photography and social networking sites have a subtle but complex influence on identity and our construction of self.  He has written on the nature of self in the age of ubiquitous networks and the mediation of memories, recently presenting a paper at International Symposium of Electronic Arts 2011 Istanbul.The platform that he has created through his installation augment_me (a memory machine of sorts) is a form which he continues to develop both as regards the refinement of the interactivity and programming, changing and editing the content (photography and audio) and ultimately the conceptual relationship between the content and interactive form in relation to the viewer of the work. With his most recent installation, data_shadow for Underbelly Art on Cockatoo Island in 2011, Miller worked with personal photographic memories as data shadows (n. The trackable data that a person creates by using technologies such as credit cards, cell phones, and the Internet). The installation used 4 synchronized projectors to create a continuous curtain (20m) of images which responded to a machine-vision tracking system with the added effect of immersive surround sound that locates the audiences’ position in the exhibition space. The installation is highly adaptive and portable, with the capability to change its content (photographs, video and sounds) in relation to the site. Miller was a Research Room Resident (Oct-Dec 2010) at Critical Path, Sydney where he investigated machine-vision and choreographed bodies. He presented a working model of augment_me during SEAM2010 and participated in the SEAM laboratory – Choreographing in a Mediated Environment, led by Christian Zeigler. In early 2011, he was attached as a researcher to contemporary dance company Chunky Move with Gideon Orbanzek and Reuben Margolis, further exploring the human body as data interface. During September 2011 Miller worked in Shanghai, China with the multi-disciplinary Design Studio/LAB Rare Earth using the augment_me installation as an experimental research platform. From October 2011 – January 2012, he will be in-residence at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris and creating a new work.

Full text (PDF) p. 1722-1725