"Abstract Machine" proposes an experimental visualisation of the Digital Collection of the New York Public Library, collection made up of digitised visual documents, dating from the 16th to the 20th century, which are grouped into different categories, including: plants, African Americans, gods, history, blacks, Spanish, property, ornaments, slavery, ethnography, birds, Indians of North America, World War I, waterfalls, and so on.
In doing this, an experimental, collaborative practice was carried out, that seeks through the black boxes of Artificial Intelligence, which was trained to learn to see and classify new images thanks to the information of more than 180,000 documents from this Collection. In visualising the processes whereby artificial vision acquires its capacity to see, instead of focusing exclusively on its operativity, we will be able to benefit from the capacities of this technology, without thereby having to lose our own agency. In this way we will find new ways of relating ourselves with things, with their representations and meanings, beyond having to freeze information in the pre-established, automatised categories propagated by the implementation of Artificial Intelligence.
The project is formalised by:
1) a selection of 15 images from the Collection, which shows, through heat mapping, the fragments of these images that were most relevant for the artificial vision in learning;
2) a general atlas where, thanks to these fragments, the patterns established by Artificial Intelligence are visualised. We could say that this atlas offers a general map of the Collection’s unconscious;
3) a book where we find a selection of fragments extracted from the general atlas, now accompanied by the main and secondary categories (when existing), which the artificial vision related with during the learning process;
and 4) an interface which through the eyes of artificial vision makes it possible for the user/spectator to navigate through the eighty-three categories selected from the Collection. Through interaction with the spectator, each of the fragments of the interface will activate a new atlas, giving access to new fragments associated with a new category, as well as a new group of secondary categories, thus creating a rhizomatic gamification that seeks to offer an experience where the intentions of the human and the technical machine are exchanged.
“Abstract Machine” has thus de-territorialised the Collection, will allow us to navigate through its latent and liminal spaces. It is an ongoing re-composition that de-articulates the logic of the relationships between categories and representations, offering the possibility of discovering new articulations between them. The onus is now on the spectator to create machine with “Máquina abstracta”, drawing his or her own conclusions and carrying out new re-territorialisations of words and things.
© Andrés Pachón, Abstract Machine. All pictures courtesy of the artist.
The book works as an independent piece, presenting a selection of those visual patterns that Artificial Intelligence established during its learning, fragments of images that will allow us to visualize the unconscious of the Collection, through the relationships that Artificial Intelligence established between categories and representations.
Introduction by Luís Quintais, anthropologist and researcher.
Text and pictures by Andrés Pachón
Pachón, Andrés, 2020, "Máquina Abstracta"
Madrid: La Micro. ISBN: 9788494134265
Paperback format and silver stamping, 320 pages, 135 illustrations, 10,5x15 cm.
* This project has been produced thanks to the 2019 Leonardo Grant for researchers and cultural creators from the BBVA Foundation.
Andrés Pachón (Madrid, 1985), based in Porto, Portugal. His work is focused on the construction of the colonial imaginary through the use of photographic archives in anthropology and ethnography. In this context, he developed his work through collaborations with institutions such as the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid and the Photographic Archive of Art Museum of Lima (MALI) in Peru. His visual work reflects on the construction of knowledge through photography, establishing relationships between the practices of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the current uses of technology, as is the case of his current research on visualization and cognition in the area of Artificial Intelligence.