Art as 'artificial stupidity'

O'Connell, Micheál (2017) Art as 'artificial stupidity'. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Through treatment of selected interventions and artworks, the thesis investigates relationships
between cybernetics, conceptions of intelligence and artistic practice. The works in question are
primarily the artist’s own, documented in the thesis and a separate portfolio. Specifically, intelligence’s
downside, the controversial notion of stupidity, has been reappropriated as a means of considering the
way artists intervene and how art, as a system, functions.

The term ‘artificial stupidity’ was invented in reaction to a particular construal of what Artificial
Intelligence (AI) meant. The notion has been employed since, and the thesis discusses interpretations
and uses of it. One meaning relates to an ability to become, or make oneself, ‘stupid’ in order to
facilitate discovery. In the conclusions, the arguments are extended to ‘art as a social system’ (Niklas
Luhmann), suggesting that it survives and reproduces through a wily kind of pretend idiocy combined
with occasional acts of generosity to other systems.

The research methodology is threefold. Firstly, unapologetically playful approaches,
characteristic of the artistic process, were utilised to generate ideas. Thus, art becomes primary research;
an equivalent to experimentation. Secondly conventional secondary research; the study of texts; was
conducted alongside artistic production. Thirdly the works themselves are treated as raw materials to
be discussed and written about as a means of developing arguments.

Work was selected on the basis of the weight it carries within the author’s practice (in terms of
time, effort and resources devoted) and because of its relevance to the thesis themes i.e. contemporary
and post-conceptual art, the science of feedback loops and critiquing intelligence and AI. The second
chapter divides interventions and outputs into three categories. Firstly, the short looping films termed
‘simupoems’, which have been a consistent feature of the practice, are given attention. Then live art, in
which a professional clown was often employed, is considered. Lastly a series of interactions with the
everyday technological landscape is discussed. One implication, in mapping out this trajectory, is that
the clown’s skills have been appropriated. ‘Artificial stupidity’ permits parking contravention images to
be mistaken for art photography, for beauty to be found in courier company point-of-delivery
signatures and for the use of supermarket self-checkout machines, but to buy nothing.

The nature of the writing in chapter 2 and appendix A (which was a precursor for the approach)
is discursive. Works are reviewed and speculations made about the relationship with key themes. The
activities of artists like Glenn Lygon, Sophie Calle, Samuel Beckett are drawn upon as well as
contemporary groupings Common Culture (David Campbell and Mark Durden) and Hunt and Darton
(Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton). Chapter 3 includes a more structured breakdown and taxonomy of
methods. Art theories of relevance including the ideas of Niklas Luhmann already mentioned, John
Roberts, Avital Ronell, Mikhail Bakhtin, Andrew Pickering and Claire Bishop are called upon
throughout the thesis.

Interrogation of the work raises certain ethical or political questions. If there are good reasons for
the unacceptability of ‘stupid’ when applied to other human beings, might it be reasonable to be
disparaging about the apparent intellectual capacities of technologies, processes and systems?

The period of PhD research provided an opportunity for the relationship between the artist’s
activities and the techo-industrial landscape to be articulated. The body of work and thesis constitutes a
contribution to knowledge on two key fronts. Firstly, the art works themselves, though precedents exist,
are original and have been endorsed as such by a wider community. Secondly the link between systems
and engineering concepts, and performance-oriented artistic practice is an unusual one, and, as a result,
it has been possible to draw conclusions which are pertinent to technological spheres, computational
capitalism and systems thinking, as well as art.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general > NX0600 Special movements, A-Z > NX0600.P47 Performance art
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 02 May 2017 13:35
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37

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