Peggy Phelan and Maneesh Agrawala

Warhol, AI, and the Idea of the Archive

Peggy Phelan and Maneesh Agrawala will join the library's digital research architect, Nicole Coleman, for a conversation about how artificial intelligence can augment access to digital archives and fundamentally alter the online experience of digital materials. 

This event took place Monday, March 4, 2019 at 4:00 pm

Green Library, 5th floor, Bender Room

The library's Information, Intelligent Machines and New Knowledge program began in October 2018 with the "Discovery Sessions," oriented to applications of artificial intelligence within the library. The program continues with the series, "Dialogues: Navigating Human-Machine Relationships in Knowledge Creation" that brings researchers into conversation across disciplines This second discussion in the series titled, "Warhol, AI, and the Idea of the Archive" brings together performance theory and human-computer interaction.



When explaining why the Andy Warhol Foundation selected Stanford as the home for a collection of more than 3,600 contact sheets Peggy Phelan notes Stanford’s history with photography, citing the experiments of Edweard Muybridge, Stanford’s interest in researching and developing the technologies of big data, and Stanford’s commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and research. The exhibit at the Cantor Arts Center and the book Contact Warhol: Photography Without End were both interdisciplinary projects that Phelan, who works in performance studies produced in collaboration with art historian Richard Meyer. When the Stanford Libraries host Peggy Phelan and Maneesh Agrawala on March 4, we will be attempting to bridge an even greater disciplinary divide in support of this collection, between the arts and engineering.
Agrawala is particularly interested in how cognitive design principles can be used to improve the effectiveness of audio/visual media. His work crosses the fields of computer graphics, human computer interaction, and visualization. We will explore how Phelan’s and Agrawala’s research interests complement each other, or at least come into contact, through the challenge of visualizing digital photography archives in support of research. The contact sheets and the individual exposures have been digitized, carefully curated by archivist Amy DiPasquale, and stored in the Stanford Digital Repository. They are searchable through two interfaces: one at the Cantor Arts Center website and the other hosted by Stanford Libraries at
The Andy Warhol Photography Archive, Contact Sheets 1976-1987 presents a particularly challenging case study because it is big and multi-dimensional. These are some of the ways Phelan has described the project:
The collection: constant photography
Phelan describes Warhol’s practice of photographing and documenting the moment as anticipating the ubiquity of the camera and photograph today. Warhol took his camera with him everywhere, taking at least 36 exposures each day in the last decade of his life.  The collection of Andy Warhol's contact sheets amounts to about 130,000 individual exposures.  Each contact sheet records the exposures from a roll of film. For Phelan, the archive as a whole is a record of his performance practice. 
The contact sheet: rehearsals for the final artwork
In the archive, as Phelan and Meyer have defined it, the contact sheet is both a document and art object. Their research reveals how the contact sheets tell the story of Warhol’s working method. First, they reflect his sensibility in terms of what was worth photographing. The contact sheets are also marked up with grease-pencil indicating the choices he (and collaborators) made from the captured images. This is a record that is all but lost in the digital age where the selection is instead the result of an act of deletion.  Phelan also sees Warhol’s use of the contact sheets reflected in his work, like repeated series of images that retain a frame around each image much like the exposures on the contact sheet. Or his use of white space in works that include multiple images that are much like the unused film which, in the contact sheets, appears solid white or black. 
The frame: stem cell
While the collection as a whole has stories to tell, the individual frames, too, require careful attention. Phelan expresses the generative quality of the collection by referring to the contact sheets as stem cells from which a single exposure leads to photography without end.  As stem cells regenerate themselves, the individual exposures in this collection were the seed of final artworks produced by Warhol such as the pop portraits and silkscreens. Warhols practice included recyling images, blowing up prints, using multiples, and serializing them. Phelan and Meyer also selected exposures from the collection to include in the exhibit—photographs that Warhol did not choose to print or show in his lifetime. 
We will  hear from Peggy Phelan about Andy Warhol, his use of the camera and his thinking about human-machine relationship and from Maneesh Agrawal about developments in artificial intelligence that outsource cognition to the machine vs augmenting human intelligence. We will hear from Maneesh about his explorations with digital media and how he thinks our experience of  digital media will change with new technology.  For example, since similarity and affinity algorithms reveal patterns that humans do not see, will algorithms become integrated cognitive prostheses? 
What does it mean that any artificial intelligence can only interact with digital surrogates of physical objects? How should that influence our interpretation of what the algorithm “sees”?




Maneesh Agrawala is the Forest Baskett Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford University. He works on computer graphics, human computer interaction and visualization. His focus is on investigating how cognitive design principles can be used to improve the effectiveness of audio/visual media. The goals of this work are to discover the design principles and then instantiate them in both interactive and automated design tools. He received an Okawa Foundation Research Grant (2006), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (2007), an NSF CAREER Award (2007), a SIGGRAPH Significant New Researcher Award (2008), a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2009), and an Allen Distinguished Investigator Award (2014).

Peggy Phelan is The Denning Family Chair and Director of the Stanford Arts Institute. She also holds the Ann O'Day Maples Professorship in the Arts and faculty appointments in the departments of English and Theatre and Performance Studies at Stanford. Publishing widely in both book and essay form, Phelan is the author of Unmarked: the politics of performance (Routledge, 1993); Mourning Sex: performing public memories (Routledge, 1997; honorable mention Callaway Prize for dramatic criticism 1997-1999); the survey essay for Art and Feminism, ed. by Helena Reckitt (Phaidon, 2001, winner of “The top 25 best books in art and architecture” award,, 2001); the survey essay for Pipilotti Rist (Phaidon, 2001); and the catalog essay for Intus: Helena Almeida (Lisbon, 2004). She edited and contributed to Live Art in Los Angeles, (Routledge, 2012), and contributed catalog essays for Everything Loose Will Land: 1970s Art and Architecture in Los Angeles (Mak Center, 2013), Haunted: ContemporaryPhotography, Video, and Performance (Guggenheim Museum, 2010); WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007); and Andy Warhol: Giant Size (Phaidon, 2008), among others. Phelan is co-editor, with the late Lynda Hart, of Acting Out: Feminist Performances (University of Michigan Press, 1993; cited as “best critical anthology” of 1993 by American Book Review); and co-editor with Jill Lane of The Ends of Performance (New York University Press, 1997). She contributed an essay to Philip Ursprung’s Herzog and De Meurron: Natural History (CAA, 2005). She has written more than sixty articles and essays in scholarly, artistic, and commercial magazines ranging from Artforum to Signs. She has written about Samuel Beckett for the PMLA and for The National Gallery of Ireland. She has also written about Robert Frost, Michael and Paris Jackson, Olran, Marina Abramovic, Dziga Vertov and a wide range of artists working in photography, dance, architecture, film, video, music, and poetry. She has edited special issues of the journals Narrative and Women and Performance. She has been a fellow of the Humanities Institute, University of California, Irvine; and a fellow of the Humanities Institute, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. She served on the Editorial Board of Art Journal, one of three quarterly publications of the College Art Association, and as Chair of the board. She has been President and Treasurer of Performance Studies International, the primary professional organization in her field. She has been a fellow of the Getty Research Institute and the Stanford Humanities Center. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004. She chaired the Department of Performance Studies at New York University and the Drama Department at Stanford University.