Google Portrait

Google Portrait
Gryphon Rue and Benton C Bainbridge
2018, Series of Digital Media HD videos in Singular Editions, silent, running times vary

Google Portrait assemblage

Google Portrait is a series of media artworks offered in Singular Editions with decentralized provenance via artHash.

Google Portrait is an invention; a mythical entity; a state of mind; a spiritual problem. It abides in an immaterial coat of arms, an appendage to the Cloud. It is the hidden visage of a quasi-religious institution—like Capital itself.

Rue shot Portraits, then Bainbridge patched together a studio full of artifact-inducing hardware and software as an image processing system to push pixels beyond the edge of representational functionality.

Footage was fed through obsolete gear and prototype video synth modules, modified mixers and hacked TiVos, rescanned and scan converted and down-rezzed to lofi SD glory. This process was repeated hundreds of times over many months; then, the analog passes were digitally captured, up-rezzed, shredded with filters and mashed up with each other, in sequences a hundred layers deep:

Hackintosh computer running Vidvox VDMX →
ScanDo Pro scan converter →
analog Eurorack modular Video Synth with Dave Jones prototypes → hacked Sony TiVo digital video delay →
customized Panasonic WJ-MX50A video stitcher →
Black magic Intensity capture card →
souped-up MacBook Air running Adobe After Effects with Red Giant Trapcode and dozens of other filters →
Adobe Media Encoder →

Pixel painting: Benton C Bainbridge
Director & editor: Gryphon Rue
ASL consultant: Christopher Tester

Gryphon Rue
Christine Sun Kim
Dean Wareham
Ellie Nash
Aubree Niishay
RJ Van Brussel
Lucas Gomez
Teigen Horowitz


GOOGLE PORTRAIT? by Benton C Bainbridge

Sherry Miller Hocking (of Experimental Television Center) said that an appeal of early consumer video technologies was that one could, at last, put oneself “on TV”. A decade earlier, Nam June Paik predicted that access to formerly elite tech would democratize the Global Village as we inserted ourselves into the frame.

Paik and his wife Shigeko Kubota, Sherry and Ralph Hocking, Steina and Woody Vasulka and other media-utopians imagined a Mediated Age of Enlightenment, anticipating that media of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people would facilitate understanding and harmony between cultures.

These thinkers’ clairvoyance has proven remarkably prescient in all the details, yet they underestimated humankind’s proclivity to sacrifice paradise for convenience sake, as well as the emerging threat of AI in the service of the ruthless.

The foresight of Paik et al reached up to 2006, when YouTube was launched. When Paik predicted prosaic media he pictured Zen meditations on the quotidian; instead, the lowest-common-denominated “Charlie Bit My Finger” proved that cute and stupid prevails in an algorithmically governed attention economy.

Paik et al also imagined that we would all take up the tools of media art making, jamming together with visual instruments as the moving image became our universal language. While it’s true that movies are supplanting the written word, we speak to each other by selecting pre-fab emoji stickers and pluck memes from the endless imagery assault.

So, how do we change course, sending our Portraits out into the mediaverse without sacrificing our souls to Alphabet and Facebook?

We have to treat the social-mediaverse like a costume ball; we have to wear masks.

How can we masquerade?

We gotta fuck up our selfies; painting our Portraits like Picasso or, better yet, Dubuffet!

Instagram filters are like digital make-up; selecting from the same presets as everyone else lets us fit in and helps the AI bots pick us out from the crowd. Better to smear the pixel lipstick all around our mouths; to blemish our smooth complexions with a generous application of noise; to echo and decay our features with feedback; reflected in broken mirrors for maximum Cubist confusion; to paint ourselves as wild beasts with Fauvist palettes.

Rue and Bainbridge are naively optimistic that, once we all finger-paint our video portraits, the AI bots will self-immolate under the awesome assault of illogical imagery. Just as a Puppy Slug profanes our human sight, so may the wild abandon of a child’s pixel-play give the algorithms a Deep Nightmare.