This text was published in Versorgerin # 115.
„THE ARTIST“ and „THE ROBOT“
Oliver Schürer, Christoph Hubatschke and Chris Müller about their STWST48x3 project „The Robot is present“ – and the asynchronous dialogue about the experience of presence.
„The reproduced artwork increasingly becomes the reproduction of an artwork designed to be reproduced.“ (Benjamin, Kunstwerkaufsatz)
The project The Robot is present confronts the audience with two totally different kinds of robots, and with different kinds of artificial intelligence. With this investigation the project want to open up a discussion of two things: The reproductiveness of performance not as a copy but as difference and repetition. The production of presence, not of livliness but as a meta level of embodiment.
We are confronted with a multitude of non-human entities and objects on a daily basis. In between permanent interaction and nearly unnoticed processes in the background we hardly notice the presence of these objects and entities. Presence is something that is commonly denoted only to humans.
In direct interactions, or interactions via the media, you often have a „noticeable presence“, that can be emotionally experienced and perceived. Animals too can radiate presence, or an antiquarian object, through the traces of former usage. But what is present in a counterpart, be it a human, an animal or an object? Humanoid robots and artificial intelligence are among the most vividly discussed new technologies, constructed and imagined for direct interaction, communication. Individualised, adjusted to its counterpart, these technologies are the most appropriate to make presence tangible, but can an artificial intelligence have a presence at all?
The performance „The Robot is present“ questions not only the materially perceivable presence of technological entities, but also the (im)possibility to perceive artificial intelligence (AI). And what does presence mean at all, and who or what can have or perceive presence? Is the mere presence of the artist sufficient to have presence as an artist, is the presence of the robot sufficient to be perceived as presence? The term presence is rooted in the latin word „praesentia“. As it is indicated etymologically, presence relates to the present, the here and now, to that which is revealed in this moment, a spatial and temporal immediacy. As a theoretical concept presence has been introduced differently into philosophy. Augustine describes presence in a letter with the title „De praesentia Die“ a specific form of presence, the presence of God, a presence that is thought neither as corporeal or material nor temporal, an omnipresence that is present in each moment, a presence that is ingrained in Christian thought and cannot be represented. Etymologically understood also as „prae sensu“, i.e. something that is „before“ sense, presence also was understood in the history of European philosophy as something that is revealed before cognition. French philosopher Jacques Derrida, in Grammatology, layed out a critique against the „metaphysics of presence“, as he denotes a large part of the history of European philosophy. The goal is creating myteriousness and investigate „what alledgedly is to be understood under the term of proximity, of immediacy and of presence (the near, the authentic and the pre- in presence)“. In Derrida´s deconstruction of the romantisation of presence any notion of immediacy is always mediated, represented, and the difference is not situated betwenn presence and absence, „but rather between two forms of the re-turn or re-stitution of the present: re-tention and re-presentation.“
Performances often try to construct a direct presence. As immdiacy and as a happening it can only be performed once in a certain way so as that each repetition comes up with something new, and the concept of presence becomes almost fetishised. Presence is, according to Derrida, always represented, always more than something that is just present or immediate (restrained).
The Robot is present,
transforms the legendary MOMA performance The Artist is Present by Maria Abramovic. Human presence is investigated in contrast to other presences. Visitors observe the potential AI as a humanoid robot. As they look at the cute, man-made machine, they are confronted with a mirror that reflects questions: Does the presence of AI, in contrast to the presence of the humanoid become perceivable? What is nonhuman, non-animal, non-vegetable presence? Can presence only immediately be experienced, or can it be technologically produced? If the production does not simulate a living being, what does become present? Can an automatisation of intelligent behaviour actually evoke emotions? Are emotions towards a non-living entity distinguished from emotions towards living entities? What share of the emotion do I have, and what share is that of the counterpart?
