The Earth Is Flat, James Georgopoulos’ solo exhibition at the MAMA gallery. Buoyed by four new video sculptures that the artist created out of found, fabricated, and handmade materials, The Earth Is Flat is an interrogation of artificial intelligence (AI) and the values and hazards implicit to autonomous computing. The artist‘s four sculptures themselves are superficially interconnected to insinuate that technology has inculcated itself as an indissoluble event in human history.
The title of the exhibition emanates from the certainty that we are at a precipice, akin to the era when a flat world was the predominant theory about the form of the Earth. Theorists and technologists—Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking among them—believe that we are presumably in a technological stone age, and that AI will continue to develop rapidly and exponentially in spite of warnings and omens. The war-ready double-jointed Cheetah robots at Boston Dynamics; the machines will eventually turn on us, as the essential foundation of countless films—The Matrix, Terminator, Ex Machina—about AI; Hawking himself posits AI’s could wipe us all out: “Spelling the end of the human race.”
Continuing in the lineage of video-sculptural objects produced by Nam June Paik, Georgopoulos has created “Autonomous X12” from a chassis built exclusively by robots for the Nissan Motorsports race team. “Autonomous X12” is the third iteration of Georgopoulos’ series of automotive pieces embedded with or accompanied by film, each of which replicate the driving experience in real time. This dynamic piece takes the series a step further by kitting out the machine with a video that resembles the self-driving experience in Google’s Project X vehicle. The film, a voyage down Sunset Boulevard from the East Side of Los Angeles to Santa Monica on the West, can be taken as a mundane passage the likes of which your car might take without you when the technology is capable of self-driving programmable errands.
In “Weight Watcher,” Georgopoulos has retrofitted a vintage 1940s refrigerator with a closed circuit video system, coldly depositing the viewer onto a screen implanted inside the appliance. The “vintage sci-fi” console points to the development of “the internet of things,” wherein computers are constantly storing and compiling information about us—in order to better understand and function as service devices.
“Luddite” takes the form of an assembly line robot, but a screen bearing a single, watchful eye, gives it an air of a Big Brother-type information-gathering device. And finally, “Zeus,” a replication of a quantum computer (e.g. a D-Wave Systems computer) displays two video works; on each screen thousands of images flash dramatically interlaced within spooling computer code. The monolithic sculpture evokes Deep Blue, the IBM chess computer that beat Garry Kasparov in a 1996 match. Another work in the show, “Alpha,” references Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo computer, which handily beat Go game champion Lee Sedol at the complex strategy game.
In addition, two new series of works accompany the sculptures. In “Organ Donor” Georgopoulos appropriates discarded screens used to print circuit boards, and crafts LED-lit wall-hung multi-media pieces from them, further deconstructing technology down to its elemental form. With “Human Behavior” Georgopoulos presents a series of voyeuristic photographs of women taken with a telephoto lens from above the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood in what appears to be the 1960s. Georgopoulos uses computer tape to stencil gold paint onto the found photographs, which he has hand-tinted. The photographer and Georgopoulos are together in a constant state of information building to different ends.
At the crux of the exhibition is this learning process—the infinite potential of AI to log data and synthesize understanding. Fixed on the inextricability of vulnerability from human progress, Georgopoulos’ sculptures expose a profound fragility in our impending and symbolic identity, one tangled with technology. Georgopoulos’ objects exist at the perceived liminal space between past and future, awash in a mysterious source of intelligence--the amount a computer can learn is an unknowable quantity. And if in his practice some sort of technological narrative looms, Georgopoulos’ sculptures find a resting point in a sociological vision of the future—the inducement of feelings, both anxious and optimistic, arises before any sort of conclusion.