[ISEA2022] Artists Statement: Afroditi Psarra & Tingyi Jiang — Ventriloquist ontology

Artists Statement

Performance, June 14, Sant Pau

Keywords: Performance, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Robotics, Wearables

Ventriloquist Ontology is a media performance that explores the control and hybridization between human and machine through the relationship of a performer and a wearable entity. This entity articulates text generated using the GPT-2 language model, and manifests itself by producing involuntary movement through a series of linear actuators.

Ventriloquist Ontology is a media performance that conceptually stems out of philosophical ideas that are rooted in the realms of Posthumanism, Actor Network Theory and Object-Oriented Ontology. Inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s dystopian theatrical play The School of Ventriloquists, it encompasses the creation of a modular wearable, trained using Natural Language Processing to create its own language that manifests in the form of speech and movement actuation. It explores the idea of soft control and points of hybridization between human and machine through the relationship of a performer and a wearable entity. This soft modular entity speaks through text generated using the GPT-2 language model, trained on a dataset of texts around biopolitics, algo-governance, the surveillanced body, and queer theory. The softness aspect of its control refers to the plasticity of the interface, the malleability of its hardware connections, the suggestive nature that the GPT-2 generated text pertains to, and the indicative nature of the movement of the actuators. Sequentially, it brings forth the soft data of the body inextricably linked to ideas of care and intimacy, as well as to the pliability of the different levels of interpretation between the human and the machine. The aspect of control is tied to the cybernetic idea of steering the body to its optimal movement through a feedback loop between machinic language, and human assimilation. It also deals with the hardness of the linear actuators and the microcontroller that manipulates them, to the domination of these mechanical components over the softness and vulnerability of the human flesh. Ultimately, the idea of ventriloquism is used to give agency to an ontological entity comprised of subtle suggestive wearable modules, human flesh and cognitive motor abilities, born-digital, able to produce novel language, but also conditioned to reproduce the biases of its algorithmic parts.

  • Afroditi Psarra (Athens, Greece, 1982) is a transdisciplinary artist and an Associate Professor of Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) at the University of Washington, USA. She holds a PhD in Image, Technology, and Design from the Complutense University of Madrid. Her research focuses on the art and science interaction with a critical discourse in the creation of artifacts. Her practice builds on and extends the work of Cyber and Techno-Feminism(s) and the idea of female (and feminized) bodies as matrices of information. Her work has been presented at international media art festivals such as Ars Electronica, Transmediale and CTM, Eyeo, Piksel, and WRO Biennale between others, venues like Bozar, Onassis Stegi, EMST (Greek Museum of Contemporary Art), Walker Art Center, and published at conferences like Siggraph, ISWC (International Symposium of Wearable Computers), DIS (Designing Interactive Systems), C&C (Creativity and Cognition), and EVA (Electronic Visualization and the Arts). https://afroditipsarra.com
  • Tingyi Jiang (China/Netherlands) is a visual artist and performer based in The Hague, NL. She composes different media, material, space and herself to create certain situations, self-directing environments, which trigger audience’s actions. She challenges the art-and-spectator relationships by creating a viewing-in-action experience that explores the dynamic between the individual, its environment, its collective and its social system. https://tingyijiang.com