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Bio-automation / Techno-automation / AI-automation
Automation in the era of Metamodernism
Concept by Atanas Totlyakov
Exhibition at the “Rafael Mihaylov” Exhibition Halls, Veliko Tarnovo
Exhibition opening: April 11, 2024
Curator:
Atanas Totlyakov
Participants:
Atanas Totlyakov, Georgi Rachkov, Darina Peeva, Denitsa Milusheva, Ekaterina Ivanova, Mladen Mladenov, Milen Alagenski, Momchil Enchev, Nurkan Nuf, Stefan Vasilev, Todor Lambov, Yanitsa Fendulova
The exhibition “Bio-automation / techno-automation / AI-automation” is part of the parallel program of the project “Meta Reserves 2024”, which focuses on the artistic practices of metamodernism. It explores the specific intersection between modernity and postmodernity. Attention is focused on the sensation and/or rational perception of the oscillation between polar categories, which are: “conscious – unconscious”, “controlled – spontaneous”, “changing – stable”, “concentrated – diffuse”, “constructed – deconstructed”, “natural – artificial”. According to the current concept, the movement of the creative impulse is a vector that we can describe with the words: reconstructing, reassembling, and reconfiguring automation in a new cultural environment. This is a new arrangement of surrealism’s view – dissected and deconstructed by postmodernity.
In 2024, it will have been one hundred years since the publication of the ‘Manifesto of Surrealism,’ in which André Breton defines surrealism as psychic automatism.: “Dictation of thought in the absence of any control exercised by reason, beyond any aesthetic or moral concern.” The present has been reached by a creative practice that has been discussed, enriched and further developed repeatedly throughout the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. The exhibition engages in the discourse on automatism and offers an expanded interpretation, juxtaposing the inherited ideas with the current concepts. Three contemporary perspectives are added to the psychological automatism extracted from the arsenal of psychoanalysis. The conceptual framework of the exhibition is based on the potential to develop the method of automatism under new conditions, which include: Contemporary concepts of consciousness and human existence; The mutual penetration of various areas of knowledge and art; Active perception of the structure of feeling generated by the changing environment.
The exhibition differentiates a mixed field between psychological automatism, bio-automatism, techno-automatism, and AI-automatism. Each of these categories of automatism cannot be considered separately from the others. If the history of art sets a vector direction for the development of the idea with a starting point in 1924, then the current state is one of fluid blending, periodic change, and fluctuation with dispersed exchange of ideological foundations. In order to adhere to the condition of transferring the ideas of automatism throughout the 20th century, we refer to the critical reflection of authors such as Walter Benjamin and Rosalind Krauss. Analogies are made with contemporary theories of consciousness and authors such as Shaun Gallagher and Laura U. Marks.

Bio-automatism

The idea of bio-automatism sets a bodily dimension to the discussed method. If we strictly adhere to the definition of automatism related to the human body, we will connect the most vital life processes and their dynamics with the potential to create art. Just as every heartbeat or blink of an eye, so too is the spontaneous movement of the human hand a part of the synchronous biological plan that accompanies every act of artistic creation by a human being. It is precisely the blood pumped through the arteries that determines the physical capability to carry out the action, including the act of creating art. Even if the creative action is not engaged in the material production of works (the postmodern dematerialization of art) and remains in the realm of someone’s imagination, the life energy for this is supplied through automatic bodily processes. The automatism of the body is often an overlooked factor in the creation of art. In the current exhibition, biological automatism lies at the core of the creative act and is a clearly visible aspect of the artworks themselves. It is a thought through the human body and an action through the sensory apparatus of the receptive. At the same time, automatism is consciousness embodied in the environment, as advocated by enactivists. The human body (even considered separately from the human psyche) is the primary medium of art. The body is conceived simultaneously as a figurative and a bodily space. This thesis was first articulated by Walter Benjamin. He also points out the way in which the artist can transform space into imagery, and then into bodily experience. This occurs when “…an action creates its own image”. In this case, proximity itself disappears from view, and the image, the gaze, and the distance are interwoven in a unified existence. It is precisely in this state of mutual permeation and complete merging within itself that a “world of comprehensive and integral actuality” is revealed. Here, the key lies in the interconnection of action, body, and the process of thought. It is precisely action that is perceived by contemporary theorists of consciousness as one of the forms of cognition, without necessarily belonging to rationality and logical reasoning. The body and the sensorimotor system of the brain are integral parts of the extended mechanisms for acquiring knowledge. According to Shaun Gallagher, the body is part of an extended cognitive system that begins with the brain, extends through the body’s motor abilities, and interacts with the surrounding environment. Automatic movements are an integral part of sensorimotor thinking. More precisely, it is stated that mental images, gestures, and the language of bodily signs form the basis of our conceptual life, which begins with spatial and motor behaviour. At its core always lies bodily experience, which directly refers to André Breton’s idea – the dictation of thought without control by reason.

