Significant Other

Jonas Lund’s Significant Other is an intelligent, networked sculptural display. The pair of dual-screen-and-camera installations capture and display imagery and information shared between two locations. In reference to the idiom “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes”, Lund asks: “Can networked opportunities enable this exchange of perspectives and views of the world in a more expanded way?” His question provides an entry into understanding the complex system of interrelations, judgements and performative provocations at play in the work exhibited. Significant Other is no exception to Lund’s largely critical and simultaneously playful practice of pointing to processes of production, data collection, participation and broadly questioning the ways in which humans and machines operate within systems, as well as how they interact and create reciprocal value.

Descending from the ceilings of the MAK and KHW respectively, two cameras and flat-screens are positioned back-to-back in a V-shape. Hanging suspended from the roof, each sculptural device is slightly tilted toward the ground at viewers passing-by. Somewhat similar to security cameras and CCTV monitors in the subway, Significant Other goes well beyond screening what the camera sees. The devices are programmed to read and capture “the emotional state” of each figure crossing their pathway. How exactly this is realised remains slightly obfuscated (the code and algorithms buried backstage behind the screens), but what can be said is that data extracted from the images is compared and contrasted with the counterpart data collected from imagery at the partner location.

The intelligent machines draw conclusions on the opposing data and communicate the results via pop-ups and statistics. Visitors are confronted with striking text-based information on-screen such as; “You are 22% more happy.” The statements deduced are produced by the employment of a generative adversarial network (GAN), a machine learning system that uses two artificial neural networks (ANNs) (originally abstractly modelled on biological neural networks) to contest with one another in a framework of algorithms that work together to process multifaceted data. Becoming real-time portals, the linked devices gather data and transmit it – portraying the machine’s interpretations, representations and conclusions about the people that pass by – in direct opposition with the other location. Competition arises between the two sites, namely between the partner art institutions, and by extension, the exhibitions Uncanny Values and Hysterical Mining. How do they compare? How do the visitors comprehend and evaluate what the media informs them? Or rather, what the machine has determined?

People provoke the machine, the machine provokes the people, the place(s) serve as the stage for multiple engagements generating emotive and constructed perceptions between people and intelligent devices. As a form of ongoing communication, Significant Other conjures questions relating to understanding what the machine and person deciphers, what they reciprocally continue to assess and learn in exchange.

The title given to the work commonly signifies the “other half” of a two-person relationship. The work itself comprises sets of relationships. On the one hand, there is the relationship between the two (networked) machines, the two institutions, and the people that visit them. On the other, there is the relationship and encounter between the person and artwork. Bringing new implications for the notably gender-neutral term, Significant Other evokes and incites manifold reactions and perspectives on the relations between machines, people and their given environment.

Courtesy of the artist and Unttld Contemporary Vienna.
“This work was co-commissioned by Gluon and Televic”