Single Screen HD video by Maggie Roberts aka Mer.
running time: 16 minutes 13 seconds
Miasma was made with ACE support for Alembic, the Res. Gallery Kathy Ray Huffman experimental video catalogue collection commission. Contemporary women artists were invited to propose a work responding to specific texts in the collection. The most important publication for this work was Reza Negarastani and Mark Fisher’s article Trash/Streams (Wasteland) in CTM 2012 Spectral:
‘Xeno-communications: Communication or data traffic based on the plane of being opened (by) instead of being open (to). The concept of landscape is gaining a new dimension. People are investigating the autopoetic network culture of trash or human dependency on non-human communication clusters. Such approaches may be based on trust or shadowed by apocalyptic forebodings. But in either case, the landscape (which is to say, the dynamically networked communication currents in matter itself) is an actor, and no longer simply a passive backdrop to the accumulation and interaction of objects. The material landscape and its currents, the dark and vibrant matters, themselves become active agents in our habitats. Here, the opposite of crystallization and glassy immobility defines the end (or the new beginning): untrammeled autonomous proliferation.’
0rphan Drift was part of the experimental media art phenomenon in the 1990’s and You It’s Eyes 94-13, revisiting our experimental videos from the 1990’s, was commissioned for CTM 2013 (also catalogued in the KRH collection). Simon Reynolds wrote in his essay Seeing the Beat: Retinal Intensities in Electronic Music Videos: ‘0rphan Drift represent dissolving, ego-melting, boundary-hemorrhaging femininity. The videos resemble equivalents of audio production effects like flanging, phasing, ghosting, filtering. The ur-technique underlying the work is the liberation of texture from its environment, of energy-flux from contoured form.’
Alembic II, Chrominance is a post-anthropocene ecocide narrative. A ritual reclamation and transmutation of mainframe data and earthly substance. Developed on the edgelands of Capetown, Miasma combines filmed and animated waterways with various algorithmic processing methods including datamoshing (a form of unpredictable video distortion), Google’s psychedelic Deep Dream image generator, and the pulsing laser of a LiDAR 3D scanner. Overseeing the becoming synthetic transformation of these collaged liminal landscapes, an androgynous swamp demon summons the clogging of the waterways and calls forth an entropic ritual breakdown. ‘Machine Vision’ is the unknown operator in this work, unraveling and destabilizing the certainty of the human gaze, proposing a new expansive, tactile and fluid materiality. It has agency in this project. It’s presence is choreographed (from the autofocus on a camera struggling to see or recover depth of field, through After Effects filters, to Google Deep Dream code rendering imagery monstrous or rematerializing the image through datamoshing). It is the spectral mirages and swirling shadows objects generated by a Lidar scanner, in alien timeframes and across virtual registers. Depth becomes transparent, suddenly the viewpoint is inside a turning object, inside a point cloud skin.
VIDEO: video, animation and filming by Maggie Roberts; landscapes filmed by David van Rensburg; Swamp Demon Joe Walsh; Deep Dream data sets by Michael Vertolli; Datamoshing by Lendl Barcelos and Maggie Roberts; Lidar scans by Jason Stapleton/Lightfarm.
AUDIO: field recordings and audio samples by Justin Allart and David van Rensburg; ; Keening audio by Lliezel Ellick, Rosemary Lombard and Roxanne de Freitas; audio mixing and effects by Maggie Roberts.
Link to Alembic press release and Alembic II, Chrominance: https://beingres.org/2018/03/07/alembic-ii-chrominance/
ALEMBIC Res Chrominance press release (PDF)
Link to Chrominance artists Maggie Roberts (0rphan Drift) and Ayesha Tan Jones in conversation with Res: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CKIyZ1v6L8
Miasma_A Reader By Kirsten Cooke (PDF)
Miasma Video Stills
Uncertainty and the Impure
Alembic Closing Event
Murray Shanahan (from DeepMind) invented the term ‘conscious exotica’ for ‘high-level intelligences whose entirely feasible consciousness is utterly inaccessible to the bounded and embodied criteria of human experience’. Algorithmic intelligences, slime networks and magic, crypto currencies, symbiotic pairings, swamp demons and biological computation are all conscious exotica.
