Our annual printed publication – the CoBo Supplement strives to increase awareness by serving as a platform to develop conversations pertaining to contemporary art. This year’s edition, released to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong 2019, features the opinions and viewpoints of over fifty influential, global art leaders on eleven dynamic topics addressing significant ongoing discourses in the art world. To kickstart on our conversation on Art & Technology, we bring to you the musings of Simon Denny, Marc Glimcher, Jonathan Stone, Wiyu Wahono, and Shezad Dawood .
Text: Simon Denny, Marc Glimcher, Jonathan Stone, Wiyu Wahono, and Shezad Dawood
Images: Courtesy of Contributors
Simon Denny, Artist
The Complex Nexus of Art and Technology
When recently listening to one of the many technology-oriented podcasts I habitually consume – made by the prominent San Francisco-based start-up incubator Y-Combinator – I was surprised and happy to hear Michelle Kuo, then the editor of Artforum, speak about the history of the 1960s/1970s group EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology). EAT was a ground-breaking nexus of artist-tech collaboration initiated by Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg. It was interesting to hear her relay parts of this story to a current generation of tech entrepreneurs, situated in “a time in which the ideas and technologies of the military- industrial research world met the person-centred idealism of the American counterculture.” Fifteen minutes into the conversation, she reaches a point where the initial reception of EAT is discussed. Kuo reflects on how many were “extremely critical and wary” of artists becoming involved too closely with corporate entities, or being aligned with the military- industrial complex (which produced technologies like sonar and infrared which these artists were interested in using). At a time when artists were pushing back against US imperialism and the war in Vietnam, it’s easy to imagine this response. For me, it also suggested a resonance with some artists’ approaches and their reception more recently – and the ongoing challenge for artists who dive deeply into emerging technical/political/social contexts, which can be murky and whose results are difficult to predict.
Technologists and their proximity to whatever the current form of the military-industrial complex is today (which globally may include Facebook, Google, Apple, NSA, Darpa, and, in light of Trump’s ascendance, Breitbart, Reddit, 4chan, Wikileaks; or in China, Tencent, Alibaba, Huaqiangbei etc.) are addressed, critiqued and collaborated with by artists interested in contemporary technology. Some of those artists choose to make work that adopts and perverts contemporary technological forms of communication – using Twitter streams, bots, trolling, memes, targeted advertising, para-fictions, incentive networks, gaming etc. They may also harness and distort the language of promotion inherent to the culture of “democratization,” “disruption” and “decentralization” within which it is deployed.
From artists with whom I have worked, like those who participated in the 2016 DIS-curated Berlin Biennale, to those experimenting in and out of blockchain and crypto companies, the question of politics, proximity and complicity with the agendas of these complex and emergent paradigms is still sometimes met with scepticism and suspicion. Are artists that embed themselves within and reflect the culture around web 2.0 and 3.0 helping unpack tendencies as they emerge or are they helping to further the acceptance, promotion and development of these ascendant technologies?
An art world which wants artists to engage with emergent culture is one that wants complexity and difficulty. EAT would likely never have stopped the advancement of the military-industrial complex of its day, whether it existed or not. However, perhaps understanding the position of technologists that worked within the establishment and the social, economic and political restrictions and context where they worked, allowed artists richer knowledge to continue to act on situated realities rather than abstracted or distanced impressions.
Jonathan Stone, Deputy Chairman, Asia and Co-Chairman, Asian Art, Christie’s
Many people tend to consider AI art as merely an algorithmically generated piece of work. However, if one digs deeper, it is not difficult to see that human input is still an integral component of this creative process. Therefore, I think it would be more precise to say that an AI artwork is a blended creative energy between human and machine. But I speak only for this point in time. Eventually, it will be endowed with a similar level of cognitive and emotional intelligence to a human being. AI will be able to automatically communicate with external stimuli, navigating its own path of aesthetic expression, rather than simply replicating the style of an existing artist or genre (as AIs tend to do now). When this happens, I’m sure there will be questions for which no one yet has the perfect answer: firstly, there is the question of ownership – who owns the intellectual property? Is it the algorithmic operator or is it the AI? And who has ultimate creative control? It also begs the question of artistic originality – if an exact same piece of AI-generated art can be reproduced endless times at the press of a button, then which is the original and which is a replicant?
Marc Glimcher, Pace Gallery President and CEO
Today there is a handful of artist pioneers – such as teamLab, Studio Drift, Michal Rovner, Leo Villareal, and Random International – who have the vision and ambition to create wholly experiential works of art that challenge our collective understanding of what is real and imaginary, what is possible and impossible. Whilst each is incredibly distinct, their practices evolved from one of the greatest innovations of the late 20th century, when artists such as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria started to conceive of art as an experience of the viewer, with the object or environment (created by the artist) serving as a catalyst. These artists have used light, space, and landscape to explore a shared awareness of the universe; and visionary artists today are expanding these ideas with the use of innovative technologies and software to break through the restrictive matrices of possibility and believability.
Wiyu Wahono, Collector
The first half of the 20th century was characterized by the television’s arrival in every home. It was a unique cultural phenomenon which artists started to explore, and which inspired them to create new works of art. German artist Wolf Vostell produced TV Dé-coll/age No. 1 in 1958, which features a white canvas with several knife slashes, TV monitors peeking through from behind. In 1963, Vostell asked a cameraman to record video footage, thereby creating Sun in Your Head, a 7:10 minute black and white, silent recording. When video recorders became available to the market in the mid 1960s, Korean artist Nam June Paik transformed video technology into material for art. Today, video or digital moving images are a widely used medium. I think this same transformational growth process will happen in the future with (new) media art. Following in the footsteps of TV, new technology has not only entered into our everyday life, but also begun to shape our identity (and how others view us). I strongly believe that a good artwork acts as a visual reflection of an era and every era has its distinctive spirit. Generally, the biggest challenge of any art collector is to find out how people in the future will describe the era in which we currently live; however, an additional complexity here lies in the fact that collecting new media art has its own peculiar challenges: technological obsolescence, questions of intellectual property rights, logistical and ethical issues, to name just a few.
Shezad Dawood, Artist
I’m interested in technology as philosophy. When we start to think about virtuality, we are really going back to the essential question of existence, and our understanding of reality itself. In this way we may contemplate some of the notions of Maya (that our perceived reality is illusion) which derive from Hinduism and Buddhism, and how they are deeply intertwined with Platonic ideas from classical antiquity. I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where a number of prisoners with no experience of the outside world are chained in a cave facing a wall, while a fire burns on a raised platform behind them. Puppeteers move in front of the fire, and the prisoners mistake the shadows they cast for reality.
Instead of suggesting that technology is an extension of this Maya, or illusion, I am interested in where technology moves in the opposite direction, revealing the ephemerality of the objects we are otherwise attached to. Thus, in one of my works, a quantum portrait of counter-culture guru and quantum mechanics enthusiast Robert Anton Wilson, I took images of “Bob” at different stages in his life and from multiple angles. When I fed the images into 3D modelling software, the software soon began to crash, eyeballs popping out and chins starting to collapse. I used the 3D renders to generate an animation (a separate work for projection), while also 3D printing the file as a sculpture, to be moulded and cast and finished in multiple single-use polychrome paints. The result was the illusion of a virtual object suspended in the real.