Contemporary art and Artificial Intelligence: a major group exhibition at MAXXI in Rome

MAXXI in Rome presents a large group exhibition dedicated to the relationship between contemporary art and Artificial Intelligence from May 5-30, 2021.

From May 5 to 30, 2021, the large group exhibition Re:Humanism - Re:define the Boundaries dedicated to the relationship between contemporary art and Artificial Intelligence is scheduled at MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo in Rome.

Curated by Daniela Cotimbo, curator and president of the Re:Humanism association, and realized with the support of Alan Advantage, the exhibition displays ten works that constitute the finalist projects of the second edition of the Re:Humanism Art Prize. Main themes are the transformations of the concepts of Body and Identity in the age of Artificial Intelligence and the political implications that follow, the new ways of knowledge production and the changes introduced by robotics and machine learning, the definition of an anthropological approach to AI, and visions of the future of our planet.

From Berlin the Entangled Others have created a 3D digital aquatic ecosystem, Swiss artist Johanna Bruckner has created a video starring a gender fluid sex-robot, the Artificial Humanism collective has translated DNA mutations into sound, while from Harward the all-female American-Lebanese duo Elizabeth Christoforetti & Romy El Sayah have imagined real neighborhoods of body-homes. And again, from New York University, China’s Yuguang Zhang investigated the boundary between human and artificial, Irene Fenara, Mariagrazia Pontorno and Russia’s Egor Kraft established with their works a connection between ancient techniques and contemporary technologies, while Numero Cromatico and Carola Bonfili transported forms and practices of the literary tradition into the worlds of virtual reality and AI.

On the ecological and sociological double front is the work signed by Norwegian artist, researcher and architect Feileacan McCormick and neural artist Sofia Crespo, namely Entangled Others: Beneath the Neural Waves 2.0 intends to create a digital aquatic ecosystem capable of exploring the concepts of biodiversity and interspecies relationships. The idea stems from the study of coral reefs, the perfect example of interconnectedness in the natural world. Through the use of deep learning, the collective is able to extrapolate recurring patterns within these ecosystems and translate them into three-dimensional models, producing new possible relational forms. The final work is a sculptural body, a 3D print translation of the digital aquatic ecosystem, accompanied by oceanic sounds produced through generative algorithms.

Three Thousand Tigers by Irene Fenara from Bologna also stems from an environmental awareness. Starting from three thousand photographic images of tigers (corresponding to the current number of specimens found in the wild), Irene uses a generative algorithm that replicates the traditional warp and weft technique to create, with the help of artisans who produce it directly in India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a fabric tapestry that represents a new image of a tiger, abstract and inevitably incomplete. This new image reflects the paradox that arises between an endangered species and the preservation of that species’ digital memory.

In the installation series (Non-)Human: The Mooving Bedsheet, Chinese artist Yuguang Zhang questions the relationship that binds us to everyday objects and the fine line between human and nonhuman. Emerging technologies hint at a future populated by non-human intelligences: following this thought, the work evokes the humanity hidden in objects and images.

Genetics dialogues with sound design in ABCD1, a project by the art collective Artificial Humanism. Through Artificial Intelligence, the artists realize a sonification of DNA mutations and, in particular, of the ABCD1 gene: in nature, mutations in this gene cause adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare genetic neurological disease that causes the accumulation of fatty acids in the brain, impairing proper brain function. Born out of a personal experience with the disease, the project takes the form of a sound installation: healthy DNA and mutated DNA create an alienating and hypnotic juxtaposition of sounds that places the viewer in front of an interactive experience and visual representation of the mutation.

In the realm of biology moves Swiss artist Johanna Bruckner: her video installation Molecular Sex features a gender-fluid sex-robot that simultaneously embodies approaches to sexuality belonging to different life forms, from the bacterium to the starfish, deconstructing existing relationships in a stream of visions of plastic bodies that dismember and recompose themselves into completely new forms, confirming the instability of sex and gender categories.

The work Body as Building by American Elizabeth Christoforetti and Lebanese Romy El Sayah outlines the coordinates of a new kind of urbanism and questions the Renaissance concept of authorship in architecture. A design approach is proposed through which each individual participates in the creation of his or her own living context: the house becomes an extension of the body, urbanism a changing set of corporeal neighborhoods, unique house-bodies that will continuously accumulate into a collective identity processed by an artificial intelligence.

On the relationship between the archaic and the futuristic, between ancient techniques and contemporary technologies, the works of Russian artist Egor Kraft and Sicilian artist Mariagrazia Pontorno focus. The former, with the work Chinese Ink, reflects in particular on the survival of the ancient Chinese ink technique in the technological world, a condition that allows the elaboration of new aesthetic forms and visual languages: leaving aside the iconographic tradition and focusing on the nature of the material, Kraft creates a generative installation capable of producing a dozen images per second that simulate the effect of ink on blotting paper. The second starts with the ancient Voinych manuscript, the world’s most mysterious and esoteric codex, dating back to the 15th century and written in an unknown language that has never been translated. With Super Hu.Fo* Voynich, the artist sets out to translate a part of the code, using machine learning and artificial intelligence, but providing the machine with the solution to be found, thus subjectifying the machine’s translation path at the outset.

With the works of Numero Cromatico and Carola Bonfili, we go into the territories of literature. Numero Cromatico, a collective of visual artists and researchers in the field of neuroscience, presents Epitaphs for the human artist, a work that takes the literary form of the epitaph to definitively decree the death of the human artist. Thanks to a text generator (designed in collaboration with the University of Verona) based on Artificial Neural Networks, the installation is an interactive tombstone that confronts the viewer with an endless series of epitaphs with which the machine commemorates the human-artist. Roman Carola Bonfili, on the other hand, takes us inside the universe of a video game to narrate, in a sort of spin-off of the game, the inner dissensions of a creature between the mythological and the alien: The Flute-Singing is a CGI video that reinterprets landscapes and symbologies from several literary works, including Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptations of St. Anthony and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. But that’s not all: the work takes the narrative construction of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and has it dismembered by an Artificial Intelligence that, thanks to algorithms, produces an endless series of new and verisimilar stories that impact the life of the main character. The result is an artificial creature that has internalized a universal repertoire of human behavior and questions its own being in the world.

The jury that selected the artists and projects consisted of art curators and advanced technology experts: Alfredo Adamo, CEO of Alan Advantage; curators, historians and art critics Daniela Cotimbo, Federica Patti and Ilaria Gianni; curator and art historian Valentino Catricalà, artist Lorem and Michael Mondria, managing director at Ars Electronica; researcher Mauro Martino, founder and director of the Visual Artificial Intelligence Lab at IBM Research; and Trond Wuellner, Product Director at Google.

Image: Entangled Others, Beneath the Neural Waves 2.0

Contemporary art and Artificial Intelligence: a major group exhibition at MAXXI in Rome
Contemporary art and Artificial Intelligence: a major group exhibition at MAXXI in Rome

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