by Alex Anikina, Sasha Burkhanova

Accepted as one of the three strategic projects in IV Moscow International Biennale for Young Art

26 June 2014 — 10 August 2014 National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow, Russia

For the first time in the history of humanity we are looking at the new skies. Somewhere in these skies the Curiosity rover is crossing the surface of Mars, occasionally checking in on Foursquare.

In the last twenty years we witnessed a massive paradigm shift. There will be no more generations that grow up without influence of internet. Our culture is now global, fast-speed and inherently telematic. In Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace? Roy Ascott uses the term to describe “computer-mediated communications networking”, that involves the “technology of interaction among human beings and between the human mind and artificial systems of intelligence and perception.” (Ascott, 1990: 241) Post-internet reality hits arts and culture alike, creating ripples that spread in all directions.

We, ourselves, have become, or are on our way to becoming post-human. Our life turns into a feat of self-engineering - programming oneself as one would program a machine: time-efficient, device-equipped, information-sustained. Our technological horizon expanded indefinitely, tempting us with tales of a brighter future and possibilities far exceeding what we have now, both physically and mentally: the awareness of that is, in itself, the condition of being post-human.

The post-human generation is constantly reaching out to the machine. The dream of creating a conscious artificial entity has a long history - think Galatea or Golem - but only comparatively recently the technological evolution has led us to believe that it might be possible. It is still an idealistic, excited and romanticised vision, one that is hard to achieve; but so are all of the greatest dreams of humanity - defeating death, stopping violence or acquiring freedom. To dream of artificial mind is to dream of touching the unknown, the dangerous, the Other. And we, in a case of a terrible mise-en-abîme, are dreaming of the dreaming machine. We tend to fear the unknown, but we also desire it: Frankenstein’s shadow is looming over the very idea of artificial intelligence.

In Dreaming Machines, however, we won’t be looking at the machines designed to mimic human mind, or the machines as brain enhancements, fast-connected to the collective memory of Internet; nor are we looking at the cyborg - a final merge of the human and the machine. Our focal point is the sentient machine itself, which for us, as humans, presents the very possibility of radical otherness - the ‘big Other’ of Lacan. As opposed to the ‘little Other’, "the other who is not really other, but a reflection and projection of the Ego" (Evans, 2006:135), the ‘big Other’ is “another subject, in his radical alterity and unassimilable uniqueness” incomprehensible to us because it constitutes “an other-ness which transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary” that “cannot be assimilated through identification” (ibid). To imagine what the Other’s consciousness might be like we would have to achieve the impossible - to escape the ‘bubble’ of human consciousness itself.

There is a way, however, to attempt at least a glimpse at it. The language is a tool that plays an immense part in forming our sentience. Our self-awareness and our perception of the world are shaped within its system from early age. There are no words, however, to describe the Other directly or indirectly, as anything that could relate to human experience is inapplicable to it. To try to speak about its “radical alterity” would mean to address blank spaces in between meanings, to use metaphors, allusions and allegories. What will happen if we put the possibility of free will, of love, logic and of independent judgment in a familiar equation of calculating machine? Will this twilight zone, never fully grounded either in human laws or in machine reality, produce at least a hint of what an artificial mind could be like?

Dreaming Machines is a project that brings together the practices of artists who venture to imagine the unimaginable, and in so doing gain power over it; they explore what lies out there, brave the blank spaces, uncharted territories on our maps, where the medieval cartographers used to put “Here be dragons”. The works included in the exhibition explore the terra incognita of conscious machines through artistic metaphors, envisaging the scenarios of their logic, behaviour, imagination, their appearance and psyche. Dreaming Machines is an attempt to push beyond comprehensible towards the sublime of the Other.

January-April 2014