This is Not a Test (2016)
This is Not a Test was an installation commissioned by Daina Augaitis, Bruce Grenville and Stephanie Rebick, curators for the MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was open from February to June, 2016. A room on the first floor was dedicated to the installation, which was a part of “The Digital Age: Hacking, Remix, and the Archive” portion of the exhibition. I was also invited to contribute a book chapter for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition.
The installation consisted of an industrial scale mobile that incorporated objects and images from the unseen world of image processing and digital computation. A process of material exploration, experimentation, and conceptual research into the topic of the aesthetics and politics of image processing and artificial intelligence preceded the production of the art work. The piece occupied a 20’ x 20’ gallery and was situated next to installations by Hito Steyerl, Isa Genzken, Stan Douglas, Elizabeth Price, and others.
The following is an excerpt from the curator Bruce Grenville’s catalogue description of the piece:
Amber Frid-Jimenez is a Vancouver-based artist whose artwork and research is focused on the creation, use and dispersal of images within the digital realm. The relationship between digital imaging research and the field of computer science along with image making within contemporary creative communities (both professional and amateur) have radically reshaped contemporary art, yet we know little about the processes and choices that have guided their development and use.
Frid-Jimenez’s This is not a test (2016) is an dynamic arrangement of objects that speaks to this history, drawing our attention to the constellation of ideas, technologies and assumptions that have guided the development of the digital image over the past 50 years. The physical mobile suspended within the gallery explores the use of a set of paradigmatic images by computer scientists. Testing the effectiveness of image processing algorithms requires that the test images are divorced from their original context and emptied of content in service of narrow technical aims. The installation seeks to restore some of this the context, exploring the cultural biases inherent in the content of digital test images.
A digital scan of the face taken from Lena Söderberg’s 1972 Playboy centerfold photo has become one of the most widely used test images within the computer vision community to develop image processing algorithms for digital photography. The rabbit head and mirrored sphere are references to the Stanford Bunny and a Cornell Box, virtual objects widely used to test surface smoothing and compression algorithms in 3D modeling. The tensegrity form is loosely based on Levi Strauss’ totemic operator in Savage Mind (1962), and uses principles of compression and tension to look at systems of contingent relations. In This is Not a Test, these objects acquire new meaning that provides insight into the subjective and largely unseen territory of image processing that underlies the creation of contemporary digital images.
In the excerpt below, art writer Mike Cook discusses the feminist perspective of This is not a test in his review of the Mashup exhibition in the SFAQ International Art and Culture:
Amber Frid-Jimenez’ This is not a test (2016) is a multi-media sculptural installation that raises questions about the state of third wave feminism, interrogates the symbol of the mirror (which also features heavily in Dana Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79) on the third floor), and examines the insidious role of the Playboy bunny, putting generations of feminists: Gloria Steinem, Jessica Valenti, and Shulamith Firestone into dialogue with one another and with the evolution of new media. Frid-Jimenez clarified via email:
“This is not a test refers to a dialog between a post-feminist perspective (Nina Power, et al) and a third wave feminist one (Valenti, et al). I myself fall on the post-feminist side – Valenti espouses a kind of neo-liberalism that I can’t stand behind…
“Also, the face of Lena, the playboy centerfold in the piece, has been widely used since 1972 by computer scientists as a test image to develop image processing algorithms. Same as the bunny and ball, but for 3D rendering.”