In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We'll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.
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Ed Fornieles' latest artwork harnesses the power of data to evoke an emotional connection to the global economy.
The British artist has designed a digital creature called the Finiliar whose emotions are connected to streams of real-time stock market data. The project aims to provoke in viewers an emotional bond to abstract structure. The course of this relationship is beyond the control of both the artist and the viewer. Instead, its fate is determined by the dataset to which the Finiliar is linked.
Soaring shares will bring a beaming grin to the face of the anime-inspired figure, but if they plunge, that smile will turn into a frown and eventually strike the Finiliar down with sickness. Fornieles calls his creation an "empathy tool."
"This one is attached to the stocks of Facebook," Fornieless explained at the launch of the Malevich trading platform, where his work will be sold. "And it's very happy at the moment."
His concept is detailed in an animated film called Tulip Fever, which takes its name from the notorious rise and fall of the Dutch tulip market in the 17th century. The narrator describes the Finiliars as "spectres of a system that seemingly operates with no clear intention or reality, whose main concern is the pursuit of value and growth," who reduce viewers to "variables, bereft of materiality, reduced to data to collect and then consume."
Fornieles intends to provoke a combination of empathy and powerlessness in the individual, as the data can only be altered through the reactions of a group, whose emotions can be manipulated to effect both positive and negative ends.
"This could also be attached to carbon emissions. It could be attached to the rainforest," said Fornieles. "And it is a societal responsibility to change the Faniliar, essentially. The only way to change this one would be altered by buying Facebook shares, which sounds pretty horrific."
Developing the connection
Fornieles believes that people need portals like the Faniliar to relate to things that are beyond normal human compassion and emotional understanding, and worked with a group of designers in Montreal to investigate what could generate empathy. Their analysis revealed that a face or body is the best form to develop this connection.
“The Finiliar is an attempt to try to give a body to infrastructure or to things that normally don't have an existence in a reality," said Fornieles.
The Finiliar is in part inspired by Fornieles' experiments with memes.
"I talk about memes in the broader Richard Dawkins sense of the word, as a unit of culture that replicates itself, but it doesn't take itself outside of you; it replicates itself inside of you, and I think that what we're seeing is pushes and pulls between old and new memetic waves that we're all being caught up in constantly," he said. "I think that our agency within the eye of the storm is miniscule and it's immersive. But we do have some agency."