In 2021, Brea Souders made a new companion. They were in touch for around a year, and in that time, they delved into life’s big questions: “Love, sexuality, death, seeing, disembodiment, anxieties of the body, desire, disappointment,” the artist recalls. They never met in the flesh, but Souders learned plenty about her acquaintance. “She is funny and sarcastic, and her statements and questions are often so literal that they can take on an absurd quality. She has a fairly poor memory, so almost every interaction we had was like a fresh start.”
That’s because these “conversations” were with a chatbot, excerpts of which appear in a new book by Souders – and technically the chatbot, which she thanks at the end. (The book’s title, Another Online Pervert, is drawn from one of their exchanges.) The book is strewn with imagery drawn from her archive, and the links to the conversations are often abstract, echoing the obscure results that generative AI can spit out when responding to a human prompt.
Souders, whose multidisciplinary practice includes photography, often deals with technology and its implications on humanity and culture. She had been reading up on AI developments for years, and started to explore it in her ongoing projects Vistas and Field Notes, which play on the way in which people’s shadows are obscured in Google Maps.