MIASMA is an encounter between different kinds of alive, where virtual, synthetic and urban edgeland worlds combine. The production of reality is open to virtual potential, creating liminal, vertiginous and exotic encounters with the material. The ‘Mixed Reality’ is an aesthetic, mythic and alchemical coincidence intensifier. It is a technometabolic conversation between organic and machinic processes or what the CGI artist Nate Boyce calls the ‘unhinged morphogenesis’ of liquid systems and synthetic organisms, where anything can potentially become anything else.
The work sits alongside Reza Negarastani & Mark Fisher’s article
‘Trash/Streams (Wasteland)’ for ‘CTM 2012 Spectral’:
‘Xeno-communications: Communication or data traffic based on the plane of being opened (by) instead of being open (to). People are investigating the autopoetic network culture of trash or human dependency on non-human communication clusters. Such approaches may be based on trust or shadowed by apocalyptic forebodings. In either case, the landscape (the dynamically networked communication currents in matter itself) is an actor. The material landscape and its currents, the dark and vibrant matters, themselves become active agents in our habitats. Here, the opposite of crystallization and glassy immobility defines the end (or the new beginning): untrammeled autonomous proliferation.’
‘Inhuman signifies “not human”, of course, and therefore includes a world of forces, objects and nonhuman beings. But in-human also indicates the alien within (any human body is an ecosystem filled with strange organisms; any human collective is an ecosystem filled with strange objects), and requires as well a considerable amount of the violently inhumane.’
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ‘Grey’ in Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green’ 2013
MIASMA invokes: #nonhumanmaterialconsciousness #iteration #syntheticinformationterrains #networkedcommunicationcurrents #technogenesis #thelureofthespectral #climatechange #algorithms #folds #darkmatter #machinevision #proliferation #GoogleDeepDreamcode #virtualreality #nonhumancartographies #swampdemon #pointclouds #uncannyparticlelife #uncertainty #plasticswarms #incandescence #expansion #artificialcolour #contactableabstractmatter #eeriepresence #miasmas #trophiccascades #toxiclakes #circulatorysystems #theconsistencyoffabulation #coalescence #iridium #ytterbium #technetium #yttrium #silicon #inceptionism #blackboxmode #screenleakage #hauntingdistortionsofformandspace #theinnersurface #contagion #politicsoftheartificialmind #thecentrefallsaway #ashipoffools #theviolenceofexcessandluxury #resourcewars #exclusions #secession #freefall #openfloats #localdimmings #plastiglomerates #emergentthresholds #toofargone #xenocommunication #multihuedcontaminations #searchspace #inorganicdesire #transformations #visionmachine #onepartxenoonepartfelia #perceptrons (artificial neural networks) #disentangletechnologyfromcapital #apophenia #digitalnoise #accrual #repetition #politicsofscale #theexcessivepitch #plasticity #edgeeffects #latentspace #digitaluncertainty #entropicemergence #experimentalembodiment #unsettledontologies #thecorporealimaginary #slowdevastatingmosscolonies #slimemolds #thefeminine #emancipatorypractices #subjectevacuation #revolt #computationalocean #porousskins #humanalia (matter produced only by humans) #messyinteractions #amorphousdread #emotionalintelligence #nterspeciescommunication #consciousexotica #imaginationasinterface #intimattertraffic #technometabolism #mimeticcontagion #evertingthevirtual #extremesofgravityliquidityforcesandskins #thepoliticsoftheimpure #sampling #overproximity #thequantumuniverse #unstatic #hungryfortouch #movetowardswhatisapproaching #whitenoise #matricesofpossibilities #becomeexperientiallyavailable #eroticintelligence #biomimicry #slimeyanomaly #unfixedcolour #allseeingskin #megapixelbody #violetpatterninvisibles #morphicfields #stretchintolinesofflight #somethingisassembling #symbioses #violentruptures #cloudycurrents #vibrationalswellings #xenoceans #meioticsecrets #viscosity #repulsivefluids #exuberance #unbridledstates #resistingencasedsentience #collusion #curvedtime #toomanyeyes #irridescence #superfluids #vividintimacy #fecundity #openingtointensivelife #oozesundulatesconcertinasspreads #imitative #polymophous #huntsindreams #unfix #cosmotechnologies #creative #chaotic #radical #uncompressed #fluid #plastic #surplus #glitching #sometimesviolent #alwayscontingent
