UNU have just published an interview with me about my recent Nexus experiments in Collective Intelligence Art. They asked some good questions and really wanted to understand the work. I'm particularly pleased that they included a video in the article because that is the closest thing to participating in a CI-Art event. Apparently their newsletter and blog is read by thousands of people, so I look forward to participants joining from around the world.
Visitors to the Nexus exhibition at the Oxford Riverside Gallery were able to watch videos of the CI-Art events that produced the paintings on show. They simply scanned the QR codes which took them to the exhibition page.
The 'Nexus' exhibition opened on Friday at the Oxford Riverside Gallery. Charlotte, Joanna, and Maria pose for the camera in front of some of the prints from CI-Art events they participated in over the last few months. Thanks to everyone that came to the opening evening. Also, a big thanks to those that stayed and participated in a CI-Art event. Video coming soon.
We've just finished a large Nexus painting using the UNU decision making platform and 20+ anonymous participants that came on-line for just 30 minutes! Usually these experiments take over an hour with experienced participants. This was a group that I had never met, and and who were from another country. They had never participated in one of these events before, and only had 30 minutes to work (and they even gave the piece a title!) Such a large group working quickly really tested the Internet connections, but everyone was so understanding, and the spirit was very good. This kind of event really gives you hope for the future. Watch this space for video soon. A big thank you to everyone that participated.
I've just made a video introduction to Collective Intelligence Art, and the Nexus experiments:
TRANSCRIPT OF THE COMMENTARY:
In this video you see time-lapse footage of the Nexus experiments in Collective Intelligence Art created online by me, Mathew Aldred, with the participation of people from around the world.
At various points in the making, you will see the operation of Dr Louis Rosenberg's UNU collective intelligence decision making platform, an essential part of this research.
Participants in the Nexus experiments are given a simple set of instructions, and the work is performed through a series of steps primarily using Google Apps, and UNU.
Collective Intelligence Art is produced when a collective intelligence emerges from a group focused on the creation of an art object. This unique event, this aesthetic moment, can be thought of, in terms of relational aesthetics, as the art itself . The creation of an art object mediates this unique set of relations, enabling the emergence of the artificial intelligence. In the case of these Nexus experiments, that art object is a digital painting, which may later manifest itself in more physical forms.
The completed art object is best thought of as an artefact of the event. It comes to symbolise the event. In the Nexus experiments, I explore both this relational aesthetic, and the visual aesthetic of the art object itself. In terms of relational aesthetics, I am interested in the interactions of the individual agents within the AI, which I explore through the use of video and animation; but I am also interested in the ideas of social interstice and micro-utopia - that is to say the proposition suggested by the event that people of all ages, gender, and culture can come together online to create a collective intelligence capable of solving problems in unique ways.
The unique visual aesthetic of the art objects themselves, with their references to neo-plasticism, and hard-edge painting, can be seen as a minimalist celebration of colour - or chromophilia, and an exploration of geometrical abstraction. However, this collective intelligence art is not simply a purely intellectual product. It shares common ground with Mondrian's approach. He wrote:
"Intuition enlightens and so links up with pure thought. They together become an intelligence which is not simply of the brain, which does not calculate, but which feels and thinks. Which is creative both in art and in life. From this intelligence there must arise non-figurative art in which instinct no longer plays a dominating part"
Observing the action of the collective intelligence reveals the operation of dynamic equilibrium - 'a dynamic rhythm of determinate mutual relations which excludes the formation of any particular form' (Mondrian).
With the Nexus experiments I have developed an approach based upon a quasi-relational dialectic - not one based on verbal dialogue but a visual dialogue. Actual conversation between the participants is replaced instead with digital mark making - the use of line and colour, repetition and rhythm, tension and equilibrium, asymmetry and balance, addition and negation and so on; these form the words and grammar of the visual dialogue. The overall forms are metaphors from science and nature - cells and networks, the connectome and consciousness - expressed as simple, fundamental geometries.
In collective intelligence art, the making, the execution, is guided by intuition to bring 'subjective and objective factors into mutual balance' (Mondrian). It is the sum of emotions aroused by pure visual means.
There is mediation and negotiation through action within the Nexus paintings and the formalized collective intelligence decision making processes using UNU - the social platform for harnessing the Collective Intelligence of online groups.
Put another way, a visual consensus is achieved through both the operations of the participants within the work, and the decision making processes that constitute the collective intelligence - mediated by sophisticated voting systems - similar to those used when honey bees try to solve complex problems. The CI-Art event becomes as if an extended 'visual aesthetic moment' - that is to say, brief incidents that bring participants together through the use of a visual dialogue.
Dialectical aesthetics proposes that success in human relationships comes from 'resisting the monologue', and 'resisting efforts to try and eliminate the tensionality and eliminate the interplay' (Baxter). It is through rituals that the tensions are mediated and the relationships celebrated; these rituals are 'aesthetic moments' . And so with the Nexus experiments - simple instructions are given to the participants that will inevitably produce a creative tension, an interplay, a complex set of relationships that necessarily include conflict; but the making process itself becomes the ritual, the 'aesthetic moment'. This is very similar to ideas from the science of collective intelligence, where conflict within the group is a necessary starting point - but ultimately consensus is achieved.
