Who Am I To You?

Senior BFA Gallery Exhibition Project | San Jose State University | Spring Semester 2020

An exploration of how the representation of people of varying cultures, identities, and physical appearances in media affects our interpretation of artificially intelligent creations such as Siri, Alexa, and the Google Home assistant.

Project Development

The creation of this project and the final semester of my senior year at San Jose State University was unfortunately interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, my original plans for this project had to be saved to use in the future and I reworked this project to suit a fully digital presentation. 

This project was inspired by another piece of artwork that I worked on last semester where I analyzed xenophobia in the United States. One of the key points that I took away from working on that project was that the vast lack of representation in our media of people of color and people from countries other than the United States has led American society to grow increasingly ignorant and discriminatory towards people who have nonnormative ethnic, gender, and sexual identities. Despite the fact that as a society we are constantly using social platforms that consist of a worldwide audience, American media is consistently underperforming when it comes to displaying ethnic diversity while constantly boasting about being a diverse nation.

 

Thinking about the lack of ethnic diversity in our media, I wonder how our consumption of photographs, videos, films, etc. affect our imagination and the development of imagery in our minds. For example, Apple’s artificially intelligent assistant Siri has become a digital phenomenon due to her ability to perform tasks on command and her ability to hold a simple conversation with humans. Siri is so popular that her default speaking voice is easily recognized by people around the world, creating a biomorphic identity* for a voice-input and response system.

 

With this project, I originally wanted to further develop an identity for Siri by asking people to “dress Siri” through a drag-and-drop game created with Adobe Animate. In this drag-and-drop game, participants would get to give Siri hair, eyes, assign a skin color, and other distinct physical features. I planned on creating various assets with Procreate, a drawing app, for each category (hair, eyes, skin, nose, etc.) that align with common traits within ethnic communities (ie: straight, dark hair is a common trait of East-Asians).

I had planned on asking enough participants to dress Siri so that I could begin to establish patterns between the physical forms they assign to Siri. With these responses, I had planned on creating a video visualizing Siri and using the default Siri voice to narrate and guide the viewer.

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic I was no longer able to reach out to my community and receive the responses and conversations that I needed. As a result, I had to toss my Adobe Animate plan and instead I used royalty-free stock footage in this project with the same intentions.

*biomorphic identity = seemingly human personality or identity

Screenshot of the drag-and-drop game I created in Adobe Animate. Each art asset was drawn and coded individually.

Project Takeaways

Although my project had to take a turn and I wasn't able to directly probe people to interpret and visualize Siri as a person, I still learned a little bit more about American representation of culture through this project. In my process of creating this video, I had to sift through hundreds of clips of stock footage containing people of all sizes and colors. As I sifted through these videos, I often found myself thinking about how stock footage is crafted and directed to look a specific way and serve a specific purpose. In many of the stock footage clips I watched, it was very evident that the creators of the stock footage were purposely placing people in the frame for ethnic diversity. While it is good that they are actively pushing to show ethnic diversity, it also made me wonder if this forced display of diversity encourages and reinforces racial stereotypes in society. Unfortunately, I don't think that as a society we can ever reach a point where we are satisfied with the diversity displayed in our media simply because everyone is just so incredibly unique and it is impossible to please everyone. However, I do think that it is important to be more cognizant of how to display ethnic diversity respectively and elegantly.

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