[ISEA2008] James Coupe – Art as a Self-Organizing Discovery System



This paper focuses mainly upon (re)collector, a public art project commissioned by Enter_ in 2007.

The work used custom-built surveillance cameras positioned throughout the city and programmed using a state-of-the-art computer vision algorithm to recognize and record specific human behaviors that correlated to a database of cinematic ‘templates’ drawn from specific films’ farewell scenes, meetings, escape scenes, chases, love scenes, etc. The surveillance footage was then algorithmically recomposed to form a number of feature films, each with its own narrative, plot, protagonists, antagonists, and finale.

The films created each day were presented in split screen mode and projected back into the city on a giant screen, watched by an audience composed of many of the very people who appear in them. The split screens deploy a kind of cinematic counterpoint, with multiple distinct narratives being generated using identical footage, locations, repetitions etc., which disperse and then come together, between them evoking a larger meta-narrative of the city.

The piece is concerned with metacinema, public/private space and simultaneity. The work causes our perspective of the city to shift: as we look around we see an endless series of possible narratives, fragments of a story that is taking place all at once around us, yet outside of our perception. Reality and performance collide as we find ourselves caught between subject and object.

I will contextualize (re)collector within a larger body of my work that deals with monumental interconnected systems. Works such as The Difference Engine, Digital Warfare Network and 9PIN++ all attempt to locate their audience within dynamic virtual spaces that overlap with reality, putting us into places that we appear to have no means to occupy.

In such scenarios, the irresistible human urge to find a point of reference, to rationalize, to create and discover meaning becomes a strategy with which to use art to generate new realities, provoking the recognition of a poetic moment of interdependence between ourselves and the systems that surround us.

James Coupe Biography

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