RANT vs ISCA (fiction)

RND/ In which you actively pretend to be current Theorist In Residence for ISCA – the smoothly sinister & sublimely algorithmic “Institute Of Southern Contemporary Art” [1] – installed in their wires over the weekend by remote hack, a hungry cybernetic ghost – yet in fact represent the theoretical interests of “RANT” (Refusal Against Northern Theory)

First, the ‘Logos’ of RANT:

R.A.N.T logos

Next, a faded and torn simulation of an old ‘RANT vs ISCA’ poster:


More intense postmodern R&D about Robert What’s viral software residency to follow; artists João Enxuto and Erica Love have been informed, but have not responded.

Inverted ISCA video

Transcript of Institute For Southern Contemporary Art (via Robert What)

A theory-fiction: “If an algorithm were employed to design a sculpture that conveyed the most spectacular of ironies, it might look something like this – a lavish symbol of extinction standing at the front-line of climate disaster. Regardless, billionaires aren’t here to look very far past Miami Beach’s turquoise horizon. Instead, they’re invested in playing games. Fucking with categories. Promoting innovation – and it’s accomplice, disruption. Contemporary art is part of that regime. It is a transnational symbol that cuts across thresholds of all kinds. Legal and otherwise. The mammoth arrived from the past, and imparts a future; the gilding is a conceit of the present.

Imagine if the flow of contemporary art were to somehow stall; would recent art be more closely tied to its site of production? Would Miami, as the southern most metropolis in the US, become the centre for southern contemporary art?

This is in fact ground zero for contemporary art in the South. As it has been since 2002. But we are now faced with a situation that has not appeared since the days of Noah. In the future, if rising sea level scenarios hold, it will require us to begin again with Southern Contemporary Art – only it will need to occur elsewhere; from there, we can determine what will come after the contemporary.

Welcome to Atlanta; the inland metropolis of the South. Let’s take a cultural turn and fly past John Portman’s glass skinned enclosures. They are ruins of a bygone future. Foreboding, and therefore cherished by the dystopian storytellers of the film and TV industry. A distinguished architect once said something prophetic about places like these – “We were making sandcastles. Now, we swim in the sea that swept them away.”

Atlanta’s Central Library was the architect Marcel Breuer’s final project. It was completed in 1980. Like the Whitney museum Breuer designed immediately preceding, the Central Library is concrete clad, and, brooding. There it is now. The structure certainly has its detractors. But the architecture community came to its defence, when its future was put into question following a city referendum in 2008. Since then the Central Library has been severely de-funded, understaffed, and there are ongoing rumours that the building will be sold or demolished.

The uncertain future of the Central Library presents an opportunity, to complement the ambitions of its maker. Marcel Breuer believed that architecture should be an instrument for “civilizing technology.” To meet those ends, we’d like to introduce a new standard. The “Institute For Southern Contemporary Art” – ISCA.

The Central Library will be transformed, to promote the advancement of contemporary art, here in the South. It is a grand experiment; part think tank, and part experimental program to promote new terms for art production. The Institute For Southern Contemporary Art begins with a simple bottom line that, art is produced as a commodity. It doesn’t become one when it is sold. While technology is increased productivity in most sectors, art has remained a time consuming operation; creativity requires time, and ‘art work’ still takes work.

Fellows accepted to ISCA are awarded a stipend and do not pay tuition. ISCA will become an experiment in pedagogy, and reinvent the study and training of visual arts right here in the South. The only work of fellows is to occasionally provide the algorithm with their demographic, psychographic, and behavioural attributes. The rest of the time is dedicated to the pursuit of advancing art practices, curatorial work, and critical writing that engages with the social and intellectual conditions in the art field. The work will be supported by a venerable rotating roster of theorists, artists, activists, designers, and developers. It’s amazing what the art market can provide, isn’t it?

Through algorithmic learning, ISCA fellows will instrumentalize a market that already operates as if regulated by computational logic. The analysis of art market metadata has proved beneficial primarily for collectors, many of whom do very little, besides await returns on the derivatives market.

At the core of The Institute For Southern Contemporary Art, is a supercomputer that analyses and models the flow of art markets. For some time, market data has been the primary determinant in shaping matters of taste. It is a cybernetic system which has trained the heart, and the mind.

This requires a complex analysis of trends. Then, you add in Instagram data; Instagram data is incredible because you’re basically crowdsourcing opinion. The more the art market becomes gamified, the more adept the ISCA algorithm will be in generating a detailed production plan for art than can successfully enter the market flow. You see, this will be done for an acceptable margin of error, considering volatility, and a penchant in the art market for ‘anomalies’. Mastering the market shouldn’t take long, since it does trend toward the formulaic and user friendly. Artworks are eager to please.

