The Collective Urge

Multichannel video, crowdsourced text, sound, custom software
The Collective Urge (2021). Video excerpt.

The Collective Urge is a multi-channel installation immersing viewers in an endless stream of ad media reduced to its essential form. Custom software cycles through thousands of videos, accompanied by text-to-speech narration of each commercial’s intended action and justification — for example, “Buy these sneakers because they will make you cool and happy” or “Buy this skin cream because it is important for women to remain beautiful.”

Most commercials aim to evoke powerful emotions through compelling narratives to induce a desire for consumption. This project displays the intention plainly, stripped of the usual rhetoric making such messages palatable, seductive. Though the actual content remains unchanged from that which we see every day, the presentation becomes unblunted, forcing the viewer beyond learned passivity to regard this media frenzy in its full onslaught.

The descriptions come from Amazon MTurk workers asked to answer specific questions about each video, undertaken for the purposes of machine learning research. MTurk is a crowdsourcing platform commonly used in scientific studies, where workers perform small micro-tasks for corresponding compensation, e.g. earning one cent to describe one image. In this context, menial capitalism compels individuals to regard commercial content in an unusually detached manner. These descriptions are intended to help computers understand the world and differ dramatically from how humans communicate, yet they also offer truthful observations we fundamentally know but rarely acknowledge so directly. The majority of AI research is based upon data created through similar processes, revealing an alternate interpretation of everyday phenomena building increasingly powerful technological infrastructures taking place outside the public view.