As we reach the end of 2022, we look back at a very busy year, and forward to an even more intense 2023. In this series of posts, we have selected some of our favorite artcasts, artists, artworks, articles, and interviews. They outline an overview of what has happened in Niio over the last months and highlight the work of artists and galleries with whom we are proud to collaborate. However, there is much more than what fits in this page! We invite you to browse our app and discover our curated art program, as well as our editorial section.
Five articles from 2022
Niio is part of a wider ecosystem that includes the contemporary art world, the art market, and digital culture in general. In our Editorial section, we look at what is happening globally and offer our views and analyses, based on our professional knowledge and observations. We have visited and reviewed some key events in the international art world calendar, such as the Venice Biennale, and followed the latest developments in the NFT scene, as well as the growing influence of Artificial Intelligence programs in artistic research. We have also initiated two series of educational posts, titled Ask Me Anything and Quick Dive, seeking to offer our readers an introduction to the main concepts and terms in the digital art field and the contemporary art market.
We have chosen five articles among more than 60 posts enriching our Editorial section this year. Click on the titles to read each article.
On 13th October 2022, two climate activists from the environmental group Just Stop Oil, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, threw two cans of tomato soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers(1888), on display at the National Gallery in London. The controversy sparked by this protest brings up the question: what is the role of art in a climate emergency?
The article analyzes the reasons behind the protest and the reaction of artist Joanie Lemercier, as well as the views of other artists addressing climate change through digital art.
The 59th International Art Venice Biennale, curated by Cecilia Alemani, its satellite pavilions and shows marked a strong emphasis on the advancements of digital art as a rightful art world medium. This article explores the different digital art focused exhibitions displayed at the Venice Biennale Arsenale & Giardini, and satellite events.
The 27th International Symposium on Electronic Art took place in Barcelona from 9 to 16th June, bringing to the city a community of more than 750 experts in art, science and technology and hosting 140 presentations made by experts in the field, 45 institutional presentations, 40 talks given by artists, 23 screenings, 18 posters and demos, 16 round tables, 13 workshops, and 13 performances. The main organizer of the event was the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), in partnership with ISEA International, the Government of Catalonia and the main cultural and political institutions in the region. The article reviewed the three main exhibitions of digital art in the scene, alongside several shows taking place in commercial art galleries.
The NFT revolution has brought an unprecedented attention to digital art, which is now easier to collect than ever before: once you sync your wallet to the marketplace, you only need to browse, pick your favorite NFTs, and in two clicks you’re the proud owner of a rare gem that just dropped. It is so easy that many collectors have hundreds, if not thousands, of digital artworks in their wallet. The excitement of owning something beautiful and unique, paired with the immediacy of the transaction, can become addictive. As the collection grows, it fills row after row of an endless grid that you can see on any web browser. With a simple copy and paste, you can also share your collection with anyone and brag about your possessions, your taste, or your ability to seize the opportunity and get that coveted artwork that is now out of reach of most wallets. This article explores how you can preserve and display your NFTs using Niio Manage.
Miles Aldridge is a British photographer and artist who rose to prominence in the mid nineties with his remarkable and stylized photographs which reference film noir, art history, pop culture, and fashion photography. Miles Aldridge is the son of Alan Aldridge, a famous British art director, graphic designer, and illustrator, who is known for his work with notable figures such as John Lennon, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. Alan Aldridge was the art director for Penguin books. His work is mainly characterized as a combination of psychedelia and eroticism. Miles thus grew up in an artistic environment even posing with his father for Lord Snowdon as a child.
Niio Art in collaboration with Fahey/Klein Gallery recently published an artcast featuring a selection of Miles Aldridge’s extensive oeuvre. This article is based on Miles Aldridge’s interview with Bret Easton Ellis for Fahey/Klein Gallery.
Tamiko Thiel is a pioneering visual artist exploring the interplay of place, space, the body and cultural identity in works encompassing an artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer, objects, installations, digital prints in 2D and 3D, videos, interactive 3d virtual worlds (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence art. In this conversation, that took place on the occasion of the launch of her solo artcast Invisible Naturecurated by DAM Projects, she discusses the evolution of technology over the last three decades, her early AR artworks and her commitment to create art that invites reflection.
Your work is characterized by the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies, with pioneering artistic projects. Which technical challenges have you met over the last decades in the creation of these projects?
My first exposure to real time computer graphics was at MIT when I was a graduate student in 1982. At that point, writing everything from scratch, you had to program for a semester in order to get a cube that would rotate in three dimensions. Coming from an artistic and design background, I felt that this is not really where I want to create art right now, I’ll have to wait. And then about 10 years later, in 1992, Silicon Graphics came out with OpenGL, an open standard that made it possible to do real time interactive computer graphics on PCs. Then in 1994, I started to work with a company called Worlds Incorporated, which was taking this new potential for doing interactive 3D computer graphics on PCs connected to the Internet. At that time I worked with Steven Spielberg on theStarbright World Project, the first 3d online Metaverse for ill children, a virtual world where they could momentarily escape the space of the hospital. This first Metaverse was running on high end PCs, with fast connections provided by various high tech companies, but it was still unaffordable for people at home. The project ran from 1994 to 1997, and at that time the technology was still unstable.
