“The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
— Sol LeWitt, 1967.
“Qualia” is a network-based digital artefact that generates audiovisual content based on user interaction through the use of randomness and generative real-time systems. Initially inspired by Hans Haacke’s statement for the “COMPLEXITY – Art and Complex Systems” exhibition held at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in 2002, where he encourages the creation of “something which reacts to its environment, changes, is non-stable… something which the 'spectator’ handles, with which he plays and thus animates” and the digital aesthetic models of machine-based imagery highlighted by the New Aesthetic movement, “Qualia”, named after the philosophical concept denoting individual instances of subjective, conscious experience, aims to be an exercise in generating audience-responsive art products in the vernacular of the network.
Oftentimes, the New Aesthetic is poetically defined using a quote from James Bridle whom is widely regarded as the movement’s creator, namely that this particular aesthetic represents “an eruption of the digital into the physical”. Based on our research and through the realisation of the artefact that emerged from it, we endeavoured to push this idea even further by attempting to re-create the physical into the digital, in an effort to highlight the increased merging of the realms of the physical and the virtual in the context of an increasingly technologized contemporary context. Created with the criteria for New Aesthetic Objects outlined by Scott Contreras-Koterbay and Łukasz Mirocha in “The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the Postdigital” in mind, “Qualia” aims to both constitute an attempt to simulate the organic process of crystals slowly growing and evolving over time through the use of computation and a veritable New Aesthetic Object that exists and circulates via the Internet of Things.
Several other sources find themselves within the research basis of this digital artefact and the methodologies used, such as John Burnham’s theory of “real-time systems” and their purposefulness in artistic contexts, Lev Manovich’s writings arguing for the absence of a standard narrative being a characteristic of new media art objects, Phillip Galanter’s theorization of generative art systems, particularly the focus on what it means for a machine to create part of the artwork without the intervention of human intuition and his challenging of traditional notions of authorship, or John McCormack’s inquiry into the possibilities and limitations of generative art that takes the form of a list of questions aimed at generating a wider critical acknowledgement of algorithmic processes.
A fundamental aspect of the artefact is its handling of the notion of audience participation; building on Roy Ascott’s theory of “telematics”, in which computer-mediated communication between user and artwork takes centre stage, as well as Maurizio Bolognini’s writing concerning the opening up of the generative process to the action of the public, making the resulting art object the result of
spectator-based input, we have devised and artefact whose existence is dependent on interaction with users. The audio-visual result is a direct result of text input from the audience, which is then processed by the algorithm in order to generate a crystal, in the same manner a crystal would grow naturally over time, with the difference of a much shorter time span. The rendering of the image and sound are created through a randomisation process, the algorithm itself having a similar degree of agency to that of the artist in terms of creating the final product.
A few interesting questions arise, both in terms of the limitations of the artist in the context of methodology and the relinquishing of control to that which was meant to be a tool, as well as in terms of authorship. “Qualia” is not a singular artwork, but rather it exists in different variants of itself, as many iterations of it being generated as audience members willing to collaborate with the machine are there. This particular quality represents an investigation into the reproducibility of web-based artworks, their network-influenced mode of existence and the tendency towards a “hyper-individualisation” of artworks.
To put it all in a nutshell, our team aimed, through the creation of “Qualia”, to examine the intricacies and complexity of artworks that exist exclusively within the network, digital objects that respond directly to their audience, are adaptable, and have the potential to exist in hundreds, or perhaps thousands of iterations at once, all circulating within the framework of the Internet of Things. At the same time, based on the findings in our research project, we would like to open up further discussion regarding these kinds of manifestations of computational artefacts, which find their starting point in generative processes and depend exclusively on interaction, their perceived artistic value or lack thereof, the deeper layers of their ontology and their mirroring of the intrinsic qualities of the network in itself, in hopes for a wider critical debate concerning the role of algorithmic, real-time systems in the wider contemporary artistic context.