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Researcher Profile

Malthe Stavning Erslev

PhD Fellow

ABOUT

Bio

Malthe Stavning Erslev is a PhD fellow at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies, Aarhus University. He is active in the Digital Aesthetics Research Center, the Literature Between Media research group, and is associated with the Center for Computational Thinking and Design and the Center for Advanced Visualization and Interaction. He is co-editor of the born-digital scholarly journal The Digital Review. Erslev’s research is in part practice-based, and centers around culturally shared conceptions of AI as solidified in auto-pedagogic encounters with tech imaginaries in and through electronic literature and digital art.

stavning@cc.au.dk // PURE

Memesis as Post-digital Literacy

Memesis as Post-digital Literacy is the tentative title of Malthe Stavning Erslev’s PhD project at the Graduate school ARTS, Aarhus University. The project explores culturally shared conceptions of AI as solidified in auto-pedagogic encounters with tech imaginaries in and through electronic literature and digital art. Specifically, the project inquires into the aesthetic-mimetic dance of humans pretending to be (ro)bots, pretending to be humans - and the pedagogic potential of harnessing this phenomenon as an aesthetic-mimetic approach to teaching computation(al thinking) in K-12, in close collaboration with Danish public libraries.

Publications

PRACTICE

DobbelGANger

DobbelGANger

Collaboration with Mitra Azar

DoppelGANger.agency believes that every human on Earth needs to find their algorithmic double – a first step towards a new idea of privacy concerning facial recognition and biometric technologies at large.
http://doppelganger.agency/

The project points at raising the question of humanity’s aesthetic and emotional extinction, attempting at finding the humans in the midst of the latest technological disruption. The project is a radical and ironic gesture which mixes algorithmic art and street art, questioning the relation between online and offline world, the human and the technological.

I partook in early concept development, and produced the initial iterations of the project, including the iteration that was exhibited at the 2019 Havana Biennial, as part of !!!Sección A R T E
http://www.nestorsire.com/act-no-22_12-04-2019/

The Oracle from Selphie

The Oracle from Selphie

Collaboration with Søren Pold and Jakob Fredslund, co-produced by CAVI

The Oracle from Selphie is a new layout for the Poetry Machine. The Oracle instantiates a close resemblance between ancient oracles, horoscopes, machine learning, and social media. The Oracle from Selphie lets the reader create new and unique texts from a corpus of available sentences, all of which parody the style and content of horoscopes; some sentences give statements about the reader’s current mood and thoughts, while others predict future events.

With the graphic design resembling a kitsch-like version of a social media feed, and an introductory text referencing machine learning and computational statistics, these horoscopes are put into a post-digital context. Here, it becomes evident that most of the texts we read, write, share, etc. online are highly pre-defined. The connection to ancient oracles highlights how these strange predictions often require interpretation and specific action from the recipient – the question of whether social media is mainly documentation of or template for our lives becomes evident.

My interest has mainly been on the practice of invoking references to machine learning in a piece which is in no way based on machine learning techniques. In particular, I am interested in the way we attribute functionality to the system based on shared cultural conceptions, as embedded in tech narratives around machine learning.

View animated version of the Oracle from Selphie

SKRALDEKUNST

SKRALDEKUNST

Collaboration with Jørn Erslev Andersen

SKRALDEKUNST: Poesimaskinepoesi is a published collection of poems.

It is the result of a workshop conducted on Feb 12th, 2019 at the Aesthetics & Culture programme, Aarhus University. The students operated in groups, each group creating two poems using the Poetry Machine and selecting two poems from the online repository for Poetry Machine poems. Thus, each group ended the workshop with a collection of four poems. SKRALDEKUNST is a collection of these 32 poems divided into eight chapters, each with a different theme and curatorial intention.

