From September 26, 2020 to January 17, 2021, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art presents “Immaterial / Re-material: A Brief History of Computing Art,” a wide-ranging overview of the evolution of computing art from the 1960s to the present, exploring topics that span from machine-learning aesthetics to digital objecthood and technological discontent. The exhibition defines its area of focus not simply as digital art in general, but art-making that actively engages with the algorithms and generative logics that undergird the field of computing. Curator Jerome Neutres, in collaboration with UCCA curator Ara Qiu, brings together more than 70 works by more than 30 artists, from early pioneers of computing art to leading digital practitioners, as well as emerging Chinese artists. The show’s title pays tribute to Jean-François Lyotard’s groundbreaking 1985 exhibition “Les Immatériaux,” which conceived of a new mode of materiality that echoed advances in telecommunications technology. By exploring the broad possibilities of computing art and the philosophies underpinning it, “Immaterial / Re-material” aims to write a new chapter in the history of this medium, approaching it as not simply a new media form, but as an entire artistic language. The exhibition is made possible through technological support from lead AI partner Baidu, and major organizational and lending support from Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens.
The exhibition is arranged into four main sections, which gesture towards the progression of computing art, and different approaches within the field as a whole.
Pioneers of Computing Art: The Invention of A New Palette
Starting in the mid-1960s, new artistic practices have emerged alongside the development and proliferation of digital technology. Using algorithms and generativity to create new forms and images, artists have pushed the borders of the visual arts. They have invented a new medium to express their visions of a new world, one in which computers have become the companion to everyone’s life and activities—and in which Artificial Intelligence, a term first coined in 1956 by John McCarthy, has become a central topic of twenty-first-century public debate.
Frieder Nade, Walk Through Raster 12.1.1967 Nr.3, 1967, Plotter drawing, ink on paper, 41 × 41 cm
Vera Molnar, Hommage à Monet, 1981, Plotter drawing, colar ink on paper, 19 × 26 cm
Generative Art: A Language for Infinity
The generativity of programs at times leads artists to propose forms of unlimited art. In these Artworks 2.0, the image we are watching is never twice the same; the work is always changing, sometimes through millions of variations—art moving towards infinity. This mode of practice, therefore, has the sole claim to truly immaterial materiality, the immateriality of perpetually self-regenerating works.
Ryoji Ikeda, data.tron [WUXGA version], 2011, Audiovisual installation, DLP projectors, computers, speakers, Dimensions variable Concept, composition: Ryoji Ikeda, Computer graphics & programming: Shohei Matsukawa, Tomonage Tokuyama
AI Art-Lab: When the Artist Creates Creation
In a visionary statement from 1956, the same year the concept of artificial intelligence was born, pioneer of robotic art Nicolas Schöffer said, "From now on, the role of the artist will no longer be to create a work, but to create creation.” 1 Today’s artists play with sophisticated algorithms and machine-learning techniques. Computers offer an artificial intelligence sensitive to art, capable of interpreting images, recognizing visuals, and producing forms. Leonel Moura creates artificial assistants to generate artworks that further his creative research. Michel Paysant uses complex eye-tracking technology to liberate drawing from the (naturally imperfect) hand: AI becomes the artist’s ideal assistant, able to perfectly materialize their visual dreams.
Memo Akten, Deep Meditations: A brief history of almost verything in 60 minutes, 2018, 60-minute seamless loop Custom software, generative video, generative audio, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, generative adversarial networks, variational autoencoders Dimensions variable
Illusions & Disillusions of the Post-digital Era
It is interesting to note that the most mordant voices are often those that belong to digital-native artists. “Machines can now easily read and even become our minds. What then happens to memory and attention? And why do we allow this to happen?”, artist aaajiao asks. “Now that we have become bots, we are just one with the mind of the hive.” Is the digital world generating a new chapter of mankind? What will it look like? It is undeniable that the entire history of the world is now written and archived in digital structures, specifically the Internet and external hardware. Will we regret, one day, having stored our memories outside of our brains? What is the future of the human brain in the face of big data? The history of this new era, like the history of computing art, is just beginning to be written.
Yang Yongliang, Journey To The Dark II, 2019, 3-Channel 4K video, 9min 50s
As curator Jerome Neutres comments in his exhibition catalogue essay, “We aim to show how the pioneers of yesterday and the emerging figures of today are walking the same path, from the immaterial to the re-material, and how their visions of the homo digitalis—the new human civilization—have evolved. The exhibition demonstrates that computing technology is a true medium of art, one that generates an infinite number of visual possibilities, and not just an experimental school or short-lived art movement.”
Miguel Chevalier, Extra-Natural 2020, Site-specific digital video, 45'00'', Software: Cyrille Henry