In Conversation: Eli Muro
It’s tempting to understand computation as immaterial. Terms like ‘cyberspace,’ ‘the cloud,’ and ‘virtual reality’ sound ethereal and otherworldly, as if there were a dreamy, idealized space just beyond our collective screens.
But the digital realm is not a realm at all. It’s just our world, in all its corruption and complexity. In ‘Genuine Fakes,’ Eli Muro explores this contradiction, questioning whether the digital landscape can ever be neutral or intangible, and asking who benefits from our perceiving it as such.
Keep reading to hear about the ideas, processes, and challenges behind Muro’s current show.
Your ideas grew, evolved and shifted during your 10 weeks at BAF—some things were added, others removed, others changed incrementally. How would you reflect on how your exhibition transformed from ideation to execution?EM
I think my process is really informed by my design education. We’re taught to think very generally and diverge, exploring many possibilities, before converging on a single point to develop a singular idea more thoroughly, and then repeat the process, getting rid of unnecessary bits each time. Over time, it becomes more clear what I’m working on and what direction to pursue. I think that’s why my residency progressed in the way it did. I made a lot of stuff during the first half of the residency that didn’t get integrated into the show. Some of those works I actually spent a decent amount of time on, but they didn’t end up aligning with the other pieces that were happening so I just got rid of them. That’s not to say that I won’t continue those other ones at some other time. I don’t really feel like any time is wasted if I can learn something in the process.
Although your work speaks to the materiality of computation both physically and conceptually, in this show it took mostly corporeal forms. What challenges and opportunities were afforded in installing a mostly-physical exhibition whose themes are intangible?EM
Sometimes in media art there seems to be this need to add theatrics or something that has a physical body to the work to counter-balance the ‘immaterial’ part of the work that can’t be in the gallery. For example the server(s) that run the code for Interpretations exist, and are a part of the work, but their physical structures don’t add anything to the piece — in fact, I don’t even know where they are geographically located.
It’s only their functional capabilities that are being used, and because this is a large part of what makes up the concept and the work as a whole, it does feel like there’s a need to create something with a body for the viewer to focus on and relate to, otherwise it’s just an idea and the ether; a touchscreen. The physical component of the work becomes an entry point for understanding the larger system and the concepts being explored.
It’s a challenge to avoid the trappings of keywords like AI and machine learning, which carry deep connotations. I tried to avoid using them when talking about the work, in fact I think this is one of the only times I have mentioned it other than maybe some posts on my social media. I intentionally avoided prefacing the work with any mention of AI to avoid people forming their own preconceived ideas of what that means before they have even seen it.
Your show is poetic and evocative, despite the specifics of computation often involving specific and specialized knowledge, and masking ideological undercurrents. How do poetry, skill and ideology intersect within your body of work?EM
The motto for the School for Poetic Computation, which I attended in 2018, is “More poetry, less demo” and I think about it all the time. They never explicitly defined what that meant, my interpretation was that the poetic aspect of a piece of art is more important than demonstrating how the technical side works. Relatedly, I saw this meme that showed a person standing in front of a neon light piece in a gallery and the caption was “gallery goer unsure if work is good or just lights up”.
One of my teachers, Taeyoon Choi, advised us to think of concepts first and technology second. If you lead with the tech it can leave little room for what people resonate with that isn’t just flashing lights. I have always been keen to understand how things work, from many angles, technically, aesthetically, socially, and apply that to everything I create.
Some of your works are interactive and some invite contemplation. What do you hope that a visitor might take away from engaging with your work?EM
I’m constantly researching things, doing tutorials online or reading about new technological advancements, and discovering all these interesting things. I want to share this feeling of discovery and the world of ideas. After immersing myself in the world of speculative design and critical artwork related to technology for so long, I sometimes take for granted the things I have learned or think they are common knowledge. So essentially, I want to share what I have found with viewers and I hope they take away a new perspective on some everyday things that they might not have considered before.
I’ll use the painting “I’m Safe” as an example. Generally speaking, pressing a button is a trivial thing — how many software buttons do we press on a daily basis? So many that it becomes thoughtless. For me when I went to press the “I’m safe” button on facebook, when I was in the vicinity of a terrorist attack, it felt like it had so much weight and sparked all these ideas for me. In Vancouver where I live, it’s hard to imagine ever having to use a mechanism like that, but I could imagine someone in another place in the world getting used to repeatedly using this type of interface. Then, I started to think about how Facebook decides what warrants the appearance of this button. It’s clear that the platform is not apolitical and it raised all these questions for me about who has access to these social functions. So I guess my hope is that people take away a part of this and begin to think differently, or perhaps more deeply, about the tools they use.
What’s next for your practice?EM
It’s hard to say at this point. A lot of my goals had been overseas, with a couple programs in Europe that I had my eye on, but of course with the current state of things it’s a bit tough to imagine that as a possibility in the near future. I’m doing a lot of research and exploration with web technologies so I can publish more work to the web. It’s always satisfying when I get to merge my different skills into something cohesive and I’m currently working with a couple other artists to design and bring their large scale work to the web with interactivity. These projects include some VR and XR stuff for the web that is really exciting and fun to work on.
See ‘Genuine Fakes’ at BAF until Saturday, December 19th.