University of Sussex
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Art as 'artificial stupidity'

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posted on 2023-06-21, 06:02 authored by Micheal O'ConnellMicheal O'Connell
Through treatment of selected interventions and artworks, the thesis investigates relationships between cybernetics, conceptions of intelligence and artistic practice. The works in question are primarily the artist’s own, documented in the thesis and a separate portfolio. Specifically, intelligence’s downside, the controversial notion of stupidity, has been reappropriated as a means of considering the way artists intervene and how art, as a system, functions. The term ‘artificial stupidity’ was invented in reaction to a particular construal of what Artificial Intelligence (AI) meant. The notion has been employed since, and the thesis discusses interpretations and uses of it. One meaning relates to an ability to become, or make oneself, ‘stupid’ in order to facilitate discovery. In the conclusions, the arguments are extended to ‘art as a social system’ (Niklas Luhmann), suggesting that it survives and reproduces through a wily kind of pretend idiocy combined with occasional acts of generosity to other systems. The research methodology is threefold. Firstly, unapologetically playful approaches, characteristic of the artistic process, were utilised to generate ideas. Thus, art becomes primary research; an equivalent to experimentation. Secondly conventional secondary research; the study of texts; was conducted alongside artistic production. Thirdly the works themselves are treated as raw materials to be discussed and written about as a means of developing arguments. Work was selected on the basis of the weight it carries within the author’s practice (in terms of time, effort and resources devoted) and because of its relevance to the thesis themes i.e. contemporary and post-conceptual art, the science of feedback loops and critiquing intelligence and AI. The second chapter divides interventions and outputs into three categories. Firstly, the short looping films termed ‘simupoems’, which have been a consistent feature of the practice, are given attention. Then live art, in which a professional clown was often employed, is considered. Lastly a series of interactions with the everyday technological landscape is discussed. One implication, in mapping out this trajectory, is that the clown’s skills have been appropriated. ‘Artificial stupidity’ permits parking contravention images to be mistaken for art photography, for beauty to be found in courier company point-of-delivery signatures and for the use of supermarket self-checkout machines, but to buy nothing. The nature of the writing in chapter 2 and appendix A (which was a precursor for the approach) is discursive. Works are reviewed and speculations made about the relationship with key themes. The activities of artists like Glenn Lygon, Sophie Calle, Samuel Beckett are drawn upon as well as contemporary groupings Common Culture (David Campbell and Mark Durden) and Hunt and Darton (Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton). Chapter 3 includes a more structured breakdown and taxonomy of methods. Art theories of relevance including the ideas of Niklas Luhmann already mentioned, John Roberts, Avital Ronell, Mikhail Bakhtin, Andrew Pickering and Claire Bishop are called upon throughout the thesis. Interrogation of the work raises certain ethical or political questions. If there are good reasons for the unacceptability of ‘stupid’ when applied to other human beings, might it be reasonable to be disparaging about the apparent intellectual capacities of technologies, processes and systems? The period of PhD research provided an opportunity for the relationship between the artist’s activities and the techo-industrial landscape to be articulated. The body of work and thesis constitutes a contribution to knowledge on two key fronts. Firstly, the art works themselves, though precedents exist, are original and have been endorsed as such by a wider community. Secondly the link between systems and engineering concepts, and performance-oriented artistic practice is an unusual one, and, as a result, it has been possible to draw conclusions which are pertinent to technological spheres, computational capitalism and systems thinking, as well as art.


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  • eng


University of Sussex

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