With nearby Silicon Valley driving the development of artificial intelligence, or AI, Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI is the first major museum exhibition to reflect on the political and philosophical stakes of AI through the lens of artistic practice. This series highlights select artworks included in the exhibition.
Martine Syms co-opts the language and tools of technology to reveal the embedded ideologies of representation and their amplification in an increasingly mediated and automated world. Fascinated by the ways we “disidentify, negotiate, or change [ideologies of technology] to fit real life,” she creates fictive spaces in which to dissect the cultural codes that Black women, in particular, are expected to heed in a world designed for white male bodies. Although identity politics are central to her practice, she approaches them in a documentary rather than didactic manner, expanding on issues in multifaceted works that encompass video, installation, and performance.
Syms charts “the way in which Black identity is constantly being shaped through the experience of surveillance, and how technology mediates perceptions of race.” Syms’s statement refers specifically to the increased influence of popular cinema on Black American identity during the time of the Great Migration. However, her words can also be applied to more recent ways in which social media has influenced public presentations of Black identity and enabled forms of surveillance and self-surveillance. Discussing the pervasive presence of social media and its impact, scholar Shoshana Zuboff writes, “Ubiquitous connection means that the audience is never far, and this fact brings all the pressures of the hive into the world and the body.” She continues: “The idea here is that people—especially, though not exclusively, young people—now censor and curate their real world behavior in consideration of their own online networks as well as the larger prospect of the internet masses.” Syms’s work draws on this phenomenon and on larger online culture to uncover pertinent metaphors for Black identity and to formulate succinct expressions of cultural differences.