In the zoetrope Sounding Sirens, the instrument’s very mechanics help stage a power struggle, a dominion and subjugation endlessly reenacted, between two entities: an intelligent octopus and a herd of less enlightened jellyfish. In the tormented ballet between the two, the troupe of jellyfish forms an undulating cage round the hapless octopus, whose tentacles reach out from between the spinning slats as if grasping for a foothold, fighting for expression. The very nature of each creature adds nuance to the spectacle: the octopus, often camouflaged, solitary and discreet, inhabits the deep and embodies thought and purpose, whereas jellyfish are surface-dwelling creatures, easily swayed by currents and visible en masse, whose bloom speaks of warming seas. Sirens lure sailors from their paths but they also alert to looming disaster. Yet even dramas at sea remain at the mercy of other forces; the zoetrope dangles from a metal chain, vulnerable to foreign interference, manipulated like a puppet or chandelier.
A life sized animatronic Stag in Insilico slips, slides and falls depending on the intensity of abuse directed at selected individuals on Twitter. Sentiment and hate speech analysts designed bespoke software to trawl twitter to establish who is the most abused person on the platform. The software then rates the incoming tweets depending on the intensity of the abuse.
A monitor at the back of the artwork displays the live twitter feed and the code engaged in determining the results. This data is fed to the mechanisms which determine the movements of the animatronic Stag.
Animatronics by Adam Keenan.
With special thanks to BHive Technologies who designed and developed AI and machine learning models to collect and analyse the data, leveraging top rated OpenAI-developed engines.
This work is inspired by the historic behavioural experiments of American psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) which explored the idea of random reward. Skinner’s work has been widely referenced in relation to the algorithms which drive interactions on social media, tapping into a subconscious primal side of the brain which is involved in motivated behaviours, thus exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. Skinner’s ‘operant conditioning chambers’ demonstrated that random reward created a kind of constant uncertainty that then encouraged a behavioural loop. Skinner’s ghost has persisted into the modern day, a quiet spectre among our statuses, likes, comments, and shares.