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Aesthetics of an Algorithm: I'm Google

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I’m Google, the ongoing project of Baltimore artist Dina Kelberman, is a stream of consciousness Tumblr of curated images found online. The page is a seemingly endless well of related images and with good reason, the site is essentially the aftermath of a performance: hours spent searching through Google Images, sometimes by theme but also using Google’s visually similar algorithm to find serendipitous images that take the archive in a new direction. Kelberman writes in her introduction to the piece, “The blog came out of my natural tendency to spend long hours obsessing over Google Image searches, collecting photos I found beautiful and storing them by theme.”

Scrolling down, and thus backward in time, you see shot after shot of rolled out craft clay become pizza with rolling pins then a few pairs of kneading hands are sprinkled in before the image trail leads to mound after mound of bread dough then shifting, with surprising visual ease, into a series of off roading cars kicking up clouds of sand before changing again to planes trailing plumes of fire suppressant.

The sets slide from theme to theme in recogniseable, incremental steps. This clarity, this simplicity, is clearly one of the driving attitudes of the piece. The mundane images become a thematic gradient. Doing away with the notion that hearing aids, doll shoes, earbuds, foam craft balls and buoys are distinct ideas. Instead fashioning them into a continuous visual spectrum.

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One of the pleasures of slowly scrolling down through the collection is that you can always see where the change came, what images lead to what like a preserved history of searching. Unlike our usual daily experience of Internet images which can be disjointed, or the path of how they were found forgotten, here the images are archived along with the route that lead to their discovery, the search is preserved alongside the search result.

This image of the search itself, the aesthetics of the algorithm, means the blog becomes more than just an artist’s predilection for images. It is a portrait of the software behind the work, offering a visual explanation of a familiar but dauntingly complex bit of code. (Though for a clear — if technical — explanation of how the algorithm functions, Max Xu MengXiang’s post on Quora is a great introduction for those of us that like reading explanations of math.) Visual similarity becomes the instrument I’m Google plays, including all the tendencies and quirks ingrained in it by the politics of Google.

This direct exploration of the formal qualities of software is an emerging interest in Internet art. In his new media studies book Software Takes Command, Lev Manovich argues that media — all media: television, movies, blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, even increasingly art, all of it — has been “softwareized.” Where newspapers and television used to run on very different physical technologies, each with their own unique abilities and limitations, these days all media hail from the same homeland. Though, Manovich writes, “the computerization of media does not collapse the difference between mediums … it does bring them closer together,” which is how the lines between the organization and strict categorization by media of our cultural representations have become blurred.

From speciation to sexual orientation, neurodiversity to gender, spectrums are the hot new concept in the organization of knowledge. And I’m Google is doing just that: abandoning the limitations of the category in favor of the flexibility of the spectrum.

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