Pouring Milk in Front of a Window

Exhibition at Eight Cubic Meters from 19 may 2021 - 9 june 2021

Pouring Milk in Front of a Window combines textualisations of paintings by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) with images found by search-engine algorithms using these textualisations. The images and texts are framed in the ratio of the original painting.

Images have always been textualised. In art the textualisation usually starts when the artist adds a title, followed by descriptions and comments from other people and institutions like critics, art historians and museums. In the current digital era a lot of textualisation is done by machines using algorithms to index images. These, mostly hidden, textualisations are used to re-image a text and provide visual results for textual searches.

In the process of textualisation and re-imaging algorithms focus on key elements of a subject (text or image), leaving out a lot of noise. An algorithm has a limited context; it only knows what it is trained for. It reduces images to what it has learned to be essential, leaving out other elements that might be critical. Through formalisation and abstraction different images are tagged with the same standard labels. As a result an image may have many different actualisations when it is re-imaged: a girl can be any girl.

An essential theme in Vermeer’s work is revealing the universal within the domain of the commonplace. Although Vermeer’s paintings may appear to be specific at first glance they are generally considered to be allegorical. His paintings are not intended to be a portrait of somebody or something specific: a girl can be any girl.

Vermeer’s paintings and algorithms show “specific” and “generic” are not opposites. They are coinciding concepts enabling the combination of human interpretation and algorithmic logic to create poetic results.

Eight Cubic Meters is a project by Gerrit Rietveld Academie hosting work in public space in Amsterdam city center.