James "New Aesthetic" Bridle (previously) is several kinds of provocateur and artist (who can forget his autonomous vehicle trap, to say nothing of his groundbreaking research on the violent Youtube Kids spammers who came to dominate the platform with hour+ long cartoons depicting cartoon characters barfing and murdering all over each other?).
So there's no one better poised to comment on the way that the meaning of images is changing thanks to networked digital tools that have created an "image-soaked culture" where the meaning of those images can change from moment to moment and person to person?
The show kicks off with profiles of artists like Ingrid Burrington (previously) and Trevor Paglen (previously), whose work reveals the hidden-in-plain-sight invisible architecture of the internet, from unassuming buildings that house major internet backbone exchanges to the undersea cables that service them. Then it gets even more interesting, with work on artificial intelligence narratives designed to change the perception of women to 3D printing as a means of reclaiming looted and lost artifacts taken by the Gulf Wars.
In the first episode of New Ways of Seeing, I meet artists such as Ingrid Burrington and Trevor Paglen, who explore this hidden architecture of the internet. In New York, Burrington takes us inside 32 Avenue of the Americas, an art deco temple to telecommunications dating from 1932, when it was the headquarters of AT&T's transatlantic network. The atrium contains a grand mural depicting nation calling nation across the telegraph wires – but Burrington also shows us the manholes and markings on the street outside that allow us to read the fibre-optic cables snaking under the city today.
Paglen in turn takes us to the bottom of the ocean, where he photographs the same cables that connect nations today. We've got used to hearing about "the cloud", the numinous neverland where the machines do their unseen work, but this is where it comes back down to earth. Looking at a map of the ocean-going internet, we can see how its real shape maps on to the trading routes of old empires; how former colonies are still dominated by connections to their old rulers, and forms of digital colonialism persist into the present. It's artists who are mapping these sites in order to try and draw a truer picture of the world today, one so often hidden under glass, buried under the ground, or concealed in lines of inscrutable code.
Berger dedicated one of his episodes to the female nude in western art and the ways women were systematically objectified. A close look at technology today shows that those prejudices have not gone away; instead they've been programmed into today's seeing machines. Among others, we hear from Stephanie Dinkins, an artist building her own artificial intelligence from the stories of generations of women of colour to counter the prevailing biases of recruitment and sentencing systems. We also speak to Morehshin Allahyari, who uses 3D printing to reclaim histories and sculptures destroyed by Isis – and appropriated by western museums.
New Ways of Seeing: can John Berger's classic decode our baffling digital age? [James Bridle/The Guardian]