Anna Ridler’s Myriad (Tulips) is mesmerizing in its scale: it displays ten thousand photographs of tulips that she purchased, stripped, photographed, and categorized by hand over a summer in residence in the Netherlands (fig. 1). They were the raw materials for training a generative adversarial network (GAN) to generate artificial images of tulips for its companion artwork, Mosaic Virus (2018). But as she categorized each photograph by qualities, such as color, that grew only more difficult to discern over time—is it white or light pink?—she began to dream of tulips and even see stripes. The experience, Ridler reports, both recalled the origins of classification in Linnaeus—who ultimately decided color was too subjective to include in his taxonomies—and suggested how creating databases is quite literally a craft: we assign far too much creative value to the users and authors of algorithms rather than to the ones who build databases....
Tung-Hui Hu is the author of A Prehistory of the Cloud (2015) and Digital Lethargy: Dispatches from an Age of Disconnection (2022), as well as three books of poetry. Winner of a 2022–23 Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy in Rome, he is an associate professor of English at the University of Michigan.
Tung-Hui Hu; Artificial Bloom. American Literature 1 June 2023; 95 (2): 429–433. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-10575232
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