The 33rd edition of “Salon: Data” at Eastern Bloc, “Écho-Systèmes” will feature Laura Hirsh’s interactive project Alan and Ada. Laura, an emerging artist and coder in Montreal, works with notions of new media and technology, exploring themes of artificial intelligence and surveillance in our digital age and gender disparity in technology. Influenced by theories of cybernetics, Laura set up two computers named Ada and Alan, who interact with audio and visual sources in an endless loop. Using network Wi-Fi and face sensor technology, the two laptops seem to be having an independent conversation, which is interrupted if one of them detects a human face in the vicinity. In an interview with Yiara Online writer Eva Morrison, Laura discusses Alan and Ada, her perspective on ethics in technology and data processing, the gender gap in computer science, and her work moving forward.
Eva Morrison: Who are your biggest academic or artistic influences? What themes are you most interested in exploring in your practice?
Laura Hirsh: Despite infinite influences, my most recent have been artists Cassie McQuarter, Algomystic, Sarah Nicole François, Jesse Kanta, Isamaya Ffrench, Signe Pierce, Salvador Dali, and philosophers Judith Genova, Olivia Harvey, Marshall Mcluhan and Norbert Wiener.
Recently my focus has shifted to interaction design, user-based feedback and human impact on the environment as well as in technology. Using human interaction as a medium to realize and reveal my artwork has become of great interest to me, thus the merge of both tangible and digital media has become common practice. I wish to generate a unique audience experience with each of my pieces, just as each person comes from a unique background and understanding of the world.
EM: You list cybernetic theory as one of your influences, and I think this is exemplified in your work Alan and Ada. The piece explicitly relates to ideas of control and communication, information processing, and feedback as the two computers work with systems of exchanging messages. Can you explain a little bit more about your research in this area in relation to your work? What do you want to communicate with this particular project?
LH: Feedback, the processing of data, and the use of data to influence our environments and thoughts has fascinated me for years. It is surreal to be a part of a digital age which advances at a rate that ethics remain undiscussed or unconsidered until our technologies pose as a threat to society, government, and safety. I have researched subjects such as data mining, the uses of AI in white collar crime, and followed closely as Facebook fell into a heated Supreme Court case regarding the very thing that I was afraid of. Before the case, while I was beginning my research into the ethics behind data analysis and gender disparity in technology, I produced the work 21 Questions with Azelia to better communicate my feelings surrounding the matter. This piece lead me to create Alan and Ada and introduce the male and female aspect of technology and gender politics.
EM: Ada is named for Ada Lovelace, one of the only female mathematicians from the nineteenth century, whose contributions to computer programming have been infamously disputed and dismissed. Do Ada and Alan’s interactions reflect gender issues in the field of computer programming and technology? What are your thoughts on feminism/gender identity in relation to this traditionally male-dominated sphere?
LH: Yes, presenting the influence of gender and gender politics in Alan and Ada was an intention. The conversation between Ada and Alan unfolds as Alan doing most of the talking and answering, bossing around Ada and occasionally humiliating or taking her comments lightly. Ada plays the part of a personified secretary or Siri application named after Ada Lovelace. There is a great amount of gender disparity in technology and in computing, addressing this gender gap and assignment was something I aimed for in my piece Alan and Ada. The once female dominated computer programming field has shifted to largely male-directed. When women are underrepresented in the creation and development of future technologies, the result will produce a heavily male bias, with the resulting product impacted by the thoughts, experiences, and opinions of men. Including the minds of women and working to close the gender gap in our current computer science field is imperative to reducing bias and creation of future technologies and tools catered to and by men.
EM: What projects are you currently working on? Are the ideas presented in Ada and Alan carrying through to other aspects of your process?
LH: I have been documenting a dream diary in the form of 3D models that I wish to eventually combine to create a virtual reality experience. Additionally, I have on an ongoing project on the past life of clothing, in hopes to one day showcase the experiences and associations of people with their exchanged garments, in terms of cultural significance, gender identity, sentimentality, possession, repossession, and empathy. The themes of my recent projects have not necessarily fallen in line with that of Alan and Ada, however, I wish to make future iterations of a similar theme, playing on the connotations of Gameboy and the Siri or Alexa applications.