Christopher Kulendran Thomas: Another World at the ICA
Revolution meets alternative reality with a dollop of artificial intelligence in this multidisciplinary art show. In the dimly lit downstairs room, The Finesse features a long screen against the back of the room, which shows rolling footage (some real, some fabricated) of forests, insects, and wildlife. This screen faces a selection of digital panels, which display a film that is part documentary and part imagined reality about the civil war that took place in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009. Featuring real Tamil revolutionary Vasuky Vakay Jaypalan and footage exploring the largely untold history of this uprising, the piece also uses AI-generated content to explore the thin line between fact and fiction, and to discuss the curated nature of our media and understanding of the world.
The Finesse asks visitors what the real story is, how we can relate the point of view of those who didn’t win, and, by using this mix of reality and fiction, how much of our own perception is objective fact and how much has been crafted with an agenda, fed to us by an algorithm. Flanked by three statues dressed in leafy camouflage and wearing split red and green masks, this installation sandwiches the audiences between the two screens, sometimes reflecting back to them as it plays with mirroring. A Kim Kardashian lookalike talks about how technology has changed dopamine responses so that the younger generation’s brains must be fundamentally different to the older’s, because they’ve never known anything else. Is she real, or AI-generated herself? It is a trippy, impressive and thought-provoking take on revolution, colonialism and what “truth” means in the modern world.
The upper gallery hosts art that was created by an algorithm (trained by the work of other artists, and the results look indistinguishable from real pieces) and painted by human hands. It explores creativity as a humanist fiction that can be spread memetically. Can it still be seen as creative if it is simply a copy by an AI? Can algorithms be creative? Behind a dark curtain in the upstairs gallery one can also find Being Human, a video installation that showcases a mix of real human experiences in the aftermath of war and AI-created characters, to explore the shifting relationship with what is real.
A standout part of this installation is a hollow, mirror effect that shows a similar room to the one the audience is standing in, albeit with the furnishings moved around, but it is empty. Several people look around to see if it’s possible that what they are seeing is behind them, but it’s not. The installation has removed its audience from the room and created a false reality, making them wonder what is real and what is not.
Another World is an intriguing and incredibly interesting piece of art that becomes even more fascinating the more one thinks about it. It makes its points about the modern world aptly and subtly, encouraging the audience to ask themselves these questions. One leaves with a sense of unease, unable to get certain thoughts out of one’s mind.
Christopher Kulendran Thomas: Another World is at the ICA from 10th October until January 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.