Alibabaum Sortium
An algorithms' perspective on domestic products

Installations various sizes - 19 cardboard objects, audio track

Intern Mathilde Lemaire
Voice acting by Vincent Thornhill
Printed by Creative Playground: 
Océ – Canonand visual artist Peter van Ede
Photo credits Mathilde Lemaire and Peter Cox

Developed for the group show “Alibaba, From Here To Your Home” for Van Abbe Museum and Geo Design, this work was one of several elements exploring the giant of e-commerce Alibaba and its global impact.

“The Alibaba and Aliexpress search bars are the gateway to the thousands items sold by Chinese factories and resellers. Algorithms control when, how many times and in which order the searched products appear on visitors screens. By looking at the Ali platform like naturalists, Arvid&Marie approached the digital platforms like ecosystems. They analysed several algorithms, narrowing in on the sorting algorithm and renaming it: Alibabaum Sortium.

In the process of exploring Alibaba, Arvid&Marie were drawn to specific products whose physical existence is a source of doubt: it is unclear whether they occur as purchasable items or if their role is to entertain customers and keep them browsing through Alibaba’s interface. Buyer’s Desires are a collection of object simulations, in paper, of what Alibaba claims are its most desired products. The other side of the reconstructed objects is printed with the metadata that writes their existence into the digital world.” (words from curator Martina Muzi).

Extracted from their native e-commerce jungle, these artifacts teach us about the algorithm Alibabaum Sortium’s understanding of objects. Among the modeled products, the algorithm impersonated discusses its way of life in an interview while the visitors wander in the installation. Audio in the video below or here.

Selected exhibitions

"Alibaba, From Here To Your Home" traveled to Salone Del Mobile, Milan (IT) 2019

Fashion Clash, Maastricht (NL) 2019