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Talks on art, tech and law 'Align & Disrupt' conversations at IAF 2023

The Changing World: Technology, Art & Law, part of the Align & Disrupt talk series curated by Shaleen Wadhwana, witnessed Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, Siddharth Mehta, Noor Kadhim, and Kaldi Moss.

by Almas SadiquePublished on : Feb 14, 2023

With contemporary discourses increasingly breaking the mould of localised explorations and permeating liminal spaces that exist at the intersection of myriad disciplines, concerted understanding of all kinds of subjects has evolved. In tandem with these unravelled realisations, it is now easier to view creative and pragmatic endeavours through an alternate lens. This understanding also prompts creatives and innovators to envision objects, scapes, and experiences that are capable of defying binary categorisations. Artworks may masquerade as architectural installations, technological innovations may be configured to build artistic design elements, and collectable artworks may double as usable products. In acknowledging different factors that impact and shape segments of society's evolution, as well as the multitude of categories the culminating configurations may ascribe to, we can help suffuse multi-dimensionality to creations—at a time when unanimity seems to have entrenched design languages and technological innovations, across the globe.

In an attempt to take these layered conversations forward, independent curator and educator Shaleen Wadhwana curated a series of talks at the recently concluded India Art Fair in Delhi. Titled Align & Disrupt, the series, comprising a total of 15 talks spread across three days, aimed to “align voices of leading artists and art professionals on critical issues in the arts ecosystem, and collectively disrupt the status quo, to shape a more aware and inclusive art world of the future."

Conversations straddled across various disciplines, practices, and themes, such as philanthropy and patronage models in the art market, the preservation of archaic textile art and artworks, the evolving role of curators, sustainability in the art world, queer voices in art, disability within the field of art, the importance of platforming historically marginalised voices in the field, and much more. In an attempt to involve the larger public—beyond the audiences welcomed to witness the ticketed art event in the national capital—learnings and insights gained from these talks will be documented as an action-plan and made available to the public on the fair’s website.

Although technology is used for a purpose, it does not mean that tech is devoid of any intrinsic value. We are increasingly seeing that tech has a value, both artistically and from a legal perspective. It is, hence, not just a means to an end, but a means as well. – Noor Kadhim

One of the talks in the series that ushered an enthusiastic curiosity, owing to the juxtaposition of three varied disciplines is The Changing World: Technology, Art & Law. Moderated by art writer and curator Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, the talk witnessed attendance of art lawyers Siddharth Mehta and Noor Kadhim, and eco-sexual artist Kaldi Moss. Nanditi Khilnani, cultural manager and co-founder of Ajaibghar, was unable to make it to the event. Held on the afternoon of February 11, 2023, at the India Art Fair auditorium at Okhla NSIC Grounds, it followed tread to two engrossing conversations, spanning themes of technology, creativity and storytelling, and art, environment and sustainability, respectively. After a brief introduction to the talk, which delineated its intent of bringing comments about the evolution of art and artworks in tandem with technology, as well as the legal know-how to protect one’s work, Shaleen Wadhwana introduced the participants of the event.

Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, the moderator for the talk, shared how his approach to understanding technology emerges from his learnings as an educator. In that, he views technology as a tool that encapsulates a varied range of mediums, from photography and landline phones to printing machines. This enables him to understand technology not as a recent occurrence, but as a medium that has commanded a potent presence through history. Adding to the argument, Kaldi Moss remarked that technology is essentially a 'tool' which is used to produce knowledge systems, ideas, and so on. Noor Kadhim, on the other hand, shared, “Technology as a tool was present in cave paintings. They were used to communicate. Although technology is used for a purpose, it does not mean that tech is devoid of any intrinsic value. We are increasingly seeing that tech has a value, both artistically and from a legal perspective. It is, hence, not just a means to an end, but a means as well.”

Meandering closer to a discussion about art in the context of technology, Mopidevi mentioned, “The relationship between art and tech, for me, has two facets. One, art that is made with technology, which we then call digital art or new media art, and art that is circulated through technological bridges.” Siddharth Mehta added to the various comments with an example of India’s constitution, which is the only illustrated constitution in the world. Imagery marking the beginning of each chapter details definitive historical moments, hence setting the temperament for the segments ahead. While visual modes of communication are often designated unreliable or too subjective, Moss and Mehta agreed that words, too, can be interpreted in varied ways. Kadhim enunciated on the idea, sharing, “One thinks that images entail a lot of subjectivity, and that words don’t, that they are objective. However, words themselves have various iterations. Images can, in fact, be a better way to communicate. If we all know what they mean, they can actually evoke an understanding in a more universal way than words that are specific to a region and language.”

We are in a technological soup. Our voices here are mediated through microphones. We have lived through nearly 40 years of the internet. The particles of media are running through our blood. – Kaldi Moss

Leading the way towards the next step of the conversation, Mopidevi urged the panelists to talk about our social realities against the fabric of technology, which in its own right, conditions human subjectivity, or exists parallel to it. Moss shared, “We are in a technological soup. Our voices here are mediated through microphones, these chairs are a form of technology, because they do something, they have a function. We have lived through nearly 40 years of the internet. The particles of media are running through our blood. However, there is always a rush to catch up, with something externally driven, with the fast pace of technology. Here, when I say technology, it means the perceived idea of technology.”

