Thin as Thorns, In These Thoughts in Us: An Exhibition of Creative AI and Generative Art
September 08, 2020 —
February 20, 2021
On view in Los Angeles
In the contemporary era of digitization, Artificial Intelligence is undoubtedly operating within a more complex and conflicted space within culture than ever before. As the great disrupter of our time, it has come to complicate virtually everything it touches. Is it possible for a machine to think and act creatively? Is it possible for an automated system to produce something wholly original, something its own programmers could never have anticipated?
For those working within the realm of AI, this question is possibly one of its greatest provocations, particularly when applied to artistic production. Within the works presented in Thin As Thorns: In These Thoughts In Us, AI systems serve the dual function of navigational tool and artistic medium, allowing each artist to freely explore and examine their role as both creator and spectator. With a title drawn from Articulations, a book of poems generated by an AI system designed by Allison Parrish, this exhibition explores the relationship between the visual arts and the cybernetic world through the diverse work of Memo Akten, Sougwen Chung, Chris Coy, YACHT, Holly Grimm, Joanne Hastie, Agnieszka Kurant, Annie Lapin, Allison Parrish, Casey Reas, Patrick Tresset, Christobal Valenzuela, Siebren Versteeg, Tom White, and two of the foremost pioneers of code-based artwork, Harold Cohen and Roman Verostko.
With the dawn of early computational models, British painter Harold Cohen and American artist Roman Verostko played pivotal roles in the movement to incorporate technology into artistic practice. By training automated programs to evoke the methods and aesthetics of the early Modernists, Cohen's computer-based system, AARON, and Verostko's innovative process of "Epigenetic Painting" lay the groundwork for the next generation of artists, opening up a previously uncharted dialogue within the art-historical continuum.
In the generation following the work of Cohen and Verostko, artists Siebren Versteeg, Patrick Tresset, and Tom White seek to generate algorithms with the ability to produce an infinite number of painterly images, thus liberating the resulting artworks from any sense of corporeal authorship. Upon encountering the somatic and expressionistic qualities of each piece, it is striking to witness the inherent emotion, mood, and personality imbued within each of these systems, calling to question long-held definitions of the essence of artificial and organic authorship.
While some have programmed their systems to act independently, artists such as Sougwen Chung, Chris Coy, YACHT, Holly Grimm, Joanne Hastie, Annie Lapin, and Casey Reas aim to relinquish the performance of sole authorship through improvised collaborations with their mechanical counterparts. While each of these artists focus on training AI systems to evoke their individual aesthetics, their approaches and outputs range across a diversity of media, from rock music and performance art to painting and film. These tactics of production allow the artists' finished works to transcend their status as indexical art objects; Instead, granting them the power to memorialize the essence of exchange between human and automaton.
The ability to interpret, translate, and respond to mnemonic, emotional, and aesthetic data input, conjures a space for reflection on the inherent humanity built into AI systems. In an effort to bring their audiences directly into the thinking process of the machine, artists such as Memo Akten, Agnieszka Kurant, Allison Parrish, and Christobal Valenzuela, develop systems that allow them to harvest information from a range of internet archives. By collecting and reconfiguring algorithmic interpretations of love, religion, poetry, and human consciousness, these artists seek to elucidate the ways in which our collective identity is shaped by the integral role these systems play in our daily lives.
The modern fascination with developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence can be traced back to ancient experimentations with automatons, objects and devices developed to virtually act of their own free will. For centuries, these innovations have allowed us to reflect upon the essence of our own humanity, offering the potential for introspection and self-discovery in ways no other tool or system can. By bringing forth new languages that will aid us in navigating our increasingly cybernetic world, Thin As Thorns: In These Thoughts In Us, sets out to present the viewer with essential tools for understanding the complex and pervasive cultural phenomenon at the heart of these innovations.