Blurred images of people sat in a futuristic bar in a still from Watching by Ben Bogart

Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey; Blade Runner) – Ben Bogart

Watching (Blade Runner): runs until Mon 18 Oct
In 'Watching', media artist Ben Bogart has trained an AI programme to ‘watch’ and attempt to recreate classic sci-fi films by breaking them apart and reconstructing them. Part of the Art-AI Festival.

In Watching, media artist Ben Bogart has trained an AI programme to ‘watch’ and attempt to recreate classic sci-fi films by breaking them apart and reconstructing them. The resulting ‘films’ challenge viewers to consider the role science fiction plays in how we think about artificial intelligence and the constructed nature of our own perceptions.

Using complex algorithms, the programme breaks the frames and sounds from two sci-fi classics into millions of image and audio fragments: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Blade Runner (1982). The programme groups the fragments according to similarities in size and colour to create a full-length reconstruction of the original using this data. The results are abstract tapestries or collages where the viewer may be able to pick out familiar forms, characters, and props from the films such as the silhouette of a figure walking through a darkened streetscape or sitting on a bright red couch.

Dialogue, music, and sound effects blend together into shifting and halting soundscapes that parallel the mesmerising imagery. The images and sounds are just at the threshold of readability. The viewer constantly attempts to read the work as cinema, searching for narrative and structure. At some point, this search becomes overwhelming as the image ebbs and flows between readability and chaotic abstraction.

These pieces are situated in a larger body of work collectively titled Watching and Dreaming. Initiated in 2014, this series of works are the result of statistically oriented machine learning and computer vision algorithms attempting to understand popular cinematic depictions of Artificial Intelligence by breaking apart and reconstructing them. The machines’ understanding is manifest in their ability to recognize, and eventually predict, the structure of the films they watch. The images produced in the films are the result of both the system’s projection of imaginary structure, and the structure of the films themselves.

Excerpts of the work can be seen here:

Ben Bogart is a non-binary adisciplinary artist working for over two decades with generative computational processes (including physical modelling, chaotic equations, feedback systems, evolutionary algorithms, computer vision and machine learning) and has been inspired by knowledge in the natural sciences (quantum physics and cognitive neuroscience) in the service of an epistemological inquiry. Bogart has produced processes, artifacts, texts, images and performances that have been presented at galleries, art festivals and academic conferences in Canada, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Turkey, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, Hong Kong, Norway and Spain.

Notable exhibitions include solo shows at the Canadian Embassy at Transmediale in 2017 and the TechLab at the Surrey Art Gallery in 2018. They have been an artist in residence at the Banff Centre (Canada), the New Forms Festival (Canada) and at Videotage (Hong Kong). Their research and practice have been funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the British Columbia Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Bogart holds both master’s and doctorate degrees from the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University. During their master’s study (2006–2008) they began an artistic inquiry of machine learning and developed a site-specific artwork that uses images captured live in the context of installation as raw material in its ‘creative’ process. In their doctoral work (2009–2014) they made “a machine that dreams” that is framed as both a model of dreaming and a site-specific artistic work manifesting an Integrative Theory of visual mentation developed during their doctorate.

Bogart’s recent work involves building Machine Subjects that appropriate and reconstruct cultural artifacts using artificial intelligence. Ben is currently embarking on a two-year project funded by the Canada Council for the Arts developing a body of work applying machine learning methods to image-making situated in painting history.

Bogart is of Dutch and French ancestry and lives and works on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̍əm (Musqueam), Sk̠wx̠wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, also known as Vancouver.

This exhibition is part of the Art-AI Festival