Introduction: Decoding Models

(In general, with interfaces) "All input is error" quotes Elon Musk's reply to a tweet by popular American tech Youtuber MKBHD about his review of  the Tesla Model S Plaid car. In the video, the reviewer comments on the inconvenience of operating a car using menu screens. The review video pointed out how inconvenient it was to operate the car via the menus. Since turn signal indicators, horn and gearshifts were no longer operated by switches, levers, or knobs, the experience of driving felt completely different to what drivers were accustomed to in traditional cars. The replacement of all the physical buttons with touch sensors led to errors in the drivers’ responses. Musk countered this, maintaining that, for a car with the ambition to establish itself as a fully self-driving vehicle, input from the user is merely an error. Ultimately the user would pay increasingly less attention to the buttons as developments would come in the form of such things disappearing further into the touch screen interface than in the revival of fully tangible buttons and their feel.

‘Driving’ a full self-driving car while only ‘maneuvering’ menus on a screen now seems like a likely future. In this case, we may need to reconsider errors we take for granted while using interfaces: working for hours on a document only to lose everything when by clicking “No” to the question “Do you want to save changes?”, attempting to carefully input an intricate password composed of special characters, alphabets, and numbers but then getting it wrong so many times that it needs to be reset, contacting the credit card call center to complain about a payment error, only to have a delivery of a purchased item arrive the following day as a reminder that of having in fact placed that order. Everyday, several times a day, we are flustered, astonished, and devastated by the input errors we make and have to put in even more time and effort to compensate for them.

“Damn it!” We think as our own past impulsive spending confronts us, and with it the realization of what caused the disappearing act in our bank balance. What would a computer, or any other machines, think of us and our errors?

Programs written in digital codes and the machines that operate in sync with them would not make these kinds of mistakes. If there were errors, they would be due to a mishap in the process of writing the code or a mechanic not having fastened a bolt tight enough. A low-spec computer crashing down from excessive workload was nothing unusual a few years ago, but now, advances in technology accommodate such faults less and less. Machines assist inefficient humans by providing ‘clouds’ in which to save documents every five minutes, and by creating and remembering random passwords. Perhaps errors have become the only privilege of humans invited to the digital world.

Decoding Models traces and collates errors humans make when oscillating the real and the digital. Notably, it focuses on contemporary art, which seems to yield errors throughout every step of the process. What if the process of producing the artwork, mostly led by artists, could be considered a type of encoding, and the experience and interpretation of the work as a process of decoding? Encoding and decoding is the structure in which exchanges take place between the worlds of the real and the digital. Encoding is a process of rendering data forms that are perceptible by humans – text, numbers, images, etc. – to a combination of 0 and 1. In reverse, decoding involves converting the data sequence into images or sounds. Going back and forth between encoding and decoding, data is inevitably reconfigured or distorted. This project intends to observe how contemporary art operates exchange between these realms of real and the digital. The first step would be to consider the subject of exchange – the artwork – as a model, and trace the process in which the model is replicated, added onto another, and changed. The steps of this exploration are saved on this website.

The persistence of manual labour required to achieve artistic excellence is no different from the labour of applying countless clicks, or making overlaps and variations of multiple commands within a program. An artist adjusts the variable details in a number of ways.  For example, by pulling the vertex point on a model to modify the scale or pouring brick or marble images onto a white surface with a paint bucket. When you take a closer look at the commands in Photoshop’s filter menus, you come face to face with the work’s themes. Choices made along the process embody the very ideas to be materialized. This way of thinking comes in handy with works  that are increasingly open to experimentation. To state the obvious, you need a model to experiment.

Surely, not all artworks inhabit the boundary between the worlds of the digital and the real. Some may not incorporate digital tools at all, while some artists insist that the digital is merely a tool, that it has nothing to do with what the work is trying to do. What we find interesting is this very tool that is often taken for granted. There is a crowd indefinitely alternating between the real world and the digital. For one thing, you, the reader, are on the website now, inputting errors.

Models that are saved on this website are not only artworks, it also includes many more, i.e.,a certain CEO’s tweet about meme-coins and a clip from a talk show where a celebrity says people should shut their mouth. On top of this, we had the chance to have detailed conversations with Ryu Hansol and Hong Jinhwon, fellow participants of the 11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale, about their new commissions. The meme-emoticons, staring at you from the website’s main page, will be your friendly guides.