Works by seven Italian artists: Marco Cadioli, Alessandro Capozzo, Giovanni Fredi, Federico Poni, Eleonora Roaro, Guido Segni and Stefano Spera, explore the intersection between technology and creation, confronting a theme, a tool, as topical as artificial intelligence, and above all a fundamental part of it, such as algorithms. All this happens at SMDOT, and Arshake is very pleased to publish the text by curator and gallery director Stefano Monti.
AI was until recently confined to research laboratories and has only made its disruptive entry into everyday life in recent years. Everyone seems obsessed and fascinated by its uses and its promises of seemingly endless growth and development, as well as by the possibilities for the application of an increasingly efficient and pervasive technology.
The title of this text, “Neither intelligent nor artificial” may sound provocative, it may seem like a negative judgement a priori on technology, AI and algorithms, but in fact it is just a bit of hyperbole hoping to attract your attention and draw your gaze towards a particular point of view.
We are often too charmed by these machines and software, we proclaim their intelligence on the basis of the results we manage to obtain. We are astonished by the images presented to us as a result of a request entered via text, or by a text written about a topic we submit, even the crafting of a poem, a song or a piece of music, again upon specific request. Interestingly, should we not be satisfied, the machine will continue to look for solutions for us, without ever getting tired – or almost. It will always try to please us. It answers will always be plausible.
Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence in machines programmed to think and learn like humans. Artificial intelligence systems can perform tasks such as understanding natural language, recognizing images, making decisions and solving problems. There are different approaches, but they all involve using advanced algorithms and mathematical models to process and analyse the data. Some of the principal approaches are based on systems with a set of predefined rules for making decisions and solving problems. In a nutshell, AI is a branch of computer science that deals with creating machines or computer systems capable of performing tasks that would normally require human intelligence. It uses advanced algorithms and mathematical models to process and analyse data and make predictions or decisions based on them.
This means that somehow they give us the illusion of finding simple solutions to our doubts or expectations, but only we can decide if those solutions satisfy us or not. The way these systems learn and fulfil our desires is based on deception, an approach very common among humans, but also among animals and plants.
We are accustomed to living with what we might call trivial deception: something that we know is not real, but that in certain circumstances, we instinctively decide to consider as such.
Arguably, the history of thought is born and based on deception. The Sophists, Plato’s metaphor of the cave, the invention of myths, religions, the invention of perspective, scientific discoveries, literature, the photographic image, cinema, advertising, TV series, social media, Siri, Alexa, etc…
Human beings have always been attracted by illusion and deception, it is part of their essence, their vulnerability and their modes of relationship. At the same time we had to develop skills to protect ourselves from it, to try to recognise it in advance and not fall for it.
Somehow we are going back to the initial hyperbole: the problem is not artificial intelligence and its ability to design machines that are capable of better performance than human beings, with all the positive and negative consequences on human habits and all the ethical and social implications, rather, the problem is on our ability and desire to distinguish between humans and machines. Refusing to interact with AI is out of the question, but we can resist. We can keep a balance, like in surfing, between the use of the tools available through AI to our benefit, and adopting an informed, critical, sceptical, creative attitude towards it. The challenge is becoming a sophisticated user.
In this, looking at art and art works can be an excellent exercise in not forsaking complexity, sophistication, difficulty and dissatisfaction.
From this point of view, “SURFING ON THE ALGORITHMS” is a sophisticated, complex and uncomfortable exhibition, every single work is a threshold of meaning for the viewer, every work brings with it many questions, every work is lacking a definitive answer despite its aesthetic definition. The conceptual dimension that unites all the works is research into the type of images that we are being produced in the contemporary, also through new technologies, and questioning what representation of reality we want to build with them.
Marco Cadioli’s installation “ CURATING THE AI” is the creation of the documentation of an art exhibition, with artists, artworks, an opening event, performances and cultural events and visitors, all through an AI-based program. Everything was documented and published on the net, to great appreciation by the public, curators, critics and artists, only with some being disappointed for not having been invited. This has generated a trivial deception. The documentation of his exhibition, through digital prints on dibond and digital polaroids, participates as a work of art in the group exhibition, it becomes a performance that took place at another time and in another space, it becomes a meta-exhibition, or a meta-art work. The chronological representation of time is changed. A sort of future in the past.
There is also this kind of future in the past in Alessandro Capozzo’s works. In “Chimera I, II, III, IV”, we are attracted by images that seem to come from some museum of natural sciences from the past, or from an 18th century collector’s Wunderkammer. Lyrical, plausible images which are reminiscent of the features of plants and animals, without being either one or the other, offer us a metaphysical representation of past elements that come from the future.
