Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), refers to the science of making machines capable of thinking, learning and problem-solving like a human. The term was first coined in 1956 by computer scientist, John McCarthy and has been linked to developments such as the so-called Turing Test, invented by Mathematician Alan Turing who used it to judge a computer’s ability to respond like a human.
I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”
Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1950
Over time supercomputers have proven capable of outperforming their creators. For example, in 1997 the Deep Blue chess computer took on and beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Similarly in 2011, Watson the robot participated in the American quiz television programme Jeopardy, beating the top two performers in the programme’s history. Today, we are not far off from having driverless cars, robot-assisted work in factories and real-time voice translation amongst other inventions.
You may wonder what this has to do with art… Well the IK Prize is all about the pairing of art and technology, and 2016’s winner Recognition uses A.I. to compare up-to-the-minute photojournalism with British art from the Tate collection.
To celebrate this union between art and tech, we take a look at a few artists who have used machines within their work, including everything from electronic technology, light and graphics to robots, and sound.
1. Gustav Metzger Liquid Crystal Environment 1965, remade 2005
In 1961 German artist Gustav Metzger became preoccupied with the concept of auto-creative art, using technology to construct processes of positive change and growth.
An example of this ‘auto creation’ is Liquid Crystal Environment, which became the stage set for performances by Cream, The Move and The Who in London, at the Roundhouse in 1966. Heat-sensitive liquid crystals are inserted into projectors, then heated and cooled to form crystal patterns of alternating colours. These are then projected onto screens. The psychedelic patterns projected create a total sensory environment, inviting us into a world where art and technology collide.
2. Nam June Paik Bakelite Robot 2002
Often recognised at the founding father of video art, Nam June Paik works across video sculpture, television productions, robotic devices, performance and installation. Paik believed the spiritual element of art, when combined with technology, would have the power to cleanse our mass-consumer, technology obsessed society.
Inspired by his visits to Tokyo, and often using rejected media artefacts within his work, Paik constructs this piece from nine vintage Bakelite radios to form a miniature robot sculpture. Associated with access to information and entertainment, the radio has become a symbol of the twentieth-century modern home and technology becoming part of everyday life.
Where the radio dials would usually sit, Paik has placed tiny television monitors displaying footage from science fiction films and recordings of vintage robot toys. Interested in the connection between technology and the human body, the work demonstrates Paik’s attempts to ‘humanise the technology and the electronic medium’.
3. 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering and Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, technician Billy Klüver worked at Bell Laboratories, a research facility at the centre of the American telecommunications revolution. While Bell Labs encouraged experimentation, Klüver believed that specialists in art and technology should collaborate. With access to the avant-garde artistic circles of New York, Klüver was able to bring these two worlds together, paving the way for a new digital age.
In 1966, thirty engineers from Bell Labs and ten artists, including Robert Rauschenberg and Jean Tinguely, took part in the New York art project 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering. Led-by Klüver, this series of collaborations between artists and technicians resulted in many ground-breaking artworks, dances and pieces of theatre and music. The engineers involved used new technologies, such as wireless microphones and fiber optic cables. Whereas the artists pushed their work in new directions, incorporating technological elements. Highlighting the artistic potential of electronics, the event is considered a turning point in media art.
Furthermore, the event inspired Klüver to found Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an organisation which aimed to create further collaboration between artists and engineers. The group grew to have over 5000 members, including artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, as well as choreographer Yvonne Rainer.
4. Robert Rauschenberg Open Score 1966
Performed as part of the 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering exhibition, Rauschenberg’s Open Score took the form of a tennis match. Every time the racquet, custom-designed with a FM transmitter, came into contact with the tennis ball a BONG would sound and one of the 48 surrounding lights would go out. The game ended when the entire venue was plunged into darkness. Rauschenberg then flooded the space with infrared light and brought five-hundred people on stage, who could only been seen on infrared-sensitive cameras. These images were then projected onto large, hanging screens. While the viewer could sense the crowd’s presence, they were only visible in the form of these projections. This was the first time infrared light was used in an art piece in America and is an example of an artist exploring the live-aspect of electronics within their work.
5. Angela Bulloch West Ham - Sculpture for Football Songs 1998
Recognised as one of the Young British Artists, Angela Bulloch works across multiple media, such as sculpture, painting, video and installation. She uses electronic technologies to bring a ‘gadget quality’ to her work.
Bulloch’s work often contains an interactive element which responds to, or is triggered by, the viewer. The use of digital technology within her art enables Bulloch to manipulate how the viewer interprets different types of information and their understanding of her work. The lights within West Ham – Sculpture for Football Songs turn on and off depending on the presence of the viewer. If the microphone (positioned nearby) detects sound, the bulbs are illuminated for a shorter period of time. In this way Bulloch invites the viewer to be an active participant within her work. While technology is integral to her work, Bulloch argues that she is not interested in technology for its own sake, but rather the ways in which people ‘interface’ with it and ‘what psychological effect this has’.
6. Amalia Ulman Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update, 8th July 2014), (#itsjustdifferent) 2015
Amalia Ulman works across mediums including painting, installation, video and graphic design. Her works explore issues of class, gender and sexuality, and often uses social media apps and an iPhone to do so. In 2014 Ulman began her Excellences & Perfections project, a durational performance which was displayed across her personal Instagram account. Creating a fictitious character, whose story unfolded across the course of the four month long performance, the artist fooled her followers into believing in her character and following her journey from ‘cute girl’ to ‘life goddess’. As she explains, ‘the idea was to bring fiction to a platform that has been designed for supposedly “authentic” behaviour, interactions and content’. The provocative work uses everyday technology to highlight the potentially manipulative nature of social media.
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IK Prize in partnership with Microsoft. 2016 winning project Recognition created by Fabrica and Jolibrain. Content Provider: Reuters.