05/07 – 04/08, 2012
In Spontaneous Order by Peterson Hamilton, the artist has presented us with a series of consumer electronics; a computer, key chain trinket screens, a ticker tape printer and a lo-fi television tube. Each object is banal inside of itself, meant for a life of inglourious function and decorated with a similarly inspired aesthetic of cheap plastic.
Suspended from the ceiling hangs a television, printer and computer, tethered to a tangle of power cords and cables that rise from the floor. The structure is reminiscent of a spinal column with nerves wrapped around it; the reduction of a body. The column gathers more of the black tendrils before diverging into eighteen individual screens controlled by an Arduino micro controller mounted just below the television screen in the corner. The line cuts the gallery space diagonally, pensively lifting from the gallery’s wall outlet to the far corner of the room, expanding into a bank of tiny screens and supporting wires.
Superficially, the piece is largely a static array of objects. Sculptural and arranged, but still in their placements. As one investigates further into the workings of the components that the duality of the piece becomes more apparent. Just as these devices are our gateways into the massive information ecology of the internet, here they act as a structural support for online investigations. The machine isolates moments of statistical significance that occur online; scanning trend and search query data from Google, banking images and text for display based on their nearly real time prevalence. While looking at the bank of tiny screens suspended from the walls, one sees a slew of emergency crisis workers and evacuees from flooding in India beside images of Katy Perry. The selection of these images is passive and unintentional, but never the less a reflection of the constant negotiation of meaning the internet is facilitating.
A former hacker of ill repute turned programmer and finally designer, Hamilton’s investigations into the netscape are concerned with the emergent properties that seem to arise from the massive and exponentially growing web of information that exists online. Through the complex interactions of individuals, culture and commerce, new meaning and new means of articulation are created. Much in the same way that theorists from cognitive philosophers to neuroscientists reflect that thought or the process of thinking is a property that is reliant on the sum of the parts of the brain, but consists of more by virtue of its complexity – something emerges from the structure. This may explain why Spontaneous Order operates using statistical information to derive the visual display content; by channeling all of our complex behaviours and decisions into quantifiable forms and stats, a new behavioural pattern augmented over the collective user base emerges and takes on character.
The internet does live in the physical strands of cable, on servers and hard drives, but has emerged as a dynamic, shifting negotiation of meaning that extends far beyond the physical structure it resides within. In conversation, Hamilton references the recent Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was before the American House of Representatives, largely criticized as a backdoor to censoring the internet. The backlash from internet based communities and creators could be seen as a self preservation mechanism not unlike that of a biological entity. The response made up from millions of individual actions from unique users coalesced into a cohesive and targeted act.
Hamilton’s work situates itself in both worlds, one reliant on the physicality of the machine; the remnants of a body – tangible and sculptural but executing its operations in a virtual space defined by reflections of our experiences. A material exploration of these banal objects, aestheticizing the cords, devices and tools of our information channels, as well as a gateway into the formative discussions of an expanding virtual culture, Hamilton’s piece is both hopeful, reflective and cynical.