Algorithmic Anxiety in Contemporary Art:
A Kierkegaardian Inquiry into the Imaginary of Possibility
by Patricia de Vries
Available as open access E-pub here.
Over the past decade, a growing number of artists and critical practitioners have become engaged with algorithms. This artistic engagement has resulted in algorithmic theatre, bot art, and algorithmic media and performance art of various kinds that thematise the dissemination and deployment of algorithms in everyday life. Especially striking is the high volume of artistic engagements with facial recognition algorithms, trading algorithms and search engine algorithms over the past few years.
The fact that these three types of algorithms have garnered more responses than other types of algorithms suggests that they form a popular subject of artistic critique. This critique addresses several significant, supra-individual anxieties of our decade: socio-political uncertainty and polarisation, the global economic crisis and cycles of recession, and the centralisation and corporatisation of access to online information. However, the constituents of these anxieties — which seem to be central to our experience of algorithmic culture — are rarely interrogated. They, therefore, merit closer attention.
This dissertation uses prominent artistic representations of facial recognition algorithms, trading algorithms, and search algorithms as the entry point into an exploration of the constituents of the anxieties braided around these algorithms. It proposes that the work of Søren Kierkegaard—one of the first theorists of anxiety—helps us to investigate and critically analyse the constituents of ‘algorithmic anxiety’.