Introduction

Symposium Date: Friday, April 9th, 2021. Time: Noon (EST)// 5pm (GMT)

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With Lynn Hershman Leeson, Toni Dove, and Paul Vanouse

Artificial Intelligence seems to be everywhere these days, although the ancient idea of synthetic consciousness has been fueling the popular and technological imaginary for centuries. While there is much focus on AI from a Science and Technology perspective, the contributions of AI to the Arts and Humanities have not yet been fully explored. This symposium aims to chart an international and cross-cultural historiography of “expressive AI”[1] –that is, the combination of AI art practice and scientific research –in order to uncover productive ideological and epistemological overlaps between the Arts and the Sciences. The symposium will feature artists who have been critically working with AI, machine learning, robotics, computational tools and other [then] emerging technologies before those were mainstream and corporate.

Instead of focusing on technological fetishism, early expressive AI from the late 1990s and early 2000s addresses complex sociopolitical issues. In historically marginalized contexts of experimental media practices, interactive AI prototypes have been developed and critically utilized by politically invested feminist artists such as Lynn Hershman Leeson (Agent Ruby, multimedia installation and web interface, 1998-2002; DiNA, network-based multimedia installation, 2004, and newer works) and Toni Dove (Sally or the Bubble Burst,DVD-ROM with voice recognition software, 2003, and newer works) to interrogate the relationship between technology, gender, surveillance, and socio-economic inequalities. Since the 1990s, collaborative, AI-oriented multimedia projects such as The Consensual Fantasy Engine (Paul Vanouse and Peter Weyhrauch, 1995) and Terminal Time (Steffi Domike, Paul Vanouse, and Michael Mateas, 1999-2000) contributed to new breakthroughs in documentary filmmaking and provide early examples of the practice now popular practice of i-docs (interactive documentaries). By challenging the freedom of choice and agency that interactive technologies promise to consumers, these and other AI experiments immerse their audience into critiques of democratic systems, techno-colonialism, racial debates, consumer profiling, data mining ethics, and complicit surveillance –issues that are now even more relevant and urgent.

By envisioning alternative trajectories for AI futures through past “futuristic” practices, the symposium objective is to reconfigure more inclusive and ethically informed paths for AI practice, machine learning, and algorithmic culture.

The symposium is organized and researched by NYU Cinema Studies professor Marina Hassapopoulou, as part of an International Research and Collaboration Award from the University of Cambridge’s Mellon Sawyer seminar “Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power.”

Marina Hassapopoulou is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cinema Studies, at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University (NYU). Her forthcoming book, Interactive Cinema: The Ethics of Participation and Collectivity in the Era of (Dis)Connection, focuses on cross-cultural participatory multimedia experiments at the intersection of cinema and technology, and develops new sociopolitical frameworks for spectatorship in the digital age. Alongside research and teaching, she is involved in open-access and non-profit initiatives that aim to create more inclusive and diverse opportunities for activist and creative tech practices within and outside the academia. She is the recipient of an International Research and Collaboration Award by the University of Cambridge, and this symposium is part of her proposed project to create more diverse and inclusive paths for AI creative and socially impactful practices.

Research assistance and website management by NYU Cinema Studies PhD candidate Da Ye Kim.


[1] Mateas, Michael. “Expressive AI: A hybrid art and science practice.” Leonardo 34.2 (2001): 147-153.

*Disclaimer about the images: The featured images on this website are either from Pixabay, an online database for copyright-free images, or from the symposium’s featured artists’ websites with their permission. Some of the page header images were created in collaboration with the Deep Dream Generator, an AI-driven image generating software. The images are meant to function as different perceptual “shortcuts” for different visualizations (beyond human/biological vision) of what Artificial Intelligence could be.

** The image on this page is a Google Deep Dream-generated project by artist Nettrice Gaskins <https://www.nettricegaskins.com>