So you must jump from that to 10 years later, when Second Life came about and this time people had more powerful graphic cards and ADSL connections at home. Second Life was able to create a much more developed virtual world, which seemed like the next phase of the Internet and all the corporations wanted to move there. Then around 2007-2008, probably due to the financial crisis, but also the rise of Facebook, which allowed people to share photographs on a common platform, the excitement around Second Life fizzled. And then if we jump another 15 years more, we find ourselves with still bigger processing power and faster connections. Now it is much easier to create virtual worlds than it was 25 years ago, partly because it is easier to create 3D objects, or you can buy them online, and also because of the advancements in hardware and software.
So, as you can see, big steps come on later than you think. It takes maybe 10 to 15 or 20 years to get there instead of the five years that all the evangelists predict. People talked about virtual reality at that time in the 90s as being a failure, just as they talked about AI being a failure in the 80s and 90s. And what they don’t realize is that technological change takes longer than you’d want it to. So it’s wrong to call it a failure. It’s more like: “Okay, we have to keep on working on this.” And if you wait long enough, 20 years or so, then you’ll get it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Rewilding the Smithsonian, 2021. Created with the ReWildAR AR app (2021, with /p). Commissioned by curator Ashley Molese for the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, in the Arts and Industries Building.
Interactive 3D and VR artworks such as Beyond Manzanar and Virtuelle Mauer have a strong narrative component as they explore historic and political issues. What is the role of the user in constructing these narratives?
Basically, what I tend to do is look for key moments that I think can be expressed and experienced and communicated better in virtual reality than in other media. In Beyond Manzanar, for me that was the moment where you’re sitting in a beautiful Paradise Garden, and you see the mountains covered in snow around you. This is an image from the book Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston: the author tells that when she was an eight-year-old and she was imprisoned in the camp, she would pick a viewpoint where she couldn’t see any guard towers, any barracks, nor barbed wire fence. And she tried not to move for the longest time, because as long as she didn’t move, she could preserve the illusion she was in paradise of her own free will. As soon as she moved, she saw that she was indeed in prison, she fell out of paradise back into prison. And so this moment occurs in Beyond Manzanar, where you enter a garden which is framed by the beautiful mountains. But if you go too deeply into the garden, then boom! – the garden disappears, and you’re back in the prison camp.
My second piece,The Travels of Mariko Horo, has a much more complicated structure with several heavens imagined by a time traveling 12th century Japanese female artist inventing the West in her imagination. In this work there is this moment when you enter the different churches, which are in fact liminal spaces between the prosaic everyday life and the world of the supernatural. When you cross that threshold, Mariko Horo takes you to heaven or takes you to hell. But it is always by your own free will, you’re always making the decision and making the motions that all of a sudden present you with the consequences of your decisions.
Finally, in Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall, I introduced some characters that take you in a time travel through the history of the Berlin Wall. But if you cross over the invisible boundaries of the former Death Strip,, then you fall back into the 80s, the wall appears behind you. So in all three pieces, it’s really about letting you feel like you have the freedom to go anywhere you want and do anything you want to do. But then you must face the consequences of these actions, which might take you to Paradise or they might take you to prison. But you always feel like it was your decision to go there, or to examine this, and therefore you’re sort of complicit with whatever happens to you.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Atmos Sphaerae, 2022. Created with the Atmos Sphaerae VR artwork, 2021.
Creating artworks in Augmented Reality offers the possibility of intervening in institutional art spaces uninvited, as you did at MoMA, the Venice Biennale, or TATE Modern, or within a curated exhibition, as is the case with Unexpected Growth, which was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Can you tell us about the creative process in both cases and your experience with “guerrilla” interventions versus curated exhibitions using the same technology?
Let’s start with We AR in MoMA, an augmented reality project created by Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek that took place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 9th, 2010. The iPhone had been around since 2007, as well as other smartphone models, and in the course of 2009 both Mark and Sander had been playing around with the technology and developing AR artworks on mobiles in public spaces. And then they realized they could also geolocate the artworks to have them appear in certain spaces, so they came up with this idea of doing the spectacular intervention at MoMA. I knew Mark from the art circles before we had both shown in the 2009 Boston CyberArts Festival, so he dropped me and many of his artist friends an email saying: “Hey, we’re able to do this now. Send me some content and I’ll put it up and we’ll do a flashmob at MoMA.” They were not asking permission from MoMA. They didn’t know about it, and they couldn’t stop us. At that time, people didn’t realize that location based AR could be used anywhere. But then it turned out that they did find out about it beforehand, because Mark and Sander were doing the intervention as part of a citywide public art festival of psychogeography, so it was publicly announced by the festival all on Twitter. MoMA actually posted a link to the festival and said: “Hey, looks like we’re going to be invaded by AR,” which was very forward thinking and embracing this new development in technology. So, that was incredibly good publicity. It was a really exciting moment, when we realized that there were these possibilities that the new technology was bringing about. I would say this was a path breaking exhibit in the history of media.