Techno-automatism.

In the discussed idea, “techno” is used to create a plan of thought that connects specific works of art with the concept of a predetermined procedure, embedded in the method of execution. From this perspective, the opportunity is presented for the participation of specific programming of the human biological neural network in the creative act. It’s a type of instruction that mediates ways of doing things. “Techno” also involves the incorporation of the machine into the creative act, but it is rather a machine devoid of production potential, and it itself is an artefact belonging to art. In techno-automatism, the human body and human thought are linked with the technical prostheses of modernity. As early as the 1930s, Walter Benjamin outlined a new projection for art in the era of its technical reproduction. Benjamin pointed out that the camera reveals the optically unconscious. Today, the camera is part of the constant production of images.
It is more accessible than ever before. We can assume that the optically unconscious is multiplied many times over; it is automated through conveniently wearable technical devices and the automatic actions of people using cameras. Does this confirm Rosalind Krauss’s words, according to whom the irrational approach of surrealism can connect us with the fragments of progress? Probably yes. Immediately after this answer arises a new question: How and where do we localize the fragments of progress? They are positioned in the technological unconscious and are inseparable from the overall fluidity of culture. They are part of the everyday life of mass-produced objects and images, mediated by technical prostheses for memory and vision. Instead of stable constructions, we have an atmosphere in which attempts to decode desire simply escalate indefinitely. The answer to the posed question could not be given to us through rational thinking. Each individual simply feels the presence, senses the effect of delocalized technological connectivity, and interacts with what Deleuze calls the “body without organs” of mechanical and digital entities. The modern person merges with the artificial, non-biological world created by themselves, populated by mechanical and digital machines. In this environment, R. Krauss’s words remain valid: “…the machines continue to operate in their parallel chain, producing and intersecting streams.” Following the aforementioned, it can be summarized that techno-automatism encompasses the entire plan of existence, in which artificial cultural artefacts are created for the purpose of reproducing the artefacts themselves or automating the processes of machine production. Repeated actions and processes, which are both physical and mental projections of the abilities to make something, passing through engineering constructions, to which everyone has access. Contemporary theorists of the mind, such as S. Gallagher, argue that voluntary acts are initiated by unconscious brain processes: “The brain cleverly deceives us into thinking that we consciously decide to act and that our actions are controlled at a personal level.” The author concludes that free will is an illusion. The will to make decisions does not stem from a separate brain, mind, or organism. It is a relational process that involves the social, cultural, and environmental surroundings. Factors outside the biological brain contribute to or impair our ability to act freely. Immersed in a technologically automated world, our sense of volitional presence in the world, our sense of freedom, is intertwined with the effects of the technological devices themselves. Our bodily presence in the world and the experiencing of the physical as such become inseparable from a kind of bodily participation in perceiving techno-images. Sensations from the direct contact of bodies and bodies, bodies and objects belonging to the biological-physical realm, are placed on par with “haptic visuality” – a thesis convincingly argued by Laura U. Marks. The techno-automatism of modernity has imposed the ability for the eyes to function as organs of touch. Instead of enhancing the tactile sensitivity of the touching hand, we increasingly rely on mirror neurons in the brain and perceive the images on the screen as illusory movements of our own body.

AI-Automatism.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses a new challenge to modern man. Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am!” is put into doubt! The categorical “I am a thinking being!” is transformed into “I utilize the synthetic thinking of artificial intelligence.” This changes the Self from a master to a user of artificially generated “thoughts” and images. Everything stemming from AI is devoid of the inhibiting force of emotions, morals, and aesthetics, which remain solely for biological neural networks. The surrealists manifested that it is precisely concern that should be eliminated in the act of creating art. Artificial intelligence lacks feelings, so AI is a synthetic surrealist that adds computational power and speed of articulation of a new order. It is the total speed of the unconscious thinking, capable of rearranging all imagery, of recombining the available, without the need for free will, intention, or purpose. If we believe that only volitional choice remains the possession of humans, then we are mistaken. As we noted, free will is a characteristic of the human brain that compels us to convince ourselves of our own selves, in order to distinguish ourselves from the Other. In the voluntary acts of consciousness, the extended ability to connect with the non-corporeal, artificially created Other has already been permanently established. Our consciousness is simultaneously embodied in the physical world, which we constantly rearrange, and in the artificially created world of mimetic intelligence. The present life includes our ability to accelerate the production of unconscious forms of thinking, to marvel at them. We have entrusted the rights to abstract calculation to the infinite set of random combinations of digital devices. For humans and their minds, what remains are the affects and the emotional tone accompanying the flow of experience. Also remaining is our ability to think through and with our bodies.

