by Julius WiedemannNov 16, 2021
When we normally think of art and culture, we mentally delink it from anything science and maths. Be it our education system that normally separates the creative and scientific disciplines, or just the way we are conditioned to experience the two. Curator Joseph Grima put together Dixit Algorizmi precisely to explore how closely linked the two fields are. The exhibit also attempts to bust the myth of western dominance around advancement of technology and science in general. And towards this effort, the focal point of reference is the work of ninth century Uzbek mathematician, Al-Khwārizmī. The show endeavours for a renewed understanding that the latest technology being developed is a result of global collaboration and not hyper-individualistic worldview of ideologies.
I speak with Joseph Grima and his curatorial team, Camilo Oliveira and Sheida Ghomashchi, on the framework of this project and desired outcome through viewer engagement.
Rahul Kumar (RK): What was the motivation for putting together Dixit Algorizmi to focus on the work of ninth century Uzbek mathematician Al-Khwārizmī's?
Joseph Grima (JG): Dixit Algorizmi is motivated by the desire to debunk some of the myths we take for truth surrounding the mathematical, scientific, and technological findings we engulf ourselves with in the digitalised world we live in today. The heroic origin story generally ascribed to these findings largely finds its roots in the libertarian and hyper-individualistic worldview of ideologues like Ayn Rand, who have adopted a restrictive view for decades, failing to notice the great collective of thinkers that led us to where we are today. Through Dixit Algorizmi, we are able to show the world that the incredible technologies we know today are the result of a global collaboration and cannot be ascribed to a single continent or geographic region.
RK: How have algorithms and concepts of algebra developed some 1200 years back been an influence on ‘artistic and cultural’ (not just scientific) advances, in our contemporary times? Further, does the exhibit bust myths about western domination of technological advances?
Camilo Oliveira (CO): Algorithms dominate the way we interact with each other online. They control what we see on screens, when and how. Most notoriously, social media is completely ruled by algorithms, but this phenomenon is not limited to consumerism and the devourment of social content, with the development of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR), we are on the brink of a media revolution totally rooted in algorithms. The art world is also now transitioning into a highly technological phase, with examples of generative art and even algorithmic art present all over the globe. The works exhibited in Dixit Algorizmi are clear examples of the impact algorithms can have on art and culture. Take Charli Tapp’s Velocity0: AI NPC’s Estate, for instance, for which the artist places a system of data-gathering electromagnets on top of a Yamaha Grand Piano, which produces an endless generative score of music. We can also consider Elisa Giardina Papa’s Cleaning Emotional Data, the third installment of a trilogy of works exploring how labour, care and affect are reframed by digital economies and artificial intelligence.
RK: The exhibit is truly multidisciplinary with craft, performance, film, music, architecture, design, technology and critical theory being shown under one roof. Please take us through the curatorial process of making the selection of practitioners that support the narrative that is central to the show.
Sheida Ghomashchi (SG): As a curatorial team, we began to research the concept which Joseph Grima came up with. I personally began with the figure of Al-Khwarizmi himself: I travelled to Uzbekistan several times since 2019 to fully immerse myself in the rich cultural, historical fibres of the country. After much contemplation on the importance of craft in the region, we came up with the idea to invite international artists, designers and thinkers who are implementing new technologies to reimagine today's portrait of al Khwarizmi. We thought this wouldn’t be complete without the participation of local Uzbek artists. We also visited artisans across the country to pinpoint crafts workshops from each region and connect them with international artists to collaborate with them.
RK: How do you expect the viewers to navigate the three themes - Al-Khwārizmī's portraiture, our ability to interact with the environment, and redefinitions of our understanding of the very algorithms?
CO: The three themes are very much intertwined and integrated with each other in the exhibition - they are not three different categories and we don’t expect viewers to see them as such. The three themes offer a different perspective to the exhibition thesis and all the works showcased exemplify in different ways how algorithms are permeating our daily lives. The real outcome is to spark a reflection on technology, our relationship with technology and how society is changing through technology. We don’t want to present the view of a dystopian outcome, but rather propose an alternative where we can challenge the use of any given object or idea - we shouldn’t be intimidated by technology or accept it passively, but find new ways to extend with our own skills.
RK: Are there examples of works that retrace origins and impact of these mathematical concepts all the way up to the current trends of artificial intelligence?
SG: Dixit Algorizmi was curated around the impact of the mathematical concepts developed by al-Khwarizmi on modern day culture, technology and art. All of the works on display, therefore, illustrate this in one way or another. Particularly James Bridle, for instance, illustrates this point. He applies the rules of the Game of Life (an algorithm, which, when applied to a simple grid of tiles, generates an infinite variety of complex patterns) to his sculpture, which evolves through 29 unique forms over the course of the exhibition. Working alongside mosaicist Bakhtiar Babamuradov and his team in Bukhara, Bridle has calculated a new set of patterns, beginning from a single pattern found on the Shah-i-Zinda cemetery in Samarkand. Bridle’s work pays homage to Uzbek history by addressing the legend of Shah-i-Zinda, which holds that Qutham ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, was beheaded for his faith on the site of the Shah-i-Zinda, but did not die. Instead, he picked up his head, and jumped into a deep well, where he is believed to still live today. Bridle’s title ‘The Living King’ depicts this legend through the continuance and practice of al-Khwarizmi’s mathematical knowledge.
The exhibition ‘Dixit Algorizmi’ is on view until November 15, 2021 at the Centre for Contemporary Art Tashkent (CCAT).