Some sing its praises, others reject it entirely: The development of artificial intelligence divides opinion. With her installation “PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (planetary bonds)”, Katja Novitskova raises the question of how an entirely technologized future might look.
What would happen if artificial intelligence created by people were to take over the reins for itself and begin to control the world – would humanity then be free of the concerns of economic cycles, political unrest and global warming, or would the result soon morph into a dystopian horror scenario? Do we, as daily beneficiaries of digitalization, find ourselves on the brink of a revolutionary upheaval in power relationships – or do machines equipped with artificial intelligence actually have no interest in human beings? With the installation she developed in 2015, “PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (planetary bonds)”, artist Katja Novitskova (born in Estonia in 1984) poses this question in the protected sphere of an exhibition, triggering a mixture of wonder, perplexity and repugnance in the observer.
“By 2030 the gross national product of Germany could be up to four percent higher with the use of intelligent robots than it would be without them,” concludes a McKinsey study recently published.1 Artificial intelligence is on the rise, robots learn quickly, rarely make mistakes and – perhaps their most important advantage over human beings – are not driven by emotions. They have long been carrying out monotonous assembly line work in industry and relieving error-prone human workers. But are they really our future?
Robots learn quickly, rarely make mistakes and are not driven by emotions.
If it takes the form Katja Novitskova imagines in her installation “PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (planetary bonds)”, then we might prefer to resign ourselves to the circumstances of our present-day world. In the shadow of the larger-than-life representation of a brownish iridescent planet and an enzyme, an automatic cot rocks to the beat of its own rhythm. Instead of an infant, however, the cot rocks an amorphous-seeming mass of transparent plastic painted with bright lines, overseen by a revolving lophophore. Long black, artificial hairs on the legs of the rocker create a rather animalistic impression, which is in stark contrast to the apparent artificiality of the device. In another rocker three rust-red crabs in a hanging glass container run for their lives; their frantic, aimless crawling is mocked by two green plastic butterflies at the edges of the sculpture, which may be unable to fly but are nevertheless not trapped. animals
Shifting back from the real to the virtual world - an indefinite cycle
“PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (planetary bonds)” is a collection of consumer products and elements of the digital world, as is typical for the artist. As a “digital native” and well-known representative of post-internet art – an art form that makes use of the inexhaustible wealth of the internet as a basis for her works – she travels through the shallows of the digital world, advertising and corporate design, collecting things she finds as if taking a stroll along the beach. Her fascination for biology, technology and, most importantly, the field of artificial intelligence is the core of her focus here. She then translates the gathered images, scientific texts and tables into a three-dimensional form, creating a new form of life in an installative compilation in galleries and museums. Since exhibition visitors photograph the now tangible objects and publish them again within the digital context, what results is a shift back from the real to the virtual world – a cycle develops that can be continued indefinitely. Thus Katja Novitskova examines the influence that digitalization and our constant use of it have on culture, and the question of the potential that art actually harbors to consolidate its position amid economic crises, overpopulation and shifts to the right among many societies.
Katja Novitskova seeks answers by not only questioning the effects of the continual spread of technology, but by making it the central point of her artistic work. With her installation, she evokes a slight feeling of fearfulness, which stems from the contradictory aliveness of dead materials: from the amorphous beings that appear to breathe and nevertheless cannot be linked to any life form that we are familiar with. There are no signs of human life. “PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (planetary bonds)” depicts a bleak scenario on the one hand, whereby on seeing it the observer is immediately convinced that the development of artificial intelligence should only be taken to a certain level. On the other hand, however, the issue is raised of whether these un-human beings actually take any notice of our presence at all: The assumption that they are aiming for world domination and the eradication of mankind reveals our species’ egocentric viewpoint, which always sees us at the center of the universe and is proven in the exploitation of power relationships. But are machines equipped with artificial intelligence actually interested in us at all?
Julia Schmitz lives and works as a freelance journalist in Berlin. She focuses on the contemporary art scene and the various shapes and forms culture takes.