The publication is as such a shared effort between the students, the Poetry Machine, and Ursula Andkjær Olsen who authored work I am full of questions for the Poetry Machine, which was the corpus of text used in the workshop.

http://turnonliterature.eu/dk/skraldekunst/

f-ah-n-eh-t-ih-k_m-ih-r-er [Phonetic Mirror]

f-ah-n-eh-t-ih-k_m-ih-r-er

f-ah-n-eh-t-ih-k_m-ih-r-er [Phonetic Mirror] is an experiment into natural language processing (NLP). It investigates the relation between corpus text and output, and it troubles notions about ‘learning’ present in machine learning discourse. Phonetic Mirror lets you build a corpus by talking to your computer – the computer only ‘knows’ the words you say to it. In addition, the Phonetic Mirror only ‘learns’ the words based on their phonetic structure – the structure individual syllables present in each word you say.

Phonetic Mirror then talks back to you, creating words (or sound poetry) based on the learned relations between phonemes. As such, Phonetic Mirror operates closer to an extracted sound-similarity than to any grammar when creating new words based on you input.

Phonetic Mirror is an investigation into the mirrored relation between person and interface: who mimics whom in this phonetic dance? To what extend are we inclined to label the program ‘natural language processing’, given that what it produce is quite far from anything we would usually consider to be NLP. The output seems to make close to no sense – though the algorithm is based on NLP-processes and ‘learns’ in a way which seems closer to that of human language acquisition: by listening to and copying the phonetics, not the grammar, of language.

*** Based on and inspired by code by Daniel Shiffman, Daniel Howe (the RiTa library for p5.js), and R. Luke DuBois (the p5.speech library).

cleanPath.get()

cleanPath.get()

cleanPath.get() is a meditation on the vast CO2-emission by the Internet, and is a critical investigation of possible courses of action. The interactive visualization represent a web of nodes, and is meant to resemble a network not unliske the Internet – each node is a server.

When accessing a web page, there is not a direct link between your device and the website server – one of the great innovations that made the WWW possible was the TCP/IP-protocol. When accessing a website, the data is sent through a complicated path of nodes and connections. Each node, then, pollutes a different amount of CO2, depending on the geographical location, the source of electricity, the size of the server farm, etc. cleanPath.get() speculates the theoretical possibility of finding a more ‘clean’ path that the conventional one used. While this at one level seems like a simple quick-fix, numerous problems arise when the idea is considered more closely, establishing the issue as deeply techno-cultural and thoroughly messy.

cleanPath.get() troubles both the invisibility of Internet-generated pollution and tech-solutionism in an approachable way, and was designed to be the object for discussion at IWDK, a Danish technology fair.

As interface criticism, cleanPath.get() treads an uneasy balance between critical investigation and techno-optimist solutionism. It was designed specifically to resemble a back-end tool, and as such to be something beyond the immediate grasp of the passers-by who encountered it at the fair. While many visitors were generally positive to the idea at first, my engaging in discussion and common investigation of the solution gave rise to acknowledgment of the problems it entails.

haiku_rhymecoup

haiku_rhymecoup

haiku_rhymecoup is an experimental generator for sound poetry.

A poem, in haiku form, is generated. The reader can morph the poem, both syntactically, semantically, visually and audibly or generate entirely new poems. The sentences are morphed into new assemblages which, importantly, sound profoundly similar to the original poem – they always rhyme, word for word. New poems emerge; they suggest new juxtapositions of words, new understandings of both sentences and individual words. One word becomes entangled with its rhyming partner(s) as another is left lonely – the only word with that specific phonetic structure – the lonely pillars of continuation in the morphing poems.

In the illustration above, a generated poem (upper left) is shown along with three morphed versions of it.

The haiku format was chosen both because it is a classic within text-generation (a kind of ‘hello world’-format for text generation), and because it connotes a degree of semantic mystery: the poem does not need to make sense at first glance. The text is generated from a corpus consisting of the infamous last section of James Joyces’ Ulysses (sampled from the Project Gutenberg version of the book), which is also known for its semantic opacity.

Video of me performing the work: http://kortlink.dk/sc9z (password: digitalCulture17)

*** This project is partly based on and inspired by code by Daniel Howe (the RiTa library).

I Am Full of Questions

I Am Full of Questions

As part of the Turn on Literature project, I re-designed the graphic interface of the Poetry Machine to suit the new literary work "I Am Full of Questions" by Danish author Ursula Andkjær Olsen.

