Project: Algolit

Algorithms as storytellers

Constant member An Mertens will give a workshop and a lecture at Consonni, a producer of contemporary art, located in Bilbao since 1997. This event is part of the programme LaPublika, a series of activities concerning the way artistic practices construct the public sphere.

On LaPublika:
We understand public sphere to be spaces considered to be public (the street, the square, the city), such as the internet or the communications media, and the mechanisms with which we participate in managing what is common (language, rites, norms, the aesthetic of collective processes). At a time when new social and civic paradigms are arising, LaPublika seeks to provide a framework of work and reflection upon those processes.

On the workshop & lecture:
Algorithms have developed into somewhat of a modern myth. Nevertheless, the nature and implications of such orderings are far from clear. What exactly is it that algorithms "do"? What is the role attributed to "algorithms" in these arguments? How can we turn the "problem of algorithms" into an object of productive inquiry? (Solon Barocas ea, Governing algorithms: a provocation piece, paper, NY University, 2013).

Until a few years ago people could decide to not take part in the algorithmic society – as described by Dave Eggers in his novel The Circle. Now we widely accept to deliver our personal data in exchange for free use of digital services as I-cloud, Googledocs, Spotify, Gps or whatever application on our smartphone. Their presence is so ubiquitous and at the same time so invisible, that users often feel ignorant and powerless in their interaction with these technologies.

The big challenge we face as humans is how we can consciously interact with these algorithms, in ways that empower us and allow us look after their democratic nature. The panoptical algorithmic eye asks for new types of stories and experiences that reveals its specific perspectives. An Mertens looks into literary forms of playing, writing and storytelling as a way to bridge the abstract computer world with concrete stories we humans need in order to deal with new phenomena. For the workshop she proposes a theoretical framework in which participants can go into dialogue with a selection of algorithms by engaging in their play, experiencing and discussing their structural nature or approaching them as systems that can be hacked.