!Mediengruppe Bitnik’s interactive video and sound installation Alexiety (2018) presents viewers with an emotional matrix of the possible course of our affective relationships with speech-based personal assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google home. The installation’s soundtrack is composed of three songs created in collaboration with the Paris-based electronic musician Low Jack (Philippe Hallais). As an independent work, the songs were published on a limited edition data carrier, which also found its way into the collection of the HeK.
The first song, No Secrets No Surprises, describes the carefree euphoria of the immediate satisfaction of needs and permanent attention. The frustration mounts in Alexa Stop, where the user finds himself repeatedly having to set limits to his assistant, who hears simply everything and reacts in an unfiltered manner. In the third phase of the last song, Alexiety, the initial excitement has evolved into a feeling of discomfort or even paranoia of the invisible companion’s omnipresent analysis. Not only does Alexa enable the immediate satisfaction of any material desire, she also holds the key to our innermost desires in some virtual cloud.
As the songs play over the loudspeakers, Alexa and co. continue to act as they always do. While the emotions increase instinctively and comprehensibly for each of the human listeners, Alexa and co.’s algorithms reveal themselves as less and less successful, seemingly overwhelmed and helpless. Emotions still remain a mystery to these digital friends, although researchers all over the world are currently working on teaching computer systems emotional intelligence.
The obvious discrepancy between the omniscient, indispensable helper and its blatant inability to react meaningfully to anything that departs, albeit fractionally, from algorithmically ascertainable norms exposes the limitations of computative systems. As a viewer of Alexiety we regain our control by means of chaotic disinformation; but what about at home?
(Text: Bettina Back)
Mediengruppe Bitnik is a collaboration between the artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo. Their accomplices are the London filmmaker and researcher Adnan Hadzi and the reporter Daniel Ryser. Their contemporary practice is located in digital media (working in and with the internet ) and its influence on the transformation of physical space. They deliberately play with elements of a loss of control to question established structures and mechanisms.
Carmen Weisskopf, 1976, Switzerland and Domagoj Smoljo, 1979, Croatia live and work in Zurich and Berlin.
Philippe Hallais, alias Low Jack, is a French electronic music artist, born in 1985 in Tegucigalpa (Honduras), living in Paris. His music plays with the re-appropriation of sonic clichés, media folklores, and the multiplicity of musical languages associated with dance subcultures. He has published three albums as Low Jack: Garifuna Variations (L.I.E.S, 2014), Sewing Machine (In Paradisum, 2015), Lighthouse Stories (Modern Love, 2016) and one under his own name: An American Hero (Modern Love, 2017). His live performances include collaborations with musicians Ghedalia Tazartès and Dominick Fernow/Vatican Shadow. His work has been commissioned by the Quai Branly museum, the Swiss Cultural Center and the Ricard Fondation in Paris.