The new graphic interface was held in more grayish colours than the original, and was intended to highlight the Poetry Machine as a boundary object between print and digital literature. To do so, the ocean of words in the background included some 'binary' signals, consisting of random segments of ones and zeros.

Furthermore, the non-linear aspect of the interactive writing process was highlighted, as the Pantoum structure of the poems was hidden from the reader, and was only revealed during the interaction - thus reseerving more 'creative' power to the machine, facilitating a dialogoue or an argument between reader(s) and machine.

Digital Undertaker

Your Digital Undertaker

Collaboration with Tobias Stenberg Christensen and Tilde Lageri Damborg

Your Digital Undertaker was a speculative/critical design project troubling the relation between our bodies and out online presences. It introduces ‘digital cremation’ – an online ‘burial site’ where you can grief the loss of a loved one’s digital identity. The concept of digital cremation mimics the logics of burial rituals: obscuring the dead enough that no-one gets sick yet keeping maintaining a degree of recognizability. To this end, the deceased's online presence is harvested and glitched, providing a respectful resting place for the deceased’s metadata. The option to be digitally cremated is provided in a testament-service; the testament is stored in a personal card, and your digital will is carried out when the card is inserted into a Digital Undertaker Station.

The project was awarded 'Most Creative Idea' at a local EXPO.

Prolonged Selfie

Prolonged Selfie

Prolonged Selfie is an experiment with the idea of the selfie. The program lets you take a selfie spanning a longer period of time, and will contain images of everything happening in front of the computer in that period. Less communicable (or at least less easily-understandable) than traditional selfies, the Prolonged Selfie is a way to communicate more complex emotions and a more temporally stretched-out activity than what is possible using traditional selfies. Like the early days of photography, the subject of the Prolonged Selfie is required to sit still in order to become solidified in the final image. The Prolonged Selfie is blurry, difficult to understand, and not always communicable – much like reality. Instead of narrowing down a person and an activity to a ‘snapshot’, the Prolonged Selfie is a way to encapsulate multiple emotions and states of mind into an easily transferred format.

without_e

without_e

without_e [Without e/E] could perhaps just as well have been named ‘the Perec-i-nator’, as it is inspired by the e/E-less approach famously practiced by George Perec in his 1969 novel La disparition. It is a simple algorithm which trawls through a given text and removes any e/E in its path. The e/E-less text is printed to the screen (and to the console), and the removed e/E’s are stitched on top of the text, moving about like insects in the night.

Perhaps ironically, what started out as an homage to the avant-garde author turned into almost the exact opposite of his canonical work: What was distinctive to his e/E-less novel was the way the reader hardly notices the lacking e/E’s – while in the case of Without e/E, the e/E’s are basically all the reader sees. The result is a playful graphic expression, where e/Es dance about above the virtually unreadable, e/E-less text.

The program is intended to be experienced alongside music by Kompost 3 – “Ohne E” – a beautiful piece which refrains from using the note ‘e’.

IsAnybodyThere?

IsAnybodyThere?

IsAnybodyThere? was an early experiment with the relation between what a user sees and what is also going on without their knowledge. It is manifested as a ‘shy’ program which will only show itself when it believes it is alone – when there is no-one in front of the computer. It plays with conceptions of power and of visibility, and is a critique of opaque interfaces.

ACTIVITIES

Launch of The Digital Review

The born-digital scholarly journal The Digital Review launches with its inaugural issue on digital essayism. I have partaken in minor editorial tasks, and I am set to continue being associated with the journal as co-editor.

http://thedigitalreview.com/

Upcoming: Proceedings Paper at the 2020 ELO Conference (Virtual Edition)

My paper on "Exhibiting, Disseminating, Teaching: Digital Literature in Danish Public Libraries" has been accepted as proceedings paper for the 2020 virtual ELO conference with the theme "(Un)Continuity"

The paper charts a decade of practice-based work with exhibiting, disseminating, and teaching electronic literature that has taken place in Danish public libraries since 2010 (in collaboration with Aarhus University and in dialogue with the ELO). Moreover, the paper reflects on the insights gained from this decade of work, identifying future trajectories of work. In particular, the paper argues that electronic literature, when exhibited and taught in public libraries, may contribute to the development of what the paper coins as a post-digital literacy, i.e. an ability to recognize, reflect upon, and act in response to the cultural consequences of mass digitization.

