Jon McCormack recently visited Moscow to participate in this new exhibition on Art and Artificial Intelligence. Here he reflects on the exhibition and the concepts and ideas it explores.
A collaboration between the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMoMA) and LABORATORIA Art&Science Foundation, Daemons in the Machine is an ambitious and timely exhibition that critically examines the role of Artificial Intelligence in contemporary culture. Developed to coincide with LABORATORIA’s 10th anniversary, the title evokes multiple references – both historical and contemporary – to the myths, ghosts and demons that reside in the creations of human invention.
A diverse collection of works from nine international artists deeply probe the mythology, mistakes, glitches, ethics and possibilities of Artificial Intelligence. Some of the works were special commissions for the exhibition and in most cases developed in collaboration with scientists.
Central to the exhibition was the large scale work of Austrian artist Thomas Feuerstein. A three-act installation inspired by Dostoevky’s Demons, Tea for Kirillov invoked literal, allegorical and metaphorical references to demons in the machine. In the first room we encounter the ghost of Kirilov (the Engineer in Dostoevky’s story) by way of a mysterious desk that seems to be operated by an invisible spirit, visible only via a grainy security camera. This spirit opens draws and manipulates parts of the furniture, seemingly part-machine, part ghost. A series of electrical patch cables lead the visitor into the next room, where the cables grow thicker and become a tangled network of inky blackness that increasingly inform the overwhelming sculptural aesthetic.
Every now and then, the physical elements of the room pulsate and violently vibrate, emitting dark and ominous bass sounds and contributing to the overwhelming technical gloom radiated by the room. They are driven by the monitoring of cyber attacks, botnets and viruses being defended by one of the exhibition’s scientific partners, Kasperky Lab.
In the third room, two robotically empowered medical lamps, ‘Borgy & Bes’ engage in a futuristic language game as their neural networks, trained on Dostoevsky’s text, speak to each other like two infant children: using words that they have overheard from adults but of which they have no semantic understanding.