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Propaganda Narratives Residency: Performing Research, Data and Technology

In April 2023, the team at Kaivalya Plays initiated the Propaganda Narratives residency as part of the Mining Hate project. We put out an open call for creative technologists, digital artists, tech-art practitioners, creative coders and artists interested in investigating hate speech, propaganda disguised as news, coordinated attacks on Indian minorities and misinformation in the digital age.

Meeting Our Resident Artists

After a swift application process, we were pleased to invite three artists - Denny George, Alia Sinha and Hasan S. to join the 3-day residency in New Delhi.

Denny George is an engineer whose work engages with socio-political issues using software and humor. Currently, as co founder and product engineer at Tattle, he is building tools, datasets and media to understand and respond to inaccurate and harmful content.

Alia Sinha is an illustrator, theatre practitioner and library worker currently based in New Delhi. Her interests lie in collaborative, community-centric and interdisciplinary arts practices.

Hasan S. is a mixed media artist who uses cutting-edge technologies, such as AI, Robotics, and 3D printing as his medium. A core principle of his work is to make the cutting edge accessible. He believes in the constructive power of technology and has been teaching diverse kinds of people how to use it to strengthen their work for the last 12 years.

The three residents, who came from vastly different backgrounds and artistic practice, were joined by Varoon P. Anand (Artistic Director at Kaivalya Plays) and Gaurav Singh Nijjer (General Manager at Kaivalya Plays). Together, the five of them began to work creatively and critically with the subject matter of hate speech, exploring the different ways art and technology can be used to express the underlying ideas of trust, manipulation and virality that drives fake news in our society.

Day 1: Taking First Steps

The first day of the residency began with a round of introductions. The resident artists were informed about the various aspects of the Mining Hate project, as well as the goals and objectives of Mediafutures, the organization supporting the project. After the project introduction, the participants briefly shared their artistic practices. This sharing provided an opportunity for participants to get to know each other better and understand the diverse skills each member of the group brings to the project. This was an essential part of the day because it gave the participants a clear understanding of what to expect from the residency and the role they could play in the project.

The group then discussed the role of the audience in the performance, a crucial aspect of the project, as it provided an opportunity for the group to think about how to engage the audience and get them to participate in the performance. The group also discussed questions about how much risk they could take with verbatim content from actual cases of harassment faced by journalists in India, how to ethically capture audience data, and the best way to represent their data. These questions were essential, as they helped the group to think critically about the ethical implications of the project and how to ensure they were doing everything possible to safeguard the audience's privacy.

The residents were also introduced to improvisational theatre and its basic tenets, the artistic methodology core to the work of Kaivalya Plays. This was an exciting part of the day, providing an opportunity for the participants to learn about a new form of theatre and how they could use it for collaboration, consent-informed spaces, and building narratives. The group also discussed narrative ideas around tribalism, the emperor's dilemma, tunnel vision, and echo chambers. These ideas provided a starting point for the group to develop the narrative for the performance.

In conclusion, the first day of the residency was informative and engaging. The various activities provided the participants with a clear understanding of the project's goals and objectives and the role they could play in the project. The discussions on ethical issues surrounding audience data and the introduction to improvisational theatre and narrative ideas were particularly interesting and valuable, providing a solid foundation for the rest of the residency.

Day 2: Untangling Narratives & Technology

The second day of the residency was equally packed with a variety of activities that kept the artists engaged and productive. The day began with the artists building upon the work of the previous day, where they had established a solid foundation by introducing the various aspects of the project and its goals and objectives.

To further the development of the performance, the artists delved deep into the different technologies and media that could bring out the performance's larger theme. They used generative adversarial network (GAN) based artificial intelligence technologies like ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, and others to explore the phenomenon of image manipulation and deepfakes. The artists worked on frameworks to incorporate these ideas into the performance, which will make the show much more engaging for the audience.

In addition to exploring different technologies, the artists explored the Indian aesthetic theory of Navrasa (9 emotions) as a narrative framework for the show. This provided the artists with an exciting opportunity to bring their art to life by interweaving verbatim data from real-life cases with fictional, interactive portions with audience-generated content. This approach is expected to bring more depth and nuance to the performance, making it more relatable to the audience.

Throughout the day, there was a collaborative and creative exchange among the artists where they shared and received feedback on the individual parts they were working on. The exchange allowed the artists to figure out how their different artistic disciplines could play a role in developing new approaches and fresh perspectives to the topics of misinformation and hate speech. The artists' different perspectives and creativity were instrumental in developing the show's narrative and bringing it to life.

To warm themselves up and spark creative and playful ways of engaging with the subject matter, the artists played fun games and exercises throughout the day. This helped them to be more relaxed and open-minded, allowing them to take more risks and be more innovative in their approach to performance. The day ended with the artists watching a movie together that provided a satirical take on societal roles and how they are intertwined with gender, class, and socioeconomic factors. This was an excellent way for the artists to unwind after a long day of creative exchange and exploration.

Day 3: Closing The Loop

The third day of the residency was focused on achieving specific goals. The artists involved in the project made progress in achieving their objectives. Alia Sinha and Varoon P. Anand finalized the performance narrative, while Denny George, Hasan Shahrukh, and Gaurav Singh continued working on methods of misinformation. They explored how to simulate an attack on ChatGPT to force it to reveal information on conducting campaigns of misinformation and societal division. The residency organizers plan to work with the resident artists to refine and build on the work accomplished in the future.

The third day also gave the creators confidence that a narrative structure combined with interactive games that engage the audience can be done in a feasible and entertaining way, while also informing and educating. Several of the different tools demonstrated by the resident artists also clarified how an installation can provide an explanation of how these attacks are conducted as well as make the best presentation for the research conducted by Arjun Srinivas, the data researcher supporting the Mining Hate project.

The Mining Hate project now enters its final build phase which would involve the artists practicing and building models of their "games" that simulate the experience of being attacked online. This time will also be used to complete the design of the installation as well as plan for performances in Europe in June. The aim is to create engaging games that allow the audience to experience the effects of online harassment in a safe and controlled environment. The team will be following up with the MediaFutures advisors and mentors to seek guidance on the best ways to receive, store and share the information collected during this process. The ultimate goal of the project is to raise awareness about the damaging effects of online harassment and to encourage empathy and understanding towards those who have experienced it.

Read more about the Mining Hate project HERE.

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