Refik Anadol, Casey Reas, Michelle Kuo, Paola Antonelli

Tuesday 16th November, 2021 - Bruce Sterling

*That’s some interview.

This week, on the new-media platform Feral File, artist Refik Anadol presents Unsupervised, an exhibition of works created by training an artificial intelligence model with the public metadata of The Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Spanning more than 200 years of art, from paintings to photography to cars to video games, the Museum’s collection represents a unique data set for an artist who has worked with many different public archives. The AI-based abstract images and shapes in Unsupervised are interpretations of the Museum’s wide-ranging collection, weighted toward the exhibition of new artworks at MoMA this fall.

Starting with the exhibition opening on November 18, new artworks will be revealed and released over three days. Each work will be made available to collectors as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs.

MoMA curators Paola Antonelli and Michelle Kuo sat down with Anadol and Casey Reas, the artist-founder of Feral File, to talk about the ecology of mobile images, art in the age of mechanical learning, and the question: What if a machine tried to create “modern art”?

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity….

Casey Reas: I’ll say something briefly that’s speculative. Just as one example, let’s imagine we’re in Paris, it’s sometime in the early 20th century. And there are a few dozen artists who are making work and they’re all looking at each other’s work. And they’re all influenced by each other. And then, of course, there were a lot of things that were possible, but that were never made.

And so what I find really interesting about Refik’s project with MoMA’s dataset, with your collection, is that it speculates about possible images that could have been made, but that were never made before. And when I think about these GANs, I don’t think about them as intelligent in the way that something has consciousness; I think of them the way that the body or even an organ like the liver is intelligent. They’re processing information and permuting it and moving it into some other state of reality….