Sophia Brueckner: Captured by an Algorithm

 
  • ©2020, Sophia Brueckner
  • Sophia Brueckner
  • ©2020, Sophia Brueckner
  • Sophia Brueckner
  • ©2020, Sophia Brueckner
  • Sophia Brueckner. Stills of optional software piece that scrolls through hundreds of Kindle Popular Highlights and imagery from romance novels.
  • ©2020, Sophia Brueckner
  • Sophia Brueckner

Artist(s):


Title:


    Captured by an Algorithm

Exhibition:


Creation Year:


    2020

Medium:


    porcelain plates, Kindle Popular Highlights from popular romance novels, scanned romance novel covers, Photoshop's Photomerge algorithm

Size:


    16 plates, 11 inches each

Category:



Artist Statement:


    “Captured by an Algorithm” is a commemorative plate series that looks at romance novels through the lens of the Amazon Kindle’s Popular Highlight algorithm, telling the story of the loneliness, grief, vulnerability, and discontent felt by the readers.

    Extended Summary:

    Captured by an Algorithm is a commemorative plate series that looks at romance novels through the lens of Amazon Kindle Popular Highlights. A passage in a Kindle e-book becomes a Popular Highlight after a certain number of people independently highlight the same passage. Popular Highlights are displayed as underlined along with the number of highlighters. The highlights in romances are not the racy, salacious quotes one might expect. Instead, they reveal the intense feelings of loneliness, grief, and discontent that are felt by the readers. With all the social technologies available today, it is astonishing to see that so many people feel so lonely. Popular Highlights change based on readers’ interactions with the books and Amazon’s adjustments to the algorithm. These poignant examples of shared vulnerability are preserved on porcelain commemorative plates. Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm, intended to stitch together photos into panoramas, is instead applied to scans of romance novel covers. Because the covers are so similar, the algorithm finds areas that it believes should overlap producing dreamy, hybrid landscapes. Each plate features one of these landscapes as well as a Popular Highlight from a romance novel. The nature of these highlights suggests they are not serving as bookmarks for readers to return to later. They are not the type of quotes people share on Goodreads to look smart or well read. When a reader highlights one of these Popular Highlights, it is as if they are saying “I understand” or “me too!” They can take comfort in knowing that they are one of many feeling the same way. Over seventy thousand individual acts of highlighting were used to determine the content for this work.

    This project draws attention to an existing example of collective social support to change society’s vision for the future of social technologies. The history of commemorative plates in the United States has parallels with the recent tech and housing booms and the subsequent Great Recession. Collecting plates was extremely popular in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. A 1972 NYT article titled “Decorative Plates–Not Fine Art, but They’re Good as Gold” featured people who amassed large collections of plates as a long-term investment. The plate bubble burst in the 1980s, and today they are worth a fraction of their original price. The NYT article also discusses the emotions involved in collecting these plates many of which feature sentimental imagery of America’s past. It ends with a merchant saying, “What collecting does for people is to involve them in the process, give them a connection to life. There are a lot of lonely people in this country and collecting is one way out of their problems.” This wistfulness for an idealized past can also be seen in romance novels, which often are not just about romantic love but also feature idyllic small towns, close-knit communities, and neighborly neighbors. The readers’ loneliness is readily discernible in the Kindle Popular Highlights, and the plates capture singular moments in the evolution of these ever changing algorithms.


Other Information:


    Captured by an Algorithm is a commemorative plate series that looks at romance novels through the lens of the Amazon Kindle Popular Highlight algorithm. Each plate features one Popular Highlight and an algorithmically generated landscape created from the novels’ covers. Over seventy thousand individual acts of highlighting were used to determine the content for this work telling the story of the intense loneliness, grief, vulnerability, and discontent felt by the readers. This ongoing project reveals a glimpse of a positive, anonymous social network emerging unintentionally through this minor Kindle feature.


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