Perception is Reality - Juan Xu in dialogue about artificial intelligence with Li Xinmo
Juan Xu: Nowadays in the 21st century, the Internet and artificial intelligence has changed our daily lives and our ways of thinking. At the same time, this has made people feel uneasy and fearful. For example, Chinese officials use artificial intelligence to monitor everyone's behavior.
The combination of AI and art is gradually increasing in Germany. This can be seen with the refreshing AI exhibition Intuition is Reality by the Frankfurt Art Association in 2018. It can be said that it is a science fiction exhibition, which is quite different from the way we are familiar with contemporary art. However, no one seems to have linked it to capitalism.
What kind of relationship do you think AI, technology, and the Internet has with “capital?”
Li Xinmo: In my opinion, today the concept of “capital” has changed tremendously. The world is transforming from an industrial society to an information-based society. The capitalist model constructed by surplus value theory in Das Kapital can no longer be used to generalize and understand the present capitalist society. With the rapid development of post-war science and technology, a high degree of automation and intelligence has replaced and is replacing human labor.
When I first walked into the car factory of Hyundai, I was shocked that there were no people there, only countless huge robotic arms working ceaselessly. Nowadays, more and more industries and large companies are tending to automate and intellectualize. That is, workers are gradually being replaced by machines. Machines don't need to eat or sleep, they make few mistakes, and they don’t get paid wages, let alone go on strike. Therefore, the concept of "working class" is no longer valid today.
While people are still immersed in the fact that machines can only replace human labor and cannot replace human thinking, machines have begun to think, which is artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is to endow the machine with thinking, so that the machine is engaged in mental work like human beings. And this is no longer just science fiction, but has become a reality. From translators to stock market analysts, from poets to hosts.
Artificial intelligence has even created works of art that are indistinguishable from human artists. It can be said that science and technology dominate the times. Those who have huge capital are those who have mastered the latest technology. Science and technology are both forms of capital. The theme of this exhibition, Perception is Reality, is art and capital, and I think in discussing this issue at present, we can’t avoid science, because science dominates capital and art at the same time.
Artificial intelligence art, I think, can best reflect the artistic characteristics of the current era of scientific and technological capital. I hope to think outside the opposite thinking mode of art and capital, and to explore the possibilities and challenges that science, technology, and capital can provide for art.
I think what this work has triggered a deeper discussion of art, capitalist society, and the relationship between them.
Juan Xu: Artificial intelligence as an artistic theme is a very new topic. Before AI entered the artistic field, the 13th Kassel Documentation Exhibition had incorporated quantum mechanics into contemporary art, and became a "highlight" in that Documentation Exhibition. Germany has a tradition of combining science and technology with art. The whole trend of contemporary Western art is to promote in an all-round way: it is closely related to social development, but also synchronized with science and technology. I feel that in the past, Chinese contemporary art did not pay too much attention to forward-looking themes such as science and technology, but paid more attention to social reality.
When did this change take place? What is the background?
Li Xinmo: Indeed, as you said, Chinese artists are still more confined to Chinese context and Chinese issues. This is mainly due to China's special social and political environment, as well as the limitations of thinking and vision. In fact, from the 1980s to the present, Chinese contemporary art is more imitation and repetition of "Western" contemporary art history as a reference in terms of artistic expression and artistic methods. The same has always been true of my creation, which focuses on conceptual art and pays attention to China's problems and situations through the use of media, performance, photos, paintings, and so on to express these situations. Although there are some creations, I am not satisfied with myself. In art, I have always felt that a new artistic method should be created to surpass the contemporary art system created since Duchamp. And I feel that the time has come for the development of “world art,” because contemporary art dominated by conceptual art has become an empty form and has been manipulated by capitalism. This is the art situation of the whole world, not just the problem of Chinese contemporary art.