It has been observed that 'the reigning ideology would have the artist be a loner - it exalts the solitude of the creative individual and mocks community' (Bourriaud). The Nexus experiments challenge this ideology, and show that creativity and originality can come from the collective intelligence, from new forms of community.
The Nexus paintings render concrete the social work of the collective intelligence, and regulate the inter-human encounters of the participants. The creative act of the collective intelligence is first and foremost a materialism of encounter - it is not art as commodity.
Collective intelligence art is a social interstice. That is, a place to learn to inhabit the world in a better way – pooling our intellectual resources, becoming as one, whilst simultaneously undermining the ideology of the supremacy of the individual, and in particular the notion of artist as solitary, loner, genius. Collective intelligence art is 'a micro-utopia of inter-subjectivity' (Bourriaud).
Please participate in the Nexus experiments and experience the creative action of a collective intelligence. These events may change your perceptions of art, and even the possibilities for future social encounters.
Why do collective intelligence art? Why do any art? The answer to that question will depend on the artist and their practice, and ultimately their conception of what art is - the question of art. And so, naturally, the answer will be complicated, if possible at all. When I reflect on my practice, the primary motivation comes from a pure impulse to make art, of whatever kind, but particularly visual. This I believe is closely related to my desire to make sense of the world. But there are other reasons too, some probably psychological and beyond my understanding, and some which I will try to explore a little more here.
'Art for art's sake' is a dangerous cliché. Whilst I understand the desire, and necessity, to make a distinction between 'fine art' and other more obviously functional uses of drawing, painting, photography and so on, this cliché is read by many to mean that art can exist somehow outside of the situation in which it is created, or viewed. It is to believe that somehow it exists in a little world all of its own, a sacred bubble, untouched by the vulgarity of the everyday. This is to ignore the fact that it is stimulated by, and in return stimulates the world in which it exists. The best art feeds off such stimulus, and feeds in return. It may not directly change anything in the world, but it fails if it doesn't change our perceptions of the world in some way.
Can collective intelligence art change our perception of the world? I believe the very fact that it now exists changes our perception of the world, just as Duchamp's 'Fountain' changed our perception of what art is. The artifact that exists after a collective intelligence art event is testimony to the possibilities of collective intelligence and art to create new relationships. The collective intelligence art making bears witness to the transformative powers of collective intelligence, and art. Whilst the visual 'product' of this art stands as a symbol of the potential of collective intelligence art, and thus changes the viewers perception of the world, the most transformative aspects of this art lies within the making itself. Through participation in the emergence of a collective intelligence focused on the making, participants experience the unique sensation of the collective intelligence, and begin to feel its force for change, for transformation of the world in which we live.
So, how do we understand this work in terms of aesthetics? What is the approach we should take in its evaluation. Visual aesthetics clearly play a role, both for the artist, the viewer and the participants. First of all, as a visual artist I find visual metaphors for the work I create, the subjects and processes. For example, the bee hive, swarming, neural networks, cells, and so on. These metaphors naturally contribute to the visual elements and principles applied in the work I envisage. Observations from the events themselves also suggest new areas of visual exploration. For example, colour became a concern for me when I saw the conflict, the negotiations, the emotions around its use in my 'experiments'. Next, in my role as artist-director, my consideration is for creating a situation in which the collective intelligence can emerge around the making. This involves the process and simple instructions that naturally involve form of some sort - elementary structures or rules of abstraction. This too contributes to the visual aesthetic. And, finally, the viewer is initially attracted to the work because of its interesting visual appeal, but hopefully will then question the ideas from which it arose. But this visual approach is complementary to, or works in symbiosis with, a relational aesthetics. Crucially, this work is participatory, oriented to the emergence of a collective intelligence around the making. The works of collective intelligence art are perhaps best judged by the quality of this participatory experience. How is the quality of this experience to be evaluated? To outside observers of a collective intelligence art event, it is clear that there is engagement, and focus - a concentration that reveals the intensity of the experience. Most importantly, we need to consider the subjective experience of the participants. This can only be done by reflection by the participants, followed by conversation or written response, to reveal how perceptions of the world have changed as a result of the process. I might hope that the work will have created some form of 'social interstice' - new relationships based on the idea of collective intelligence, between friends and strangers. Or, that the work will have suggested 'micro-utopias' perhaps along the lines of art's power to bring people together, or the potential of collective intelligence to solve problems and so on. Ultimately, I leave this evaluation to the viewer, and most importantly the participant.
Mathew Aldred is a Nova Scotia based artist whose work, which is realized in participatory art, digital imaging, drawing, painting, and sculpture, explores consciousness and networks through a symbiosis of art and science. Current projects concern the notion of collective intelligence and its relationship to the fine art process.