Classic Sci-Fi Meets Modern Programming at the Surrey Art Gallery

Ben Bogart’s new installation in the SAG showcases creative computers

Ben Bogart, Precepts from Watching (Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, TRON), 2018. (Submitted)

Created by Ben Bogart, a local artist who takes a research-based approach to computational creativity, Watching and Dreaming shows viewers three classic sci-fi films from the machine’s point of view.

As part of the exhibit, Bogart employs machines which deconstruct and reassemble Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), and Steven Lisberger’s TRON (1982) into audio-visual collages. It will be on display at the Surrey Art Gallery from April 14 until June 10.

At times, the images created by the computers are recognizable from the original films, such as when a blurry Harrison Ford pops onto the screen and talks incoherently for a minute or two. The machines are programmed to organize similar colours and shapes, which can produce these blurred versions of the original films during major scenes.

The other portion of the exhibit includes three light boxes which display colourful still images from the films as depicted by the algorithms.

Bogart says that “the reason for choosing these films is that there’s something interesting about a machine watching itself.”

He wanted to create “a cross-dialogue” between how we, as viewers, understand the movies and how machines interpret them. Bogart also notes that artificial intelligence, which is what he used to program these pieces in the first place, is a major theme in each of the three movies.

“Films were just a way of exploring and appropriating material that’s finite,” says Bogart. “There’s this gap in terms of intention, surprise, and emergence that’s there [in the art.] This is Watching. Watching is the closest to reality that the machine can reconstruct.”

Bogart says that, throughout the process of creating Watching and Dreaming, he learned that the issue with artificial intelligence is what people can do with it, rather than what machines are capable of.

“You can’t tell [a machine learning algorithm] nothing,” says Bogart. “There’s no way of having an algorithm that isn’t dependant on the parameters you give it and its internal mechanisms. Thinking about those internal mechanisms is a way of thinking about subjectivity.”

Bogart will be participating in an Artists Conversation with Jim Bizzocchi on June 2 at the SAG, where they will discuss processes related to his work in Watching and Dreaming.