Super Dakota is proud to present I’m verses, Sarah Derat‘s third exhibition at the gallery.
I’m verses is the latest avatar of an in-depth trans-disciplinary research exploring our relationship to the digital tools and systems we surround ourselves with & their potential resonances on language, cognition and society at large.
Within the same holistic horizon the artist uses disciplines such as archeology, paleoanthropology and neurosciences. The starting point of her research is to be found in scholarly studies on the possible evolutionary connection between language and toolmaking: how they evolved side by side, possibly feeding off each other & how they ignited our ability to be in the world.
The talking/making interaction is used by the artist as a speculative pathway to explore the possible impact of technological developments such as automation and AI: if the mouth/hand dynamic, often perceived as quintessentially human, is so crucial to us, what would it mean to fully give away making, crafting, processing to automated systems?
Avoiding any dogmatic approach, Sarah Derat’s practice revolves at this precise intersection of sculpture/installation and tech, physical and digital. Since 2017, the artist has developed a singular technique using silicone rubber, somehow between mould making and printmaking. The large modular silicone installation exhibited at Super Dakota presents itself as a non-linear map of the artist’s research, offering no simple reading or narrative but a multitude of non-hierarchical entry points. Each panel zipped to one another calls in references from archeology, tech and popular culture: i.e. words uttered by AI systems bargaining for items (iii – NIMRUD, 2020), a diagram inspired by facial recognition technology (MUTE), a drawing based on the research of French paleoanthropologist A. Leroi-Gourhan (DEEP DIVE 2, 2020).
Egyptology plays an important role in the exhibition. The artist invokes the Egyptian goddess Meretseger (whose name translates as She Who Loves Silence). Thought to be the protective deity of Deir el-Medina tomb makers, she would care for the makers’ hands while striking and incapacitating with paralysis or blindness those who would displease her. Her mythological construct – baring interesting parallels with certain technological systems we use daily – haunts the exhibition. Her name is randomly uttered by the AI generated sound installation presented at the gallery.
GYMNOPAEDIA EXERCISE NUMBER 2 is the latest occurrence of Sarah Derat’s experimentations with sound using a machine learned system trained to understand & respond to melodic phrases. In the current version of the piece, the system was set in a kind of echo chamber, listening and responding to itself. All spoken words come from the displayed works.
The sound piece also finds itself echoed in the series of exhibited videos. In a contrasting silence, the artist films her use of a renowned neural machine translation software in an attempt to decipher ancient systems of writing. I’m verses, the title of the exhibition is one of these generated translations.
As the software endlessly tries to process the ancient texts, it triggers flickering combinations of words in augmented reality, both conceptually and formally close to concrete poetry. The failed translations become somehow reminders of the artefacts’ agency, the vibrancy of their matter. They are the surviving witnesses of languages, knowledge, people & stories now alien to us.
Across the exhibition, the generated sound and texts, the skin-life artificiality of the silicone raises the question of what is human and what isn’t, which emulates the other and vice versa.
From this fluid & constant back & forth there remains an ambivalent feeling; one suggested by the familiar, comforting yet questionable anthropomorphisation of tech, predominantly posed as the main trajectory forward.
The artist project is supported by the Arts Council of England. Additional supports comes from The British Museum, The Ashmolean Museum and The Fitzwilliam Museum.