Artists and scientists have worked with digital computers for over seventy years, and algorithmic practices exist for a lot longer. But in recent years, increased computing power and decreased costs and miniaturisation of machines have created a new quantity and quality of everyday exposure, economic and political criticality, and with it a wave of public attention and discourse. As artists-researchers, how do we incorporate this new situation into our practices, and more importantly, how does this changed situation retroact on our understanding of the role of digital art, sound art and artistic practice itself?
Rather than understanding algorithms as existing and transparent tools, the ALMAT Symposium is interested in their genealogical, processual aspects and their transformative potential. We seek critical approaches that avoid both mystification and commodification, that aim at opening the black box of "wonder" that is often presented to the public when utilising algorithms. We depart from the assumption that algorithms possess an inherent material agency that emerges from the intra-action between human and machine (K. Barad). In these exchange processes, we experience gaps, breaks and bends in the flow, the reconfigurative nature of the algorithmic which bounces back and reconfigures our thinking and approach to artistic work. When algorithms are inserted in the creative process, they actively shape this process and spread outside the boundaries of a particular medium or artefact. The symposium looks to rethink the relation between humans and algorithms (N.K. Hayles) in terms of an organic or ecological perspective (Y. Hui) in which actors are entangled and co-generative.
The foundation for the symposium is given by the eponymous project ALMAT - Algorithms that Matter. ALMAT is an artistic research project by Hanns Holger Rutz and David Pirrò funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF AR 403-GBL) and hosted by the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM) at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. The project started in 2017, and over the past years has developed a series of case studies, research iterations, and accompanying workshops and meetings, of which the Symposium 2020 is a major concluding event.
ALMAT 2020 was originally planned to take place (06–07 July) adjoining the 8th Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X – xCoAx (08–10 July). xCoAx is an exploration of the intersection where computational tools and media meet art and culture, in the form of a multi-disciplinary enquiry on aesthetics, computation, communication and the elusive X factor that connects them all. Due to the Coronavirus crisis, xCoAx is going into an online-only mode, and the ALMAT symposium has been replaced by an online assemblage of the submitted proposals only.