A Cosmic Movie Camera | Biennale de l'Image en Mouvement Genève

[…] The “cosmic movie” of the new media camera is not a theatrum mundi, is not oriented to representation, to an all-encompassing representation. It is, rather, a theatrum temporis, the time of humans and the time of machines, whose orientations I will explore.

Looking at it from the perspective of black holes, the cosmos would appear as a movie. With this impression inspired by science, the curators of the 2024 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement in Geneva, Nora N. Khan and Andrea Bellini, curated an exhibition that explores the new ways and challenges of image production, with of course a relevant focus on AI generation.

Medium specificity seems to be back in vogue. Something that won’t surprise anyone, for every technological leap (in image generation) regularly brings a revival of interest in medium specificity – or simply in explorative work on the medium.

What about the cosmic perspective? Planetary issues are not absent in the themes of the exhibited moving images – think extractionism, technocapitalism, Anthropocene – but this is certainly not the point, I mean, not the cosmic point; that would be naïve. The curatorial statement mentions the idea of “all possible images” being computed, thereby hinting at the phantom of omniscience in big-data scenarios. We’re back to the AI topic and its presumed mathesis universalis. Should we repeat then that artistic creation is just being substituted by artistic selection – or even curation? Is the local, the subjective, the individually perspectival the proper answer to the panoptical-and-digital proliferation/saturation of data?

After experiencing the different art works in the exhibition, I picked up on a specific point of view: time. Progression, regression, and their conflation, this will be my thread in connecting only five of the art works (the best ones for my subjective eye). Why time? The answer is the specific time-connotated “cosmicity” that the Biennale refers to in its announced black holes perspective. The bending light around a black hole is in fact organised in sets of photon subrings that «are akin to the frames of a movie, capturing the history of the visible universe as seen from the black hole» – as seen in a 2020 article in Science. The “cosmic movie” of the new media camera is not a theatrum mundi, is not oriented to representation, to an all-encompassing representation. It is, rather, a theatrum temporis, the time of humans and the time of machines, whose orientations I will explore.

Progression, regression, and their conflation – The human and the machine

First orientation: backwardly forward. Alfatih’s A Way Out of Time allows an interactive experience through an old-fashioned stroller that has to be physically pushed forward in order to get some digital (Chat-GPT generated) real-time stories that can do no less than push us back to iconic memories. A sort of false movement.

Second orientation: forwardly backwards. Emmanuel Van der Auwera’s Videosculpture XXX (The Gospel) is a vertiginous installation that stages AI generated content about quite physical, “regressive” topics such as extraction and warfare, tied together in a complex way. The aesthetic experience of the work is impressive, and seems to draw a line from hi-tech media to lo-fi problems – which are part of the hi-tech media. A sort of circularity.

Third (non-)orientation: the two orientations conflate when artists imagine scenarios where we can no longer disentangle the human from the machine. Digital/analogue, going forward/backwards, hi-tech/lo-fi are no more than elements that play in a dialectic false movement or circularity. We imagine the perfect continuity of natural and artificial. By the way, aren’t human beings unerringly natural and (source of the) artificial at the same time?

Lawrence Lek’s Empty Rider provides the experience of such continuity in developing a science-fiction story around the question of legal electronic personhood of AI-machines. Charging AI-machines for their mistakes, as if they could be responsible for something that should be impossible for them (mistakes), reveals our projection of perfection onto machines and the contradictory assumption of their personhood. Defects or mistakes, the delicate question of the agency of the more-than-human is at stake, along with the intriguing question of the role of accidents for humanisation beyond legal personhood.

Lek’s work is as highly suggestive in the concept as it is deficiently nuanced in the aesthetics. The same strength and weakness seen in Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rhame’s Postscript: After Everything Is Extracted. The idea of putting virtuality and fragmentation together, and to see them as expression of mourning, is simply brilliant. Moreover, the virtuality makes the breathing and singing an even stronger experience. As sign of loss, virtuality seems to get a highly human feature precisely because of its being “less-than-human”, thus opening a connection between (expression of) suffering and digitality.

These last two works show the conflation of the human and the machine when involving the emotional level. Diego Marcon’s La gola is the perfect synthesis of human and technological, emotional and digital. The work is rich, playing with the classical situation of the movie theatre and two simple, parallel storytellings that are in dialogue without creating a true dialogue. The decay of the body and the consumption of food spiral together in an ambiguous crescendo of pleasure and sorrow, of regeneration and degeneration, thanks to digitally generated images. The aching sensuality of concurrent physical celebration and physical corruption is sublimated through the digital manipulation, which appears to fit perfectly with the emotional zest of the movie.


A Cosmic Movie Camera | Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement | Centre d’art contemporain Genève | 24/1-16/5/2024

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First published: May 13, 2024