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Andrea Wolf


When did you start working with algorithmic / computational art and what inspired you to do so?
I was working on my thesis during the Masters in Digital Arts at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona– memoryFrames, an online archive of intimate and recent memory and interactive storytelling project. It was a collaboration with Silvia Carli and we wanted to use home movies as the memories of the protagonists of short fictional films. A set of selections made by the viewer/user would determined the memories – actual found footage that would appear as flashbacks – of each character. So we had to come up with an algorithm that would allow the user to chose these memories (without it being too obvious) and a system that would insert the selected home movies into the selected fictional story at specific times that we cued for the flashbacks. We both had background in film, but none of us were (or still are) coders, so it was a challenge, but we programmed the whole thing.

I saw the opportunities that open up when you are able to control the tools to create the work you want to do. And even though, it took me a while to fully embrace this, things just kept taking me back to thinking of film in other ways rather than just as a linear movie to be watched in a theater.

What was the catalyst or main reason you began the series ‘weather has been nice?’ Can you tell us about the importance of the code, the algorithms, to the reception and meaning of the work. How does time and pattern play into your intentions? How have the reactions been to the installations and the series?

I think it was a mix of things. I had recently discovered an open source pixel-sorting code by Kim Asendorf that shifted the pixels of still images, distorting the originals yet still leaving a trace of that transformation that somewhat endowed them with movement. I was also curating a show in Miami during Basel that focused on the dialectics between landscape and technology. The aesthetic of pixel-sorting started to resonate with the texts I was reading, and it became clear to me that this was a visually engaging way to present how images and landscapes are a construction, and the relation between both with the frame and the observer. I had these vintage found postcards that showed these idealized scenarios like if they were supposed to tell us what a landscape should look like and how we should remember it – very much connected to the discourse of tourism and place. Mailed from around the world, with their exaggerated colors and iconic images, these commoditized stereotypical landscapes are non-places – at the same time unknown and familiar.

Decomposing these postcards into abstract images where you might still recognize a former self or even find new landscapes and compositions, renders visible how landscape as memory is not only a fixed static entity outside ourselves, but rather an intimate experience in constant transformation. It is a personal and a social construct. In one of his essays in Reasons for Knocking on An Empty House, Bill Viola talks about how high definition technologies have prompted this obsession with a hyper-realistic image, but how that might not be the most real image. He says that we have “to search for the image that is not an image, not a realistic rendering, but an artifact ”. And that’s what I wanted to do with Weather has been nice, to show images unfolding, becoming images. The way to achieve this was the code.

A pixel sorting algorithm manipulates the postcards, lunging them into movement, and generating a dynamic glitch that slowly decomposes into the dominant colors. The custom made application triggers a transformation, creating a system where the elements are continuously regenerating and composing new images. Each postcard reacts differently according to its own pixels. I think about this generative code as a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself; a system that produces the components which through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes that produced it. What Maturana and Varela called Autopoiesis The installation is an ongoing project that has taken multiple forms. It has been shown in gallery spaces projected onto different configurations of large suspended plexiglass panels, and displayed on expansive media walls. For its latest iteration, at Sonar Festival in Santiago on December 2015, it was shown as a 40 meters wide projection on an airplane hangar. It’s latest version as shown at Sala de Arte CCU in Santiago, Chile, during September through November of 2016 Sala de Arte CCU in Santiago, Chile presents an immersive audiovisual experience. The expansive space was covered by synthetic grass and scattered with beanbags. Large-scale projections of ever-changing landscapes cut through the center of the room. Each seat, complemented by a unique soundscape, will offer an intimate vantage point for the ever-changing landscapes.

For the first time text from postcards will be incorporated into the installation. Ten sound artists and musicians have created soundscapes using recordings of transcriptions from one hundred found postcards. Each artists was given ten postcards along with a simple set of guides for the composition. Their scores were embedded in beanbags, created in collaboration Print All Over Me. Participating sound artists include Audra Wolowiec, Felipe Cussen, Hans Tammen, Martín Gubbins, Merche Blasco, Nicole L’Huillier, Ricardo Luna (Richi Tunacola), Richard Garet, Sebastián Vergara, Sokio. It was great seeing the reaction of people to this iteration. It really created a space for contemplation and relaxation. Visitors would lean on the beanbags and pillows and spend time within the work just chilling or moving from beanbag to beanbag to find new sounds.

Memory frames is a hardware, software and web approach to “a virtual staging of the memory-forming process” how did you come to work across each of these mediums for this series? Did you find that working this way created a holistic understanding? What was the experience of the installation like for other people, especially to see the computing (hardware) aspect in tandem with the idea of personal memory?
As I mentioned before, memoryFrames started as an online project. Both an archive of personal memories and interactive narratives, this staging of memory workings was built on the basis of the audiovisual records we make of our lives. If we understand the construction of memory as a narrative construction, we enter into the world of narrative knowledge where the story is representative and reconstructive: it represents what has been, reconstructing it with the help of a series of conventions, to bring back what is no longer. We can recognize in this process the elements inherent to dramatic structure. Hence, these moments of narrative inflection correspond to stages which, except for the different contexts, are repeated in every story. If we share a set of visual codes to represent our lives and to position ourselves in the world, the question arises: are our memories (or the images of our memories) interchangeable?

