FutureProofing is a radio program/podcast on BBC Radio 4 about the future of human existence in every aspect including language, cities, sports, and art. It is an audio ‘time machine’, as they put it, offering educated guesses about our future.
Due to rapid technological advancement, art has evolved to incorporate technology, especially algorithm, to create immersive, performative pieces. To my surprise, art as we know it may soon seize to exist.
On the episode Art, reporters Leo Johnson and Timandra Harkness discuss the future of art with artists and creative professionals. The episode begins with an audio-descriptive tour of an algorithmic natural environment programmed by teamLab exhibited in Singapore. The exhibition, Future World, at the ArtScience Museum responds to the movement of the visitors; the algorithm for the installation is an ever-changing one that adapts according to the response from its audience. Every second is a new combination, it is not possible to experience the exact same response again. The evolving nature of the piece allows visitors to become contributors to the artwork, so the installation is almost elevated to the status of collective art.
Essentially, what Future World provides is a medium that results in meaningful, aesthetic art no matter the input from the contributors. In this sense, the algorithm itself is the artwork created by teamLab whereas Future World is the reflection on which the public can observe the result of their creative choices. The exhibition is not a place for passive perception anymore, it is an instrument, a tool for artmaking.
Although the idea of collective artmaking sounds utopic, it leads to certain questions about the future of art.
By developing algorithms that respond to the reaction of the visitors as art, isn’t the status of the artist reduced to a software engineer or a technician? If there is no final product as the artwork is a constantly changing computer program, is there a real concrete idea behind the piece? Won’t art become too involved with the public opinion if the visitors and algorithms are given so much agency?
Later on, in the podcast FutureProof, Sheldon Brown, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of San Diego, talks about his art installation Scalable City that ‘choreograph a-ha moments and epiphanies‘. The installation records the data of the positive revelationary reactions from the visitors and adapts to increase the number of such inspirational moments. In my opinion, adaptability at this level completely removes the element of shock and unpredictability from art. It becomes overly concerned with inducing computed stimuli: gratifying and impressing.
When asked about the future of art using data, Brown goes as far as suggesting the injection of ideas and emotions directly into the hippocampus (the part of the brain that records memory), as art in its core is ideas. However, such direct transplant would abolish the possibility for a different reaction. Art without subjectivity cannot inspire original thought. To me, good art does not have to please but has to evoke a subjective response. When this function of art is allocated to technology, doesn’t that defy the whole point of making art?
Earlier in the podcast, the artistic director of Serpentine Galleries in London, Hans Ulrich, mentions that the adaptable nature of technological art will render it relevant to future generations. Although I agree with the idea that great art is timeless, I would argue that it is timeless due to its inherent value, its craft and its depiction of its time, not because it changes to suit the present.
Art should represent its time, the gestalt, the subject can be futuristic but the piece is still a vision of the time it was created in (like 60s futurism). Just as I wouldn’t want a Retro Futurist illustration to be any more relevant to my experience today, I don’t want today’s art to feel as relevant to the future generations as they do to me.
Finally, I value a finished piece of art. Akin to a finished, published book that has a certain plot, a narrative, and a message, displayed art is a complete manifestation of the artist’s ideas, emotions and experimentation. Once on display, ‘the subjectivity of the audience and the subjectivity of the artist’ are in conversation. The statement artwork stands bare and visible, without any attempt to please who’s looking.