After this intervention at MoMA, the artists who took part in it created the group Manifest.AR. We were thinking about where to do the next incursion, and since I live in Munich, which is a six and a half hour beautiful train ride to Venice, I suggested we go to the Venice Biennale in 2011. It was a group of about eight of us. We created virtual pavilions that were located inside the Giardini and at Piazza San Marco, so that people who didn’t want to spend money to enter the Giardini could also experience the artworks in a public space, because the Giardini, with its walls around it is a classically closed curatorial space. The point was that having your work shown at the MoMA or the Biennale is a sign of achievement, of having been able to enter these closed curatorial spaces, but now with AR interventions that was not true anymore, anybody can place their artwork wherever they want. But then people’s reaction was: “Oh, wow, you’re showing in the Venice Bienniale, you’ve made it!” Then we told them we hadn’t been curated and that we were doing this of our own accord, but people would respond: “Oh, that’s even better.” So we thought we were doing this sort of Duchampian breakdown of all sorts of structures that define prominence in the art world. Duchamp exhibited his famous urinal not to say that an artwork becomes an artwork when an artist says it’s an artwork and places it in an art context, but to state that this whole thing is ridiculous.
These interventions gave us a feeling of exhilaration that we could hold our own exhibits anywhere, even though no one in the art world was interested in media art at that moment. And we could also play off site. Because AR is a site-specific medium, you’re always dealing with the site. And that opened up whole new possibilities. Interestingly, shortly after that, George Fifield, the Boston Cyberarts director, arranged our first invitational show at the ICA Boston. This was in April of 2011. The ICA curators didn’t understand how the technology works. They said: “Okay, you can do it on the first floor, but not on the second floor. You can do it in the lobby and outside, but you can’t do it inside of the galleries.” And we had to tell them it doesn’t work that way. The artworks are triggered by a GPS location which has a radius of a mile or so.
As for showing Unexpected Growth at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, it was thanks to Christiane Paul, the adjunct curator of media art at the museum. I have known her for quite a while, I think since about 2002, and she has curated me into many of her shows over the years in different venues, but this was the first time at the Whitney. She had of course done the visionary work of creating Artport, a space for net art supported by the museum, but she still hadn’t placed an AR artwork inside the museum. Then in 2014 she commissioned an AR intervention by Will Pappenheimer, Proxy, 5-WM2A, at the Whitney’s final closing gala for the old Breuer Building. So when she contacted me in 2018 to create an artwork to show at the Whitney, she had already gone through the process of introducing this technology in the museum. She invited me to create an artwork for the terrace, which is 20 by 10 meters in size. Since this was a big show, I needed to make sure that the piece would work properly, so I contacted the people at Layar, the AR app we had used in all our previous interventions, but by then they told me they would shut down their servers, so I had to find a solution. My husband Peter Graf, who is a software developer, told me he could write an app for me. We worked side by side on this project, so I realized he should co-author it with me and he came up with the artist name /p, so now the artwork is in the Whitney collection credited to myself and /p in collaboration. Now the artwork is not officially on view at the museum, but if you download our app and go to the terrace you can still experience it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Unexpected Growth (Whitney Museum Walk1), 2018. Created with the Unexpected Growth AR app (2018, with /p), commissioned by and in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
There is also the fact that the artworks are invisible, so how did you communicate their existence and solve the technical problems associated with having the proper device, software, and connectivity?
At the Venice Biennale intervention, Sander got in touch with Simona Lodi, director of the Share Festival Turin, and the artist group Les Liens Invisibles, who were together mounting another AR intervention The Invisible Pavilion. We created a common postcard with QR codes to download the app. We also invited people to come to Piazza San Marco and the Giardini on certain days and times and help them experience the artworks. Collaborating with the team from the Share Festival was a huge help, because those of us from outside of Italy had terrible connection issues, and also it was the first Venice Biennale when hordes of people were walking around with their cellphones, overloading the networks. The Vodafone network actually broke down in the Venice area. Gionatan Quintini of Les Liens Invisible loaned me his smartphone to show my work, and this is an example of the kind of collaborative atmosphere that you get in the media art world and that is not that easy to find in the contemporary art world.By connecting our networks with those of Share, we got a lot of publicity for both the interventions in MoMA and in the Venice Biennial, and that put AR in this early time into the media art history books, and therefore into the art canon.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Sponge Space Trash Takeover (Walk1), 2020. Created with the VR space “Sponge Space Trash Takeover” courtesy of Cyan Planet and xR Hub Bavaria.
