Review: Realtime in Nxt Museum shows that the advance of AI is not scary, but beautiful – written by Edo Dijksterhuis on May 20, 2023
Artificial intelligence can give us an alternative view of the world. The three artists who are now exhibiting in the Nxt Museum see this as a profit. With the help of computers, man can jump over his own shadow.
This month, Geoffrey Hinton resigned from Google . He did this to, as he himself said, ‘to be able to speak out about the dangers of artificial intelligence’. This is remarkable because Hinton has been pioneering research into neural networks since the 1970s and is regarded as the ‘ godfather of AI ‘. But he has now come to the conclusion that he has created an uncontrollable monster. And he is not alone in that. For futurologists, “singularity” has long been at the top of the agenda: the moment when our computers overtake us and take over. That moment is ten, at most fifteen years in the future.
The three artists in the exhibition Lilypads: Mediating Exponential Systems recognise the turbulent advance of artificial intelligence. But instead of warning against it, they embrace it. They see AI as a means to jump over our own human shadow.
Lilypads: Mediating Exponential Systems is part of the new exhibition series Realtime in Nxt Museum. The title is statement and question in one. Because Realtime is about the now, current events that usually have to go through a contemplative incubation period before museums venture into it. But Realtime also implies: what time is real? Or rather: whose time? These are perspectives that transcend human boundaries, making Realtime a computer-mediated exercise in empathy and imagination.
Amelia Winger-Bearskin does this by drawing attention to a part of the world we are in constant contact with but rarely aware of: the sky. In an egg-shaped projection reminiscent of an eye or crystal ball, the artist shows a constantly changing landscape. Prairie becomes mountain landscape and then erode into wasteland . The skies above change with it, from cloudscapes à la Ruysdael to psychedelic play of light. Around it, the projection, which stretches meters wide and bends over the floor, shatters into shapes and colours. It’s like looking past the lashes of your half-closed eyes, revealing a reality that usually remains hidden.
Midnight, as this work is called, is followed by To Body. The starting point is a body silhouette of which the position of the arms and legs is not entirely clear. Floating on the waves of a soundscape, the shape mutates, increasingly reminiscent of the stains of a Rorschach test. Aesthetically pleasing, this exploration of ‘mistakes in our visible and invisible visual infrastructure’ is certainly, but somehow it also feels like a contemporary version of fluid slides.
Much more radical is Q is for Climate (?) by Libby Heaney. It feels like you’re in the middle of a video game, where the ground moves jerkily under your feet with tugs of an invisible joystick. The decor is formed by a forest that is alternately healthy and completely withered. Half transparent through this is an octopus-like creature that appears to be performing a mating dance. Poisonous yellow clouds regularly rise from the bottom and a thick, black gunk bubbles across the landscape towards the viewer who, sitting on a bench, involuntarily lifts his feet.
The term ‘ immersive ‘ has been chewed flat by now, but it is very appropriate here. Q is for Climate (?) sucks you in and immerses you in an alternate reality. Which doesn’t mean you know what you see. Not surprising when you consider that this work is based on quantum mechanics, the driving force behind the next revolution in computer technology. Quantum computers ‘think’ and ‘imagine’ at a level far beyond human capabilities. Heaney translates this into images that show multiple times and perspectives at the same time, making something as elusive as ‘climate’ visible.
Beyond nerdy jargon
More traditional in form, almost painterly, is Decohering Delineation by the duo Entangled Others. They are portraits of starfish and jellyfish, which mutate into hysterical flowers, decorative fireworks and sketchy cartoon characters. The driving force here is an interaction between a neural network, in this case the nerve cells of fish, and data from tides and ocean currents.
The three works in Realtime – Lilypads: Mediating Exponential Systems are more vignettes than stories, but perhaps this form of computer art is still too young to expect more. It is mainly about the combination of science and art to develop new knowledge systems. It is remarkable that Nxt Museum, a private initiative without a mission imposed by subsidy providers, takes the lead in this. Although ‘ artistic research ‘ is now commonplace and there are countless artists walking around with a PhD, the regular museum and art world pays little attention to this crossover. It is not for nothing that the Academy of Arts, together with The Young Academy, sent a letter to Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robert Dijkgraaf last yearto advocate for a new fund that should enable collaboration between artists and scientists.
The artists in this exhibition also deal in academic titles. And Nxt Museum itself employs a scholar-in-residence. She provides the exhibition with accessible explanations and light in pointed room texts, basic concepts from the web of nerdy jargon that computer art is full of. Not a superfluous luxury, because you can immerse yourself in these works for 45 minutes and feel everything about them, but without the words to talk and think about it, it remains with ‘undergoing’. And then you inadvertently open the door to the darkest scenarios that AI godfather Hinton wants to warn us about.
Real-time Lilypads: Mediating Exponential Systems. Until September 2023
Article by Edo Dijksterhuis, published May 20, 2023 in HET PAROOL