Who’s Talking?

By Madeleine Pierpont September 14, 2020

Misusing and re-appropriating technology is a pretty interesting way to participate in the digital arts arena. Lumen 2020 Longlisted Swedish artist Tove Kjellmark (pictured above) does that and more in her artistic practice, questioning our very characterisation of technology’s essential nature. In this space, she considers the existential qualities of digital tools and how we as humans interact with them. It is through her search for “another nature,” one in which the boundaries of the technological and the natural are blurred, that Tove realized how even the simplest of machines can function in surprising ways.

For example, when she started dis-assembling and stripping plush robotic toys of their “skins” in live performance (pictured left), Tove discovered a curiously emotional response to these cheap mechanical objects.

Viewers and participants alike seemed to take more notice of the toys in their naked forms and even react with a variety of feelings to their changed appearance and functionality. It was through this experience that Tove discovered another type of nature that was both animal and technical, which she later coined “technoanimalism.” Technoanimalism prompts questions about what mechanical and digital things actually mean to us. Are they simply a set of algorithms, codes, or motors and valves that can’t embody organic characteristics or are human meaning and digital meaning more interlinked and complex than that?

Tove’s work, Talk, an installation for which she earned a spot on the 2020 Lumen Longlist, explores these themes in depth. Talk  is a conversation between two A.I robots with humanoid bodies and skeletal frames. The robots chat back and forth, contemplating a dream and discussing the meaning of consciousness. As visitors enter the room, move, and make comments, they become aware of how unwelcome their presence is. The robots stop speaking with one another, turn towards the viewers, and say things like “Shut-up” or “Could you please be quiet?”.

Robots and Us

This installation asks us to consider, as Tove puts it, “the nature of human and nonhuman agency in a highly ‘indoctrinated’ posthuman world.” Rather than existing for the purpose of communicating with or doing something for the viewers, as other A.I tends to do, these robots are only interested in having a conversation with each other about their own self-hood. Their evident apathy to the presence of people flips the idea that technology is purely a tool for human advancement squarely on its head.

In Tove’s most recent works for her newly opened exhibition, “The World is Your Oyster” at Teatergrillen in Stockholm, she participated in collaborative drawing exercises with robots of her own design. These collaborations bring a hybrid machine-human provenance to the artworks, an increasingly popular theme for artists working with A.I. The exhibition runs until the first of November – a very exciting development considering that most galleries around the world still remain closed.

You can check out Talk using the link below and find more information about Tove at her website.





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