Three Artists Combining Art and Tech In New Ways

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    It could be argued that art has always been at the forefront of technology. After all, some of the earliest evidence of human tool use that archaeologists have managed to uncover was found in the cave paintings at Lascaux. There, humans living in the Paleolithic age managed to utilize a new technology to render images. That technology, mark-making on a surface, has informed the progression of art ever since.


    When most people think of art today, they still picture drawings, paintings, and sculptures.  But as technology evolves, a new generation of artists are redefining what it means to interact with and experience a work of art. Using cutting edge tech- from VR and AR to AI and robotics- these artists are pushing the limits of the art world. And they are exploring the depths of new technological capabilities.


    In this article, we will take a look at three artists using innovative new techniques to combine art and technology.


    1. Anicka Yi, In Love With The World


    The work of multimedia artist Anicka Yi is currently on display at the Tate Modern in London. There, Yi’s multi-sensory installation, In Love With The World, takes over the monumental space that is the Tate’s Turbine Hall.  Through her work, the artist seeks to answer questions like “What would it feel like to share the world with machines that could live in the wild and evolve on their own?” and “What if AI could learn through the senses? Could machines develop their own experiences of the world?”


    This current exhibition features floating machines that resemble aquatic creatures. Inspired by mushrooms and oceanic creatures, these ‘aerobes’ are equipped with programmable software that responds to stimuli in the environment, such as human heat. Their flight is self-directed and evolves over time. And these amoeba-like ‘biological machines’ float through an atmosphere infused with a rotating roster of custom-made perfumes. The scents permeate the exhibition space of the Turbine Hall, bringing viewers into an altered reality defined by the subtle shift in smell. In this space, humans cohabitate with Yi’s machines, hybrid creatures powered by algorithms and drone technology.


    Not simply determined to redefine our relationship to art, Yi’s work also challenges us to consider the connections between technology and nature. She uses the form of the exhibition itself to open up new avenues for speculation and wonder. The artist’s previous work has included the creation of self-contained biospheres, plexiglass tiles covered in specific human bacteria, a colony of ants shaped like a computer circuit board, and an installation comprised of bacteria swabbed from 100 different women’s bodies. Yi’s practice includes collaborations with engineers, microbiologists, philosophers, fabricators, and perfumers.

    2. Hito Steyerl, I Will Survive

    German-born artist Hito Steyerl is, like Anicka Yi, interested in using art as a provocative medium. In her work as a visual artist and filmmaker, Steyerl explores the complex web of  relationships among the art world, digital technology, and our increasing reliance on AI throughout society. A recent retrospective of her work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris explores these issues through an exhibit of virtual and material archaeology.

    Steyerl’s retrospective exhibition, entitled I Will Survive, encourages viewers to question our overarching and all-encompassing relationship to the internet, which she suggests is more than just a question of online/off-line interactions. In Steyerl’s work, we are confronted with the notion that we use the internet all the time. She accomplishes this mode of critical inquiry by immersing viewers in a hybrid world.

    Visitors to the exhibition are immersed in a VR simulation and surrounded by humanoid robots. Augmented reality components project virtual sculptures and electronic sounds into the real environment. Using the latest technological innovations, Steyerl asks us to consider what, indeed, is real?

    3. Ian Cheng, Emissaries

    American artist Ian Cheng has long had a fascination with AI and new technology. In Cheng’s 2017 exhibition, Emissaries, at MoMA PS1, viewers interacted with a series of live simulation artworks that the artist has described as “a video game that plays itself.” And it’s no wonder: Cheng used video game engineering to create these complex computer-generated simulations.

    The artist seeks to use new technology to address contemporary issues, like concerns about climate change. Cheng has created entire worlds in the simulations that populate Emissaries. Those worlds are people with unique characters and diverse flora and fauna that play out endless combinations of scenarios, like experimental digital ecosystems.

    Throughout the exhibition these digital simulations were projected to ten feet tall each, placing visitors at life-size scale as they witnessed actions unfolding. Cheng further extended the reach of these simulated worlds by introducing them in unique online forms via Twitch, a digital video platform designed for gamers. And a live stream of the videos was also available to viewers 24/7 on Twitch. In this way, Cheng’s work could spread across platforms, much like the organic evolution of the digital simulated plants, animals, and characters inside his works themselves.

    Cheng’s current exhibition, Life after BOB, can now be seen in Arles, Stanford, Zurich, and New York, concurrently. Life after BOB explores the question “What if AI could do the job of living your life better than you?”

    The Evolving Game of Tech and Art

    The three artists highlighted above are finding deeply creative ways to use new tech as a vehicle for critical thought and questioning in the art. Just as technology is integrated into the art world, however, so too is art an essential component of technology’s development.

    For the ongoing evolution of AR and VR in particular, art is key to developing increasingly sophisticated technology. And in the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning, art is a vital component of training AI perception. Not only that, but it also allows researchers to gain deeper insight into how AI thought processes work. After all, by processing and re-combining images, automated and artificial intelligences can also make visual art. The difference is in the intention behind it.

    Still, whether it is art that uses new technology to question the role of new tech in our society, or whether the technology itself is using art to prove its intelligence, one thing is clear. The interplay between art and new technology is a game that produces fascinating results. As our technological capabilities continue to grow and expand in the years to come, we can’t wait to see which artists will emerge with new and exciting responses to it.

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