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Lior Zalmanson

Lior Zalmanson

Israeli, born 1983

Lior Zalmanson (he/him/his) is a writer, artist, and curator who uses film, theater, and digital technologies to explore digital culture, online behavior, and the information society. His works often involve hacking or reverse-engineering technologies that supposedly make the web more accessible and personalized. In 2011, he founded Print Screen Festival, Israel’s digital arts festival. His projects have been showcased at venues including the Tribeca Film Festival and The Jewish Museum in New York, NY. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

See more of Zalmanson's work at his website: liorzalmanson.art.

The subjects of my works are not usually humans, or still life, but rather algorithms, these pieces of codes that are part of our apps, and our tools in the digital world... And I'm trying to play with them, find their blind spots, find the weaknesses, find the ways in which they break down, and find even the damage that they do to our society or our personal lives.

Lior Zalmanson

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Lior Zalmanson. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Lior Zalmanson. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Members’ and Neighbors’ Celebration for Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022), October 16, 2021. Art © Lior Zalmanson. Photo: Jeff Mace for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Art Today at Albright-Knox Northland, October 20, 2021. Event for visitors with dementia and their care partners related to Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Lior Zalmanson. Photo: Jeff Mace for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Lior Zalmanson (foreground). Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Lior Zalmanson (foreground), AM Darke (back left), Morehshin Allahyari (back right). Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Excess Ability, 2014

Digital video (color, sound) displayed on monitor; vinyl logo; stools; and artificial potted plant
Running time: 7 minutes, 16 seconds, looped
Courtesy of the artist

“Voice recognition algorithms are intended to recognize sounds and translate them into words and symbols; image recognition algorithms try to recognize which objects appear in a picture. I’m interested in the story behind these algorithms. What does the algorithm understand? And what does it miss? And how do these algorithms change our view of the world?”
—Lior Zalmanson

 

On November 19, 2009, Google announced that its YouTube service would now offer automatic captions by integrating with a type of voice recognition technology called automatic speech recognition (ASR). The launch event was celebratory: after the deaf engineer Ken Harrenstein screened a short clip of Google’s CEO that had been captioned using ASR, he signed, “We did it! This is finally it! We got it!” Ironically, Harrenstein pointed to the mistakes in the transcription as proof that it had been generated by a machine and not a human.

Lior Zalmanson (he/him/his), whose art explores the normally opaque algorithms created by tech companies, performed a simple experiment: he used Google’s own captioning software to create captions of the video of its announcement. Unsurprisingly, the transcription is full of mistakes. For example, “accessibility” becomes “excess ability,” giving the work its title. More than merely demonstrating the limitations of captioning technology (which has greatly improved since 2009), the video makes a profound observation: the “abilities” of both machines and disabled people are always measured against the abilities of “normal” humans—and are often found lacking. As more algorithms are created to increase accessibility (or “excess ability”) for disabled people, how will their coding define what is “normal,” and what role will disabled communities play in their creation?

  • Transcript for Excess Ability

    Excess Ability Transcripts

    Transcript for Lior Zalmanson's installation for Difference Machines, Excess Ability, 2014.

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Excess Ability, 2014

The way I see it, online communities are currently fused with algorithms—and in that sense, algorithms are not there to make you passive, they might be put in place to make you act up, post more, friend more.

Lior Zalmanson to Modus

Culture After Coronavirus A Conversation with Dr. Lior Zalmanson (Print Screen Festival, Viral Festival)

By Modus

"Since we’ve been overdosing on ZOOM in recent weeks, we went 'old-school' and emailed back and forth with Dr. Lior Zalmanson—assistant professor at Coller School of Business, Tel Aviv University, artistic director of Print Screen Festival for the digital arts and co-curator of the Viral Festival for digital performance. If anyone could tell us about the future of arts and entertainment, it would be him..."

Read the full interview here.

You give it commands, and it carries them out. That’s the function of a regular computer, but when it’s presented via a human voice or a chat that seems human, we are in fact teaching the child that here is a human voice that will do all that he asks. And if it’s a female voice—generally speaking the chatbots are female—what does that say for relations between men and women?

Lior Zalmanson to Ido Kenan

Q&A with Dr. Lior Zalmanson

By Ido Kenan

“I believe that all the popular chatbots in the market—Siri, Alexa, Google Home, and so on—are changing the way in which we speak...”

Read the full interview here.

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