Machine Vision’s Visions, roundtable discussion

Machine Vision’s Visions, roundtable discussion
Wednesday 17 February, 19:00 London / 20:00 Berlin / 14:00 NYC
Participants: Peter Bell, Tega Brain, Leonardo Impett, Fabian Offert

Register via this link.

The project Curating Photography in the Networked Image Economy studies the networked image and its various intersections with curating, and has been engaging developers, engineers, museum professionals and social media influencers involved in the organisation and valorisation of images in contemporary culture. In many discussions, questions about machine agency and algorithmic decision-making have been raised: as curatorial decisions are increasingly prepared, framed or directly taken by algorithms, machine ways of seeing have permeated how images are seen, consumed, shared, selected, filtered and circulated. As the project is reaching its conclusion, we have organised a series of online roundtables to reflect upon the questions that have emerged through the research.

In this last instalment of our series, we will discuss the potential of machine vision to problematise its own curatorial practices. For this, we invited guests whose hybrid practices challenge assumptions of machine learning and open it up to scrutiny. We will first talk with them about their trajectories, how they came to their field of practice and what kind of knowledges, know-how, activism they bring to their work. Next we will turn to the questions that are core of their research. What can we learn when curatorial methods from the arts are operationalised in computer vision?

How and what does an algorithm learn from its training data? And what kind of encounter can machine vision amplify? Answering these questions will be the occasion to evaluate the importance of notions such as scale, distant reading, machine topology and the urgency of learning the arts of noticing the technological entanglements of our curatorial practices.

Curating Photography in the Networked Image Economy is a collaborative research project between The Photographers’ Gallery London, Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Design, Computational Culture Lab, Australian National University & Centre for the Study of the Networked Image, London South Bank University, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Prof. Dr. Peter Bell studied Art History at Marburg University and was research associate in the Research Center SFB 600 (Strangers & Poor People) at Trier University, where he wrote his PhD thesis on visual representation of Greeks in Italian Renaissance. As a postdoc he worked on several digital art history projects at Heidelberg University and Cologne University and was group leader at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. At the moment he is assistant professor in Digital Humanities at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). Areas of specialization are Digital Art History and Computer Vision, Critical Machine Vision as well as representations of strangers in art.

Tega Brain is an Australian-born artist and environmental engineer whose work examines issues of ecology, data systems and infrastructure. She has created wireless networks that respond to natural phenomena, systems for obfuscating fitness data, and an online smell-based dating service. Her work has been shown in the Vienna Biennale for Change, the Guangzhou Triennial, and in institutions like the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the New Museum, among others. Tega is an Assistant Professor of Integrated Digital Media, New York University.

Leonardo Impett is assistant professor of Computer Science at Durham University. In 2020 he finished his PhD with Sabine Susstrunk and Franco Moretti on Distant Reading and computer vision for the history of art. He has been DH Scientist at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck), DH Fellow at Villa I Tatti (Harvard), Fellow and Visiting Scholar at CDH (Cambridge). He is currently an Associate of Cambridge Digital Humanities; an Associate Fellow of the Zurich Centre for Digital Visual Studies; and an Associate Researcher at the Orpheus Institute for Artistic Research.

Fabian Offert is Assistant Professor in History and Theory of the Digital Humanities at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research and teaching focuses on the digital/computational humanities, with a special interest in the epistemology and aesthetics of artificial intelligence. Before joining the faculty at UCSB, Fabian was Postdoctoral Researcher in the research project “Synthetic Images as a Means of Knowledge Production” (DFG SPP 2172) at Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen, and Associated Researcher in the Artificial Intelligence and Media Philosophy Research Group at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. He received his PhD in 2020 from UCSB with a dissertation on “Critical Machine Vision”. Previously, he worked for a number of German cultural institutions as an Assistant Curator, among others ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Goethe-Institut New York, and Ruhrtriennale Festival of the Arts.

Image: All the zones of an image for which the predictor has a zero percent confidence minimum. Thanks to Nicolas Malevé.