Within the new personal exhibition of the artist Davide Balula, an artificial intelligence fed by the artist generates proposals of a gently wacky random poetry, which also materialize, in hollow and offbeat, the major ethical and ecological issues of technology today.
At the Frank Elbaz gallery, the artist Davide Balula has carried out a set of formal operations. Detailed on the wall over a system of screens, these have materialized in the space; and presented together, the instruction and its realization are works. From the entrance, there is this wall studded with “flower chips” – the title of the piece –, where each of these perishable organic elements, fixed to the wall by a simple pin, live and vibrate according to the vagaries of the atmosphere.
The bringing together of these two registers is perceived as being torn between the visual proximity of the same oblong shape and the large semantic gap between a poetic, even romantic signifier (the petals of a red rose) and another charged with undertones. -heard of excessive industrialization or even of social fracture (crisps, which are presumed to come from the agro-food industry). As we can see, interpreting reason has no difficulty getting started, the very reason trained in deciphering works that are presumed to arise from an individual intention, enshrining within a container more or less resisting a latent discursive meaning.
Artificial intelligence and interpretive paranoia
It must be said that the image, as well as the layers of meaning it triggers, is quite beautiful. Of a fortuitous randomness, like that postulated by the surrealists, coupled with a more directly socialized quality, where one reads, or at least one thinks so, the hierarchical relationships that cross the social fabric – aesthetic taste, a Bourdieusian reading would advance; culinary taste, would add an anthropological prism. Further on, the same reflexes operate when one apprehends, in turn, a bird preserved on its deathbed; a can of petrol making the ground gleam and the footsteps slipping; a cigarette butt squashed on the wall still standing and surrounded by ashes.
Except that, it’s not about any of that. For his new series, AI Generated Instructions [Instructions générées par une I.A.], the artist came beforehand to train an artificial intelligence by feeding it with various sources: his own previous works, the writings on neuroscience of the philosopher Catherine Malabou and all the human knowledge available on the Internet. The tone of the statements to be made derives from this, just as much as their form, that of protocols that the history of art recognizes as the established language of conceptual art.
This genesis is explicitly disclosed to us; it is read on the screens, which mention the usual information of a cartel, the name of the artist, the title and the date of the work, but also the source of the neural network which generated the instructions. Does this mean that this, and artificial intelligence in the broadest sense, would serve as Monsieur Jourdain of the technological era? That he would realize, without knowing it, conceptual works, their very intellectual heart, the execution in itself, delegated to small human hands, hardly important in itself?
The “insect media”: the anthropocentric point of view in question
In stating it, we realize it: because he selects between the proposals generated ad infinitum, that is to say that he remains in control of the choice, based on qualitative criteria, the artist remains the arbiter of meaning, constrained as it is to assume its own subjective and relative choices – this also bears the name of freedom, burden of the human condition, and motor of creation, again and despite everything.
The series also introduces, from its apparent register of eccentric lightness, the more urgent question of the use of technical tools and new technologies, recontextualized through the assumed and positive side of artistic subjectivity, despite everything underlying . We read there, in hollow and negative, the politically and ideologically oriented biases of any system of artificial intelligence, serving, outside the symbolic context of art, to monitor and control. But it is yet another part of the piece that opens up to a third reading: on the same screens is also the mention in real time of the carbon dioxide emission of each work. More than a simple random game of the augmented imagination renewed under other auspices, it is about the broader inscription, at the planetary borders, of technology within the living world, as exploited by humans. they have become masters and possessors of it.
Materializing the approach of media theorist Jussi Parikka which he develops in his book Insect Media (2010), according to which non-anthropocentric technical systems are brought back into contact with the animal and non-human universe, the series offers an approach more directly in tune with the heightened ecological urgency of the time. It is about the need to reverse the current course of predation of resources, their extractivist “mining” stated in the title of the exhibition, while also not yielding to the opposite sirens of a secessionist localism, where everyone is content to “cultivate” one’s garden, like the other series, and term of the title, a set of paintings deriving from the burial of the canvas in the earth.
The exhibition does not propose to choose between one and the other, rather to draw from the random, technological or biological, invention and preservation, a mental method, and a principle of action, to imagine so many new paths, plural and serpentine, in order to reconcile one and the other. And to arm the organic fragility with technical means to make it subsist but also to increase.
David Balula. Some farmed, others mineduntil May 7 at the Frank Elbaz gallery in Paris.
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Artificial intelligence exposes itself between transitory poetry and ethical responsibility – Les Inrocks
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