2019 December: Performance Anxiety

Okay, so I have quite a few different things going on at once… I need to address the weakest link in my understanding, which is the machine learning/AI side of the project, or at least the analogies I draw with the field. I’ve composed an email ready to send once the lecturer’s strike is over, asking to audit some Computing modules, and further advice on subtopics I could pursue in the area. In the meantime, I can improve my maths a bit, get started on Linear Algebra & Vectors, and attempt to read some of their online research output.

The first is the Whim (What-If Machine) project. The project website states:

We propose to investigate the following model for creative idea generation: (a) collect and analyse some information about a domain, to form a shallow world view of that domain (b) form a set of what-if style ideas from the analysis using notions of surprise, semantic tension and incongruity (c) assess, rank and select ideas based on the quality and quantity of narratives that can be generated using each idea, and (d) use the world view, idea and narratives in linguistic renderings, taking into account notions of relevancy, expansion, obfuscation and affect. Given that ideas are for human consumption, we will also collect crowd-sourced data about how people value, appreciate and expand these ideas, and will machine learn predictors for how people will react to automatically generated ideas.

It’s kind of a brainstorming, or idea-making machine, which can generate options and then evaluate them; discarding some and rendering others in some narrative form (joke, poem, story). The benefit of this is it incorporates the freedom to hypothesise without the burdens of evaluation in the first instance, a freedom which is conducive to art making.

In their proposal for ERC funding, they write that artistic ideas “distort reality for humourous, playful, coercive, disturbing and generally thought provoking reasons, and exist in the minds of their creators independently of the ways in which they are presented to audiences.” I find this already a little ambiguous. What does it mean to say it exists in the mind, when the mind is not made of the material constituents of the resulting work of art? In my own experience, the artwork is continually unveiled and rediscovered in its making in the material world. Further, they say, “It is fair to say that the majority of the research in Computational Creativity has been devoted to designing software able to produce finished artefacts without the software explicitly undertaking idea generation.” and by that they mean that the industry and research has focused mainly on production/generation of media, and on evaluation of that media, no ‘ideation’. It says that while in machine learning, agents are trained to build a ‘concepts’ from which they can assign categories and recognise individuals belonging to it (like ‘cat’), that this mechanism is typically based on real-world example for real-world reference and application, and thus does not lend itself readily to fictional ideation. It’s interesting, because currently in creative computing, machines may not be hypothesising fictional ideas based on subversions of reality – instead they are learning from current, real-world examples of fictions (real novels, paintings, compositions). To some extent that’s how artists learn too. I wonder if they are exaggerating the role of ideation in artistic activity. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to try to program the mechanism of brainstorming or hypothesising or making thought experiments.

Writing Atom and 20 Percent

I am preparing two new performances, both of which are quite short, for the opening of an art exhibition at Elephant West exactly one month from now, curated by Paul Carey-Kent. I have struggled a lot with live performance in the past, and just last week entered another rough patch of performance anxiety. One thing I often try to do in development phases is to share my work-in-progress with friends/family. Theoretically it seems like a good idea to gather feedback during development. But that’s possibly quite counter-productive, because I find their comments and suggestions actually start to feel debilitating. I struggle a lot with criticism in this particular area. I find performance failure quite painful when it’s in front of someone else and then I struggle to bounce back and keep working. There’s just something particularly embarrassing about failure when my body and personal presence is involved. I haven’t learnt to bear it. Maybe I am inviting criticism too early into the process. Maybe I should just keep it a private affair until I am more confident presenting work-in-progress pieces.

So after a little bit of a break down since my last test-performance in front of someone, I’ve decided to retreat from consulting others. I think in the end I find it much easier to perform my work to a group of strangers that have never seen it before, than to people close to me who know me. Because I’ve chosen to do something (live performance) which I am potentially good at but which causes me tremendous anxiety, I just have to make it easy for myself, at least at this stage. That means I’ll stop inviting others into the process and just work in the lowest stakes environment possible: my flat/room when it’s empty. Also, I am lowering my expectations, both of the final outcome, and the working process. I will learn the two pieces ad verbatim from the video, as the safest option. But it’s true that I see room for development in both texts as they are. The development part has caused me some anxiety, because I start setting goals that feel more imaginary and less concrete, like ‘make it better’, which makes me feel like I need to improve something about how I work and makes me feel bad about current practice. It’s annoying, I feel like my personality is getting in the way of a healthy work process. I need to sort of work around my personality. Because I can’t solve my anxiety and fear of failure all at once, I just thought I’d start easy.

So today was okay, I just worked on my own in the living room, looking at the mirror, and trying to just do it for myself. I spoke the text aloud. The good news is that I do know both pieces ad verbatim, by heart. They are pretty short, at about 2-3 minutes each. To that effect, it would seem I have already reached my goal for 8 Jan, but the performances do feel too short. Paul has indicated that he would like performances of about 5-10 min long, and he’s asked me to do 2. Ideally then, I should take up 10-20 mins, let’s say 15. Currently, 20% is at 3 minutes, and Atom is at about 2. At least I have a basis I can build on. It seems I’m okay with learning texts and then adding lines here and there… but if I want to expand them I should maybe brainstorm further ideas. But I think it would be better to try to do everything orally. I came to write some ideas here, but I’ve changed my mind. The written word doesn’t generate the ideas in the same way as oral writing, it feels different, and more natural as speech, too. I guess I’ve got a whole month to build on the texts orally. I’ll promise myself something simple, and that is to just practice everyday, when I have a moment alone. Shower, empty room, cooking, etc, and see if I can develop the logic further, navigate those ideas further. I seem a bit stuck with Atom, which starts off in a surrealist tone and then starts sounding too lucid in the second half. What would it mean to be indivisible, yet in appearance like any other; an organism is fragile because its parts are bound to disband eventually.

Plan Achievements/Notes
Week 1
Frow: Figure, Persons & Type x
Permission to audit Computing | |
Practice 20% x daily  x
Write core Widow text x
Week 2 (Paris) 9-15
Read Frow: Voice & Name x
Practice 20% and Widow x daily x
Week 3 16-22
Practice 20% x daily x
Practice Widow x daily x
Week 4 23-29
Practice Widow et al 1 hr daily x

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