The exhibition Low Form. Imagination and Vision in the Age of Artificial Intelligence was inaugurated at MAXXI (the National Museum in Rome) on 20 October 2018. This is not merely an exhibition, but a laboratory for research and dialogue on subjects and questions concerning our relationship with technology and the extraordinary scenarios opened up by its evolution.
It is a journey within the technological and surreal imaginary of contemporary artists between computer-generated dreams, creative algorithms and avatars questioning the sense of existence itself.
The versatile Canadian director and essayist Jon Rafman is one of the 16 artists exhibited. On 23 October, Rafman – in conversation with the curator and art critic Valentina Tanni – outlined some of the essential stages in his artistic career, from works such as Erysichthon, a bitter parody of contemporary communication, to Open Hearted Warrior, a modern technological nightmare, concluding with his latest work, Shadowbanned. Punctured Sky. This last project focuses on several questions: what happens when machines are created that mirror the human brain, when we ourselves do not know how our minds work? How much can a machine truly learn and what role do context, culture and tradition play? What must a robot learn to become completely human?
As Rafman himself explained to Tanni, his role is not to shed light on the future – in the collective imaginary appearing increasingly dystopian – of machine learning, artificial intelligence and algorithms manipulating our daily lives and subconscious. The artist and curator, therefore, deal with interesting themes which are also, simultaneously, emblematic of our age. They focus on the acceleration of technology and information. When everything is accelerated, everything appears to stand still.
Human beings can always be found at the centre of this scenario, this fusion of man and machine. According to Rafman, it is not technology that guides us towards transformation and change, but the opposite; it is technology that dominates our society because change has already occurred in our subconscious.
An artist and amateur anthropologist, Rafman offers visitors a different perspective on the relationship between man, technology and digital communication.
His dream-like travels in the world of Second Life, the photos, installations and 3D digital animations explore the boundaries of reality, a fictitious reality where the impact of technology on our perception is total. Rafman is far from telling us whether we are dreaming or not.
images (all): Jon Rafman – SHADOWBANNED: Punctured Sky, 2018, single-channel HD video, stereo sound. Courtesy the artist