Even if Blade Runner’s 2019 and of all the cyberpunk cinematographic imaginary, doesn’t seem so close, the revolution of the new millennium is however represented by the artificial intelligence. We still don’t have flying cars and skateboards in the streets, motorcycles racing, but the most important entrepreneurial realities on the planet have been engaged in the development of the sector for some time now. From the mechanisms’ studies and techniques of voice recognition to algorithms for image recognition.
Machines can learn, like the Netflix interface you use every day, like Facebook. Machine learning is the category of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. “Patterns” are extracted and used to make predictions.
And Machine Learning is also the name of the second part of Hype Cycle, a series of short films that explore the interaction between man and machine from new technologies.
Set in a dance studio, the three shorts show a dancer who teaches robots Hizzy, Polly and Harmony how to move. As the skills of robots develop from shaky to composed mimicry, a physical dialogue emerges between man and machine: mimicking, balancing, challenging, competing, overtaking.
A series of questions immediately arise from this: can robots keep up with the dancer? Could a robot ever perform just for pleasure? Giving a machine a name and a capacity, does it correspond to giving it a soul? Androids dream electric sheep?
One only has to listen to the conversations that arise inside Cecilie Mengel‘s head to imagine how they might be represented photographically. The Danish artist and now resident in New York makes shots that are inner dialogues born from the stimuli she herself receives from her surroundings and the people with whom she experiences very everyday moments. The result is an artistic production that is marked by a strong variety in subjects and settings, as well as in style, sometimes documentary, other times closer to a certain posed and theatrical photography. They range from shots stolen in the home during a conversation to details of a can of Heinz sauce found in the glove compartment of a cab, all reconstructing a common, everyday story. Cecilie Mengel’s technique also reflects this same idea of variety. In fact, the artist combines digital and analog photography, in other cases post production adds graphic marks to the images. The lights are sometimes natural other times forcedly created with flash, creating a sense of the whole that is perhaps less homogeneous but rich in personal suggestions and recounts.
Cecilie Mengel was recently a guest artist in the group exhibition ImageNation in New York, March 10-12, 2023 curated by Martin Vegas.
A delicate, almost transparent and imperceptible veil floats before our eyes and filters reality, which becomes subjective and never absolute. The philosopher Schopenhauer called it “the veil of Maya,” that impediment that prohibits man from experiencing reality, that deludes us into thinking we know Truth. Photographer Diego Dominici places it between the viewer and his subjects, transforming it into the actual protagonist of the Atman and Red Cloudsseries. The figures – men and women – are trapped in the veil, struggling with it trying to escape, clinging tightly to it, trying to penetrate it; in other cases, instead, they welcome it, lying down and conforming to its persuading softness. The viewer is only allowed to catch a glimpse of the shapes of their naked bodies and their bones imprinted on the surface, in a dance of light and shadow that convey sensuality and loneliness at the same time.
Diego Dominici attempts to break the two-dimensionality of photography, creating two planes of depth: the one dictated by the fabric and its ripples and the one in which the subject is placed. The viewer’s eye is led to move continuously over the surface, trying to overcome it and thus reach the subject and its forms therefore, in other words, the Truth. The analogy with human psychology is stated by the photographer who wants to “rip apart two-dimensionality to investigate the tangles of human interiority.” As in his shots, human beings can choose to be lulled by the veil of illusion, be caressed by a fictitious reality and stand firm on their point of view, or they can choose to break it, thus reaching the other side and look at reality from another perspective. The fabric, or rather the veil, becomes the emblem of relational barriers, those obstacles that come between us and others, which prevent us from understanding the motives of others and create unbridgeable distances. At the same time, the veil becomes part of us, a kind of wrapping that envelops and shapes us, preventing us from going beyond it. But, as Schopenhauer said, the veil of Maya must be torn down, ripped open like a Fountain’s canvas, human must shed the envelope like a snake changing its skin, in order to open up to the other. After all, what is love if not “the cancellation of the ego, the collapse of all conscious discrimination and the renunciation of all methodical choice?” said Salvador Dali in My Secret Life. Diego Dominici’s works thus invite deep intimate reflection but, thanks to his carefully curated aesthetics, they can also simply satisfy the eye and appear as sensual works, in which the veil becomes a prelude to intimate pleasure.
