Where the artworks in the Witness exhibit critiqued machine vision, surveillance, an the subjectivity of technology, You.got.a.pic? remediates the social practice of the modern self-portrait photograph, the selfie connoting older email technologies and the dying practice of letter-writing. Users of this distorted social interactive program are invited to send selfies of themselves to the email address , the only public interface to the system. The system then replies to the user with an algorithmically altered version of the same selfie and a two-word textual response: I see. The system responds at an undetermined point in the near future, anywhere from the immediate present to three weeks later.
You.got.a.pic? raises questions about our anticipation and desire to communicate and represent ourselves online. As new norms and technological expectations are established with platforms like Snapchat, You.got.a.pic? saves, stores, and duplicates incoming and outgoing messages. It re-views participants’ selfies by randomly re-processing images in two ways: with pixel sorting using Kim Asendorf’s Processing ASDFPixelSort code (Asendorf 2012); and with age detection toe emulate the way machine vision technology actually sees (Shiffman, Fry and Reas 2008). Pixel sort rearranges the pixels of an image to create eerie abstract images. It is a derivative of pixel counting and data sorting algorithms that computer systems use to see or complete tasks, but does not directly represent machine vision (Davies 2004). Rather than using a true edge detection Application Program Interface (API), and using the code developed by Shiffman, Fry and Reas (2008), this project delivers a realistic aesthetic of machine vision, but is not an operational artificial intelligence. Thus, this machine’s vision and creativity are, in fact, fictitious.
You.got.a.pic? aims to disrupt expectations of what digital media ought to do by actively resisting Bolter and Grusin (1999) double logic of remediation. You.got.a.pic? tugs at the participant’s desires for immediacy because once a photo is emailed, there is no longer any interface for response. Media is disembodied and absent until it is time to receive a response, and the image the system generates is a disturbing representation of the human form. The distorted reality the system sees once again forces the participant to be aware of their own reality, perhaps even questioning the integrity of the system and its error prone human programmer. As users wait to see the results of their human-machine communication, You.got.a.pic? confronts our technological expectations of immediacy and hypermediacy, and shows how we are in fact inextricably bound to these new media practices.
The final product is a remediation of existing and past media, or media archaeology (Huhtamo and Parikka 2011), which locates the project somewhere between artificial intelligence and speculative fiction. Virtual relationships, social media and selfies are central critiques of You.got.a.pic? Unlike most new media, it does not attempt to improve on previous media and its technical efficiency; rather it pushes back against these desires and gives participants time and distance to contemplate, forget, and rediscover their conversation with technology. This system is at one level an electronic pen pal, and a creative companion on another. The process of emailing, waiting, and deciphering visual content clouds the acceptable transparency of contemporary remediation. The project exemplifies the role of human subjectivity in new media, and You.got.a.pic? takes the user on an alternative path of technological history where social media is remediated by email, the self collides with machine vision, and letter writing rivals the ubiquitous Internet.
– Jo Shin, 2017