Following the disintegration of the former world, we are wandering between its fragments establishing different networks between them as hubs. Contemporary art is shifting from installations to networked images of thought, which, thanks to new technologies, are becoming less and less dependent on spatial-temporal coordinates and limitations dictated by the artistic dispositif, and question even more radically not only the border between art and life but all other borders, and above all the border between man and machine. The algorithm has become the most important concept in our world.
For the Middle Ages, the world is ens creatum, i.e. what God the Creator as the highest primal cause has created. Every entity, including man, belongs to a certain degree of that created order, and, as such, within the functioning of a divine creation that is beyond human comprehension. Everything that occurs is part of God’s plan, and man’s role in creating and controlling events is kept to a minimum, unless he himself is part of that plan or a temptation. In none of these worlds does man constitute his own place by presenting the world as something material, but his place is rather the result of relationships between divine forces understood in various ways, by which the world comes into being.
Only with the advent of the new era does man begin to constitute his own place in the world and gradually gain control over the state of affairs, thanks to the fact that nature and history are becoming the subject of explanatory representation. Crucial for the essence of the new era is, in fact, the intersection of the two processes; i.e. that the world becomes an image and that man becomes a subject (subjectum). For Heidegger, the world picture is not a picture of the world, but the world understood as a picture. . In this case, the picture is not a reflection of something, but it means that we have an image of something, that is, “the thing presents itself to us, represents itself and as such stands before us”. (Heidegger, 2000: 71) The world picture emerges only if it is established by man as its representative and compiler, then, man establishes himself as a stage in which “whatever is must henceforth set itself forth, must present itself [sich … präsentieren], be picture (Heidegger, 2000: 73). When the world became a picture, man became a subject that ascended to the position where all connections take place. The picture is a “creation of representative production” and man acquires the position of the one who determines the measure of reality as a whole as well as its direction. The new era is dominated by the arborescent structure of the world, in which anthropocentrism permeates the entire modern civilisation, producing, in the name of certainty and security, a rather enclosed and imprisoned world.
“Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have hopelessly imprisoned us. Then came film, which burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-clung ruins and debris, we go travelling calmly and adventurously”. (Benjamin, 1986: 145)
The advent of technical reproduction brought about the transition from a relatively stable and static modern image of the world to that of a dynamic, unstable and complex world. As a complex system, the world is now understood as a large network of heterogeneous components without a central control; it is a system that, thanks to its simple rules of operation, encourages complex collective behaviour, sophisticated information processing and adaptation through learning or evolution. . It is a fluid, unstable world that is perpetually changing, so much so that traditional images, as Michelangelo Antonioni observed, are no longer able to represent this complex world, primarily because “an image no longer exists which gives form to the world, because the world itself can no longer be represented other than by approximation”. (Antonioni: 2007, 100)
Art collective Obvious, “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy”, AI generated painting, 2018.
With the advancement of new technologies in the 21st century (nano-, bio-, info-, neuro- technologies), there is no doubt that in the near future there will be further development in the field of artificial (super)intelligence. In this way, the words of the mathematician Irving John Good that the first ultra-intelligent machine will be the last invention that man needs to make on Earth would come true. This also assumes that the machine is obedient enough to tell us how to keep it under control. And that is why, as Yuval Noah Harari notes, the “algorithm” has become the most important concept in our world. As the world is becoming faster and more complex, the efficiency of algorithms is becoming more noticeable, which is why people are increasingly passing decision-making and control to networked machines. It can be assumed that in the near future people will trust algorithms more than their own feelings, and eventually lose the ability to make decisions for themselves. The algorithm implies a set of rules based on empirical evidence or data, but at the same time it suggests that the system is very complex – so complex that one can hardly understand its way of operating or anticipate its dynamics.
The question of whether artificial intelligence will become the next artistic medium was raised after the world’s oldest art auctioneer Christie’s sold the computer-generated painting The Portrait of Edmond de Belamy from La Famille de Belamy, 2018 for USD 432,500. The portrait is the work of the Obvious art collective, whose aim is to use art for the purpose of “explaining and democratising” artificial intelligence. The work has again raised those stereotypical and redundant questions dating from the time of the invention of photography and film. Can products created by using artificial intelligence algorithms still be considered art? Similar questions were asked by many critics and art lovers at the time of the emergence of modern art. The use of ‘non-artistic’ materials and objects, such as Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, was most often questioned as something that did not belong to the ‘world of art’. Here, the reaction of the German artist Mario Klingemann, who wonders why the members of the Obvious art collective missed the opportunity to “declare their work an AI-readymade, and thus bring us the first digital Duchamp” , seems quite appropriate. “. The question is no longer whether or not artificial intelligence will become the next artistic medium, but how to understand contemporary art that uses new, info, bio- or nano-technologies, continuing, in the spirit of the avant-garde, to erase all boundaries established by different dispositifs.
Maurizio Cattelan, L.O.V.E. Milano, 2010. Photo: Zeno Zotti
Boris Groys shares a similar approach, believing that the biggest change brought by conceptual art is that after conceptualism, art can no longer be “seen as the production and exhibition of individual objects” (Groys 2020: 127), including here also the readymades. With conceptual art, the focus shifts from individual objects to their relationships, which can be spatial and temporal, as well as logical or political. These relationships can be established between things, texts and photo-documents, including performances, happenings, films and video works within the same installation space. Therefore, Groys believes that conceptual art can basically be described as installation art.