The artworks in your latest artcast titled Tamiko Thiel: Invisible Nature all deal with different aspects of our intervention of the natural environment. What has been your experience addressing this subject in terms of the balance between the artistic expression and the message you want to convey?
Perhaps because I started out as a product designer, with the Connection Machine being what I consider my first artwork, I am always thinking of my audience and how to communicate with them. When I approach political or social issues, such as climate related problems, I know that the really shocking photographs (for instance, a dead bird whose stomach is full of plastic) give you an immediate emotional jolt, and make you realize that this is a serious problem. But I personally cannot look at those images day after day, time and time again. So, balancing my work as an artist with my desire to communicate, sometimes I think that I should be a journalist, so I could write articles that can go into the details in much more depth. But how often do you reread the same article? So I think that what is truly the value of an artist making work about a subject such as these is that the art work can be exhibited time and time again, in different places around the world. And people might see it again, they may be willing to look at it time and time again, but not if it is something horrible and shocking. I’m traumatized enough by what’s happening in the world, so I’d rather create something that is not traumatizing for people, but at the same time it makes you think.
For instance, Unexpected Growth shows a very colorful, bright coral reef on the terrace of the Whitney. And when you look at it more closely, you realize this beautiful coral reef is made out of virtual plastic garbage. So people are confronted with something that is really beautiful, but after a while they realize that they are surrounded by garbage. So my strategy is to seduce people with a strong visual composition that is captivating. And then, when I’ve got their attention, I let them figure out that there is actually something else going on here, if you actually spend the time to look at it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Evolution of Fish – Anthropocene Daze #1, 2019. Created with the AR app Evolution of Fish (2019, with /p).
The 59th International Art Venice Biennale, curated by Cecilia Alemani, its satellite pavilions and shows mark a strong emphasis on the advancements of digital art as a rightful art world medium. This article explores the different digital art focused exhibitions displayed at the Venice Biennale Arsenale & Giardini, and satellite events.
The 2022 Venice Biennale titled The Milk of Dreams takes its name from a book by Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington in which she describes a magical surreal world where life and living beings are reinvisioned through imagination. In her book, Carrington takes the reader on an imaginary journey that redefines humans and their bodies. In parallel to the Biennale, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection currently exhibits a show titled Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity, which displays sixty artworks that offer an overview of the entire development of the Surrealist movement, including works by Leonora Carrington.
The history of the Venice Biennale dates back to 1895 as an international cultural exhibition. It is only since the mid 1970’s that the Venice Biennale’s board and members appoints an artistic director, among a professionalized field of curators, who oversees the exhibition and initiates an overarching theme for the edition. Historically, visitors were more accustomed to seeing and experiencing more traditional art forms and mediums at the Venice Biennale such as painting, sculpture and drawing. Since several years it has become more common to experience digital-born artworks at the Venice Biennale, specifically video and sound installations. However this year marked a great leap for the new media arts, artists and practices as the 59th Venice Biennale can be seen as a celebration of the digital, setting the placement of the digital arts side by side with traditional respected mediums. This article explores the different new media works and exhibitions displayed at the Arsenale & Giardini, and will then take the reader on a journey through this year’s Biennale satellite exhibitions.
The Belgian Pavilion exhibits Francis Alÿs’ The Nature of the Game. A video art installation curated by Hilde Teerlinck. The Nature of the Game presents a selection of films from the artist’s Children’s Games series which started in 1999 and is an ongoing project. Included in the selection are video works filmed between 2017-2022 ranging in location from Hong Kong, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, Mexico, and other countries. The installation of the different screens and films bring attention to the complex realities of children around the world, and the interaction of children with their surrounding environments.
The Estonian Pavilion exhibited inside the Dutch Rietveld Pavilion presents artworks by Kristina Norman and Bita Ravazi in collaboration with curator Corina L. Apostol in which the artists developed a multi-layered installation including two video works. The pavilion takes as its focal point the life and work of Emilie Rosalie Saal who made her mark internationally as a colonial botanical artist and traveler. Between 1899-1920 the artist and her husband writer and photographer, Andres Saal, lived in Java, Indonesia, then colonized by the Dutch. The exhibition brings attention to the abuse of power exercised by the colonizers and with that the erasing of the perspective and knowledge of the indigenous.
The British Pavilion presents a show composed of video works as installation by artist Sonia Boyce. The exhibition titled Feeling Her Way exposes the artist’s interest in the potential of collaborative play as a route to innovation. The main work at the exhibition is also the first which the viewer experiences upon walking into the British Pavilion that exhibits a work displayed on three large LED screens of Black British female vocalists embodying feelings of freedom, power, and vulnerability.
