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The Algorithmic Pedestal

The Algorithmic Pedestal

the An exhibit-based research project showcasing images curated by artist Fabienne Hess and Instagram’s algorithm.
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The Algorithmic Pedestal was an exhibit held from January 11-17th, 2023 at J/M Gallery in London. It constituted an exhibit-based research project showcasing images curated by London-based artist Fabienne Hess alongside images curated by Instagram.

The Algorithmic Pedestal showcased the differences between human and machine ways of seeing. Drawing on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access collection, both a human artist and an algorithmic system were invited to select images for the exhibit. Sorting through thousands of images, they each chose 20-30 images to display in a particular order and layout.

Visitors to the exhibit were invited to compare and reflect on the differences in algorithmic and human curation decisions in questionnaires, surveys, and interviews.

The researchers captured Instagram’s curatorial decisions by uploading 800 images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access collection to a new Instagram account: @thealgorithmicpedestal. At the time, this account was followed only by one other account (@following_algorithmicpedestal).

Visiting the Home feed of the following account, the researchers saw which images Instagram chose to display from @thealgorithmicpedestal and in which order. No captions, metadata, or social information was provided, such that the algorithmic curation was determined only based on the image itself.

Conversely, artist Fabienne Hess elected to select images that correspond to a concept: loss. Hess believes that loss is a uniquely—and universally—human experience, inescapable in human lives.

Hess’ curatorial process is driven by the human experiences of time, curiosity, and patience; she has spent years physically exploring collections in an embodied fashion, learning about each object’s stories and photographing them during site visits. In this way, Hess’ curation represents both a very human process and a very human selection criteria.

The exhibit received over 500 visitors, who were encouraged to consider the differences between machine curation and a human’s curation.  As an increasing proportion of our visual ecology is mediated by algorithmic platforms (such as Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, etc.), The Algorithmic Pedestal provided a space to urgently consider algorithms’ impact on visual society and cultural norms.

This exhibit is part of Laura Herman’s PhD at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, supported by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council. This exhibit has been funded by the Oxford-Minderoo AI Challenge Fund.


Dr. Caterina Moruzzi
Dr. Kathryn Eccles
Laura Herman


Fabienne Hess
James Williamson
J/M Gallery
Motong Yang
Oxford Internet Institute
Oxford-Minderoo AI Challenge Fund
Parasite 2.0
Silk Bureau
Weezy Dai

Photos by Parasite 2.0

Key Information

  • Oxford-Minderoo AI Challenge Fund
  • Project dates:
    January 2022 - January 2023


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