Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles
March 27, 2021 by appointment only
Written by Sydney Walters
Curated by Kenic McDowell and Paul Young, Thin as Thorns, in These Thoughts in Us: An Exhibition of Creative AI and Generative Art explores the collaborative capabilities between machines and humans. Most of the artists utilize machine learning in their practice to rethink the scope of creativity.
Honor Fraser kindly offers a guide to help explain the practices of each artist. This is a necessary addition because some of the technologies are covert and viewing the finished result does not testify to the machine making process. The tick, whine, and rumble of machines is the introductory sound of the exhibit. Memo Akten’s “Deep Meditations: A brief history of almost everything in 60” minutes plays in the entryway. Seven graduating screens display slowly shifting images that transform from nature photographs to amorphous forms resembling slides of muscular tissue. In this piece, Akten pulls back the algorithmic brain inside of Flickr. By intentionally plucking images tagged with “God,“ “nature,” and other spiritual words, he is able to stream a video of a virtual deity.
There are some familiar sights in the first room of the gallery. Abstract paintings, pen drawings. and sculptures are spread around the room, albeit crafted with unusual methods. In the corner is an apparatus that defies the emblematic gallery expectation. On a small desk, a mechanical arm holding a Bic pen draws on a small piece of paper held down my magnets. A small camera swivels between watching pen and pointing at a still life of a skull, pillow, and shell lit by a floor lamp. A laptop on the floor is connected to the drawing device. This is Parick Tresset’s “Human Study #2, La toute petite Vanité au coquillage”. Tresset is known for his installations featuring robotics and this piece is not to be missed.
On the back wall is a projection of Sougwen Chung’s “Flora Rearing Architectural Network (F.R.A.N.)” A former researcher at MIT, a video shows Chung painting alongside a mechanical arm. Mimicking her style, the two work harmoniously. Leafy swirls of color and leaves pulse in the background. By feeding the machine sketches of her work, Chung created a peaceful symbiosis between automation and anatomy.
The second room is brighter, illuminating more works on canvas and paper. In the middle is a long white display case of poet and programmer Allison Parrish’s works on paper. One of her pamphlets reads: “Why is a shirt found near a closet?” Why must a worth be a quality? Is a worthless a quality as well?” Parrish has designed a machine learning program that produces poems. A four minute video of sprialiting words and letters demonstrate the subtle shifts of spelling that mutate and retain their legibility while losing their proper logography.
Engulfing the entire exhibit are the ominous sounds of Casey Reas and Jan St. Werner’s video playing behind a black curtain. It is unfortunate the exhibit could not be soundproofed because the echos are distracting and overbearing. On the one hand, the sound catapults you into a synthetic journey and communicates you that you are in a distinctive, perhaps unnerving place. On the other hand, the sounds overpowers the exhibition and impedes the ability to focus on other artists.
Regardless, Thin as Thorns is not about fear of technology or proclaiming technology is the answer to all of our adversity. It raises interesting perspectives on craftsmanship, collaboration and how mechanization can strengthen and reinforce an artist’s practice.
Honor Fraser Gallery
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 90034