Ghost In The Machine

Documentation from Thomassen Gallery
Anton Alvarez
  /  Daniel Eatock
  /  Per Englund
  /  Gabriella Novak
Tobias Bradford  / 
 Tove Kjellmark  /
  Karl Norin  /  Erik Berglin

Can machines think, can they be creative? I started thinking about this a long time ago, in the spring of 1997 when the chess computer Deep Blue defeated the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov. After the loss, Kasparov claimed that Deep Blue must have been controlled by a human as it made irrational moves that he believed could only be made by a mind capable of abstract thinking. Afterwards, it has been speculated whether there were glitches in the code that lead to these random moves. It may have been software errors that defeated one of the greatest chess players of all time. This type of “glitches” are present in the works that make up Ghost in the machine. The exhibition presents artists who work with technology in a curious way, giving machines a role as co-creator of the works.

Advanced technology is mixed with analog methods, but in both the technical equipment becomes a significant factor for the result. Anton Alvarez has designed and constructed a high-pressure machine that extrudes ceramic sculptures. Daniel Eatock often lets the pencils do the work by placing them stationary against the paper, letting them bleed out for various duration. Gabriella Novak has programmed a robotic arm that paints for her, Tobias Bradford also uses mechanical arms, in this show they function as the exhibition’s one-man band. Per Englund uses the advanced algorithms found in today’s mobile cameras to create real-time shifts in otherwise ordinary tourist images. Erik Berglin also uses photography but lets automated tools in Photoshop create new landscapes for birds. Karl Norin has developed a peculiar way of vacuum-packing synthetic carpets so that they turn into abstract paintings, and Tove Kjellmark uses 3D scans that are transferred to both sculptures and drawings with the help of robots that she constructed herself.

The exhibition borrows its title from the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of dualism – meaning that the physical body and consciousness are disconnected from each other. Ryle and other philosophers argued that our physical bodies can be thought of as machines that happen to house a consciousness that makes decisions independent of how it affects its body. At Galleri Thomassen, this reasoning is reversed and instead it is tested whether machines can make art without human intervention.

In the recently published book The Computer as Seen at the End of the Human Age (Rojal Förlag) I read that already back in 1968, Pontus Hultén curated an exhibition at MoMA that highlighted art that related to the technological progress of the time. It has been 54 years since then, but it still feels reactionary to work with mechanical processes in art and above all to let the machines create autonomously.

/ Erik Berglin