The optical unconscious of W. Benjamin and R. Kraus becomes an inseparable part of the haptic unconscious and simultaneously is juxtaposed with the unconscious stemming from the mindless, morally and aesthetically deprived “thinking” of artificial intelligence. Technological algorithmic combinations are an integral part of the embodied human consciousness in the world. Artificial intelligence provides modern humans with yet another technological prosthesis – that for creating unconsciously achieved texts and images. From all of this, it follows that today everyone is capable of being a technological surrealist, and the method of automatism implies unexplored possibilities.

Literature Used:
Benjamin, W. “Surrealism and Critical Theory,” Critique and Humanism, 2022.
Breton, A. “Two Manifestos of Surrealism,” LiK, 2000, p. 27.
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F. “Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” Sofia. Critique and Humanism, 2004.
Gallagher, Shaun. “Do We (or Our Brains) Actively Represent or Enactively Engage with the World?”, 2016, p. 288, DOI: https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/10709.003.0018.
Krauss, Rosalind E. “The Optical Unconscious.” First MIT Press paperback edition, 1994, fourth printing, 1996.
Atanas Totlyakov
„Haptical and/or Optical 1-2“ 2014/2024
Conceptual drawing with closed eyes following the tactile sensation while perceiving the relief components of the work.
Materials and Technique: wooden box with transparent panel, collage, paper on board, acrylic, graphite, relief.
Dimensions: 70x50x10 cm
„Haptical and/or Optical 3“ 2014/2024
Conceptual drawing with closed eyes following the tactile sensation while perceiving the relief components of the work.
Materials and Technique: wooden box with transparent panel, collage, paper on board, photographs, acrylic, graphite, relief.
Dimensions: 70x50x10 cm
Photography: Yanitsa Fendulova
Georgi Rachkov
„Automatic drawing with closed eyes” 2019
Part of “Experimental Studio 2019. The Drawing – tactile approaches”, led by Prof. Dr. A. Totlyakov
Materials and Technique: charcoal on paper, photographs of the process.
Dimensions: 70×100 cm
Dilyana Atanasova
Nicole Hristova
„Unconscious” 2024
The piece was produced within the discipline “Intermedia” (Faculty of Fine Arts, Veliko Tarnovo University) with Prof. Dr. M. Mladenov and Dr. N. Nuff.
Materials and technique: video, camera Nurkan Nuff.
Mladen Mladenov
„IN CRYPTO-techno-automatism 1, 2, 3” 2024
Materials and technique: custom device, clockwork, 3 panels.
Dimensions: 50x50x8 cm each panel; installation size: variable.
Darina Peeva
„Thing. Anonymous / XXI Century” 2024
Materials and technique: plastic, silicone, plexiglass, collage, 3D printed object, spatial design according to a set instruction.
Dimensions: variable
Yanitsa Fendulova
„Instructed Self-Portrait, performative object” 2021/2024
Distantly instructed activity based on a short questionnaire and a public social profile; self-portrait – received by courier.
Date of the event: May 18-19, 2021
Materials and technique: digital photographs, manipulated object, folios, snapshots of correspondence and Facebook profile, notebook pages, courier envelope.
Dimensions: object – 24 x 32 x 16 cm; installation – variable
Milen Alagenski
„Reminiscences 1,2″ 2024
Materials and technique: mixed media
Dimensions: 70×50 cm
Nurkan Nuff
„Corrhythmus” 2024
Materials and Technique: 3D printed apparatus on pedestal, Arduino card, custom-made sensors, infrared transmitter and phototransistor, monitor, real-time visualization of variable output values.
Dimensions: variable
Ekaterina Ivanova
„Objects in the Interfield” 2024
Materials and technique: series of two panels with drawings on paper, collage on canvas, watercolor, spray paint, pencil, objects, wood, wax, glass, wire (metal), stone, textile, sponge (polyurethane), postaments, spatial design of the objects.
Dimensions: single panel – 148×84 cm, both panels – 148×168 cm, objects – variable.
Todor Lambov
„Metaphysical Landscapes. Beyond 1,2” 2013
Materials and technique: digital photography, digital print on paper – framed.
Dimensions: 70×100 cm
Stefan Vassilev
„Synthetic reproduction of aura 1, 2, 3” 2023/2024
Materials and technique: digital photography, artificial intelligence generated images, Adobe Photoshop software (v. 25.5.0), digital print on board.
Dimensions: 124×30 cm
Momchil Enchev
„Metabody” 2023/2024
Materials and technique: series of images, generated with artificial intelligence, Adobe Photoshop software (v. 25.5.0), digital printing on paper, framed.
Dimensions: 50,5×86,5 cm
Denitsa Milusheva
Denitsa Milusheva
„Synthetic Pareidolia” 2024
Materials and technique: series of four framed works, Adobe Photoshop software (v. 25.5.0), digital print on paper.
Dimensions: 100 x 25cm
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