memoryFrames was developed when the hype of web 2.0 was happening (we even presented it at a seminar about new dynamics in web 2.0 at Medialab Prado in Madrid – I can’t believe it’s being so long), so in that context, the Internet as the convergence space where information is connected and reorganized, seemed the natural platform to enable this open process, converting the user into the editor of the memories of different characters who for different reasons were confronted to their past. Back in Chile, I was invited to show memoryFrames in a group show about digital culture. I felt that it needed a physical interface beyond a computer, so I came up with this bulky-vintage-futuristic machine full of of components that blinked and needles that move, but that actually had nothing to do with the functioning of the project. It was a simulacra of the algorithm, a way to physically represent the memory-forming process proposed by the online version. Having the project online allows to reach a broader audience, but to be part of an exhibition, I felt that it was important to bring visitors into an environment that would set the tone to experience the piece. A browser wasn’t enough, and what came to mind was this machine in a dark room with a large projection of your interaction with the piece.

Can you tell us how you come to memory through current emerging tech? How are these tools shaping your work about memory and how do you feel they are shaping memory in general?
Having grown up in pre-Internet society, but currently living in the Information Age, my work dialogues between these two worldviews. As I revisit with nostalgia the printed photographs of my childhood and the videos that my father recorded with his VHS camera, I also take countless photos with my iPhone that accumulate in my iCloud, and carefully select the images that I share on my Instagram. Digital media has transformed the ways in which we engage with our personal past. Accessibility, transferability, and circulation of digital content has changed how we remember and forget. We obsessively capture and edit our lives, constantly documenting the instant present, and making personal memories immediately available on our social networks.

In the Age of the Image, we believe that the past becomes accessible through our images. We collect the portrait of everything we wish to remember, or do not wish to forget. Images become our memory, allowing us to fix time – to resist leaving the moment in the past without ensuring its return. In the Information Age, our new networked memory produces a ‘continuous present’. The archive is permanently accessible. It feels like memory is about immediate gratification. We produce massive amounts of data and content that lingers in hard drives and servers, but is generally not revisited. It is made for an immediate consumption. Driven by nostalgia, I still visit those devices of resistance, while trying to understand how to remember in the age of the image that disappears. The discussion of the digital image is very interesting and complex because analog images had a physical transference, there’s a chemical process that’s at work. With the digital image, although more democratic, everything becomes “opaque” - the abstraction of zeros and ones is much harder to grasp. Whereas material objects have a single location where people chose to place them, data-objects do not have any single spatial location: they move depending on the search query. Sometimes we are unexpectedly confronted by them, we have much less control of their distribution, like your memories on Facebook; what if I don’t want to be remembered of an ex-boyfriend or someone I lost? The algorithm can’t predict that.

At the end of the day, memories are not fixed, but liquid, representing the reality of human memory as a constantly mutable experience. The variable nature of digital media represents accurately the ways in which we remember, which is creating new versions of the past depending on need, context, but ultimately, desire. This modularity also presents new opportunities for combining old media objects into new configurations that are user-focused. I’m not interested in technology for the sake of technology; I’m interested in the extent that it allows to tell a story to put forward a message and with that in mind, the content determines the tools and the possibilities are pretty vast.

What medium(s) have you not used yet that you would like to explore?
I recently started working with AR. We made a project called Future Past News ( with Karolina Ziulkoski where we switch the content of an old newsreel from 1937 with our current news. And the parallels are striking. I’m excited about exploring AR further. I’m very captivated by how adding another layer of information, AR enables us to question the meaning of the original image, allow us to change the message. If I had the budget, I would love to work with Oled bendable screens.

Anything coming in terms of a new series or exhibition you’re very excited about?
I recently got gallery representation in Chile and we are working on multiple projects. For a current exhibition I decided to revisit Little Memories, a series of small-scale video sculptures that mix found footage and dioramas. I decided to switch from projection mapping (I was using pico projectors for each piece) to screens and I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the possibilities of working with TFT LCD screens, pulling them apart and playing with them. There’s also some new iterations of Weather has been nice coming up.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your work they may not easily perceive from your website or social media? Is there something you feel gets lost in translation when presenting your work on these platforms?
I think that a big part of my work gets lost in translation in documentation. It’s very difficult to represent accurately this kind of work, but I try to document as best as I can and complement that with some writing.

Anything you would like to say in terms of how you see yourself fitting into the history and future of computational / algorithmic art, emerging media culture, art in general?
I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that and at the moment don’t really care much about that. Sounds like a very big serious thing. I’m just thankful I get to spend time in my studio and have this creative outlet to explore my obsessions about memory and cultural practices of remembrance.

Lastly, this is the construction issue, what do you think in terms of that word and your work? What are some constructs that inform your work?
My work is anchored in several constructs.I create multimedia installations that explore how technology, media and memory affect and transform each other, creating models of remembrance that are culturally shaped. I believe that memory is narrative construction, and that every time we remember we tell a new story. Every memory is a new memory. Remembering implies the production of objects, which are not static repositories but dynamic triggers of perception through which remembrance is activated. And there’s a dialectical relation between those and memory, where both condition each other. I also believe that the function of memory is driven by desire and therefore remembering allows for manipulation, erasure and recollection, and we create new versions of versions of the past based on our experiences, our present and our expectations for the future.

Andrea Wolf Interviews
Andrea Wolf Vol 1