After setting up shop in the Breuer building, ISCA fellows will function as subject matter experts, providing rating data to artificial neural networks. The networks are made up of software based neurons, which communicate and alter their connection strengths to adapt and learn. The ISCA algorithm also encodes a chain of inferences, made by contemporary art experts, financial analysts and critical theorists.

This ‘deep learning machine’ factors the creative product’s art history, to help draw inferences about originality, and influence. Art is a special asset class – a beautiful instrument really, which provides very tangible incentives for Returns On Investment. And, it is less risky than you would think. Proper analytics and data management are the key. The myth that ‘everything can be quantified’ is quite powerful.

While services provided by art advisor and art rank all deliver predictive data, our computational model is focused on a different horizon. We aim to serve the interests of artists, not just collectors. Once the system is up and running, contemporary art products will be marketed and sold under the ISCA imprimitive. Like any other creative expression, algorithmic art requires interpretation – a human touch. Authorship and individuality are key factors for quantifying artistic value. Collectors expect it.

So, just about all ISCA production will be outsourced. A crowdworking system will hire technicians, marked by the highest reputational rankings. Painters, welders – but also coders, and 3D designers. Luckily, there is a large labour pool to draw from. Art schools have turned vocational.

As the Damien Hurst mammoth illustrates, the market welcomes fabrication, and outsourcing. It’s been that way for decades. So it only follows that in the future, art production will be further automated, and predicted.

You know, this reminds me of a story, recounted by the artist Howard Finster about a divine intervention. After dipping his index finger in enamel paint, Finster observed that it had been transfigured into the face of God. That vision was tied to a previous vision, where he was called to “Paint sacred art”, yes – paint sacred art. And wouldn’t you know it, God was saying to him all the time ‘Howard, you got to get your pictures out to the world.’ And you could hear God say “Sell ’em!” And that’s when he started to sell his paintings to the world.

You are probably thinking that this entire venture is crazy. And you’re probably saying that, “Computers don’t know creativity.” That, art isn’t just a set of instructions. But I assure you that our results are based on quantifiable information. You see, it’s been a long time since artists were regarded as sages or priests. They are more likely to be specialized knowledge workers, like many of us. Taste can be fickle. So it is high time to let software take command.

Contemporary art is a multi-billion, unregulated market, with unclear criteria just waiting to be harnessed. And the ISCA algorithm is just the instrument to do it. It isn’t a perfect deterministic model. But at ISCA, we didn’t just get into The Art Game to optimize for market performance. The goal of automating contemporary art is to become emancipated from it.

You see, political economy is at the heart of The Art Problem. Technology may be changing infrastructure, but that infrastructure is made to function according to narrowly defined objectives. Technological change alone won’t curtail an art field defined by individualism and competition – regardless of what artists and collectives really want. It’s time to put it into autopilot. Capital can slough off its human drag.

Artists have become compelled to conceive of themselves as entrepreneurs. Any chance for autonomy is precluded by a lack of access to market distribution. But, once access is granted, artists cease to function as meaningfully autonomous. This is an age old conundrum that ISCA is dedicated to challenging.

Now you are probably wondering how ISCA artists and its programs will be subsidized. Well, sales of our contemporary art products are projected to make ISCA sustainable by 2022.

It was recently said that contemporary art must be anywhere, or nowhere, at all. So why not the South, which boasts the most hospitable of business environments? If ISCA could help make the South the industry leader in contemporary art, it would. But, as it stands, contemporary art carries with it a kind of fiction, of a unified present that is global, and boundless. But of course, contemporary art has boundaries. They are called Biennales. Free ports. Art fairs in Dubai, Miami, and London. Often, art only takes on aspects of the contemporary, when it is framed as such. “The Now” has a particular recognizability, which dictated the design of the ISCA module that you can see here. This version happens to house Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chairs. The rest of the container is ready to be filled with *your* imagination.

The modules are an important ISCA strategy. They are sized to fit inside cargo containers. Moving from port to port, modules can be positioned anywhere, to instantly increase consumer confidence.

How do we map an edge, that is in constant motion? How can we fix a fluid boundary, when it comes time to mark the limits of private property, and the commons? On the beach, ISCA modules will be positioned near the high tide line, in a grey area between the two designations – caught in a perpetual state of groundlessness. In the coming decades, as the tide line advances, many of our most progressive art institutions – now elevated about storm surge level – will be inundated. The concrete beams which support the museum platform, will turn into artificial reefs, and support a diversity of sea life. By the of this century, the museum will stand on a seabed, owned by the state, and be placed in the public trust, possibly as a memorial to contemporary art, as we’ve known it.


Reference Links

  1. ISCA
  2. Calculating The Hyperreal Financial Concept of ‘Worth’

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