Arts + Justice: Justice Technologies and Artificial Intelligence Aesthetics
In the first event of the spring term, the Arts + Justice workshop at the Stanford Art Institute focused on the technologies of justice, emphasizing the humanistic potential and uncertainty of artificial intelligence. Hosted by Michele Elam of the English Department at Stanford, guest artists Rashaad Newsome and Amelia Winger-Bearskin discussed their practices and how they use virtual and visceral modes of engagement to create new experiences.
Rashaad Newsome’s work – which incorporates collage, sculpture, film, photography, music, computer programming, software engineering, community organizing, and performance – creates a new field that rejects classification. Using diasporic traditions of improvisation and collage, he draws on the world of advertising, the internet, art history, black culture, and queer culture to produce work that uses l creative computing, social practice, abstraction and intersectionality. Newsome’s work celebrates black contributions to the canon of art while creating innovative and inclusive forms of culture and media.
One of the projects Newsome discussed was the AI character he created and named “Being.” Described as “The Digital Griot”, the mind of this virtual assistant has been populated by the works of radical authors and theorists. His interactions were further influenced by the crowd at his first exhibition, “To Be Real,” at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Preserving works through AI not only crosses the boundaries of sharing history, but also, as technology continues to develop, affirms the importance of this community’s history in the future.
Her multimedia performance “Five Elements of Vogue” further explores power, gender and beauty. Newsome uses digital data, 3D printing, collage and traditional lithography to create abstract prints of the characters and gestures of five vogue female dancers.
When asked how he engages in technology, Newsome replied that he uses animation, design, computing, artificial intelligence and programming to push the boundaries of art and go as far as your mind can go. Thinking creatively, he thrives in the canon of contemporary art while emphasizing elements of black culture.
Newsome also explained how artistic practice puts pressure on different technologies by exploring the limits of our current knowledge systems. Examining what we know and the learning potential we can achieve through art serves both as a healing mode as we create our narrative. We urgently need to respond to the systems that oppress our voices, he said.
This latest artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin, although traditionally a performance artist, is also an indigenous visual artist and technologist who helps communities take advantage of emerging technologies to effect positive change in the world.
In his daily work, Winger-Bearskin creates cities using virtual reality (VR) technologies; She is also the founder of IDEA New Rochelle, an NGO that has partnered with the New Rochelle mayor’s office to develop citizen-focused VR / AR tools. During the workshop, she discussed and demonstrated a virtual reality experience called “Hopeful Worlds”. The project, with Wampum.codes, explores the creation of playful experiences with AI, VR and sound. The piece metaphorically describes changing emotions, with abstract and colorful visual components conveying a sense of displacement in space.
She also collaborated with artist Wendy Red Star on “The Monster Installation” at the Newark Museum. It was their version of a “Lodge sweat lodge” – a geodesic dome covered with Pendleton blankets, sleeping bags, and various cut-and-sewn fabrics. Guests can enter the exhibition with the sound of the wind inviting them to enter. Through their research and interactions with indigenous tribes, Winger-Bearskin and Red Star were able to bring a piece of what seems far from the past in our present time and keep indigenous values current.
Winger-Bearskin also showcased VR beadwork, a colorful arrangement of moving images that combine to form a collective whole. Along with these images, she discussed the Iroquois Confederacy and how their democratic values were “distorted” in the making of the US constitution – a twisted winger’s skin described as a form of colonialism. She said that while we naturally have colonial mindsets due to American culture, we are not “colonial subjects” and must actively remember not to colonize our future. Instead, she said, we should be diversifying our ideas with other cultures, not with cherrypick ideas that already flatter our mindset.
When asked how she engages in technology, she explained that, through visual and auditory expression, the role of the artist is to change the world in different trajectories and to democratize ideas. Its interactions with technology allow for unique modes of storytelling and engagement with unconventional forms. With this in mind, the art and activism of Winger-Bearskin aspire to impact generations to come and provide a new code of communication.
Amelia Winger-Bearskin and Rashaad Newsome are pushing the boundaries of what technology is traditionally used for, defying the conventions of what many consider art. With their inclusion of ideas of social justice, they are reinventing where the aesthetics of technology can intersect in art. Their work paves the way for future generations of artists and offers audiences a new perspective on how we can change the world through technology and art.