The Canadian Pavilion curated by Reid Shier is a two-part show by artist Stan Douglas. The exhibition displayed at the Canadian Pavilion is titled 2011 ≠ 1848 and displays four large-scale photographs. In this project, the artist combines and contrasts news footage from London’s 2011 Hackney riots with footage from the global Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010’s, and images from the Occupy Wall Street protestors on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. These are then compared and contrasted to historical events from 1848 in which middle and working classes in Europe rose up against a lack of democratic liberty and the hegemony of the elite. In this exhibition, the artist brings attention to how generational differences in the dissemination of information can influence the course of a revolt, and the global frustration with social systems. The second show ISDN displayed at the Magazzini del Sale No. 5 is a two-channel video installation that explores music as a cross-continental cultural resistance. It focuses on two musical genres: Grime music, originating in London, and Mahraganat music which originated in Cairo. In doing so, the artist represents and transmits feelings of international interconnectedness.
The Australian Pavilion exhibits DESASTRES, an experimental noise project which combines a video installation with a sound work performed live with an electric guitar by Marco Fusinato. The images displayed on a large LED wall are sourced via a stream of words that have been put into an open search across multiple online platforms and exhibit disparate and disconnected randomly generated images.
The Cameroon Pavilion compares four Cameroonian artists with international artists and pays special attention to technology exploring the emerging world of NFTs. The exhibition titled The Time of Chimeras displays an assemblage of paintings, sculpture, video works, and for the first time ever at the Venice Biennale art NFTs.
The Egypt Pavilion Eden-like Garden presents works by Mohamed Shoukry, Weaam El Masry, and Ahmed El Shaer. The exhibition displays an immersive experience of sculpture, installation and video works that rapture the human being and in doing so bring attention to the redefining of humanity.
As the Netherlands lent its pavilion to Estonia this year at the Giardini, the Dutch instead used the Chiesetta della Misericrodia to display Melanie Bonajo’s video installation work titled When the Body says Yes. The installation, commissioned by the Mondriaan Fund, is part of the artist’s ongoing research into the current status of intimacy in our increasingly alienating society.
Artist Monica Heller’s artworks for the Argentine Pavilion comprise of fifteen 3D animation works. Curated by Alejo Ponce de León, the exhibition explores the limits of the body, imagination, and cognitivity through the representation of anthropomorphic characters and objects taken from different stories and fables. Heller’s characters assume adult roles in complex relationships that connect the viewer to familiar representations.
Nan Goldin’s Sirens, 2019-2020 displayed at the Giardini appropriates film footage from thirty films to associate the beauty of the female body with the sensuality and ecstasy of a drug high. The work was conceived as an homage to Donyale Luna, the first Black supermodel who died from a heroin overdose in 1979. The video includes footage from Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests” of Luna.
The Pinault Collection at the Punta della Dogana exhibits a solo show titled Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies. The exhibition takes as its starting point a corpus of recent video installations from the Contrapposto series, curated by Carlos Basualdo and Caroline Bourgeois, which is contextualized through a selection of older works by the artist. ‘The show focuses on three fundamental aspects of Nauman’s oeuvre which are essential components of this series: the artist studio as a space where creation takes place, the use of the body in performance and the exploration of sound’. Contrapposto is an Italian term used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips downwards in the axial plane. This sculptural scheme which originates from the ancient Greeks later became a major feature of Renaissance art. Nauman’s works which exhibit the artist practicing the contrapposto pose on his own body instill in the viewer an unsettling feeling which further destabilizes notions of the body, identity, and language. Nauman has stated that he wants his art “to be vehement and aggressive because it forces people to pay attention”. For Nauman creating art in his studio “became more of an activity and less of a product”. The works in this exhibition display the pioneering video artists’ interest in portraying films of the human body in live performance and manipulating pre-existing footage. Bruce Nauman began to explore the potential of video art in the 1960’s as part of his ongoing investigation of the possibilities of what art may be. By displaying himself in contrapposto poses and scenes the artist in a sense enlivens the static ancient notions of sculpture, now portrayed in a t-shirt and jeans. In these works there is also a clear allusion to age and how time unsettles the body.
The last rooms in the exhibition display Nauman’s studies with 3D developments which enabled him to further advance his interest in researching the human body, the studio, and the exploration of the sense of vision and visuality. Nauman’s work Nature Morte, 2020 comprises three 4K video projections each linked wirelessly to an iPad which the viewer can manipulate to virtually move around his studio and to discover its contents of artworks, notes, sketches, furniture, and other tools and objects.
The Decentral Art Pavilion at Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, curated and organized by Florencia S.M. Bruck, Javier Krasuk, Diego Lijtmaer and Simone Furian. The exhibition titled Singularity brings together over 200 NFT artworks from a diverse group of international artists, including Beeple, Kevin McCoy, Trevor Jones, XCOPY, and Ran Slavin, all who are ‘shaping the creative economy and NFT space’. Singularity dives into decentralized art with the aim to ‘educate, engage and enthrall the aficionado, the collector, and the public at large; in such a fast-evolving creative dominion’. Moreover, the exhibition is aimed to foster a dialogue around NFTs and their impact on the art world.