Abramovic calls for the reproduceability of performance art pieces. Which is a radical break with one of the most important foundations of Performance Art: The temporary and ephemeral, that which can be experienced only in the present moment gets eliminated. Via the abolishment of one of its most radical approaches Performance Art becomes established as high culture. What remains is that the material to this form of art is to be found in the human body, in its sentience and appearance. In this dislocation into high culture moments of presentist actualisation are idealised into an established form of historicity. Abramovic elevates Performance Art to a form of art that is both theater and fine art; to an embodiment of established images of performances. Of images that have been more important for the mediation and accessability to discourse than the act of performance itself. That provokes an investigation of presence. The Artist is Present was performed in a temple of high culture, a white cube. The MOMA in New York is a symbol for global high culture and supreme art. Abramovic in a gorgeous velvet dress at a table in the foyer with only one visitor, everything white in white, everything evenly illuminated, everything alludes to purity, is abstraction and the presentation of a personality, everything is focused loop-like on The Artist. The Robot is present takes place in the Ready Made of a work shop, a grey box. The perfect shiny shell of the humanoid robot produced via mass production, in an unevenly distributed light you can see the traces of human effort. The long endurance of the performer is contrasted to the upkeep of a humanoid robot. This reproduction of the performance with dissimilar, even a bit corrupted means, breaks up once more with the tradition of performance as an art form and allows for the investigation of the embodiment of man, as a technological reproducability of presence.
Multiple robotic presence(s),
relate to a significant aspect of technological reproducability, that a mass reproducability. The Artist speaks in the singular. The robot-installation bAm multiplies the singular and explores the possibilities of the plural. Does the intensity of a singular presence multiply as entities are multiplied? Does a swarm completely dissolve a singular presence?
Presence is dependend on perception. Diverse self-similar objects appear as a group because of identical behaviour. Also the scales of perception play an important role concerning the effects of presence. In an ant colony we see the individual ants, yet do we perceive the ant colony as a mass of individuals? The human perception oscillated between animal and swarm. We understand the colony as something that belongs together, as an organism that shows an autonomous presence as a swarm. Whether a single ant acts benevolently or not, cannot be examined from a human viewpoint, yet if the entire colony acts benevolently or in a damaging way can be perceived. We attribute single actors of a colony less capacity for action than an entire group that can devastate entire harvests. In the discussion of alleged or actual crowd wisdom you often have concepts like collective intelligence or swarm intelligence. Whereas collective intelligence means a conscious collection of information, swarm intelligence means an intelligence in which the individual actor is not aware of his contribution to the wisdom of the crowd. What does this mean concerning the subject of presence?
bAm is an aggregation of autonomous robots that reflect such questions. They have the capability to learn. Similar to an ant colony a single bAm has little effect, yet when acting together whole new qualities emerge. According to swarm intelligence that organise autonomously and develop higher cognitive abilities as a team. Each single bAm becomes a part of an „organism“ that perceives his surroundings and reacts to it. Together they produce interactive and adaptive spatial sculptures. Hierarchy, organisation and typology become decentralised. The geometry of this architecture is not pre-defined or programmed but emerges out of itself and controls itself and reacts flexibly to altered states. Via smartphone, tablet or computer the bAm-swarm can also be governed by humans. Adaptive, self-organising or adaptive architecture emerges as swarm and collective intelligence interact. What kind of presence develops in the mutual exchange of collective, organic intelligence and artificial swarm intelligence?
Presence does not have its effect in the present, does not demand an act of observation, but rather of introspection. Since without any abstract potentiality it is sensually-involved impression. Notions that are taken for granted for the knowledge and assessment of contemporary technology, like intelligence and consciousness, are investigated concerning their antropomorphisms involved. A point of reference at the horizon of this research is the development of adequate denotations of the phenomena that enlarge the narrow point of view of an antropomorphous interpretation of reality. Another point of reference is the artificiality of presence in an age of its technological reproducability. The performance only allows one conclusion: Of course no AI is present in robots – or is it?