Friday, March 9, 2018

A Flying Pantograph exhibition at ACC (Gwangju, Korea)

Sang-won Leigh, Harshit Agrawal

Where does human agency remain in the era of automation and networked machineries? If an army of killer drones operated by pilots thousands of miles away kills on a button press, who is held responsible for the mass shootings? Technological affordances create instant ways of accomplishing challenging tasks, where a lot of individual agency is mitigated and reduced by organized control and uncontrollability brought at various scales.

This installation work investigates errors and delineation developing in a larger processing structure, and their collective outcome across time, scale, and layers of the system. It questions the human interaction with the system and resulting delight and frustration, highlighting the numerous ways we make leaps forward and backward symbiotically with technology. It also brings to light an alternate, diametrically opposing usage of modern day technology, which otherwise becomes a seed for fear mongering and alienation. Here, a zone of collective expression emerges at the balance between human-technology collaboration and antagonism.

A Flying Pantograph is a prosthetic device operated by individuals, self-guided algorithms, and the authority behind the system. A flying proxy for drawing transposes individual’s drawing movements through a filter – that merges multiple sources of input and approximates into a repeated series of strokes drawn at a far off canvas. The strokes are executed by multiple individuals, who will temporarily gain control over the drone standing in front of the wall space and picking up a stylus. In that process, the drone stays at a critical balance trying to scratch on the wall surface.

This forces an operator into the inner state of vulnerability. The hands of the operator move more sympathetically to the drone over time. The algorithm imposes a systematic constraint on the overall movement. These collectively approximate the noisy co-movement of the human participants and the mechanical accomplice into an organized final outcome that only comes visible after hundreds of continued strokes. The agency, or the ownership, of the strokes is made blurry – is it owned by the creators of the system, the drone, or all the operators that participated in the process?

Such a contraption and the ensuing interaction has several critical breakage points, drawing our attention to delineation and organization at multiple scales: the local perturbation made by the mechanical noise, the more global effort to make deviation by the human operators, and how across time the overlay of hundreds of strokes make a final outcome looking different from local processes. In such a systematic technological matrix surrounding the human life, are we entrenched or empowered?