• Carol Anne Jones

Who’s the artist? It’s a computer

Updated: Nov 24, 2020


A few weeks ago with an easing of the Covid restrictions, I took a Didi ride to the Beijing 798 art zone (798藝術區) to visit the UCCA (the Centre for Contemporary Art). “Immaterial / Re-material: A Brief History of Computing Art,” was on. It’s a group exhibition that traces the history of computing art up to the present day. There were around seventy artworks from thirty international artists featured, from early pioneers of computing art to leading digital practitioners, as well as emerging Chinese artists. The works in the exhibition explore both digital art and art making that actively engage with the algorithms and the generative logics of computing. Some of the artworks were created on traditional formats such as paper and canvas, and others channeled into blurring the boundaries between the physical and intangible.


The curation was excellent and as I walked through the exhibition, I noted four sections;


1. “Pioneers of Computing Art: The Invention of a New Palette;” featuring artists such as Harold Cohen, Manfred Mohr, Vera Molnar, and Frieder Nake, who as early as the 1960s began using algorithms to create drawings and paintings.

2. “Generative Art: A Language for Infinity;” where artists such as Ryoji Ikeda grant digital code a type of materiality in its own right.

3. “AI Art lab: when the Artist creates creation;” which questions the role an artist can play when creative decisions are delegated to AI.

4. “Illusions and Disillusions of the Post-digital Era;” reflects on contemporary experience by digitally reconstructing some past moments in art history.


There’s was a special unit curated in collaboration with Baidu AI. A much younger generation of Chinese artists, Lu Yang, Lin Ke, and Fei Yining create work steeped in global online culture with interactive, generative works, where the viewer actively shapes each piece’s visual expression.

The exhibition opens up conversations about the future shape of digital art, like is this truly the future of contemporary art? Should artists be worried about their futures?


In 2018 Christie’s sold “A portrait of Edmond de Belamy”. It was an AI generated artwork created using a generative adversarial network to make new images based on a dataset of fifteen thousand portraits painted between the fourteenth and the twentieth centuries. The piece sold for $432,500, creating speculation as to whether AI could be part of the next great art movement.


We will see. The youngest artists in the exhibition illustrated how software and equipment can deliver creative breakthroughs. So rather than artists being out of a job perhaps interesting ways of partnering up with AI will evolve with the use of AI as a tool to extend creativity.


The exhibition is on until January 2021 at UCCA in Beijing and is curated by Jerome Neutres in collaboration with UCCA curator Ara Qiu. If you're in Beijing which I doubt due to the Covid, it's a must see.


Participating artists include aaajiao (b. 1984, Xi’an), Memo Akten (b. 1975, Istanbul), Refik Anadol (b. 1985, Istanbul), Michel Bret (b. 1941, Lyon) and Edmond Couchot (b. 1932, Paris), Celyn Bricker (b. 1989, Liverpool) and Faye Lu (b. 1988, Jilin, China), Miguel Chevalier (b. 1959, Mexico City), Harold Cohen (1928-2016, London), Elias Crespin (b. 1965, Caracas), Fei Yining (b. 1990, Harbin) and Chuck Kuan (b. 1993, Qingdao), John Gerrard (b. 1974, Dublin), Ryoji Ikeda (b. 1966, Gifu, Japan), Peter Kogler (b. 1959, Innsbruck, Austria), Lin Ke (b. 1984, Wenzhou, China), Liu Wa (b. 1994, Beijing), Lu Yang (b. 1984, Shanghai), Laurent Mignonneau (b. 1967, Angoulême, France) and Peter Kogler (b. 1964, Ohlsdorf, Austria), Manfred Mohr (b. 1938, Pforzheim, Germany), Vera Molnar (b. 1924, Budapest), Leonel Moura (b. 1948, Lisbon), Frieder Nake (b. 1938, Stuttgart, Germany), Michel Paysant (b. 1955, Bouzonville, France), Quayola (b. 1982, Rome), Alan Rath (b. 1959, Cincinnati), Casey Reas (b. 1972, Ohio, USA), Daniel Rozin (b. 1961, Jerusalem), Charles Sandison (b. 1969, Haltwhistle, United Kingdom), Leo Villareal (b. 1967, Albuquerque, USA), Wang Yuyang (b. 1979, Harbin), and Yang Yongliang (b. 1980, Shanghai).



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