Ways of Looking

July 10 2013, by Matilda Fraser

Attention has its own behavior, its own dynamics, its own consequences. An economy built on it will be different than the familiar material-based one.


L. E. Hamilton, Binocular Shutter Mechanism, 1947

L. E. Hamilton, Binocular Shutter Mechanism, 1947

As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information. Attention economics applies insights from other areas of economic theory to enable content consumers, producers, and intermediaries to better mediate and manage the flow of information in light of the scarcity of consumer attention.

The project investigates the value-judgement created by paying for an art experience.

This is the work:

Three aluminium machines which each contain text-based artworks. They are coin-operated and cost 20 cents per 20 seconds of operation.

  1. Self Help Machine: this offers aphorisms and suggestsions for self-improvement with a tone of futility and cynicism.
  2. Poetry Machine: this machine contains a “translation” of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies: The First Elegy. However this rendition is not translated from the German, but collated from fourteen different translations of the same poem, in an effort to find clarity within a number of different iterations.
  3. Longing and Desire Machine: while using sex in advertising, cinema, et cetera, has become commonplace, earnest emotion and unrequited longing have since become titillating, pornographic and/or embarrassing. This unit plays off the origins of the form (a mutoscope/pornoscope) particularly as it can only be viewed by one person at a time.

The machine resembles an ATM or vending machine and recalls the behaviour associated with the way we use these interfaces. However instead of goods or services these machines act as satellites, alternate access points to the wider space of the gallery, and atomises the exhibition model by supplying the viewer with bite-size portions of information in exchange for a small fee. By paying 20 cents for a 20-second viewing time the viewer enters into an exchange with the units, and is forced to make an immediate value-judgement, i.e. is this worth what I’m paying for it? do I want to pay to look at it? and do I want to pay to keep looking at it?

The machines are based off a 1900s-type of porn machine called the mutoscope which was frequently found down pier arcades and contained rudimentary flip-book animations of exotic dancers. At the “crucial point” of their performance the machine would shut off and the viewer had to insert more coins in order to continue watching

The machines will appear in a number of different sites around the city, in order to attract different audiences and gauge the suitability of different environments in the display of public sculpture.