Computer Vision in Art: Seeing the Invisible

Levin outlines the different elements of computer vision that artists and designers must be aware of in order to implement this technology as part of their projects. He also provides a ‘short history’ of the early stages of computer vision in interactive arts pieces, and identifies the major themes that artists have addresses through their work.

I was particularly intrigued by the The Suicide Box (Bureau of Inverse Technology 1996) and Cheese (2003). Natalie Jeremijenko of the Bureau of Inverse Technology reacted to some of the criticism to the project by pointing out that it stemmed from “the inherent suspicion of artists working with material evidence.” Her words are extremely thought-provoking in a context of growing digitisation inasmuch as they force the question: who gets to mobilise digital or digitised data as legitimate evidence? How we answer this question will have consequences for how open and democratic the digital realm ends up being. If we endow everybody with the ability to use and mobilise digital data, then digital platforms can prove themselves to be truly disruptive. If we limit this ability, then we will just be reproducing old structures for producing knowledge.

Cheese successfully objectifies the pressures that different forms of surveillance exert on (female) bodies. In doing so, it highlights one of the most productive areas of computer vision for artists. Computer vision technologies—as well as a host of other data-gathering technologies in the devices we use—are often concealed. By creating environments in which participants can see and react to how they are being perceived and processed as data, and the consequences this has for them and for the information being produced, interactive art relying on computer vision can help people become more aware of the technosocial system we are all embedded in.