Talk: Data-Realism: An Exploration of the Writing of Machine Learning

Collaboration with Søren Pold. Paper presented as part of the panel “Literary Realism at the Peripheries of Electronic Literature: Representing the Realities of the Post-Digital Age” at the ELO2019 conference and media arts festival at University College Cork, Ireland. The pael also included contributions from Nathan Jones and J.R. Carpenter. The paper circles the concept of data-realism, and how such a concept relates to a contemporary realism. The paper investigates the intricate ways that auto-generative texts impact our reading and writing practices, and further investigates an emergent auto-generative style. As such, the paper does not argue for machine learning as realsim, but investigates realist approaches to machine learning.

Project: Literature in Digital Transformation

From May to September, 2019, I am part of the project Literature in Digital Transformation. The project is a collaboration between multiple Danish libraries and is spearheaded by Roskilde Library. It is a continuation of a series of projects on integrating digital literature in literary exhibitions situated in the library space. The project goes further than previous projects and develops, in addition to a new exhibition, a teaching platform so that libraries can offer expert knowledge on digital literature to K12 education as part of the current focus on digital literacy and computational thinking in Danish K12 education.

https://www.roskildebib.dk/Litteratur_i_transformation

Exhibition: DoppelGANger @ Havana Biennial

For the 2019 Havana Biennial, artist Nestor Siré once again curated and distributed the !!!A R T Section as part of the offline digital entertainment phenomenon the Weekly Package, which is distributed to thousands of Cuban subscribers who would otherwise be unable to access popular Internet culture / content. Our (i.e. Mitra Azar and I) project DoppelGANger was included in the !!!A R T Section, and was distributed to all subscribers to the Weekly Package during the Biennial.
http://www.nestorsire.com/act-no-22_12-04-2019/

Judge: Digital design hackathon

On March 1st and 2nd, the ODDS (Organization for Digital Design Students) held a 24-hour hackathon with a case from the startup AeroGuest. I was part of the panel of judges. The winner design was a speculative meditation on the possibility of giving hotels a ‘heartbeat’ which would reflect the heartbeat of selected hotel staff - thus giving the hotel a ‘personal’ vibe in an era of digital coldness (or...?).

Guest lectures on – and workshops with – the Poetry Machine

Two guest lectures delivered on February 12 and February 25, 2019 at Aarhus University, on the programmes Aesthetics & Culture and Anthopology, respectively. The lectures introduced selected theoretical perspectives, including an introduction to the main themes of software studies & interface criticism, and a brief rundwn of contemporary text-generation techniques. Furthermore, the lectures introduced the Poetry Machine to the students as a case for analysis, and each lecture was followed by a workshop centered around the Poetry Machine. The workshop at Aesthetics & Culture resulted in the publication of “SKRALDEKUNST”.

Talk: Processing Community Day (PCD) 2019

PCD @Aarhus took place on February 9, 2019 with the theme ‘how to think about code differently’ and featured a number of local students, teachers, and artista all interested in code as a creative expression. I showed a selection of my programming experiments and works, tying them together through a focus on the mimetic relation between me, my programming practice, and my research.

https://www.pcdaarhus.net/

Talk: MIMICRY // MIRROR // MIMESIS

Performative talk delivered at Transmediale festival for art & digital culture, January 2019 in Berlin. The talk meditated the dialectic relation between person and device, and situated this relation in three closely connected conceptual dances: the imitative dance of mimicry, the reflective dance of the mirror, and the psycho-aesthetic dance of (Benjaminian) mimesis.