From an Instagram reel of Canadian photographerSean Mundy, one can sense the complexity of his photographic works. His are not just shots but rather it can be said that his works are the result of great imagination conveyed by photography, technical skills of digital post production, and detailed scenic construction. Indeed, in the reel, the photographer shows the process of making the work Summoning, which depicts a series of bodies plummeting from an opening in the ceiling. The Magritte-esque “flying” characters are actually the same person: the photographer takes multiple self-shots as he throws himself onto a mattress, simulating the fall, and then digitally processes them to create the composition. The result is a striking, conceptual work in which visual harmony accentuates and conveys social messages, with a particular focus on the dynamics of collective behavior.
Recurring in Sean Mundy’s works is the figure of a hooded man whose face is not visible. The total black clothing he wears makes him a mysterious, eerie, and shadowy figure, as if he were a soulless shadow. Very often the figure in black appears repeatedly in the same work, creating a united group resembling a cult, intent on actions that are at times macabre. In some works the group is set in opposition to an individual, as in the 2014 work Elude, in which figures in black chase a fleeing man, who differs in his clothing as an ordinary man in jeans and a t-shirt. In other works, however, ritual behaviors are performed, an example being the work Idolatry, which shows the group kneeling in front of a huge black cube suspended in the air. This series of works is a clear reference to social behaviors in which the individual does not possess his or her own personal identity but rather a collective identity emerges that pushes the individual to conform to the mass, both ideologically and aesthetically. In other series the protagonist, alone or in a group, is placed in relation to elements that dominate the composition such as fire in the Barriers series, destroyed cityscapes in RUIN, and red tarps in Tethered, Sean Mundy’s most recent series. The intent always remains to communicate current issues, especially related to externally induced human psychological mechanisms but with obvious intimate repercussions.
On the International Day Against Racism, Dialogica aims to investigate the ability of images to contribute, through an action of intercultural visual literacy, to the elimination of preconceptions related to the phenomena of migration or cultural diversity. Since Gordon Parks began telling the poverty , social injustice and marginalization experienced by African Americans in the United States with dignity and sensitivity, a new narrative model has joined the assault photojournalism, contributing to outline a new iconography capable of restoring a de-colonized, more realistic and less stereotyped vision of the figure of the migrant or, more generally, of the black communities.
To a merely documentary approach, capable of producing hundreds of images that run the risk of feeding clichés and cheesy stereotypes, the new generations of authors working with images they prefer an investigation that focuses more on the place where they live through the use of more sophisticated languages or a insight on the social implications of the migration phenomenon.
The work “Nowhere Near” by the author Alisa Martynova focuses precisely on the need to return a peculiar identity to the erroneously unified vision of the migrant. Alisa uses metaphors and similarities to tell the stories of young migrants, interviewed in Italy (and beyond) for over three years. The groups of migrants, protagonists of exhausting journeys, are metaphorically compared to constellations of hypervelocity stars, that’s to say celestial bodies trapped on the edge of black holes, a kind of limbo from which they can escape only thanks to a clash between two black holes: an exceptional event that projects the stars away from a precarious balance to reach unknown destinations.
Thus, the Dream of a better life, trying to achieve an Eldorado imagined for a long time, but never really displayed, is poetically rendered through night shots in which light reveals for a few seconds what is hidden, showing fabrics and clothes iconographically linked to Afro/Oriental culture, but captured in other places, where the sea often bravely crossed to reach a better life is often present, or the forest/forest to hide in to become ghosts in a foreign land.
A visual short circuit that reaffirms the presence of another culture in an unknown territory, and that moves a reflection on the inner world of migrants with the intention of arousing reactions in those who look and to emphasize the individuality and peculiarity of each portrayed subject, bearer of experiences and unique and unrepeatable stories.
The project “Black skin white algorithms” by the Angolan author Alice Marcelino focuses on the danger of the black communities’ cultural flattening. Alice, whose work explores the dimension of belonging starting from the concepts of culture, tradition, migration and identity, she denounces the anomalies present in facial detection technologies when they interact with subjects with dark skin. Being mainly programmed by Western Man to detect light skin, these technologies do not equally accurately identify darker skin tones, returning summary or approximate views of the recognized subjects.
The inferiority of the black population is therefore perpetrated not only in such unconscious bias, but it’s also fueled by technologies, programmed by white Westerners, resulting in the provision of potential false statements.
To underline this leveling, Alice replaces the subject’s mug shots with the ASCII code one (a standard character set included by all computers) – which reduces their identity to a binary result, devoid of meaning and complexity: the reading of the face is thus totally canceled and made unreadable by both man and facial recognition system.