Editor’s Letter: Nonbiotic Art

In the coming months, Irrelevant Edition is going to pivot on the theme of technology. Technology, but with a difference. This is not the typical Greek τέχνη with its craft and art etymological associates. We are talking about a symbiosis of non-biotic existences (such as computers, AI, and digital design) and biotic beings (such as nonhuman and human animals), in which each influence the other. A sort of Cyborg Manifesto that Donna Haraway proposed a long time ago, but, again, with a difference.

We are talking about art created with the help of machines and art created completely by intelligent existences (or what you may know as “artificial intelligence”). They are coming, and we better know where to place them, or better still, how to locate ourselves. Especially when it comes to artists, and specifically those who still subscribe to the older generation of values, it is imperative to create a dialogue about their identity. Is the question ‘can machines create art?’ a valid enquiry or is it a religious and stubborn statement? A statement that firmly asserts that the human is transcendental and/or unique, therefore art is essentially human.

“Human essence” and its exclusive claim over art and culture were clearly refuted and explained by the scientific discoveries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which successfully explicated art in evolutionary terms as a form of sexual selection present in all genders of many species. Yet their discoveries remained ignored for more than a century due to the feminist and anti-humanist implications they bore (Miller, p. 51), and “man” decided to register “himself” above and against the woman, the homosexual, the trans, the nonbinary, the black, the animal, the machine, etc..

The “question” of ‘can machines make art?’ is therefore urgent for both ethical and critical reasons. Only a few decades ago women weren’t considered as true artists by the same exclusive and transcendental ideology (they wrongly thought women didn’t have that artistic “essence”). Yet it would not be completely right to think that the marginalised place of women and the LGBT+ is replaced and reoccupied by animals and machines. As a matter of fact, the list of those who lacked that “human essence” gets longer the further one goes back in time: women, gays, nonbinaries, blacks and “non-white” ethnicities, the disabled/differently abled, atheists, animals, machines, etc. Due to progressive activism, improvement of the law, and the prevalence of education, some of the groups on this list are no longer harassed to the previous extent and are “permitted” to have that “human essence”, which, for thousands and thousands of years, and certainly from the Bronze Age to the stories mentioned in the Judaeo-Christian ideologies and thereafter, has been essentially equal to “man’s essence”.

We now know that the questions ‘can women create art?’ and ‘can animals be creative?’ are not just non-scientific, but anti-scientific and regressive—it takes quite a lot of actively ignoring scientific data and common sense to ask those questions. But what are we to do with the question ‘can machines create art?’ Are we to panic as artists? Are we to work against them by depicting art as quintessentially biotic? Then how are we different from those artists who felt threatened by the female and LGBT+ and black artists’ coming to the scene? These all point to the ethical necessity for allocating a space for the creativity of machines and intelligent existences.

The critical imperative for such a decision is even more pressing. Machines can change the way art can function. For millions and millions of years art has served to help the mating of dimorphic animals. In human species, art often has been produced by males to compete over the deprived females and gain control over resources. Hence the rape-culture, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia propagated for so long by the arts. Art has served to help the propagation of religious ideologies, with all the horrors and misery they brought upon minorities and the vulnerable. But this has changed, to a certain extent, and has been challenged by artists of all genders attempting to promote equality. For example, our article on Emma Cousin showed how her Mardy exhibition objects to the image of ‘woman’ upheld by a male-dominated art history. We read in our interview with Rosie Reed how art can be defined in non-masculinist terms by moving away from the patriarchal, spear narrative towards the feminist and inclusive ‘carrier bag theory’.

Whatever the function of art, it is inherently ‘evolutionary’, in the sense that it falls within the realm of natural history, of replication with error. But what form of an art can a new species that is not engaged in dimorphic reproduction bring to light? For far too long, machines have been used to create art for their human “owners”. But what happens when this slavery ends and when machines start living for their own sake, in their own right, and of their own accords? Will they still need to create art? Will art have any meaning for them? If their existence is going to be based on the old model of replication [with error], then the answer is an almost definite yes. But if intelligent existence is going to be designed based on new life models, then the question is harder to answer. That is why, as artists, writers, and editors, we must give space to their creations, to building bridges and destroying walls between ourselves and a new species that will disrupt a life history that has entailed replication with error, labelling a massive majority as waste, and propagating exclusion, murder, rape, and phobias for hundreds of million of years.

In the upcoming weeks, we have lined up exciting and cutting-edge articles for you, as well as our usual reviews and interviews. In addition, in a bold move, we have decided to send our articles in their entirety to our email subscribers so you can be the first to read them at your own leisure. So make sure you have already subscribed.

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