Your eyes and ears on the world of art and culture. We remind you that 19 years of back issues of eMusings can be found on our archives page.
I have spent decades creating art that questions what it means to be human in this turbulent part of the 21st century. It will be no surprise to you that eMusings this month starts by looking at some brilliant achievements in technology and science. For me the overriding question becomes how can a species so gifted also spend so much time killing each other?
Think of a discussion between A.I. Shakespeare and A. I. Oscar Wilde at Oxford. This enticing possibility joins the ever-increasing awareness of how Artificial Intelligence is infiltrating our lives, online and off. Of course you know that I have been using A.I. for some years, both in composing music and in digital painting but it is only recently that the general press has begun to understand what is happening. A.I. is both exhilarating and frightening in its implications but it is here to stay and important that we keep abreast of what is going on.
Furthering our discussion of A.I., it has been recently used to simulate the brain of former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When asked about the imminent response to Roe v. Wade by the current Supremes, Ginsburg A. I. replied "I think they’re wrong on the law, but on the facts, no". The simulation, called Ask Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is based on 27 years of Ginsburg's legal writing, speeches and interviews It was created by the Israeli firm AI21 Labs and then run through a complex language processing program. This process is similar to what I use in creating A.I. paintings: start with a selfie, run it through several A. I. algorithms and then manipulate it in what I call my digital playground. Several questions arise in the Ginsburg model: what assumptions were made in the original program, and how much manipulation was involved before the results were announced?
The most prominent example of A.I., currently being dissected all over the Web, is the report that a Google engineer named Blake LeMoine was placed on "Administrative Leave" (ie suspension) for claiming that his A.I. creation was now "sentient", meaning reacting like a human. You will read and hear many opinions about whether he is correct, and why Google suspended him, but perhaps the best place to start is by reading this interview he conducted with his A.I. model. It raises profound questions in us humans about what it means to be alive and what it means to be a human. You know of course that this is exactly what my 44+ years of art-making has been all about. Without using captcha I can asssure you I am not a robot. But how would you know the difference between my telling you that, and my A.I. simulation saying it? Late note: the A.I. model, called LaMBDA, appears to have hired its own attorney.
In a startling breakthrough, researchers have used light to identify and eliminate microscopic cancer cells. 3 nations, Sweden, the U.K. and Poland, were involved in making this discovery, which they are calling photoimmunotherapy. The technique is especially useful right before and after surgery, so that any tiny malignant cells not seen with other techniques can be wiped out. An added benefit reveals that the process appears to create an immune response that could possibly prevent the cancer cells from returning.
As we contemplate the immediate future, Microsoft is planning to use slivers of glass to archive music said to last for 10,000 years. (Let's see: where were we 10,000 years ago?) The glass archives, called The Global Music Vault, are to be buried in a remote arctic mountainside. They take their place alongside another epic archival project known as the Doomsday Vault in Svalbard, Norway, which is said to hold the largest collection of agricultural seeds on the planet. Technically Microsoft is using super-fast pulses of laser etched into 3/4 inch glass wafers. Each wafer holds 100 gigabytes of music (roughly 2,000 songs). You have to shine polarized light onto the wafers, using a machine-learning algorithm to translate the patterns it perceives back into music. (Somehow, translating the Rosetta Stone sounds like child's play by comparison). According to Microsoft, "The plates can survive baking, boiling, scouring, flooding, and electromagnetic pulses". Plans are afoot to use additional archival sourcing materials, like DNA, because this life code can last thousands of years at low temperatures.
French artist Yves Klein created a series of images with the title Anthropométries. Klein asked naked female models to cover themselves in blue paint and then imprint themselves on canvas. Some of these "paintings" were created in front of a small, live, and shocked audience. Klein then became known as a Provocateur. Only a few of these paintings have survived, with one of them being auctioned at Chritie's Auction House recently. Called one of the art world's most daring projects. Klein's response to the criticism reads, "They were not intended to titillate, but to liberate. The time of the paintbrush was over: art was coming out of the frame." He called his models "living paintbrushes" and said they were there to "depersonalise and dematerialise the art object." Seeing one of the models' bodies being dragged across a canvas is indeed a bit disconcerting.
The Museum of Fine Arts in St.Petersburg, Florida, is hosting the first solo museum exhibition of work by Gio Swaby. Born in the Bahamas in 1991, Swaby looks at the intersection of womanhood and Blackness. Influenced by the sewing of her seamstress mother, Swaby incorporates textiles into her work. In a series called "Pretty Pretty", she combines free-hand lines of thread, often seen on the back of the canvas so that loose threads and knots are visible. She thinks of her pieces as "love letters to Black women".
Christie's auction house is treating us to 12 LGBTQ+ museum exhibitions being shown this summer. Several in particular caught my eye: for example, "Raul de Nieves: The Treasure House of Memory" at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Another is "Blurred Boundaries: Queer Visions in Canadian Art". There are others equally deserving of your attention.
The Biden administration does not often trumpet their state dinners and formal occasions, but this one may draw your interest. It was held at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles and celebrated the 9th Summit of the Americas. You will find a detailed look at the preparations for the event, as well as photographs of the sumptuous table decorations. Along with California wines, delicacies included White House honey used on appetizers and white chocolate medallions with the Presidential Seal as part of the dessert offerings.
Art News offers their view of the best art booths at Art Basel, including a giant spider by Louise Bourgeois. I was particularly drawn to an installation by Ed and Nancy Kienholz, one I had not seen before, called "The Rhinestone River Peep Show" triptych from 1980 and 2 giant figures by Dutch artist Folkert de Jong showing giant smiling figures surrounded by guns pointed at it.
We don't often get to see multiple works by El Greco, the Spanish nickname of an artist born in Greece. Here you can view 7 of them, some desciption of their history, and where they are located.
The Morton Arboretum in Dupage County, Illinois, about 25 miles ouside of Chicago, is presenting large-scale outdoor sculptures by Daniel Popper. Popper's stunning works are meant to celebrate the connection between humanity and trees. Thought-provoking and beautifully constructed, these sculptures dominate the landscape and offer a fresh view on our place in the natural world. Look also at Popper's own site for a further glimpse into this talented artist's work.
Treat yourself to some of the booths at the BRAFA Art Fair held in Brussels this year. Spanning cultures and centuries, the offerings allow you to click on individual booths and sample some of their exhibits. Give yourself plenty of time to delve into the splendid works shown here - there is much to delight the eye. (Thanks to GS for this.)
Fans of Jean-Michel Basquiat will appreciate this discussion of the portraits and self-portraits produced by the artist. The art historian Dieter Buchhart speaks of Basquiat's "incredible drive" and "constant experimentation" that appeal to young people today. The curator also mentions Basquiat's use of masks, worn today to hide or protect vs. their use in West Africa as symbols of identity. Buchhart points out how the eyes, nose and mouth in one particular painting have been crossed out, saying that the artist "is referring to seeing and not seeing, silence and speaking, being there and not being there". You might also want to read about a recent FBI raid at the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida, where over 2 dozen Basquiat paintings were removed due to questions about their authenticity.
If you cannot get to Monterey, CA between now and August 20, you can view a brief vimeo of "Corinne Whitaker: Digital Mindscapes" here, or on Instagram.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2022