Project Description

“I can focus on art and forget about the tech.”

Alter Ego is a generative video installation reflecting on the use of social media and the rise of artificial intelligence in our democracies. Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules turns technology back on itself, hacking Instagram’s API to expose an unfiltered glimpse of human activity before it is skewered by an algorithm. Images posted in real-time under popular hashtags are rearranged to take the form of AI-generated “influencer” faces. Artist Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules shares her design story:


Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules, Push 1 stop

“I work mostly on large scale concert design and immersive installations under the name Push 1 stop. I also work as an independent artist, creating projects like Alter Ego. My artworks often explore the relationship between humans and technology.



“I started this project with the desire to see what people are posting on Instagram, no matter their location, age or gender. Instagram feeds are not instantaneous; they are curated and selected specifically for the viewer to ensure engagement. My goal was to by-pass the algorithm and stream images uploaded to Instagram in real-time, using popular hashtags to find commonalities and differences in what is uploaded.”

“Instagram is a good example of the psychological phenomenons of social validation and social comparison. I wanted to invite the viewer to reflect on the extent to which humans are both intertwined with and sometimes manipulated by technology.”


“First, I developed a programme with my friend Michell Bundy, which uses Instagrams public API to collect images from Instagram. The code would hunt for photos publicly uploaded using specific hashtags and temporarily feed them into our TouchDesigner stream. It’s important to note here that we do not store any of these images or personal data.”

“I wanted to visually interpret the Instagrams invisible algorithms to create something graceful and organic. Touchdesigner feeds directly into Notch to create a beautiful particle system. I was able to run hundreds of thousands of particles in real-time and have beautiful shading, shadows, and depth of field. Notch allows me to focus on the art and forget about the tech.”

“During the process, I was surprised by the presence of advertising on Instagram. It’s very difficult to distinguish what is and what is not an advert – it’s a marketers dream! Most of this advertising is taking place on the channels of ‘influencers’ in the form of product placement and endorsements. These popular personalities with aspirational lifestyles are in a position to encourage followers to buy products they don’t necessarily need. I wanted to draw attention to this by showing thousands of streamed images to form images of AI ‘influencers’ created using GAN machine learning.”

‘Ideally, this artwork is displayed on three vertical screens. For example, one which shows the Instagram feed, the second displaying the web of images, and the third forming the AI influencer. The vertical format is also reminiscent of a mobile phone, the medium through which most social media is consumed.

“What is great about creating this type of artwork in Notch is that the format can be adapted to any canvas. I versioned this artwork into an interactive performance in collaboration with musician Intercity-Express, which premiered last December at MUTEK Japan.”


Artist: Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules (Push 1 stop)
Programming: Mitchell Bundy
Media Server: Touch Designer