Installation View, Ran Slavin Newtopia, Decentral Art Pavilion.
The Decentral Art Pavilion exhibits a show that goes in line with the Biennale exhibitions with its outlook on the Grand Canal hosted in an exquisite Baroque style palace. Running in parallel with the Venice Biennale for the first 8 weeks. Highlights from the exhibition include Beeple’s Everydays: the First 5000 Days, Ran Slavin Newtopia, David Rodriguez Gimeno DEVELOP / MOV N1, and Trevor Jones’ ETHGIRL. Visitors to the Decentral Art Pavilion can even experience an NFT rendering of Leonora Carrington’s famous portrait of Max Ernst reinvented as an NFT by Scotch Tape in collaboration with DAP DAO.
As an icing on the cake, the Dior boutique in Venice is currently showcasing one of the first NFT handbags in its storefront near the Piazza San Marco.
Our guest author Grégory Chatonsky is an artist whose work has explored the possibilities of artistic expression with digital media since the mid-1990s. An ongoing subject in his practice is the exploration of Artificial Intelligence and particularly the concept of “artificial imagination,” which exposes the machine’s ability to produce content beyond human capabilities and push the limits of art.
In this text, he presents a critique of the latest advances in artificial intelligence aimed at producing more realistic images, which may lead in turn to the banality of all images.
Gregory Chatonsky, from the Latents Diagrams series, 2022
Every week a new text-to-video generation and translation code becomes available on Colab . We keep on experimenting, eager to produce new images and explore these new possibilities. We try to make them our own to avoid some of the visual naïveties that are spread daily on Twitter and Discord. But gradually the field of visual possibilities seems to be narrowing, with Dall-E 2 and affiliates . By becoming more “credible”, the images also become more boring. The technological progression and the aesthetic motivation seem to go in opposite directions, as if each one had its own goals.
Undoubtedly, the codes developed by creative computer scientists, who most often have little knowledge of the history of art, meet requirements that are antagonistic to those of art. Computer practice consists in taking up challenges (exploits), in realizing objectives and in not questioning their presuppositions, so that one inherits more often than not an underlying ideological structure that tends to naturalize what is a social and cultural construction.
“The images in neural networks become more and more coherent, banal, until they strangely have a family air with those of Beeple.”
Thus, the generation of images in neural networks seems to have as a major objective the capacity to produce “natural” images from texts, i.e. images that seem to have been made by human operators with a technical mediation (painting, drawing, photography, etc.) and not generated by solitary machines. Inspired by Turing’s test, this finality conceals that this test took into account, in its two versions, its performative effects. Indeed, Alan Turing did not want the machine to be an intelligence like a human being (this faculty being moreover uncertain in the latter), but that the latter grants, affects, attributes to the machine an intelligence if he ignores that it is a machine. The recognition of the arbitrariness of the attribution is fundamental here, because it is what defines the conditions of possibilities which must be built and deconstructed.
Thus, the images in neural networks become more and more coherent, banal, until they strangely have a family air with those of Beeple. An average aesthetic fruit of the thoughtless juxtaposition of our culture, a latent space that can be statistical (technical) or cognitive (human). They seem to lose the strangeness of pixels and Surrealism, to repress their psychedelic or hallucinatory character of a Deep Dream , since it is a question of overcoming what appears as defects and oddities, so that one does not notice the difference between the alleged original and the alleged copy. One then sees only fire. In fact, there is nothing to see anymore, except a symptom of our time and its hypermnesia.
There is behind the computer exploit a generalized instrumentality, a deterministic construction of the world, which affects the aesthetics itself. It supposes here a linear conception of the representation, of the mimesis, of the Vorstellung: the images would not have effect on themselves. The images of Dall-E 2 seem less disturbing than those of Disco Diffusion or VQGAN Clip, so much they are mastered and normal. One becomes nostalgic for a technology that is only a few weeks old. The technological evolution is an instant ruin, at the very moment of its appearance it is a disaster. Gone are the germinations and the metamorphoses, the imperfections and the monstrosities. The silhouettes and the objects are cut out on a background, each thing is distinguished from the others, the image becomes clearer and more “credible”, but we know well that this credibility is not natural and that it does not go without saying, it is a cultural construction and historically, geographically located.
“When neural networks will be able to generate an image that cannot be distinguished from a human creation, it will be because images created by humans have been transformed, in their biggest banality and instrumentality, as an aesthetic by default.”
