Johan Nieuwenhuize
The Bubble

photography | led screens in frame
105 × 177,5 cm

The social impact of Google and Facebook’s robots is a topic that has generated worldwide concern. On the basis of our browsing conduct, these algorithms determine what information we are presented with, thus creating a personal cocoon – termed a ‘filter bubble’ – for each individual. Any news, opinions, or social networks, which the algorithms deem as not fitting our profile, become inaccessible to us.

The Bubble is an artistic research project for which Johan Nieuwenhuize has assembled a visual archive containing over 700 photographs that portray the experiences of students from all over the world. His research encompassed around 80 students from different backgrounds, studying different subjects, and was conducted through WhatsApp conversations.

This extensive image bank formed the basis for a website used to conduct research into the online viewing behaviour of 1000 students, staff and visitors to The Hague University. Nieuwenhuize carried out this research in collaboration with cognitive and data scientist, Robin van Emden.

On the basis of the big data gleaned through this process, Van Emden produced personal filter bubbles. Then, based on the viewing behaviour of each individual test subject, he selected photographs from the database, chosen to fit what they were deemed to find either more, or less, attractive.
These filter bubbles and anti-filter bubbles are presented on three large LED screens, with three photos from a particular filter bubble being shown adjacent to one another at each given moment. As the selection changes, new combinations and juxtapositions are constantly being formed.

A sensor in the work records the viewers’ presence. From a distance you will be presented with the photographs that have been determined to be the favourites, but as you come closer by, you are shown those which the algorithm has deemed you will find less attractive. The viewer thus comes into contact with images that they might otherwise only encounter outside their regular comfort zone.