SOMEONE imagines a human version of Amazon Alexa, a smart home intelligence for people in their own homes. For a two month period in 2019, four participants’ homes around the United States were installed with custom-designed smart devices, including cameras, microphones, lights, and other appliances. 205 Hudson Gallery in NYC housed a command center where visitors could peek into the four homes via laptops, watch over them, and remotely control their networked devices. Visitors would hear smart home occupants call out for “Someone”—prompting the visitors to step in as their home automation assistant and respond to their needs. This video installation presents documentation from the initial performance on four screens throughout the space.
Press: The Guardian, Hyperallergic, Engadget
But the visitors in the gallery did not always respond as expected. They subverted requests, engaged the occupants in conversation, and asked questions back.
SOMEONE is ultimately about presence. The inhabitants have a constant awareness of SOMEONE’s presence, and gallery visitors become aware of their own presence, too. I’m trying to highlight this trade we are making for these surveillance smart devices. My work tries to find human metaphors for understanding systems we weren’t built to have an intuition for. We willingly give access to all our data and live camera feeds to huge corporations. But how does knowing a single human sits on the other side of the system shift our perception? Suddenly we become aware of what is at stake and what is possible.
All of the participants are negotiating relationships and poking at the system. The point of this project is not to impose a point of view, but to give viewers a space to form their own. We desire intimacy while wanting privacy, we crave efficiency while dealing with the human scale of time. Some moments are awkward and confusing, others are hopeful and warm. Together, they have a conversation. What boundaries might we hold when it comes to letting AI into our data, our decision making, and our most private spaces?
Software and hardware development by Harvey Moon and Josh Billions. Interface development by Lauren Lee McCarthy. Furniture design in collaboration with and fabrication by Lela Barclay de Tolly. Smart home participant collaborators include Valeria Haedo, Adelle Lin, Amanda McDonald Crowley, and Ksenya Samarskaya. SOMEONE was created with support from a Google Focused Research Award and the Harvestworks New Works Residency. It was first exhibited at 205 Hudson Gallery as part of Refiguring the Future. Screenshots by Lauren Lee McCarthy, installation photos by Stan Narten and Otto Saxinger.