Machine gaze refers to the ability of your personal devices’ to watch you; through the device’s cameras and through recording your various behaviours. The machine is anthropomorphised by its abilities to both ‘see’ and ‘learn’. We do in fact hold a relationship with our digital devices; our faces always absorbed by their screen, and their front facing cameras looking back. This is an imposition, an imposition that is generally eerily anonymous and often unnoticed. This body of work aims to expose the very real vulnerability of the ‘eyes’ of your device to entities such as hackers or big brother, and to instil the kind of anxiety that comes with the ‘machine gaze’. The machine gaze echoes the male gaze in that it provides both men and women with the feeling of being watched by your devices’ cameras and the kind of self-consciousness that women have felt under the male gaze for centuries. Machine Gaze series (2019) shows the subjects of the paintings as blissfully unaware of any imposition from viewers or their devices, forgetting their machine’s ‘eyes’. The subjects’ poses are troublingly relatable and intimate, while still showing a dead-pan humour.
‘I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you the world the way only I can see it.’
-Dziga Vertov, 1923.
Machine Gaze series (2019) is painted from photographs taken by the cameras on the devices of the subjects. I decided to paint these images rather than show the original photographs in order to emphasise the divide between a human’s unique understanding and the machine’s unfailingly objective, unfeeling eyes. Through the human image-making process of oil painting, I was able to exaggerate the colours used, with the aim of mimicking the vividly glitching computer screen in order to make the Machine Gaze seem as otherworldly and potentially even as off-putting as possible. Matthieu Leger’s painting style shows the painter’s hand as well as a layer of distortion and pixilation, highlighting the divorce between what the machine sees and reality such as in YLLW_CRP_II (2017). Leger’s style was an inspirational example of the ‘glitch aesthetic’ for my painting process, while Gerhard Richter served as inspiration as an artist making paintings both from and about photography. Both artists and myself use paint to discuss our relationship with machine processes in a human way.
As Gerhard Richter stated in Notes 1964-1965, ‘Photography altered ways of seeing and thinking. It is the only picture that tells the absolute truth, because it sees ‘objectively’.’ I approach the discussion of painting post-photography from the stance that while the image recorded by the machine will be objective, it will in other ways fail to understand the world as we do as humans and artists. A modern illustration of how computers ‘think’ would be Deep Dreaming in which images are scrutinised by artificial intelligence, which attempts to ‘recognise’ patterns and objects. Hito Steyerl compares this to children looking for images in clouds, though results tend to be much more eerie. Versions (2019) explores the alien way in which machines understand what they see and to exaggerate their divorce from reality.
‘Images for machines look different from images for humans. In their purest form, as transmitted data, they are incomprehensible, even imperceptible to humans… If we were able to see them, they might have… little meaning for us.’
Hito Steyerl, Duty Free Art, 2017, p.68.
The concept of machines looking back as in Machine Gaze series (2019) will quickly lose relevance due to the rapid advancements in technology and our relationship to it. This is especially true of Man taking a selfie (2019); the word ‘selfie’ was only added to the dictionary as recently as 2013. My exploration of the otherworldly nature of the machine gaze has resulted in a multitude of works which comment on the developing relationship between humans and the anthropomorphised Machine.