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Let’s Get Digital

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NFT e nuove realtà dell‘arte digitale (NFT and new realities of digital art)

From 18th May to 31st July 2022

According to its organizers, “Let’s Get Digital! Brings the NFT art revolution and the new borderline between the real and the digital to Palazzo Strozzi”. After descending some stairs, the visitor finds herself in a room where different concepts such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), minting, NFTs, Crypto Art, or blockchain are defined in several languages, including Italian and English. This is a strong starting point as it clearly states the ‘mood’ of the Exhibition. It takes all these buzzwords and shows the role they might play in new directions, artistically speaking. This constitutes one of the most appreciated aspects of the Exhibition. Therefore, even if you are unfamiliar with the technology of the Exhibition, it gives you the option not to start utterly blind to it.

Nature Dreams by Refik Anadol

Machine Hallucinations by Refik Anadol, entitled Nature Dreams, serves as the Exhibition’s opening number. The use of White Noise sounds, color transitions, and its harmonic contrast with the Renaissance style of this historical Florentine building all contribute to the piece’s hypnotic and ethereal atmosphere. After all, every time you look at Refik Anadol’s art, you feel like you are in a dream of a machine that imagines the sea. The Exhibition is still on view in the ‘Strozzina,’ a Renaissance palace in the center of Florence devoted to contemporary art. Each of the Strozzina rooms features an immersive variety of works and installations by participating artists. Be at ease; our tour to this old Florentine building will not be short of a surreal atmosphere or striking contrasts between Renaissance architecture.

The next room portrays several pieces of Crypto Art that are available for purchase by the visitors. In general, the effect of the Exhibition varies every time you visit a new room. While Beeple’s works challenge politics and pop culture with analogies to today’s dystopian or post-apocalyptic everyday life (it is very difficult not to mention Elon Musk’s depiction as a highly trained almost naked man walking a Shiba Inu or an (also naked!) Buzz Lightyear sat on a balloon dog (maybe a homage to Jeff Koons?), and Daniel Arsham tries to undermine the concept of infinity in an endless loop of transformation and destruction. While visiting Krista Kim’s House on Mars in one particular room, you may also immerse yourself in Arcadia short films by Andrés Reisinger, and the poet Arch Hades presented on three distinct monitors. These installations propose a holistic experience where the light (or its absence) and sound/music take also part in the experience. Even some visual effects can trick the visitor’s eye, for example, when contemplating the first house designed to be inhabited within the Metaverse.

Anyma by Matteo Miller and Alessio De Vecchi

Anyma, on the other hand, was the one that left the most impression on us. A  collaboration between Matteo Miller and Alessio De Vecchi is a terrific harmonization of music and visual art that aims to unite nature and machines. It is an installation including the Italian pieces ‘Eva 0’ (2021), ‘Simbiosi’ (2022), ‘Angel 1’ (2022), ‘Consciousness’ (2022), and ‘The First Breath’ (2022). The installation revolves around two concepts, to my mind. First, its naturalistic essence influences the visitor to think about the dichotomy between natural and artificial. Is not nature sometimes so beautiful as it almost seems artificial? Can anybody believe that a dragonfly is not the product of an engineering mastermind? What is the difference between a robotic heart and a human one? None of them is more efficient or useful than the other. Second, the installation evokes some commonly human-associated concepts, such as consciousness.

As soon as you approach the room prepared for Anyma, sound effects begin to follow you. And most crucially, when you move around the room, the terms consciousness and sentience suddenly ring in your ears. It won’t be amid to say that, maybe the most remarkable and intriguing question is if they’ll be conscious or sentient like us, humans. Echoing sounds of consciousness and sentience while you’re watching Anyma gives you goosebumps.

However, one might wonder, when an anthropomorphized AI takes out its ‘head’ as it happens in one of the pieces, is there any conscious of losing one of its ‘parts’? Is a human still human if they lose their arm? They certainly are, although this might not come without a psychological cost. Is a human still human if they lose their head? I’m not that sure. Since all it seems to care about AI are data, I’d say losing a part would not mind for an AI unless it affects either the software or hardware of the piece. Then, why encode the notion of a head as something that can be removed in the first place?

Anyma by Matteo Miller and Alessio De Vecchi

The last piece of Anyma, where they presented AI’s fall before she spread her wings, reminds the spectator of the fall of Icarus. Icarus’ story might serve as a phenomenal reminder to humanity: before flying so high, we must remember to be careful with our creations.

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Yeliz Figen Döker is a Ph.D. candidate at the European University Institute. She is working on the legal conditions and limitations for teaching self-defined ethics to AI through Experiential Learning. She is also co-founder of The Digital Constitutionalist (DigiCon) and head of Science Fiction. Apart from that, she is a PlayStation gamer and Sci-Fi aficionado.
Live Long and Prosper.

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Law and Tech Researcher @EUI
Facial Recognition Technology, Proportionality and AI Ethics


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