With a different aesthetic and approach, the works of Giovanni Fredi, “Mask 01, 02, 03”, and “untitled (series)” also appear to come from the past, but create a short circuit, between the sign, the form, the modes of representation and their meaning. The “masks” are potentially functional face coverings, made from clay – an “ancient” and natural material – and images: landscapes generated by AI, but formalised with a photographic silver salt print in an equirectangular format. Simple objects are made complicated and sophisticated and become anchoring points of what is real.
Stefano Spera’s “Variations (Hermes, THE NET)”, marks the artist’s return to the SMDOT/Contemporary Art space with a variation of one of the works he exhibited at the end of 2021. The search through the use of a program that uses AI doesn’t bring the promised results: “The Net”, does not correspond to the real work, the one previously represented and exhibited. At this point Stefano both highlights and fixes the error through painting, resisting the plausible, not just being satisfied with “indicating” the truth.
Eleonora Roaro’s video “Pallas’s Cat There Is a Picture in My Head” and Federico Poni’s installation “For You (Automatic) Information” take the stance of occupying and inhabiting this new technology with points of view, procedures and different attitudes, not just using it.
With great irony, Eleonora “provokes” AI knowledge about a particular species of cat, Pallas cat, a Tik Tok star and the idea of desire. The poetry generated becomes in turn a pretext for generating a piece of music, always by a program that uses AI. Eleonora appropriates all the material, interprets it and presents it as a music video that marks her debut as a singer with the creation of a winter hit. Are we sure that’s all there is in the video? Is it just a song, the story of a friend of hers who wants to adopt an endangered wild cat at any cost, or something more mysterious, complicated and human?
Federico engages in a performance, interacting and recording the reactions and the responses of a particular AI program to his story. His words, sentences and thoughts are spoken and recognised, interpreted by the machine, not always in what we would consider the right way. Misunderstandings are created in the communication between man and machine. Mistakes and stumbling blocks are necessary so that our perennial desire to seek and reveal the truth is always renewed.
Guido Segni’s “Poor White Guy Can’t Help but fall asleep”, the only work not made specifically for the exhibition, is an image printed on a bed sheet, taken from the video “The Han Collection (or how we got wired, tired and fired”. It reminds us that we inhabit the space that surrounds us through our body, which can be considered as a sophisticated screen. Thanks to the innate device of fatigue, our body manages to resist: it pretends to be dead, but it has only fallen asleep, it is recovering the strength to face the complexity of manifold reality, supported by technological inventions without ever wondering about their operation and continuing to surf, giving shape to our “techno-utopias” between desire and need.
Surfing on the Algorithms, curated by Stefano Monti, SMDOT/Contemporary Art, Udine (IT), 28.01 – 08.04.2023
Artists: Marco Cadioli, Alessandro Capozzo, Giovanni Fredi, Federico Poni, Eleonora Roaro, Guido Segni, Stefano Spera
images: (cover 1) Marco Cadioli, «Curating the AI», Exhibition poster (opening), 2022, print on fine art paper mounted on dibond, 30 x 30 cm, ed. 1/3 (2) SURFING ON THE ALGORITHMS, SMDOT/Contemporary Art, Udine (IT), Poster (3-4) SURFING ON THE ALGORITHMS, SMDOT/Contemporary Art, Udine (IT), installation view, details (5) Marco Cadioli, «CURATING THE AI», Studio DREAM, 18 October, 2022 – 07 January 2023, Installation: Exhibition and Performance Documentation, Exhibition posters (6) Giovanni Fredi, «untitled 01,02,03» (series), 2023, silver salt print, 30,5 x 40,6 cm, aluminum frame, ed 1/5 + 1AP (7) Eleonora Roaro, «Pallas’s Cat There Is a Picture in My Head», 2023, single-channel video, 2’00’’, 1920×1080 HD, 16:9, edition 3 + AP 2023. Vocals, lyrics and music: Eleonora Roaro; sound engineer: bluEsForCE productions (William Novati); producer and additional vocals: In.Visible (Andrea Morsero). Special thanks to Gabriela Galati (8) SURFING ON THE ALGORITHMS, SMDOT/Contemporary Art, Udine (IT), SMDOT/Contemporary Art, Udine (IT), Installation view, details (9) Guido Segni, «Poor White Guy Can’t Help but fall asleep», 2017, print on sheet bed, 101×183 cm