The power of images as real-time agency: from video feedback to generative AI

Paper at the 5th Postgraduate International Conference, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, 5 October 2023, 14.00-16.30.

Ground-breaking at the time of its advent in 1965, video was deployed by contemporary artists to challenge human perception up until the mid-1970s. Their closed-circuit installations notably played with the psychological drive of people to access the camera’s field of vision so that to confront their own image fed back in real time (Rosalind Krauss, 1976). If art-historical accounts have retained the prosthetic relationship maintained with these early analogue systems, such works more radically transformed the space between the viewfinder and the monitor into the arena of a double perceptive experience: that of the participant and that of the machine. With the concurrent development of video processors, mixers and synthesizers, further artistic experiments came to emphasize the truly dynamic quality of this medium, to the point of likening it to that of a living system (James P. Crutchfield, 1984). Such perspective anchored the idea that the technology possessed an agency of its own, capable of generating intrinsic visions through feedback loops (Ina Blom, 2016). But what visions were they and to what extent did they set free from the control of their demiurge – the artist behind the knobs?