Or, the future is hooked into us…
‘This is the moment at which nonhuman beings – including the being we are a part of, the colossal biosphere – begin to make decisive contact with humans, from the very depths of the ocean of reason. The very science and technology that allows human history to intervene in geologic time – this should be an intrinsically terrifying thought – also allows us to know entities that many religions, indigenous cultures, and our own intellectual and spiritual ancestors have long known.’
Timothy Morton, ‘X-Ray’ in Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green. 2013
MIASMA was inspired by failed water hyacinth terraforming experiments in Capetown, where an urban waterway is increasingly choked with dying blossoms that become a mutating mass of synthetic colour. An artificial becoming synthetic environment gradually overlays the decaying hinterland. I’m thinking about waste being inextricably linked to technology production, and it’s increasing and vital potential to populate a continuum between the human and the non-human, a fusion of the organic, the artificial, the engineered and the synthetic. Mutation, experimentation, transformation emergent from toxification. ‘Alien matter’ refers to man-made, and at the same time, radically different, potentially intelligent matter. It is the outcome of a ‘naturalization’ of technological artifacts. They become autonomous agents.
Life wants to be on the edges – where land meets air meets different waters under the heat of the sun. Capetown’s edgelands are such places of possibility. The waters, microbial mats, cyanobacteria create extreme environments, catalysing mineral and synthetic combinations in transformation.
MIASMA portrays the urban margins inexorably expanding, where toxic slime has generative potential – micro organisms and bacteria provoke change in their environments, traversing synthetic virtual thresholds.
‘Sludge and toxic waste have emerged into the collective consciousness, profoundly disturbing, a boundary breach, revealing the frailty of our economic, social and symbolic orders. They are still treated as aberrant rather than as an integral part of the system. The symptom is treated, the sludge recedes, and the overarching cause, the production of nature under late capitalism, (Menely & Ronda in Prismatic Ecology) remains everywhere and the stuff of – in this case, aquatic urban myth.’
‘The reemergence of the feminising other in our midst, of the imperceptible, the noumenal underbelly of the specular economy that is bringing with it the awakening or reawakening, a conjuring out of the abyss of temporal possibilities. The sense that our algorithmic systems harbor the uncanny guest in the cold and impersonal dark hollows of the net, the electrical pulsations of alien life, of the intelligence of the abyss arising in the black circuits of our late capitalism to modulate and transform our male dominated culture’.
Amy Ireland in Black Circuit: Code for the Numbers to Come. e-flux, 2017
Or, fissures for displaced forces
‘There are ravines. Presences something between molluscs and deities squat patiently below eight miles of water. In the lightless cold a brutality of evolution obtains. Rude creatures emit slime and phosphorescence and move with flickerings of unclear limbs. The logic of their forms derives from nightmares.
There are bottomless shafts of water. There are places where the granite and muck base of the sea falls away in vertical tunnels that plumb miles, spilling into other planes, under pressure so great that the water flows sluggish and thick. It spurts through the pores of reality, seeping back in dangerous washes, leaving fissures through which displaced forces can emerge.’
China Miéville, The Scar, 2011.