But it is precisely in the contingency of this construction that the true work of art underlines, whereas the technological development of the generation of images rests on the belief of an essentiality of this one. Coders therefore often pursue a decontextualized and essentialized visual purpose. The original images are considered as data that must be translated. That the perception of these “original” images can be retroactively influenced by the automated productions remains unthought of. That the translation of a text into images belongs to a long Western theological tradition of making images express a sacred text is obscured. This is the reason why “prompts” are often more interesting than visual results. If we were to catalog all the “prompts” that flood Twitter , we would probably get a good representation of the visual imagination of our time: what words do people think of to make an image? They don’t see that the defects, the metamorphoses, the amorphous are so many aesthetic potentialities, that the strange familiarity between human and technical productions is also made of distances and differences consisting in an anthropo-technological gray zone: human and technical have always influenced each other, the imagination will have been the name of their meeting through a material support.
When neural networks will be able to generate an image that cannot be distinguished from a human creation, it will be because images created by humans have been transformed, in their biggest banality and instrumentality, as an aesthetic by default. While we believe to be producing new images, we will be in fact modifying the perception of all the past images to which we refer. Our technical present will influence our cultural past. Also, we will have forgotten that there is no human production that is not technical and no technical production that is not human. We will then be able to produce images as stereotyped as those of the influencers, of Beeple, of these instagrammable painters of which we do not know if it is the paintings or the faces which make their fleeting success. We will then be able to be submerged by the flow of images, to create images of images, to take up the thread of all our visual culture through the latent space of statistics. We will then find something to do and we will invent enough errors and shifts to continue experimenting.
Notes by the editor:
 Colaboratory is a tool that allows users to write and run code on Python using Google’s cloud services. It facilitates running complex tasks that would otherwise be difficult to process on a personal computer, and also share the code.
 Dall-E is an AI system developed by Open AI that creates realistic images from a text description. Its first version was announced on January 5th, 2021. The second version was announced in April 2022, presenting spectacular results.
 Deep Dream is a computer vision program created by Google engineer Alexander Mordvintsev that was released in 2015 and became popular for its ability to create dream-like images based on algorithmic pareidolia.
 Some Text to Image AI projects invite Twitter users to send “prompts,” descriptions of the images they would like to see generated by the AI.
I grew up in a small suburb connected to Sydney called North Rocks in the west away from the coast. It was mixed, lower middle class and solid middle class in other areas. I found it exciting at times and desperately boring at times as well. I now live in London and mostly spend my time in the Southeast of London.
Shaun Gladwell Studio
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to a state school in North Rocks and then after graduating I went to an art school in Sydney called Sydney College of the Arts. I stayed there for a few years, got an Honors degree and then jumped to an another art school.
My Masters study was at the College of Fine Arts University of New South Wales. I studied painting although by the time I left Sydney College of the Arts, I was already experimenting with video and other technology so for my Masters degree I was mostly moving between lots of mediums.
What does your workspace / desktop / studio look like?
I’ve got a physical studio space in Southeast London that’s connected to a gallery space called the Drawing Room. It’s a medium sized space with a beautiful view of London. It’s very much a painting studio. It’s really messy, there are big unstretched canvas on the wall. There’s oil, acrylic, aerosol, it’s a real mess. I do work in VR through other studio spaces.
When did you start working creatively with technology?
A lot before officially studying video performance and installation. I was creatively using technology in my painting process. I was interested in taking reproductions of paintings and scanning them, altering their dimensions and then re-painting those manipulated images through Photoshop.
The Photoshop image of say a distorted Gainsborough or a Reynolds painting from British society portraiture going back to the 1700th or 1800th century would then become the proprietary sketch for a very detailed painting. So that’s probably when I started looking at this interface or this connection or somehow a conversation between technology and something more traditional.
Self Portrait Spinning and Falling in Paris, 2016 Single channel High Definition video, 16:9 (installed 4:3), colour, silent
In 2009-10 you were the official Australian War Artist and the first to use video for your project. Can you describe your experience working on the ground with the Australian military in Afghanistan and talk about the process of creating Double field/viewfinder (Tarin Kowt)?
This commission with the war memorial was very different for me. I was heading into a very difficult, unknown space and couldn’t control the elements around me like I do here in this studio or like I think I’m doing in this studio.
To work in an environment like that required a different kind of thinking. I wanted to explore ideas that I already had in my practice so that’s where Double field/viewfinder came from which was really me taking this technology into the theater of war but also knowing that technology was entirely integrated into that experience and supporting that experience and probably most of the technology I was using was actually developed through military objectives.
Video recording technology and digital video was so familiar to a lot of the soldiers because they are technologists. I decided to hand cameras over to them and let them record video. It ended up becoming quite intense because the soldiers took on the project as if their lives depend up on it. It almost was like a military drill so that was quite interesting for me and then letting the soldiers know that it was an experiment and getting their feedback after was equally important.
