Art

Time to welcome our robot overlords?

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

“Hello World — For the Post-Human Age” at Art Tower Mito looks at developments in art in the context of digital technology and artificial intelligence. It starts with a lightly comedic farce, in the form of Cecile B. Evans’ 2016 multimedia installation “Sprung a Leak.” This three-act work, partly inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” tells an elliptical and intentionally glitchy tale of human users’ distress when Liberty, their favorite animated beauty blogger, disappears and how a solution is patched together by well-meaning robots.

The next six spaces in the gallery are arranged to provide an immersive experience with seven further explorations of art at a time when, as cultural theorist Mark Fisher put it in his 2009 book “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?,” “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

In David Blandy’s video work “Tutorial: How to Make a Short Video About Extinction,” we are shown how to splice together clips collected from YouTube to make a tragicomic mockumentary that features numerous ways that we may bite the dust.

The visual experience of Blandy’s piece is purposefully deadpan and clunky, drawing attention to the medium as the message. The contrast between the ease with which current technology can be used to control and manipulate data to create authoritative narratives, with the message that in the grand scheme of things we have no control, could be considered profoundly nihilistic, but a bathetic tone makes the piece more witty than dark.

Simon Denny’s 2016 work on the theme of blockchain, the digital ledger system behind bitcoin, takes the form of three mock trade-fair displays. Using text panels and board games based on the military strategy game “Risk,” the visions of three proponents of blockchain — Blythe S. Masters, Vitalik Buterin and Balaji Srinivasan — are explored as possible alternatives to the current form of global capitalism. The displays hover somewhere between corporate advertising and cultish utopianism. When Denny created the work, he was enthusiastic about “a world where trust is guaranteed, a world without borders, a world in which each and every one of us takes part in the whole,” as is voiced in the accompanying video. This year, however, has seen notable drops in the value of bitcoin, and with the recent emergence of a $10 billion lawsuit against Craig Wright, who claims to have created the cryptocurrency, Denny’s optimism is already looking very out of place.

Photographic mosaics by Akihiko Taniguchi, made up from hundreds of surveillance camera screen grabs, and Hito Steyerl’s installation and video work, which incorporate satellite calibration targets and advice on how to disappear, recall French theorist Paul Virilio’s work on non-human vision from the late ’80s and, more recently, themes in media satirist Charlie Brooker’s TV series “Black Mirror.”

The most grotesque and critical vision of our technological present is the final work in the exhibition, Rachel Maclean “It’s What’s Inside That Counts.” Also quite Brooker-esque, Maclean’s 30-minute superkitsch morality tale about a female idol character is a biting look at social media, the culture of cuteness and corporate-led accelerationism. Maclean’s video is an interesting and thoughtfully placed bookend to Evans’ work at the beginning of the exhibition, quietly adding gender politics into the discussion of life in the possible twilight of the Anthropocene.

“Hello World — For the Post-Human Age” runs until May 6; ¥800. For more information, visit www.arttowermito.or.jp/index_en.