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Indepth Arts News:

"Alien Intelligence"
2000-02-12 until 2000-05-28
Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art
Helsinki, , FI Finland

There is no doubt about the significance of the computer as a present day meta-technology, and as an economic, ideological, psychological as well as a social factor. The computer has come to dominate our mental landscapes in an amazingly encompassing way. Judging from most international events of contemporary art one might, however, get the impression that artists have shown little interest towards the computer, at least before the breakthrough of the Internet in the mid 1990's. Could it really be so that contemporary artists, while otherwise detecting cultural changes so sensitively, hadn't paid any attention to the computer, except quite recentlyNULL Or could this really be an illusion, caused by a distorted point of viewNULL As I began to investigate the issue I soon found out that the aesthetic possibilities of computers have been explored quite extensively, often more or less in pace with the development of the computer itself. This has, however, mostly taken place outside or in the margin of the established art institutions. The computer has encountered -- and still encounters -- resistance from the art world. There is a need to make the history of computer art, spanning nearly a century, visible. Unfortunately, The computer as experienced and interpreted by artists proved to be too massive as a theme for the present exhibition.

I gave up the idea of a historical retrospective and decided to concentrate on contemporary art. I found artists, who not only use the computer in interesting and creative ways, but also deal with its history and cultural interpretations by means of their artworks. A meta-art about the computer and its cultural role is emerging; the meanings it generates switch constantly between the past, the present and the future. Such art is far from being something exclusive and thinly theoretical, art of the engineer appealing only to the enthusiasts dedicated to the inner life of the computer. On the contrary - to enjoy these works, one does not have to know how to program, or even how to use the computer or the Internet. In fact, it is possible to deal with the cultural role of the computer even without a computer, by means of plastic lunchboxes or a floor mosaic!

The artists I have chosen deal with related questions. What kind of a role has the computer acquired in our experiencesNULL Are we still capable of leaving its company whenever we wish, or have we become captives of its magic spellNULL What kind of fantasies and notions do we project to the computer while using itNULL Do we consider the computer merely a cold piece of hardware, a tool, an extention of our hands and brainsNULL Or do we conceive it as a living creature or a partner, in some sense like usNULL Is it a lively, yet a passive digital mirrorNULL Could the computer be developing, on certain levels at least, into an autonomous entity, independent of our willNULL In other words, are we witnessing the formation of an alien intelligence - in some sense like us, in another completely different, alienNULL What would such an alien intelligence be like, and how would communicating with it affect our identities and ways of conceiving the worldNULL

Thus the guiding idea of the exhibition became the computer as the locus of a new kind of intelligence or consciousness - whether real, imaginary, pretended or metaphorical. I explored what are -- or rather, how we have imagined, imagine, and will imagine -- these strange creatures with whom we spend more and more of our time. The main role was of course reserved to the artworks, but to accompany them I decided to put together a media-archaeological gallery, consisting of authentic historical artifacts from the early 19th century until the late 20th, exhibited as found objects. The aim of this gallery is not to pre-empt the artworks of their potential meanings; rather, I wanted to create a polylogue between the achievements from different eras, between art and other domains of creativity and naturally between the exhibition itself and the visitors. The first generation that has grown up with personal computers and game consoles from its earliest childhood has already come of age. For this generation communicating with the computer is as self-evident as watching television for those born in the 1960's. There is another generation already growing up; for its members the idea of a world without the WorldWideWeb or a PlayStation would feel unreal. This situation is rapidly creating a new basis for the development of computer-based art, but also a need for the re-evaluation of what has been achieved so far. The computer is the most important media machine of the new Millenium; yet is roots lie deep in the soil of the century which has just ended. This is why computer art is such an appropriate choice for Kiasma to welcome the 21. century.

Erkki Huhtamo January 27, 2000

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