What’s the relationship between art, science and faith? Obviously I’m not going to crack that nut in one blog post, but it’s been on my mind lately, as it often is.
As you may recall, I’ve been running a bit of code, a sort of AI that mashes together the text of the recent scientists’ ‘Warning to Humanity’ and Joanna Southcott’s prophesies. I’ve incorporated some of the phrases and words it’s generated, into hand-drawn pixel graphics. A lot of the things it comes out with sound like cryptic warnings emerging from a trance: “DEPLETICALE SCIENCESS!”, “From spical growite a lion” and of course the one I’ve chosen as the title of this project: “As bird I Stund them all!”
They sound like profound pronouncements, and really, who’s to say they’re not? People find meaning in tea leaves and strings of numbers, why not in the unpredictable outcomes of computer code?
I propose, then, a mysticism of AI. We’ve heard various stories of organised religions around AI; why not something more instinctive, using random materials to channel some truth? Whether the truth is coming from inside or outside hardly matters, if it works.
It would be easy to make something skeptical and sneery, but for me, the most interesting work doesn’t just deliver a finished opinion, but leaves space for others’ stories and perspectives to move in.
Faith is trust strong enough to get you over the gaps in reason, and we live in a world where tech and science are among the most powerful first movers. Questioning ‘progress’ isn’t an option, and uncertainties and obfuscation rain down onto us all from this faceless mega-power. Those who can weave any kind of narrative out of digital culture’s endless slew of self-hyping gibberish will inherit the earth – excuse the religious terminology, but if this isn’t about faith, I’m not sure what is. I mean, if Octavia was extreme to believe she was receiving messages about future, what’s Ray Kurzweil?!
Once again, I’ve had some interesting chats this week. Someone said to me today: “I want to do science communication through art. Art is a sophisticated form of communication; you can convey scientific ideas through emotional impact”.
This is an exciting idea because it suggests we might have got science wrong. Maybe understanding science is not just learning details and accepting explanations, (like learning the Bible). Maybe it’s also the non-verbal kind of understanding, the fundamental understanding of bearing witness (like seeing a vision). This isn’t to say science is speculative or subjective. It’s just acknowledging that experiences we don’t have language for are still legitimate.
It seems to me that the point of art is to package the vast explosion of existence into process-able chunks of human relevance that still glow with the original energy of their creation. Faith and science are both good natural world interpreters, but you have to see that glow, to experience something ineffable, before you make a choice about where it came from.
So, how can an artist-in-residence helpfully connect faith, science and tech? I had one idea. One of the tasks I set myself this weekwas to arrive at a decision around fabric. I’d been thinking about placemats and napkins – as there’s a dining room side to the Panaceans’ story – but I couldn’t think of a way to make the designs fit the format satisfyingly. Then I started to consider fabrics used in religious contexts: altar cloths; vestments; robes; those cross-stitched kneeling cushions... Going in that direction started to feel quite disrespectful quite quickly, but it helped me to realise something.
There’s an opportunity here to show how beliefs arise out of pre-verbal excitement, how easily they might occur to us – and even how that might not be so terrible. I talked about AI as a demonstrator in last week’s post. Art can always be useful in this role, too: it’s a way of safely rehearsing the things and feelings we can’t, or daren’t, bring about for real.
So, alongside the robotic crow livestreamed cuckoo clock, and using imagery from it, I’ve been thinking about creating some fabric imbued with the words of the AI. I think it could be a nice way to indicate how the worlds of science and faith come together, through art, to create a hypothetical ‘new belief system’.
To that end, I’m going to make something out of the AI’s words that’s designed for unconscious interpretation and contemplation. We need a bit of nonsense, a bit of scattered light in a sunset, stained glass window, or crystal ball. It allows our eyes and minds to unfocus so that we can understand without reading.
You’ll recall I’ve done some demo swatches on cheap cotton. Next I’m going to attempt to make something worthy of a worldview that might harmoniously bind science and faith – probably a satin stole. I’ve already started experimenting with metallic embroidery, and I really like the effect it has on the text… it glorifies it, a bit Tracey Emin meets Jenny Holzer meets, well, lolcats.
I’ve also been thinking about what sort of website should go around the jackdaw livestream, and other things, as you can see.
Stand by for more!
Still to go before Christmas: satin stole; more graphics for the ‘clock’; better crow (I have been supplied with a second Pixy!); more effective/interesting livestream (I’ve been sketching on the train but too shy to share).