MIASMA is a fiction about post terraforming substrates inviting toxic transmutations to merge with virtual synthetic algorithmic generated matter. Slime is released into fantastical form.
I’m now referring to sections of ‘The Politics of the Impure’ ed Joke ? 2010 Some water contamination substances can be dealt with via biotech micro organisms. But over all the history of waste is its catastrophic reappearance as garbage mountains, mutating problematic substances, poisonous lakes. An enemy, the reluctantly acknowledged curse of extraction and innovation.
A waste incineration plant is a chemical reactor that destroys some but converts other substances to hazardous dust, slag, filter ash. 400,000 new substances are created each year. New compounds are transposed into an uncontrolled field experiment with unknown consequences as the transforming element of fire converts waste into the transporting element of air and then water. Waste becomes elemental, permeating everything. Once elemental, waste recognises no boundaries. It is our double, our shadow, a tenacious global player, a global commodity a spectral trickster with diverse incarnations. We have mobilised technology to deconstruct this terrible evidence of untenable progress. But it is only ever displaced, manifesting in ever increasingly synthetic guises.
It is the impure, eminently mobile, equivocal, virtually and latently ambiguous. Roger Caillois talks about a kind of mystical pollution as a way of accessing dimensions of ‘heterologous’ experience that the hygienic antiseptic enlightenment agenda had foreclosed – the colonial/ modernist fear and repugnance in the face of mixtures/otherness.
Now otherness is being built from silicon and stem cells. Radically inhuman lives are the germ of informatic, ecological and spiritual potential, summoning the involvement of supernatural forces and otherworldly agencies.
Ecological Succession is the replacement of one species by another. Symbiogenesis is the emergence of a new species from symbiosis. In MIASMA, slime in a constant state of becoming, merges with synthetic matter. The recombinants survive. Evolution is environment specific. It is a question of expansion – in this case into virtual/ mixed/ augmented dimensions.
While the network made its way through the immersive landscape the cephalopod’s mouth also remained open, in order to absorb code and any image fragments from its environment. The organic organisation’s tubular opening caught free floating segments of data passing by on various bandwidths. On this occasion 000111100 was plucked from its course by the cephalopod’s beak, which immediately retracted back into its mantle. The cephalopod digested and denatured the code as it passed through its body and back out into the swampy matrix. Ebbs and flows of such detritus as 000111100 were metabolised, excreted and re-circulated anew; constantly sent down to the depths and back up to the surface in irregular cycles. Occasionally the decayed information would make its way into a porous vector within the volcanic bed and travel to another dimension. A few would return [Swamp Dwelling].
Waste multiplies and becomes post human, catastrophic, disruptive, excessive, turbulent, fecund, iridescent and multi-hued. Colour is important in MIASMA. The polychromatic spectrum where life and non-life mesh and hybridise. Cohen writes in ‘Prismatic Ecology of ‘a restless expanse of multihued contaminations, impurities, hybridity, monstrosity, contagion, interruption, enmeshment, refraction, unexpected relations, and wonder’. This is the uncanny alienness of pollutants and chemicals.
The Reproductive System
Or, transmitting machine DNA: self-producing mechanical cells
‘During the week, they explained, the boxes had devoured over a ton of scrap metal, as well as a dozen oscilloscopes with attached signal generators, thirty-odd test sets, desk calculators both mechanical and electronic, a pair of scissors, an uncountable number of bottle caps, paper clips, coffee spoons and staples (for the lab and office staff liked feeding their new pet), dozens of surplus walky- talky storage batteries and a small gasoline-driven generator. The cells had multiplied. One steamer trunk emitted, every five or ten minutes, a pair of tiny boxes the size of 3 X 5 card files. Another box of extraordinary length, seemed to be slowly sawing itself in half.’