‘Double Field/Viewfinder’ by Shaun Gladwell (2009-10).Photo: Department of War Studies, King’s College London
In 2016 you co-founded an Indie VR Content Collective with producer Leo Faber called Badfaith. You’ve mentioned the name of the collective is a reference to the Sartrean philosophical concept. Do you believe VR can be an antidote to certain social forces that cause people to act in bad faith? How do these ideas factor into your practice?
Firstly, the name BadFaith is connected to the concept of Jean Paul Sartre as well as Simone de Beauvoir. Each philosopher or thinker has versions or signs and symptoms of ‘bad faith’ within their thinking or within their ideas around the concept so it can be quite nuanced and complex to talk about ‘bad faith’ depending upon who I’m footnoting or referencing but I think technology can also potentially generate bad faith as well just depending upon how the technology is used. Like any technology if it’s being used as a weapon or a tool for something else.
The same technology has very different outcomes and effects and I think that the fact that bad faith was always about simulating a kind of presentation of self or position even down to the occupation of the waiter as Jean Paul Sartre’s famous example goes, then that immediately becomes relevant to technology like VR which is a very powerful simulator that we all now have access to as consumers rather than it being locked up in university research labs or tech developers so we’re going to see all kinds of different forms of bad faith in a kind of hard boiled sort of I guess bare life to use Giorgio Agamben’s term in relation to VR.
Virtual reality pioneers Shaun Gladwell and Leo Faber talk Badfaith Collective
What projects are you currently working on?
Good question. I’ve got a few long term projects related to shows and a few little ones that are more like doodles. I do some sketching in video. I go out and ride my bike and follow the line on the street and it’s kinda like a video drawing. I’m really excited about doing more of those in London, really simple raw works. I still draw, still like to printmake and paint. But I love VR and AR.
I’m trying to run that full spectrum. I don’t want to lose out on the idea of working with materials and using substance and stuff and getting dirty. Like in VR sometimes I can feel like it’s just too much of a pure space which does not reference the gunk, junk and the abject reality of my body or the world.
Have you done any work in AR? Do you find VR or AR to be a more compelling medium? Why?
I’m developing an idea for a show in AR now.
The distinction between AR and VR is quite enormous. VR completely arrests your sense of sight and hearing and when you start to include kinetics and haptics then you aren’t given a frame outside of the frameless space you’ve been immersed within while AR still gives you the reference physically and optically and and conceptually to your immediate environment as it then starts to augment that space so you still have some reference to that space if it’s to be defined as AR. So I think they are so different for me given those kinds of boring different textbook definitions. Some ideas could be better wrapped up in VR and others in AR.
In a field where hardware and software can quickly become obsolete, how do you approach documentary and archival processes for your work?
Usually I’m sorta just hopelessly producing work that will very quickly be its own ruin because that sort of archival and documentary process has changed. I’m only just now bringing it all in to a central nervous system but then it would of course be better managed through you guys in terms of the digital phase which is great.
It’s amazing to start off in art school and go from prints to slides you put a in projector right through to this system that you guys are working on. I think it’s an incredible arc as to how I’ve used technology to archive my work or to document the way that it’s been shown from a slide projector to the cloud in the space of my professional life and student years.
Who are some contemporary or historical new media artists that you admire? What are some of your favorite works?
Caravaggio’s use of optics back in the day. Interesting to think of these early examples of people who have used technology. Galileo’s drawing of the moon after he developed the telescope are some of the most beautiful images I can think of from the sides of both art and science.
In terms of new media artists, I like everyone, Raqs Media Collective to Pipilotti Rist. I’m interested in why people are using technology and sometimes I’m also interested in the result but there is always some interest to me as to why people are picking up the camera and trying to make episodic TV series and calling it art or making a series of elaborate performances around their sculptures and calling that video. Probably the one artist who I really love is Stelarc the Australian guy who auments his body with technology.
Since 2013, B3 has shaped the interdisciplinary and transnational debate on trends and developments relating to the moving image in the fields of art, cinema, TV, games, design, communication and immersion. The aim of the Biennial is to create a broad interdisciplinary alliance for the moving image, and offer the international culture and creative industry a platform for innovation and exchange.
Oren Moshe participated in several official events and discussions including a panel entitled: “Accessibility and monetization of moving image art now and in the future. New platforms and new solutions.” Moderated by Julia Sökeland, co-founder blinkvideo, Oren was also joined by Clare Langan, a film and video artist from Ireland, contemporary visual artist, Erika Harrsch, collector Tony Podesta and collector Baron Futa.
Check out some of the photos from our time in Germany at B3.
Niio Co-Founder, Oren Moshe @B3 discussing a work by Quayola. #digitalart
Panel @B3: “Accessibility and monetization of moving image art now and in the future. New platforms and new solutions.”
A large audience for Oren’s panel @ B3. #digitalart
Niio’s Xuf Mills experiencing ‘Levitation’ by David Guez and Bastien Didier.