This led the way to the examination of an individual’s personal prerogative to make use of technology or exist sans its boons and bane. Moss asserted that while questions such as these are difficult to navigate equitably, it is almost imperative for each individual to either adapt to the technological reality that already exists, or tailor it in a way suitable for oneself. “For example, I want to tailor a shirt in a particular way. How do I do it with the technology existing around me?” Moss added. Recounting a passage in Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Mopidevi shared, “Jenny Odell says that you do not have the option of living outside of technology, unfortunately, unless you want to live in the middle of nowhere.” Further pondering on the messaging of the book, he added, “In the book, the author explores—through examples of communities that have attempted to move away from the existing status quo and tried to establish a microcosm of their own—ways and methods to re-orient oneself in tandem with the existing technology and co-exist within the larger reality.”

Infusing the dialogue with law-related remarks, Mehta asserted, “The law is being dragged for the future, which is good. We are now moving from real properties to intellectual properties. There was a time when a work of art was considered as cattle, it could be owned, it was transactional and there was no recognition of creatorship and authorship. Now, we have moved to a system which acknowledges that the person who creates it has rights in it. We have now moved further than that as well, where the work itself has a voice of its own. For example, Leonardo da Vinci, in 1495, created the first diagrams for a working humanoid, and at that point in time, it was a knight in armour whose jaw would move, it could stand up and move its hands, and it could perform some other minimal human actions. Now, in 2017, we had a humanoid which, using art and technology, has fused to become this persona that the Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to. We have moved far ahead now. Today, one has moral rights in a work, and, a work of art is often considered to be equal to us.” However, the laws enabling processes pertaining to technology and artificial intelligence are often not uniform across countries, as pointed out by Kadhim.

How do you regulate the violation in the framework of the State? Can I choose to be not a citizen? Is not being a citizen any existence? – Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi

As the talk progressed, the evolution of intellectual property rights across different countries was discussed. Initiating a dialogue on laws governing digital art, Kadhim asked, “Digital art, when it crosses borders, what do you do then? Which law applies?” This elicited Mopidevi’s explorative response, “How do you regulate the violation in the framework of the State? It’s a question to ask, whether I can choose to be not a citizen, and whether not being a citizen is any existence. I think it’s very interesting because the fundamental to an individual’s subjectivity is the nation state. Citizenship is the fundamental state of being.”

Enunciating the power that the State commands over all other organs of a nation, Mopidevi also raised the question, “How does the framework of tech, art, and law breach the ones framed by the State?” Although they are powerful mediums and disciplines, in their own right, provisions for the independent functioning of technology, art, and law are determined and withdrawn by the nation. “The State has the authority to shut down anything. People often think that Google is endless. Tomorrow, there might come a time when the State pulls the plug and just imagine what will happen to the world. This is totally possible. One decision can upturn whole ecosystems, and we will be bewildered and running back to our inventions, created 15 years ago. We think that something that is so obsolete is so permanent,” he added.

Shining a light on the violations and regulations determined by the State, and their synchronisation with each other, Mehta posed examples of two of his clients, one of whom wants to 3D print organs and arrange them against each other to build a breathing and acting organism, while the other, is in the process of sending down equipments in water bodies that can assess the mode of communication between dolphins. While the processes of these experiments fall well within the legal jurisprudence, Mehta asks, “What is the law, what are the ethics that need to breathe life into these laws, and therefore, where are we on them at this point of time? How do you put ethics into place in addition to regulations?”

With exploratory discussions on respecting human and non-human lives, granting personhood to non-human entities, the agency awarded to artificial intelligence and non-human species, and demarcations that definitively apportion issues under different heads, the talk culminated.

Post the event, responding to a question on open source knowledge systems influencing artistic and design creations, Mopidevi shared with STIR, “In the early days of the internet, there was this whole open source creative culture, where creators made their works and put them online. Others could add, subtract, and extend elements onto those works. Every person could add to a pre-existing piece and would be acknowledged accordingly. This was under the Creative Commons license. The idea of open source has always been there, more so from the past 25 years. What is happening with AI is that it’s been taking other artists’ works, with any kind of Creative Commons license, and there is no acknowledgement if an artist has created an AI work in relation to 50 images of particular artists, and is calling it their own art. So, the framework of open source is radically different where there is a kind of consensus and democratic understanding that I would not step too far in terms of my exploration as a creator. I will understand it, extend it, amplify it. I think, the conflict with AI is that it is claiming ownership of self by using an algorithm. If they are going to sell it as digital assets tomorrow, and fragments of it is somebody’s art, then of course they own the copyright, and in various countries, you can go to court and point this out.”

Standing true to its promise, the conversation helped establish the prologue to an extended exploration of legalities pertaining to art and technology. It prompted questions, some of which were addressed and reconnoitred during the event, and others, that will sustain their impact on our minds and urge new thought, research, and action.

Click here to read more about India Art Fair 2023 which is taking place from February 9-12 at NSIC Exhibition Grounds Okhla, New Delhi.

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