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An Interview with Science Artist Miriam Simun


Portrait of a woman wearing black clothes and long, curly blonde hair
Artist Myriam Semaan. Photo: Andre Sison / Courtesy of Meriem Simon

Earlier this year, a dancer Moore Mendel He took the stage with Spot Boston Dynamics in 7×7an annual symposium organized by the digital arts and culture organization Rhizome, to perform work designed by an interdisciplinary techno artist Maryam Semaan. Mendel ran, danced and frolicd with the robot (which he piloted). Hannah Rossi) to a soundtrack by Igor Tkachenko and DJ Didin before an audience eager to see the collaboration between artists and scientists in action. As one might expect, Spot stole the show, but there would have been no show without Simon, who conceived the piece with questions, not answers, in mind. Specifically: “What kind of relationships with machines do we want? What will we get? What can we dream about?”

Simone’s dreams include everything from cheese made from human milk to technology that captures the scent of endangered flowers and even bees and their conspicuous absence. The artist, who works in video, installation, drawing, performance and community-based sensory experiences, is trained in sociology and carries her experiences with her into a role the artist calls a fieldworker – “conducting first-person research with diverse places and communities.” “From scientific laboratories to wild forests, from free divers to human pollinators” that “dictate the form of the final works of art,” according to her biography.

A man stands inside looking out a window covered in what appears to be slime or mold.A man stands inside looking out a window covered in what appears to be slime or mold.
“Symbionts Wax Works,” part of the “Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere” exhibition at the MIT List Center for the Visual Arts. Courtesy Miriam Simon

The result is art that is not just based on science, but informs science, and Simone’s explorations of what is possible have been exhibited around the world at venues including Gropius-Bau in Berlin, the Momenta Biennale in Montreal, the New Museum in New York, and the Himalayan Museum in Shanghai. List of MIT Visual Arts and Bogota Museum of Modern Art in Colombia. Following 7×7, Observer caught up with the artist to discuss her practice, artificial intelligence, and what it was like choreographing the robot.

Why did you decide to engage deeply with science and technology in your practice?

I have always worked with science and technology. I am fascinated by science and the natural world. I’m also very interested in how we decide that we know things – and in dominant Western culture, science has the supreme authority in constructing knowledge – and therefore in defining reality. This makes it a particularly interesting thing to work with, not only with the results of science and what it tells us about our world but also with the social function we have assigned to it as humans, as a creator of reality – and what this tells us. ourselves.

It’s interesting to work with technology because it evolves so quickly, changing the way we live and who we are in the process. Technology in itself is interesting but what interests me most in my practice is its intertwining with social, political and environmental systems. How do we decide what to build? What does it depend on? What does that say about us and the world we build for ourselves? How are these decisions made and who gets a seat at the table and who doesn’t? What forms of knowledge and value are privileged?

What was it like working with the robot in a 7×7 event, have you done this before?

It was my first time working with a robot. It was wonderful, nerve-wracking and exciting. It is also important to note that I not only danced with the Spot robot, but also with Hannah Rossi, the robot’s therapist, caregiver, and operator; with David Robert, Director of Human Robot Interaction; And with the entire team at Boston Dynamics, who is responsible for how the robot works and how it is presented to the world.

Do you think people experience artworks rooted in technology differently than traditional artworks?

Making art with amazing new technology like the Spot robot is a challenge – the technology itself is such an amazing achievement, such a scene, that it can be difficult to compete, to make the sound of the artwork still be heard above the (very loud!) stomping of the robot’s feet. Rhizome and Hyundai Art Lab have given me this amazing privilege to be among the first people to spend time with this technology, move with it, and think about what it will mean for humans to live with such machines in the future, in our daily lives. Spirits.

I hope that my performance, danced by Moore Mendel and featuring music by Igor Tkachenko and DJ Diddy, enabled the audience to gain a new and different perspective on the adoption of robots in our daily lives. How are these robots programmed to behave? To interact with us? To interact with their surroundings? Will they be built to accommodate us or will we need to accommodate them? How will we learn to predict their behavior, to see what they see? What kind of relationships do we want with machines, will we have them, and can we dream of them?

Is artificial intelligence a threat to art, a tool for art, or perhaps both? What about other technologies?

Artificial intelligence is a tool. Like every tool, it enables some things while making other things more difficult. As Marshall McLuhan wrote about technology decades ago: “Every extension is also a distortion.” We need to think carefully about how we build and deploy AI, not just about what it enables but also about what it blocks or removes. The thing that worries me about AI is – what data are we training it on? If this so-called intelligence is trained only on a narrow set of historical data (specific data sources that are largely corporate, largely in English, and data that is largely easy to extract – created or digitized in the last few decades) – then there Much of what this AI can “know.”

As AI is tasked with making more and more predictions, based on a relatively narrow view of the recent past, are we eliminating the possibility of a new, more diverse and more creative future? At the same time, it’s a completely alluring and fun tool to play with during the art-making process, and I love that people will always find ways to bend, break, and come up with unimaginable uses for technology. I especially believe in artists.

The other question that really interests me is how do we define “intelligence”? Especially regarding artificial intelligence? A question I asked during my stay [7×7] Performance is what would happen if we defined intelligence less on how good someone/something is KnownBut on the extent of their success interact To unexpected, ambiguous and uncertain situations? If this is the measure by which we define intelligence, how can we build our robots and artificial intelligence differently?

A person standing in a large lobby-like space looks at a screen displaying an orange abstract imageA person standing in a large lobby-like space looks at a screen displaying an orange abstract image
Your Desire to Breathe is a Lie, Sopot Central Train Station, curated by Kasia Sobczak for the Gyoki 3 Arts Centre. Photo: Bogna Kociombas / Courtesy of Miriam Simon





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