Artificial Intelligence: culprit or saviour?

An extension of artist Amy Chang’s previous project, New Industrial Revolution, Artificial Intelligence explores themes of fusing organic life with mechanical parts in the steampunk style.

The exhibition, Artificial Intelligence, hosted by the Burnaby Arts Council and presented at Deer Lake Gallery, opens Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 30.

A rocky creative process

One of Chang’s works fusing organic with mechanical. | Photo courtesy of Amy Chang

Chang, 65, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University in 2007. She became a studio artist working with contemporary ceramic sculptures and garnered international acclaim for her creative work depicting organic life. Her works are heavily influenced by the steampunk style, often utilising industrial parts such as screws, cogs and wheels. She describes her 2013 collection as “machine-like sculptures of older appliances with a new twist.” A favourite of Chang’s from the collection was a teapot-rocket hybrid. The artist aims at creating items with “traditional elements but not traditional shapes.” After the success of New Industrial Revolution, Chang began work on Artificial Intelligence in 2015. However, the process was “rocky,” and she suffered numerous setbacks when creating the exhibit.

Chang explains that some pieces were “remade many times” and others were scrapped completely. Most notably, the expected centrepiece of the exhibit, an octopus fused with a plate, was scrapped after a mistake. Yet visitors will still be able to view the piece after the artist remodelled the octopus to offer guests snacks. Chang encourages people to take some food from it when they visit, explaining that she loves nothing more than seeing “gallery-goers interact with [her] art.”

The continuation of the Industrial Revolution

Artificial Intelligence was the next logical step in Chang’s art, and she emphasizes that it’s very much a “continuation of New Industrial Revolution.” The exhibition depicts animals intertwined with industrial parts such as screws and glass. The animals, she says, “aren’t very realistic” because they all incorporate industrial elements and materials. Some animals portrayed include fish, the aforementioned octopus, crabs, bugs and even a dog with a satellite dish on its head. These animals are then imbued with parts such as wheels, levers, buttons, tubes and satellite dishes. She describes the pieces looking like “man-made animals, part machine and part animal.”

Why AI?

Natural meets industrial. | Photo courtesy of Amy Chang

When asked how she came up with the title Artificial Intelligence, Chang replied that it’s because AI is such a hot-button issue. She reveals that she often reads about the latest developments in AI and recognizes that scientists are creating smarter and smarter programs. She’s also acutely aware of the anxiety in the public resulting from AI programs and automation in certain jobs. By titling her work Artificial Intelligence, Chang emphasizes the “need to have a conversation about AI.” When asked how her art relates to the title Artificial Intelligence, she explains that her animals “have abilities their real-life counterparts don’t,” making them more than an animal, less natural and more artificial.

Progress is an unstoppable train

Chang’s love for nature informs the exhibition. She describes her sadness whenever she sees another species go extinct as a powerful motivation in creating the exhibition, warning people that “these beautiful creatures have been infected by the industrial revolution.” Knowing that people are irreparably damaging nature, Chang admires and supports “people who are protesting harming nature.” “Progress is an unstoppable train,” says Chang, lamenting the degradation of nature, but accepting that “we’re never going to be able to go back to the way things were a hundred years ago.” Despite this, Chang encourages people to “look on the bright side” and imagine a future where animals live on forever after becoming mechanical. The artist puts forth an optimistic perspective on how “artificial intelligence and machines might not be so bad for nature.”

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