Machining Perception

Andreas Broeckmann

Machining Perception: On the Work of Seiko Mikami

Seiko Mikami's works offer a deconstruction of human and machine perception. In "Molecular Informatics", for instance, the visitor dons a head-mounted display and can then see the traces of his or her act of looking, visualised as animated lines and shapes, in a virtual space. A projection displays the animation for the gallery audience, offering to them the opportunity of observing perception as an immersive experience. In her various, often ongoing projects of the past two decades, Mikami explores the conditions of perception, whether in the solitary audio-space of "World, Membrane and Dismembered Body" which plunges the participant into the gap between self and perception, or in the complex disposition of "Gravicells" that correlates the physical presence of the visitors with the gravitational forces of the Earth and of communication satellites. All of Mikami's works are strictly interactive in that they primarily use and factor current perceptual and sensor data, creating loops of seeing, of hearing and of sensing, folding what is being perceived back onto the act of perception.

With the new work, "Desire of Codes", Mikami has conceptually moved from the machining of human perception, towards the deconstruction of machine perception and cognition. A small step, since the differences between human and machine conditions of perception and cognition, of vision and visual data processing, seem to have become negligible. We perceive like machines, and machines perceive like us. At least, that is the openly fictitious claim that "Desire of Codes" appears to make, or test. As we enter its space, we are immersed in the robotic sense organs of a machine mind that curiously follows our every move, and into whose workings we gain the most eerie insight when we stand or sit still and wait for it to forget about our presence. That's when the machine, Mikami's contraption, begins to "dream", to reprocess images from its data storage, mixing them to a rumbling sound with current images from the live streams of networked camera eyes.

By presenting an image both of the voyeuristic juissance of the machine, and of its melancholy processing of the past and of the distant, Mikami invites us to reflect on the way in which we ourselves deal with perception, desire and memory, with the emotional surplus that we project onto the data worlds. What is it that distinguishes us from the machines that – selfishly? – aid our perception, and construct our access to the world, to ourselves?

(published in: H. Leopoldseder, G. Stocker, Chr. Schöpf: The Big Picture. Ars Electronica 2012. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012, p. 56.)

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