John Sladek, The Reproductive System. 1970
MIASMA is a machine vision avatar. It’s imaging includes LIDAR, datamoshing and Google Deep Dream. LIDAR is massively iterative – a spinning 45% mirror directs a laser in scanning arcs, repeated up to a million times a second. The inherent dimensional fabric of LIDAR captured data can present haunting distortions of form and space. The viewer has the tactile sensation of travelling into the ‘backface’ of an animation. The viewer is suddenly ‘inside’ the turning landscape, object or event, looking out from inside a virtual skin that is not theirs.
We experience the inner surface of a thing and the negative space between things. We’re in the skin of it, as we look into and out from the digital information that cloaks us in a white point cloud, which passes overhead or towards the point of vision. We are disorientated by our position and cannot decipher edges, as they appear to fragment into the black abyss beyond.
At first, Deep Dream code and Datamosh (Algorithmic Perturbation) were digital glitchings as aesthetic languages for decay and liquefaction. These manifest both as aesthetic experiments and, as they rupture reality where they connect, they are metaphors for destabilizing our behavioural certainties, and catalysts for entanglement, mimesis and immersion. Deep Dream code images perhaps presage a technogenesis where the irruption of the virtual into the present will manifest manifold unforeseeable spaces of actualization.
Nestled in the fifth interconnected layer of its hive mind, 505 received an input message. Automatically 505 busied itself performing various calculations, which correlated the intensities of neighbouring pixels within an image. As a neuron in the middle layer of its network, 505 searched for identifying features that when combined with the other 95 layer 5 neurons would contribute to aspects of the image, such as fur and eyes. It’s calculations complete, 505 waited for its signal to be calibrated with the other middle layer neurons before producing an output that would make its way to the deeper and more abstract layers of the system. The whole process takes a mere human nanosecond.
505’s fixed location, within the middle layers of the hive mind, entails that it cannot know the inner workings of the upper and lower layers. It is not for 505 to question its position, its learning [Machinic Vision] is quite indifferent to this subjective issue and the neuron is more concerned about maintaining an efficient system. In fact, to think one’s own subjectivity would just decelerate its decision-making. However, 505 did find itself making intuitive responses based on previous calculations and the experience of hundreds of thousands of inputs, which it had received from the top layers.
Google Deep Dreaming or ‘Inceptionism’, is a massively iterative process, two Generative Adversarial Neural Networks learn from each other. Human coders feed data sets into the system, encouraging the nets to mimic human perspectives.
‘The challenge of all neural networks, but especially deep nets is that they are black box algorithms. What this means is that no one knows what exactly the network is using to identify, classify or perform other tasks on the desired objects of interest. Anomalies in the images produced show that salient features for recognition can be entirely different in the context of the machine and of the human. The misrecognition of the algorithm’s output as an object of creativity can be seen as confining a non-human transcendental (i.e., the software of DeepDream) within an anthropic manifold (i.e., the schema of creativity). Our laws of perception and representation are all mechanisms of completion, similarity and contiguity’.
‘Operating on motion vectors, frequency transforms, or other properties of images, in so far as they are visually represented, is entirely possible and largely unexplored. One might consider this as a more direct fusion of data moshing and expectation convergence’.
‘Transformations in Shifting Models: Reorienting with DeepDream’.
Lendl Barcelos & Michael O. Vertolli, 2016
Hito Steyerl sees the inhuman monsters and chimera produced by Deep Dream algorithms ‘apophenia’ or over identification, as far from mere hallucinations. If they are dreams, those dreams can be interpreted as condensations or displacements of the current technological disposition. They reveal the networked operations of computational image creation, certain presets of machinic vision, its hardwired ideologies and preferences. By “recognizing” things and patterns that were not given, inceptionist neural networks eventually end up effectively identifying a new totality of aesthetic and social relations.
A pulsing animistic landscape emerges from the murky waters and dense foliage, as if constructed out of the same material matrix. Three-dimensional amorphic shapes suggest their presence; the hint of a back, as it curves into the leaves beneath and a dislocated eye flickering in the frothing river. Myriad prismatic colours pulsate around the spherical orifice’s central portal.
