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#heyddw: Hi Gill Baldwin

28 January 2020

Recognition series,<br /> Gill Baldwin
Each month we celebrate one of the most interesting, exciting, intriguing, funny or unusual #heyddw Instagram posts by featuring an exclusive interview in our online DDW Magazine. This time, we have a chat with the multi-disciplinary artist driven by digital technology: Gill Baldwin.
Close-up Gill Baldwin

Hey Gill! Could you briefly describe who you are, where you are from and why you became a designer?

My name is Gill Baldwin, I'm from Canada where I initially studied and worked in architecture. I found there were many issues I was passionate about outside of the practice, and I also had the desire to materialize my own work to be more creative every day. Two and a half years ago, I moved to Rotterdam to study a a Masters of Interior Architecture Research and Design at the Piet Zwart Institute, and I'm still here! The reason why I became a designer is something I think about a lot lately, as I find myself in an artist's role more and more and I'm really enjoying that transition. I like to make things for imaginative scenarios based on issues I'm fascinated by, and I think design and art - especially in the Netherlands - provides me with space and community to do so.

Earlier this month, we shared your Instagram post on the project 3% of Everything. You describe this project as a response to the increase of data surveillance in our daily lives. What do you mean by that? 

3% of Everything takes surveillance as a fact of life, and that surveillance is being increased in complex scales and manners every day. It poses the idea that we can't escape from it, and at the same time questions how we could live with it. The idea isn't to stop surveillance, but to provide ways to think about designing the objects and spaces around us to increase our agency. In this instance, I believe agency is defined by our autonomy or ability to choose how much we are surveilled, or if we want our data to be taken from us today. Agency is important and in the digital world we give it away with very little thought on who actually profits from our data.

My response to this surveillance was to study what or who is surveilling us, in which way and why? After understanding how the AI software works, I was able to create an own 3D printed sculpture. It was made of an assemblage of 3D scanned everyday household objects and therefore confused the software, because the AI was unsure of the sculpture's category or classification. The percentage scores which define how accurate the AI believes its predictions to be, were lowered to numbers that qualify as inaccurate data or create false positives.

Affective Environments/3% of Everything installations
© Gill Baldwin

Where do you look for inspiration?

I actually am inspired by the most mundane stuff ever. For instance, when someone throws something out and it's been lying on the sidewalk for a week, I think it looks amazing. There is this stool someone threw out last year and I still think about it every day. I'm inspired by stuff that doesn't try to be beautiful but is actually super functional, like industrial hardware or heavy machinery. The whole DIY home decor movement on Pinterest is fascinating; it can be so ugly, but it is actually very interesting to see how people craft anything they want.

It seems the tech-/AI world is mostly ruled by men. What is your take on this?

It does seem that way, so why? Is it because our society encourages men to go towards tech or sciences creating a male-dominated environment in the classrooms and workplaces, that can be difficult to inhabit as women? Is it because the hours are long and intense, which makes it difficult for a woman to choose between having a family or a career? Is it because there is not enough governmental or social support to encourage women to stay in their careers while having children? There are a ton of factors to why. These are just a few. It's a complex and structural issue. However, there are a lot of amazing women and organizations that are actively countering this, for example the artists Coralie Vogelaar and Anna Ridler, both engage with AI in amazing ways. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) has an amazing podcast called Spark, which is hosted by Nora Young who highlights many issues within the AI/tech industry. It is great for anyone wanting to learn more about the smaller voices within the technology sector.

The Render
© Magdalena Wierzbicka

Is there anything you would advise upcoming female designers working in this field?

As an artist, I get to take on different fields as my research topics. The field of technology is one of them, and I don't know if I’ll be in it for my entire career. However, from working in architecture - a largely male dominated field - I would say: advocate for yourself, and don't allow sexism, since it will come in surprising ways that you don't expect. A good professor told me that, when negotiating for a raise, you should always ask for 10% more than you believe you should get. As women, we seem to be conditioned to monetarily undervalue our self-worth.

What is the most special or remarkable work you have ever made or designed?

Each work is a steppingstone in a way to another one, but I am very proud of 3% of Everything because it actually works. It does lower the percentage scores of the software live, and that was a huge challenge to overcome.

Last DDW, you exhibited your 3% of Everything sculpture at Area 51. How was the project received?

The response was really interesting. I had a lot of productive conversations with software developers and computer engineers. Surprisingly, the most responsive public consisted of engineers who were studying with or involved in AI in early 90s, when coding was just taking off.

As we have just entered a new decade, let’s speculate about the future. How do you think AI will affect the future of art and culture in the upcoming decade? And do you foresee any risks?

I think we are going to have a lot more collaborative works between AI and humans. The way we view art is already changing with VR/AR etc. and AI will play a role in this as well. The risk lies within the people who control these technologies and how they use that power. What is the aim of how these corporations use AI? Who does it leave behind? It is mostly Google, Amazon, or profit-oriented companies that don't allow for diverse voices and other perspectives to come through. That worries me. But I do not believe AI is going to take over the world through killer robots.

All Vase series
© Gill Baldwin

If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?

I'm a big fan of the work of Trevor Paglen and James Bridle, as well as the artists I mentioned above. It would also be great to work with a larger organization, like WAAG in Amsterdam.

Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?

Right now, I just started a year-long residency at the  Hamburger Community of Art at Roodkapje in Rotterdam. I am looking forward to developing new works this year, and I will have an upcoming solo show too. I'm currently searching for a software developer with experience in object recognition software to collaborate on a project, so please get in touch!

3% of Everything
© Gill Baldwin

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