On Tuesday February 25th, Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI will open to the public at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Thirteen artists will delve into the darker side of Artificial Intelligence, cementing their technological anxieties with a new visual vocabulary. ‘Uncanny Valley’ is a term coined by Japanese professor of robotics Masahiro Mori, it describes our apprehensive relationship with robots that appear almost human. This is the first major west coast exhibition that addresses the interrelations between humans, art and AI. Claudia Schmuckli – the show’s curator – has stated that “by paying attention to the imminent and nuanced realities of AI’s possibilities and pitfalls, the artists in the exhibition seek to thicken the discourse around it.”
The malleable borders between art and technology have always been of interest to us at Unit London: in the past we’ve written about AI, AR and blockchain art, most recently drawing attention to Jacky Tsai’s propensity for using AR technology in his work. With this in mind, here are a few artists exhibiting at Uncanny Valley that peaked our interest.
Simon Denny (b. 1982) – Lives and works in Berlin
Simon Denny examines the impact of contemporary society’s data economy on human behaviour and ecological systems. Denny’s new series of work hones in on sleek AI-based objects like Amazon’s Echo, looking at how our interactions with this kind of technology shapes our understanding of the world. The works are based on the designs of an unrealised machine patent filed by Amazon. The machine – a kind of motorised cage – would transport workers around Amazon’s warehouses, with human movement being fully dictated by that of the machine. Denny’s work draws attention to the increasing integration of human and machine, shedding light on the growing power imbalance.
Simon Denny’s Document Relief 5 (Amazon Worker Cage patent) (2019) Courtesy of the Artist, Altman Siegel, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Photo: Nick Ash
Lynn Hershman Leeson (b. 1941) – Lives and works in San Francisco
Lynn Hershman Leeson, the renowned digital art pioneer, will show her 2019 work Shadow Stalker. This is a piece concerned with the baleful effect of Predpol, a controversial policing tool that classifies individuals and potential offenders into racial categories which, unsurprisingly, are often inaccurate. Leeson questions the implicit trust we place in technological systems, calling for measured independent thought when considering the veracity of information received through technology.
A still from Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Shadow Stalker, (2019)
Trevor Paglen (b. 1974) – Lives and works in Berlin
In a similar vein to Lynn Hershman Leeson, Paglen critiques the myth of neutrality within machine learning. His new work: They Took the Faces From the Accused and the Dead, is a large gridded installation of more than three-thousand mugshots from the archives of the American National Standards Institute. The institute’s image archives were used to train early facial-recognition technologies without the consent of those pictured. The authoritarian use of facial-recognition software is part of a debate that continues to rage in urban areas across the globe; Paglen’s work is a poignant reflection on our diminishing right to privacy.
Paglen Studio Research Image, ImageNet Class ‘Anomaly, Unusual Person.’ © Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the Artist