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"Blue. Move 36." Eduardo Kac
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Still Living J. Antoine Schmitt. 2006.
Pixel Snow. Miguel Chevalier. 2009
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I just don’t know what to do with myself. Grégory Chatonsky. 2007.
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Lambda print on pearlescent paper / diasec, 38 x 38 cm 2005.
About Move 36:
Move 36 makes reference to the dramatic move made by the computer called Deep Blue against chess world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. This competition may be characterized as a match between the greatest chess player who ever lived and the greatest chess player who never lived. The installation sheds light on the limits of the human mind and the increasing capabilities developed by computers and robots, inanimate beings whose actions often acquire a force comparable to subjective human agency.
According to Kasparov, Deep Blue's quintessential moment in game two came at Move 36. Rather than making a move expected by viewers and commentators alike--a sound move that would have afforded immediate gratification--it made a move that was subtle and conceptual and, in the long run, better. Kasparov could not believe that a machine had made such a keen move. The game, in his mind, was lost.
The installation presents a chessboard made of earth (dark squares) and white sand (light squares) in the middle of the room. There are no chess pieces on the board. Positioned exactly where Deep Blue made its Move 36 is a plant whose genome incorporates a new gene that I created specifically for this work. The gene uses ASCII (the universal computer code for representing binary numbers as Roman characters, on- and off-line) to translate Descartes's statement: "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am) into the four bases of genetics.
Through genetic modification, the leaves of the plants curl. In the wild these leaves would be flat. The "Cartesian gene" was coupled with a gene that causes this sculptural mutation in the plant, so that the public can see with the naked eye that the "Cartesian gene" is expressed precisely where the curls develop and twist.
The creation of this gene is a critical and ironic gesture, since Descartes considered the human mind a "ghost in the machine" (for him the body was a "machine"). His rationalist philosophy gave new impetus both to the mind-body split (Cartesian dualism) and to the mathematical foundations of current computer technology.
The presence of this "Cartesian gene" in the plant, rooted precisely where the human lost to the machine, reveals the tenuous border between humanity, inanimate objects endowed with lifelike qualities, and living organisms that encode digital information. A single parallel light beam shines delicately over the plant. Silent square video projections on two opposing walls contextualize the work, evoking two chess opponents in absentia. Each video projection is composed of a grid of small squares, resembling a chessboard. Each square shows short animated loops cycling at different intervals, thus creating a complex and carefully choreographed thread of movements. The cognitive engagement of the viewer with the multiple visual possibilities presented on both projected boards subtly emulates the mapping of multiple paths on the board involved in a chess match.
A game for phantasmic players, a philosophical statement uttered by a plant, a sculptural process that explores the poetics of real life and evolution. This installation gives continuity to my ongoing interventions at the boundaries between the living (human, non-human animals) and the nonliving (machines, networks). Checkmating traditional notions, nature is revealed as an arena for the production of ideological conflict, and the physical sciences as a locus for the creation of science fictions.
About Eduardo Kac:
Eduardo Kac is internationally recognized for his interactive net installations and his bio art. A pioneer of telecommunications art in the pre-Web '80s, Eduardo Kac (pronounced "Katz") emerged in the early '90s with his radical telepresence and biotelematic works. His visionary combination of robotics and networking explores the fluidity of subject positions in the post-digital world. His work deals with issues that range from the mythopoetics of online experience (Uirapuru) to the cultural impact of biotechnology (Genesis); from the changing condition of memory in the digital age (Time Capsule) to distributed collective agency (Teleporting an Unknown State); from the problematic notion of the "exotic" (Rara Avis) to the creation of life and evolution (GFP Bunny). At the dawn of the twenty-first century Kac opened a new direction for contemporary art with his "transgenic art"--first with a groundbreaking installation entitled Genesis (1999), which included an "artist's gene" he invented, and then with his fluorescent rabbit called Alba (2000). Kac’s work has been exhibited internationally at venues such as Exit Art and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York; Maison EuropÃ©enne de la Photographie, Paris, and Lieu Unique, Nantes, France; OK Contemporary Art Center, Linz, Austria; InterCommunication Center (ICC), Tokyo; Julia Friedman Gallery, Chicago; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; and Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro. Kac's work has been showcased in biennials such as Yokohama Triennial, Japan, Gwangju Biennale, Korea, and Bienal de Sao Paulo, Brazil. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the ZKM Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, among others. Kac's work has been featured both in contemporary art publications (Flash Art, Artforum, ARTnews, Kunstforum, Tema Celeste, Artpress, NY Arts Magazine) and in the mass media (ABC, BBC, PBS, Le Monde, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times). The recipient of many awards, Kac lectures and publishes worldwide. His work is documented on the Web: http://www.ekac.org. Eduardo Kac is represented by Galerie J. Rabouan Moussion, Paris; Black Box Gallery, Copenhagen; and Laura Marsiaj Arte Contemporenea, Rio de Janeiro.
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