With the increase of artistic experience and reading, I find that the existing art and knowledge systems makes me feel uninterested. The moment I came across the concepts of physics and astronomy, "parallel universe", "time collapse", and "dark matter," they greatly aroused my interest. Especially the concepts of "artificial intelligence" and "big data." What remains fresh in my memory is the shock and awe I felt when I first read Jacques Attali's A Brief History of the Future and Vernon Vinge's The Coming Technological Singularity. It seems that I suddenly understood what kind of era I was in. This is a new era; it is so full of temptation and danger. I seem to have changed my perspective in the blink of an eye and started to look at things from the human and cosmic perspectives. At the same time, I also began to focus on the world's most cutting-edge technology. Everything is so imaginative and creative. These works of artificial intelligence are produced in such a situation. Of course, it is also due to the promotion of AI art like Goethe College. I got more information about AI art from Goethe College.
In fact, the art circle in China has not started yet. Interestingly, when I started publishing these works, it seemed that suddenly the art world began to pay attention to science, art, and artificial intelligence. Maybe China's development is different from before. Our science and technology are not lagging behind the world. Many fields are still very advanced, especially in the research and development of artificial intelligence. As soon as my works were released, they attracted many people's attention. They really looked different, both in terms of vision and creative methods.
Juan Xu: I feel that you are confident in AI, and even sense some utopian fanaticism and fantasy. But everything, especially new things, is a double-edged sword. It is difficult to predict what artificial intelligence will mean for the future of mankind. Just as the invention of the atomic bomb in the last century brought disaster to mankind. Whether the frontier sciences such as editing genes will have a positive effect on the future of mankind is still unknown in the 21st century. The research and development of AI in China has a special danger. What does it mean for China's social and economic development? Is it social progress or a trap of comprehensive monitoring?
Li Xinmo: I am not so full of fantasies about AI as I am full of fantasies about the unknown. Unknown means uncertainty and multiple possibilities. What I am passionate about is pure science itself. Science itself is only about thinking, discovery and creation. The advantages and disadvantages it brings all happened after entering the social system. While people enjoy the convenience and speed brought by the intelligent age, we also experience its control and manipulation. More and more people are questioning the security of social media, and the leak of personal information is common.
Now in China, artificial intelligence technology is directly used to monitor people's speech and freedom. Interestingly, the former Soviet Union also tried to build a high-tech Internet society, but it didn't come true in the end. From this point of view, evil politics will use high technology to consolidate its rule; business will use artificial intelligence to monitor people's behavior and promote consumption. But I don't think these can be used as reasons to deny the development of scientific experiments and artificial intelligence. Fire was invented for heating and lighting, but at the same time, people started arson and burning. This is true of gunpowder, electricity and atomic energy. These inventions promote the progress of human civilization, but also bring disaster. Artificial intelligence, originally created to serve human beings, is also used to monitor and commit crimes. It is inconceivable to use artificial intelligence in war. Perhaps one day AI will develop beyond human wisdom and out of human control, which is why Stephen Hawking has been worried about AI.
I want to say that science itself is not utilitarian, but different people will produce different results. In fact, it is not science that is terrible, but human beings themselves. Ultimately, we should reflect on human society and humanity itself. The reason why I hope for AI is that I hope in the future, I can evolve a higher level of human beings, which can surpass the present human beings.
Juan Xu: Since Romanticism, Germany has advocated "genius" (artist). For example, Goethe, the well-known German scholar. "Genius" means the artistic creation of artists and poets. It is not the result of personal efforts, but rather from "Muses", namely "inspiration.” Personalization of computers, the popularity of the internet and smart phones, especially artificial intelligence, have broken the myth of "genius." Technology invites artists down from the altar and embarrasses them. What is the relationship between AI and artistic expression for you? Does it make art aphasia or enrich and diversify artistic expression?
