Multimedia Sculpture, 2022

Topology was conceived from the way I view myself and my relation to technology, and how technology affects us in society at large. My screaming face, engorged with various electrical components, is commentary on my toxic relationship with technology and my reluctant willingness to let Big Tech take whatever it needs from me for their own benefit. My complacency is reflected in the serene face on the front side. Not only that, but the back face appears as a sort of tumor or growth on the back of the primary head to reflect the duality and conjoined nature of this other part of myself: the part of me that obeys the whims of the latest tech and to use it for my daily activities and art, yet as much as I vehemently hate technology and its role in my life, it's a part of me no matter what. 

Topology is a multimedia interactive sculpture composed of my 3D printed head, internal computers, electrical components, and a base mount. Topology is the culmination of my Spring 2022 Independent Study replacement course for IMD 498. By creating this sculpture I hoped to learn about Python programming, IoT (Internet of Things), Raspberry Pi’s, and art/design. In addition, I was to make this piece while reading along with Tim Ingold’s design philosophy book, Making. In practice, the creative process ended up teaching me way more than just all of the aforementioned topics, and instead taught me a lot about myself as a designer and artist, and about the world as whole. 

The name for Topology is multifaceted. Topo is my middle name and how I present myself as an artist (Simon Topo) and is found within the word “topology”. Topology is a field in mathematics, or the study of three dimensional forms and their relations to each other (a donut and the coffee cup are topographically the same, as they both have one hole, for example). So in this context, each face is topographically the same as my own, but elicits radically different emotions from the viewer, and portrays a version of myself that is more tortured and more physically entwined with my fears. Not only that, but Topology, or in my case Topo-ology could be the study of Topo. As this is really a study of myself, about myself, and resulted in me learning an incredible amount about me and my process of making. 

The interactive nature of Topology is two fold: the first being the camera eye and the screen on the base mount, the second being the speaker and the audibly responsive AI.  The screen displays a live stream of the camera feed and within the camera feed is a face detection algorithm that I have set profiles and names for certain people. Unknown people are displayed as “Lines of Becoming” and myself as “Father”. Lines of Becoming is a reference to Tim Ingold’s Making in which he proposes that we are all a part of a “line of becoming” in the process of making and interacting with our world, so by interacting with the sculpture, you too are a part of the process and life force of the sculpture’s creation. The talking/response component allows you (after having pressed the button) to speak to the head and get a text-to-speech response. The response stems from an AI text generation script and often formulates incoherent or insightful babble. In conjunction you have both a head that can see you and identify you, and one that also can hear you and respond with semi-intelligent thought. Both of these components are commentary on the invasive and black box nature of our technological interactions and how we really never know what they’re (Big Tech) taking from us or how they're manipulating our data for their benefit.

Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, and Architecture is the last and unseen component of this sculpture. Making, the book by Tim Ingold is about the philosophy of design, and what it means to interface with our world. Or as Ingold would put it, how we correspond with our materials. Because really, that is what it is, a correspondence. We impart onto the materials and the materials impart onto us. We listen to the material and manipulate it, and the material listens to our manipulations and responds in kind. The artifacts we make from materials don’t have a finished end point, and how could they? Our finished pieces of work, like in my case, this sculpture, will continue to live on past my declaration of completion. Because even though I may leave it, and install it into the collaboratory, and never physically “work” on it again, it’s still living and reacting to the environment, and with those who look at/interact with it. It still contains my energy and its energy within me, and everyone’s energy who has had the pleasure to interact with it.  Every week I read a chapter of Making and every week I was left with my mouth agape and a newfound vigor for the project and the world as a whole. Really, I think the biggest thing I took away from Tim Ingold and Making was to just slow down and listen and to feel. Listen to and feel your emotions, listen to and feel your materials, listen to and feel your hands. Just pay attention. Funnily enough he ends the book with a call to action to return to the analog, and after working with all of this technology for 10+ weeks, I’m inclined to agree.