Procedural Images

Procedural Images: Agency, Affect and Alienation

What does algorithmic agency bring into the aesthetic consideration of the moving image? The increasing algorithmic automation of visual culture produces new questions for the powers of the moving image, not only in relation to its models of distribution and circulation but also for the very space of perception. This project is based on the framework developed during a previous investigation of ‘procedural films’. The framework attends to the algorithmic remaking of contemporary moving image practices by suggesting that algorithmic autonomy brought an affective renegotiation of the traditional roles of the spectator and the moving image, instead seeing it as a complex entanglement of human and non-human agencies, computational temporalities and generative procedures, drawing on new materialist theory. Procedural mediation and automation are seen as integral part of the political aesthetics of moving images, and bring the commodification of attention, time and images to the foreground. Relying on this framework, this study aims to extend the discussion of algorithmic autonomy in procedural films into the consideration of the aesthetic operation of a range of artefacts: the ‘affective scroll’ of audiovisual social media, seen as a new form of montage, the artists’ moving image works made with the assistance of machine learning, patterns of audiovisual automatism in social media interfaces, game engine simulations and bots.

The significant aspect of the procedural framework lies in acknowledging the perceived autonomy of algorithmic moving images.The autonomy of procedural films such as live simulations or artificial life programs produces an affective space in the shared aesthetic networks which enables a negotiation of agential roles of human and non-human participants. While often the potential of such ambiguous perceived agencies is dismissed in favour of assigning agency as purely technologically or socially determined, I argue that it is precisely the ambiguity that challenges us to reconsider the aesthetic potential of the moving image’s operations, movements and gestures.

The stakes of this project therefore lie in bringing to light the idea of aesthetic renegotiation that algorithmic processing bring to the diverse practices of moving image, in its networked and platformed shapes and forms. In what scenarios does the algorithmic ‘liveness’ and agency affect the aesthetic entanglement between the spectator and the film? How can we approach new forms of montage arising from algorithmic recommendation systems? The lack of critical attention to the ambiguous place of algorithmic agency in moving image cultures contributes to the continuous dismissal of the aesthetic potential of the moving image within socio-technical networks of moving image circulation. 

The first two case studies within the project – the ‘affective scroll’ of audiovisual social media, seen as a new form of montage, and the artists’ moving image works made with the assistance of machine learning – aim to frame the investigation of moving images in relation to renegotiations of agency, affect and alienation involved in the contemporary processes of procedural production and mediation.

Alexandra Anikina