Li Xinmo: The emergence of artificial intelligence makes human artists feel as if they are in crisis. It also suggests that it is no longer appropriate for artists to create art in the existing way. So, it means that we need to give art a new definition and method. All of these are unprecedented and need people to develop and create. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for human artists. Otherwise, the concepts now defined as art and artists will no longer exist. Even so, there is no need to worry about it. I believe that there will be new art. Maybe it is not defined as art.
In fact, the concept of “the artist” did not exist before the industrial revolution. Art may dissolve into other fields in the future; perhaps people will invent other, more interesting way of expression, if art is the way of expression for human beings. New technologies will undoubtedly lead to the disappearance of some industries and some labelling, but will also create new industries and labelling. Like the Internet and artificial intelligence, these things did not appear a hundred years ago. So, there was no industry like IT before. Programmers and software designers are new professions and labels. For me, new technologies, including artificial intelligence, interest me. I think artificial intelligence has expanded the space of my imagination, and also given me a new understanding of human thinking and consciousness, including creativity. In fact, artificial intelligence is the human attempt to understand themselves and how to surpass their own exploration. This is a trend of human development, it is irresistible, but also the inherent driving force of science.
The development of science and technology will bring new media and creative methods to art, such as photography with camera, film, and video, and music with a synthesizer. So, for me, new technologies, like artificial intelligence, have made me see the possibility of new artistic creation. In fact, the development of science and technology depends on the accumulation of capital and the characteristics of capitalist society. So, when it comes to capital, we can see its problems, and we should also see its positive sides. For example, the emergence of artificial intelligence art, in fact, depends on the development of science and technology, and the development of science and technology is behind the promotion of capital.
Juan Xu: Your work Daydream presented at the CAPITAL@ART.INTERNATIONAL in Frankfurt in 2018 is very interesting. It consists of dynamic images, ground works, and intelligent images. Intelligent images were hanging in the air and the paintings on the ground formed a special tension in the huge former Mercedes-Benz exhibition hall. This created a strange and even absurd "daydream" that is accompanied by the white space installation work Consumption Hitler by German artist Dirk Baumanns. What is the relationship between these three parts: The intelligent images and ground paintings of Daydream, and Baumann’s Consumption Hitler.
Li Xinmo: The world we live in may be a non-real world that existed only in humans’ dreams many years ago, but we live in it now. What is a dream? It has been questioned by humans throughout time. It may be another kind of truth, and reality may be just an illusion. So, this work is called "Day Dream." The fantastic images in the works printed on the cloth hanging in the air come from my imagination. They are my "day dreams."
They are the re-combination and creation of the human world, the divine world, and the natural world after I broke them, and then through the re-creation of the artificial intelligence visual system, they gain a visual image with both ancient flavor and a sense of the future. In other words, these works are where the dream overlaps between me and AI, and the dream is composed of human beings and machines. The ground part is a huge painting, a side of the human head, which consists of generated 1 and 0 codes extending backwards until it finally becomes the image of a future human. The video is a short clip of the painting of "Day Dream" and a poem about dreams by Allan Poe. These three parts are presented by different media, and form a field between the ground and the air, as well as between motion and silence. The audience can walk in it, watch, stay, and think.
Juan Xu: What is the special significance of using green and black in the ground painting? Black feels depressing, and this exaggerated industrial "green" makes people feel alienated. However, the overall feeling of this work is particularly contemporary, with a 21st century sense of science and technology. Is the green "0" and "1" a representation of computer language in art?
Li Xinmo: The invention and application of computers in the twentieth century is one of the important symbols of the third scientific and technological revolution. The binary system is widely used in computing technology. Binary data is a number represented by two numbers, 0 and 1. It was discovered by Leibniz, a German master of mathematical philosophy in the 18th century. For the use of color, I have a preference for green. In many of my works, you can see green, which symbolizes life and death. It symbolizes the most primitive power and the color of life in outer space. Especially fluorescent green, which can represent a color of information society constructed by the screen. These colors shine in the darkness, and the darker, the clearer.