Robo_Po /// Robo_Op

The Lab is once more open, and the first order of business is (obviously) to host our all-singing, all-versifying, maybe-some-dancing embodied AI performer, Cleo Mesmer.

This promises to be practice-led research at its very best: collaborative, interdisciplinary, exploratory, emergent, placing cutting-edge tech into a critical and reflexive context, exploring both the power relations from which technological innovation emerges, and the alternative possibilities it harbours.

For more about the project and the events, visit Evelyn Ficarra’s site.

We are also calling for two kinds of collaboration:

  • Poems: Submit poems (50 words or less) for performance as part of Robo_Po. More details here.
  • Voice: Submit fragments of sound to help us build a new voice for Cleo, perhaps one which seeks to acknowledge rather than conceal otherness, constructedness, and more-than-human entanglements. More details here.

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A Brief Backward History of Automated Eloquence

Late in 2020, two SHL researchers collaborated with CDH to run a workshop series exploring the theory and practice of synthetic text. As a follow-on, in 2021 we will be creating a speculative object: a future textbook about the history of synthetic text, blending fact and fiction. Here’s a pre-print version of one of the sections (since it purports to be written in 2070, possibly by an AI, it is a very “pre” pre-print).


GPT-2 language model (via Max Woolf), inflected with training on feminist manifestos
Eureka machine beats poetry-writing bot by nearly 200 years - Arts and  Humanities Research Council
The Eureka. Image (c) The Alfred Gillett Trust-C&J Clark Ltd. See also Exeter’s Poetry by Numbers project.
A plate from Über den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung (Leipzig, 1789)

“A (not ethically unproblematic) zombie resurrection of George”

SHL’s James Baker has a fascinating blog post about his use of AI to explore the curatorial voice of historian Mary Dorothy George.

I’ve written this post in the hope that it’ll help others with similar interests take a similar approach to automated text generation, not least as one of my challenges right now is how to read the outputs of simGeorge, how to grapple intellectually as a historian with fabricated catalogue entries in the style of Mary Dorothy George.

Elsewhere: Curatorial Voice: legacy descriptions of art objects and their contemporary use

Urban Algorhythms

On Monday, SHL was lucky enough to have Prof Shannon Mattern visit the virtual lab for a fascinating seminar on ‘Urban Algorhythms.’ Shannon’s talk situated contemporary and emerging practices of macro-scale listening within a broad historical frame, tracing a genealogy from diagnostic auscultation, and articulated and explored some of the tricky ethical and epistemological questions around sonic surveillance and the stewardship of the city’s many dynamic ecologies and systems.

A recording of the seminar is available here, and you may also be interested in this recent article in the journal Places.


Prof Shannon Mattern’s research and teaching address how the forms and materialities of media are related to the spaces (architectural, urban, and conceptual) they create and inhabit. She writes about libraries and archives, media infrastructures, the material qualities of media objects, media companies’ headquarters and sites of media-related labor, place branding, public design projects, urban media art, and mediated sensation. She is the author of The New Downtown Library; Deep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5000 Years of Urban Media, all published by the University of Minnesota Press. She is a professor of anthropology at The New School in New York City. Twitter: @shannonmattern.

This event was part of the SHL lockdown seminar series. Please also join us on 1 June for Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn on ‘Sensory Cartographies.’