Tense Relations: human vs. machine art and aesthetics at BIAN

Over lunch two weeks ago a peer shared an anecdote about a mid-air collision that occurred a decade earlier. The reason for the collision: an air traffic controller (a human) told an airplane to descend, while a traffic collision avoidance system (a machine) told another to climb. Both the human and the machine arrived at the same conclusion as to where ‘their’ plane should be resulting in a collision. Rather than working in tandem, they worked independently and disaster ensued.

The third edition of International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN) recently launched in conjunction with Montreal’s ELEKTRA festival, currently in its seventeenth year. This year’s theme is AUTOMATA, “art made by machines for machines”. It questions what aesthetics could potentially appeal to a machine that would take over for humans in the next step of the evolutionary process. In the introduction to the show’s program, Alain Thibault, the artistic director of ELEKTRA and a co-curator of BIAN questions whether machines will have the “artistic sensitivity necessary for shared aesthetics.” AUTOMATA highlights this tension – how machines see in contrast to humans, how they live in harmony, or disharmony, with humans, and the kind of skill or expertise that robots can acquire to perform certain rote or expressive tasks.

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