Bot-mimicry @ Transmediale opening ceremony

Artistic director of Transmediale, Kristoffer Gansing, used my concept of 'bot-mimicry' at the opening ceremony of Transmediale 2019. He presented an alleged bot, stating that he 'forced [it] to watch 1,000 hours of Transmediale panel discussions, and asked it to write a panel discussion of its own'. The bot's panel included an artist, a media theorist, a social scientist, and a moderator, and it performed a sympathetic parody of the festival's formats and themes. As acknowledged by Gansing, he had come across the bot-mimicry approach and its relevance for the Transmediale festival my talk, 'On the Practice of Bot-Mimicry', which he had attended at the Machine Feeling research workshop.

The opening ceremony can be viewed on Youtube (Gansing's bot-mimicry experiment starts ~15 min into the video)

Talk: On the Practice of Bot-Mimicry

Talk delivered at the Machine Feeling research workshop, January 2019 at Cambridge University, UK. The talk tentatively introduced and discussed core ideas behind the concept of bot-mimicry, a concept which solidified in my forthcoming publication in A Peer Reviewed Journal About Machine Feeling (2019).

Instructor: Interface & Interaction Design and Co-Design

From September to December 2018, I functioned as instructor in the courses Interface & Interaction Design and Co-Design at the Digital design programme, Aarhus University. The courses are introductory design courses which focus on, among other things, Scandinavian participatory design, CoDesign, and interface analysis & critique. The courses furthermore include an aspect of practice: The students design a media facade as part of the curricullum.

Exhibition: Critical Designs @ IWDK

In May 2018, I exhibited the work cleanPath.get() at Internet Week Denmark, as part of an exhibition focusing on critical design approaches to the theme ‘resources’. The project speculates the possibility of collective action against the immense pollution generated by the Internet – something that often goes unnoticed, as the pollution generated by the Internet is invisible to its users. See selected projects for further info.

Prize: Winner of small-scale hackathon at the Digital design programme, AU

Given for a project enabling foodies to engage with taste sensation through an interactive sound installation as a way to inspire and challenge their perceptions of taste. The concept was developed during a local Digital design hackathon. Prize and case given by Creuna.

Prize: Winner of Stay Relevant Case Competition 2017

The case competition was arranged by Aarhus University and Design Denmark, and was attended by ~180 people arranged in 35 teams. The prize was given for a design concept engaging with a local community, and tying together a new square in the local town with food vendors from the area and the local supermarket, in order to both benefit local establishments and at the same time tighten the community bond threatened by gentrification and large-scale businesses taking over. Case given by Ry Brugsforening TRYG. Prize given by a jury consisting of both design consultants and specialised academic staff.

http://studerende.au.dk/studier/fagportaler/arts/aktuelt/nyheder/vis-nyhed/artikel/madbod-skal-vaere-samlingssted-i-ry/

Instructor: Use-Oriented Design and Design Processes

From September to December 2017, I functioned as instructor in the courses Use-Oriented Design and Design Processes at the Digital design programme, Aarhus University. The courses are introductory design courses which focus on, among other things, Scandinavian participatory design, CoDesign, and interface analysis & critique. The courses furthermore include an aspect of practice: The students design a media facade as part of the curriculum.

Project: Turn on Literature

In 2017 & 2018, I was part of the project Turn on Literature. The project was a collaboration between three European libraries in Denmark, Norway, and Romania. Roskilde library (DK) managed the project. I worked in close collaboration with librarians, authors, and programmers to re-design the Danish platform for electronic literature The Poetry Machine. I did conceptual and graphic design on the project.

http://www.turnonliterature.eu/

Prize: 'Most Creative Idea' @ EXPO for Digital Design and Information Studies, 2016

Given for the project Your Digital Undertaker (see selected projects). Prize given by CAPNOVA.

Instructor: Aesthetic Programming

From February to June 2016, I functioned as instructor in the course Aesthetic Programming at the Digital design programme, Aarhus University. The course is an introduction to programming, yet it focuses on creative and aesthetic approaches to programming in stead of a typical comp.sci.-approach. The course is based on practice and experimentation.

Student worker: Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction (CAVI)

From 2015 to 2018, I functioned as student worker at CAVI, AU. Main activities were managing and re-designing CAVI’s website, communication work, giving tours of CAVI’s project expo, and assisting with setting up and manning installations.

http://cavi.au.dk/