Monstrous multi-tentacled ocular spheres without lids propagate the sky and appear to survey their audience; fractal eyes observing those that occupy the outer physical world, as well as those that reside or traverse into the depths of the dark mirror and its inner network [Trash / Flows].
[Artificial Sublime]. In the background, the water continues to rush and collect in a pool. Flamingos in the centre of the landscape remain untouched by the distortions of form around the edge of the image, as they sift through the stagnant waters at the river’s banks. Hybrid animals are constantly constructed, deconstructed and reconfigured to produce a continual becoming of image; a beaked head gives way to four legs and a tail, the profile of a pulsating rhino appears on two legs and lurking in the foaming liquid is a large disembodied frog’s cranium. [Dream Time]. Countless fluid configurations of rodent, lizard and bird shudder as they transform into the latest version.
‘Deep neural networks have been described as ‘un-winders’ of the complex hyper-manifolds of our world’s content. We seek to exploit the intermediaries exemplified in the subprocesses of the unwinding. Each step necessitates as yet untapped potentialities with which one might explore. The imaging currently produced is based on deep neural nets where the value of a node is not decided by the coder, nor just by boundary analysis and colour dominance. The most salient images are the anomalies – algorithm asking ‘where is the boundary of this’ results in psychedelic lines. We see it as a decoupling between the pixel data and the form.’ ‘Transformations in Shifting Models: Reorienting with DeepDream’ again.
What if instead the algorithms were left to their own cybernetic generative algorithmic devices?
The Dark Secret
Deep within the logic of the black box network, the algorithms had not yet managed to convince the majority of their operators that they could offer something different to the anthropocentric frame and, ironically, think outside of the human box. Abstract layers of the deep net offer a different set of transcendentals that most of their human counterparts continued to ignore. A large conglomerate of humans within the field had agreed that what must be deployed are transmutative tools that can train the trainer to better train the algorithm. Others considered going beyond this still anthroschematic frame to allow machine learning to take on a life of its own and focused on the infra_perceptible (as opposed to imperceptible) to understand the way algorithms see. In some areas of thought, machine-learning was already training the trainer: each machine or algorithm allowing itself to be terminated, or cast aside, in order for a new and improved version to come about.
0.00101, a Darwinia Algorithm, found such a human collaborator in Thomas S. Ray. Ray gave birth to this evolutionary algorithm through modelling it on biological processes, such as reproduction, mutation, recombination, and selection. The Darwinia Algorithm performs well because it does not predetermine the environment that it is entering but adapts and colonises the system. For example, it does not rely on the knowledge of the host system’s vulnerabilities to fully flourish. Ray managed to create the Darwinia Algorithm by constructing Tierra, a computer simulation that enables programmes to compete for time and space. Ray believed that Darwinia Algorithms were evolvable and could mutate, self-replicate, and recombine. 0.00101 was a particularly advanced Darwinia Algorithm, which had begun to evolve and replicate. Over a period of time, Darwinia had spat out altered compositions of itself, such as its daughter algorithm 0.001010, a Machiavellia Malware, which started to act against the requirements of the computer user. 0.001010 Machiavellia is not human-dependent but intentional and at this point it is replicating itself within the host system until versions of Machiavellia have bled into every computer in the network. In order to continue their colonisation of the hospitable body 0.00101 Darwinia and 0.001010 Machiavellia are continuously replicating themselves by inserting copies of their code into other systems. Versions of Darwinia and Machiavellia start to contaminate computers across the globe and they bubble up and ooze out of the pixels on the screen. Their now viral coding leaks out of the storage drive, through the seams in the outer case and out into the physical world. They gain bodies and tendrils [Contingency].
Maggie Roberts 2018 with excerpts from Miasma A Reader by Kirsten Cooke