Artificial Intelligence More Than Human –
Barbican – Edward Lucie-Smith
20 May 2019
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/ Art Tags AI Barbican More Than Human
Right now, the Curve Gallery at the Barbican has a big show
entitled More Than Human that seems exceptionally relevant, not
so much to what is happening in the visual arts right now, as to
what seems likely to happen. Its theme is AI (artificial
intelligence). By implication, artificial intelligence in the
visual arts. In practice, only a relatively small proportion of
what is displayed falls directly into the category that we
usually think of as art, but there’s a lot of other interesting
stuff there to look at and think about.
As a brief search on the
internet will tell you: ‘Both the Monster and Golem are
created from inert material
The show begins with the idea of the Golem –
the non-human monster who surfaces first in European Jewish
folklore, and which manifests itself again as the monster in
Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein. As a brief search on
the internet will tell you: ‘Both the Monster and Golem are
created from inert material. Whether clay or earth in the case
of the Golem or an amalgamation of dead bodies in the case of
Artificial Intelligence What A Loving
And Beautiful World TeamLab – More Than Human
Yes, I do know that the second part of this
description rather neatly describes what one now finds in
contemporary art. Ranging in this case from Damien Hirst’s dead
shark in a tank to the sunken-and-raised-again refugee ship once
jammed with dead bodies, that has been given a starring role in
the current Venice Biennale. Not to mention a whole series of
screaming popes by the late Francis Bacon. All these, however,
are the products of human imagination and direct human agency.
What the exhibition kicks off with is a
display of teeny-weeny Golem toys, too small to scare even the
most neurotic toddler.
From this, it pursues a wandering path from Egyptian mummy masks
to board games, Go in particular, where computer programmes have
recently out-foxed even the most skillful human competitor.
‘Go,’ as the exhibition catalogue informs one, ‘is one of the
most complex games ever devised, with more possible board
configurations than atoms in the universe. In 2016 the computer
program AlphaGo beat a top human player by four games to one.
From there it moves into the world of the
code-breaker Alan Turing, then comforts one with a harming robot
puppy, playing with a ball.
Comfort, in this case, doesn’t last for long.
‘Today,’ we are told Artificial Intelligence is all around us,
shaping our lives in public and private space, through the media
we consume ad the products we buy.’ The Golem, it seems, has
gone to ground, and prefers not to advertise its existence too
publicly or insistently. Only now and then, in this later part
of the main presentation, does one meet anything like a robot.
What you encounter instead is an example of the way that AI is
being used for radical interventions in nature. For example, a
purely synthetic apiary, operating without bees.
At the end of this series of presentations,
you leave the Curve, and descend to a magical realm in the
Barbican’s second basement – that is to say, to the very deepest
space in this vast complex. Here you will find yourself enclosed
in an installation entitled What a Loving and Beautiful World.
Butterflies flitter through trees. Chinese characters (in fact
Japanese, since this is a Japanese production) loom up and
disappear. You soon learn that everything you see around you
moves in response to your shadow, your gestures, and to the
shadows and gestures of those who happen to be there with you in
The spectacle offered is breathtaking, in an
exotic oriental way. At first, I felt I had become part of an
alien cosmos, Then, alas, after fifteen minutes of playing with
shadows, I started to feel claustrophobic. It all seemed like a
good metaphor, suitably sweetened, for what AI with no pretense
to being art was already doing in the outside world. You think
you can grasp the changes, and you can’t.
AI: More than Human 16 May—26 Aug 2019, Across the Barbican
Centre £15 weekdays £17 weekends