By arranging images, texts and things, conceptual artists organised the installation space in a way analogous to ”the way words are organised into sentences to convey a meaning in spoken and written language.” (Grojs 2020: 128) The epochal achievement of conceptual art lies in the fact that it pointed to the synonymity or analogy between words and images, and between the order of words and the order of things, i.e. “between the grammar of language and the grammar of visual space”. At the beginning of the 20th century, the division between artists and observers began to collapse, so that, later on, with the advent of new technologies and the development of social networks (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) everyone was enabled to bring their photos, videos or texts into the worldwide culture, and in such a way that it is no longer possible to distinguish them from any post-conceptual work of art. According to Groys, there is almost no difference between the visual grammar of a website and the grammar of an installation space. Today, thanks to the Internet, conceptual art has “become a mass cultural practice”. (Grojs 2020: 133) This approach overlooks the fact that the conceptual installation loses its “excess meaning” as soon as language and grammar take its place, because the installation induces those Benjaminian constellations which bring heterogeneous entities into a new relationship by producing networked images.
Postconceptual as they are, networked images are neither a combination of past experiences and contemporaneity, as in Osborne, nor are they installations which, following the model of semiology, reduce unusual connections to the linearity of language, as in Groys. On the contrary, networked images take into account the future that is inevitably coming, such as a singularity of the superintelligent AI, and, along with it, the emergence of a completely new post-human era. It will no longer be the opinion that emerges together with the age of the world picture, but a new picture of diagrammatic reasoning that maps nonlinear and asynchronous events. It is to this extent that the art of networked images is a nonlinear conjoinment of human and non-human entities, with new diagrammatic images of worldviews as clusters of networks of heterogeneous events.
Art maps the singularities of events in various ways and, as Duchamp observed, it is not familiar with the ideology of progress, because it maps the networks of events by various means. If they fail to accept the logic of progress, such mappings presuppose new connections by establishing networked images that elude the hegemony of discursive linearity inherent in the artistic dispositif. This stems unequivocally from the works of many contemporary artists who point to toxic imprisonments, those micro-fascisms, which form constitutive moments of modern capitalism. We can detect these incarcerations by tracing back the works of the Chapman brothers (Jake & Dinos Chapman), who link Goya’s Disasters of War with Nazi concentration camps, those gruesome death machines, with possible bodily modifications where genitals are displaced and bodies involved in some sort of de Sadian genetic engineering. The line of horror they outline intersects with other lines that detect various forms of toxic confinements. In this way, Maurizio Cattelan’s Praying Hitler (Him, 2001), relatively small in size (101 × 43.1 × 63.5 cm), can be placed in various locations, from the Warsaw Ghetto, the interior of a cathedral, to Churchill’s birthplace or MoMA, in order to map potential hubs of micro-fascisms. This is further developed in Cattelan’s work Ave Maria (2007), where three uniformed hands ‘emerge’ from the gallery wall form a salute, as if to suggest that such a salutation can suddenly and quite unexpectedly occur in reality, coming from some virtual world (such as high art, business, politics, etc.). This saluto romano gesture historically represents a commitment to absolute power, from the Roman Empire, through fascist Italy to Hitler. Cattelan certainly had in mind David’s Oath of the Horatii, a neoclassical painting from 1784, which illustrates the legend of three brothers who promised to fight to the death for their country. This line is followed by Cattelan’s sculpture in front of the Milan Stock Exchange, the centre of financial power, entitled L.O.V.E. (short of ‘freedom’, ‘hatred’, ‘revenge’, ‘eternity’) from 2010, which shows the middle finger, only because the other four are broken. Were they not broken, we would again have the saluto romano, that is, the fascist salute, as a sign of obedience to the new global empire. With the broken fingers, Cattelan suggests that the only strategy of resistance to global power is a performative “Fuck off”, which, like a dictum, requires that whenever you pass in front of some centre of financial power, you raise your middle finger.
Banksy, Banality of the Banality of Evil, 2013.
The complex world, as a movement of unstoppable flux (images, signs and goods), requires a nomadic diversity of artistic approaches; it is no longer the “creation of representative production”, but an openness to different diagrammatic mappings. The complex world presupposes artists as nomadic singularities – above all, for not accepting to be enclosed within one medium, be it new or old; on the contrary, their choice of media is inherent in the questions they pose in order to make visible not only certain problems or phenomena, but also the boundaries the system constantly sets up in order to control the networks of events. It is all about mapping the variable and unstable flux, constantly decoded and overcoded by the system in the spirit of an unstoppable “revolutionisation of production”. It is to this extent that confinement within just one production mode would turn the contemporary artist into an anachronistic relic, whom the system retains as an avatar of freedom of imagination, speech, creativity, etc., but who has, in fact, been ‘gently’ disintegrated a long time ago. Within the artistic dispositif, the artist is, in Benjaminian words, inside the functioning of the aestheticisation of capital, although at any moment, he can imperceptibly slip into the micro-fascist aestheticisation of politics.
Antonioni, Michelangelo, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema, University of Chicago Press, 2007
Benjamin, Walter, Umjetničko djelo u doba svoje tehničke reproduktivnosti (Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, 1936), trans: Truda Stamać and Snješka Knežević, Estetički ogledi, Školska knjiga, Zagreb, 1986. p. 145
Grojs, Boris, U toku, Glasnik, Beograd 2020.
Hajdeger, Martin, „Doba slike sveta“, Šumski putevi, Plato, Beograd 2000.
Latur, Bruno, Istraživanje o modusima života, Jedna antropologija modernih, Fakultet za medije i komunikacije, Beograd 2015.
Malabu, Katrin, Šta da radimo s našim mozgom? FMK, Beograd 2017.
Osborne, Peter. Anywhere or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art. Verso Books, London, New York, 2013.
Osborne, Peter. The Postconceptual Condition. Verso Books, London, New York, 2018.