High-profile digital detective Constant Dullaart wages war with Facebook in Synthesising the Preferred Inputs.
Up now at Future Gallery, two of the Dutch-born, Berlin-based artist’s new bodies of work delve into hidden systems within the ever-more corporatised spaces of the internet. In one, pattern-seeking AI convolutional networks “draw” images using data from the photos we post on Facebook and Instagram, which are then outsourced to China to be painted. In the second, Dullaart incorporates the third-world-country SIM cards used to generate the Facebook bot army he created in his studio last year.
Why make art that involves Facebook and Instagram?
A lot of people don’t know about the whole business of fake Facebook identities, but they’re huge in politics, and in quantifying cultural validity. I’m saying: hey, this is a huge market, look at how construed and weird this social validation system is. Even when I bought 2.5 million Instagram followers as part of a piece, I actually thought I was a better person because more people “liked” me. It’s so easy to make yourself believe in this kind of competitive social validation system. Of course I see big dangers, and I think everyone has to keep their minds open, educate themselves as much as they can, and take a position. I think a lot of these issues are political, and yet they are not reflected in the political debate.
Is your work a warning to us all?
I do see it as a warning, but I’m not a preacher or a teacher or anything. I don’t want to be too didactic, or mansplain. I sometimes make the analogy that now there are more people looking at a screen than looking out the window. This contemporary landscape is so incredibly complex, and we need comparably complex reflections on it. We need to make new contemporary paintings – we can’t just make the same old paintings of this new landscape. The iPhone came out in 2007. That’s only nine years ago, not even a generation, and we all think it’s normal. And there were enormous cultural shifts, like now everyone can wander around a strange city and find their way. That’s huge! It’s like the future suddenly started.
Art about digital technology tends to be relegated to niche categories – net art, post-internet art, etc. Why do you think that is?
With every new medium there are complexities that not everyone understands. When I started out in the early 2000s, there were people who said, “We don’t know the dialect that you’re speaking,” and I had to validate my work by saying, “Well, I’ve read this Dutch book and I think it’s the best book ever but it’s not translated. I can’t ignore that I think it’s one of the best books.” Now even my mom understands that maybe there’s some cultural relevance to talking about the decisions that are made within software and on the internet.
So you’re not discouraged by the categories?
I’m just really happy that I’m a part of the conversation. It’s interesting to speculate about the potential of how all this technology is being used, and I think this is what art should be doing. We should ask, “What would happen if somebody used this tool in that way? That would be weird, or that would be fucked up.” I think it’s a responsibility of artists to misuse the tools.
Synthesising the Preferred Inputs, Through Oct 15 | Future Gallery, Schöneberg