Worshipping technology in a temple of art

Wang Jie
"Mind Temple" features works by 20 artists from home and abroad, and dares visitors to enter into a metaphysical dialogue with the status quo.
Wang Jie

When artificial intelligence appears at the center of an art exhibition, you have to admit that the curator must have some guts. It is not easy to juxtapose high art with futuristic technology.

“Mind Temple” features works by 20 artists from home and abroad, and dares visitors to enter into a metaphysical dialogue with the status quo.

The exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art at People’s Park also celebrates the 13th anniversary of China’s first private art gallery.

At the entrance to the exhibition stands the colossal “Mind Temple” itself, an installation created by calligraphic performer Wang Dongling and an AI team.

The work proposes that when traditional culture meets new technology something is lost and something is gained. There is both inheritance and disruption.

The museum’s second floor is occupied by 398 androids. “Windows to the Soul” is an exchange of glances and stares between human and man-made eyes which asks new questions about perception. We no longer look passively at a work of art. The art can now look back at us.

It is not just the art itself which makes use of AI, guide robots provide an entirely new visitor experience based on the application of science.

Bioscience and technology help artists explore the ultimate topic of existence. Videography and interactive installations discuss issues such as DNA engineering, cell reproduction and cosmic shifts, questioning the pursuit of immortality by technical means.

Miriam Sun, curator of the exhibition and executive director of MoCA, spoke with Shanghai Daily about her hopes for the exhibition.

Q: Over the past 13 years MoCA has built a clear image for itself with its crossover shows using multi-media and cartoons. Was that the original purpose when it first opened?

A: When MoCA opened, our only vision was to “gather excellent works from all over the world” and present them on the local stage through exhibitions and some public art education programs. Frankly, 13 years is quite a long time for me, but a rather short time for an art museum.

Q: This exhibition celebrates the 13th anniversary of MoCA. What’s special about it?

A: “Mind Temple” embraces anthropological topics by providing a perspective that connects science and art, injects multi-disciplinary dynamics into contemporary art and expands the boundaries of artistic exploration and expression.

The exhibition fuses artificial intelligence with art, questioning how technology will (or will not) change the nature of art.

By referring to Martin Heidegger’s arguments, we hope to return to the field of “aletheia (reality),” covering and uncovering, while questioning technology.

Q: How do you think artificial intelligence will change the modes of artistic expression?

A: This is an epoch of technological revolution. Change is everywhere. In a digital era, whether one is an artist, an intellectual, a stay-at-home mom, or any ordinary person in the street, the future is knocking at the door. Are you ready?

Whether dumbfounded by AlphaGo or daunted by HBO’s “Westworld,” we are witnessing chaotic change in art, in our lives and in how we think of society.

Q: As curator of this exhibition, what was your biggest challenge?

A: Simply keeping up with the times. Balancing art and science and how to discuss technology with professional artists, how to push or drag them out of their comfort zones, to make them do things that the others haven’t done. I like the lines (by Egyptian Greek poet Constantine Peter Cavafy) “As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.”

Q: If you could choose only one piece on display, which would it be?

A: Oh, it’s too difficult to just choose one piece. All the work on display are the products of deep discussion and exploration. Each piece is a treasure. All the artists together made it possible for us to open this mind temple.

Q: You started planning this exhibition three years ago. How has your interpretation of life and art changed since then?

A: I have forced myself to read books on new subjects and visited scientists, anthropologists, musicians, religious leaders and big data experts. I have discovered new aspects to my vision and my spirituality.

It was a journey to Ithaka (a Greek island in the sea), filled with difficulty and challenge. I am grateful to every one of my team who accompanied me on this crazy trip.

Q: It is said that MoCA is going to focus on “crossover+” as its future curating strategy. Can you explain exactly what that means?

A: Contemporary art has always been and will always be the DNA of MoCA. Art has no boundaries. “Crossover+” will open unlimited artistic communication with the public.

Worshipping technology in a temple of art
Courtesy of MoCA

“River without Ranks, No.3” by artist Fei Yunfei 

Exhibition info

Date: Through January 3, 10am-5pm

Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art

Address: 231 Nanjing Rd W.

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