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Adam Basanta

Born in Tel-Aviv (ISR, *1985) and raised in Vancouver (BC), Basanta lives and works in Montreal since 2010. Originally studying contemporary music composition, he has developed a broad, experimental, autodidactic artistic practice in mixed-media installations, sculpture, and print media.

Across various media and techniques, he investigates technology as a meeting point of concurrent, overlapping systems; a nexus of cultural, computational, biological, and economic forces.

Since 2015, his works have been exhibited worldwide including the Musée des beaux- arts de Montréal (CAN), WRO Biennale (POL), Fotomuseum Winterthur (CH), Cite International des Arts - Paris (FRA), Arsenal Art Contemporain (CAN), Galerie Charlot (FRA), iMAL (BEL), National Art Centre Tokyo (JPN), V Moscow Biennale for Young Art (RUS), Serralves Museum (POR), Edith-Russ-Haus fur Mediakunst (GER), York Art Gallery (UK), and The Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe (USA).

His work has been awarded in Canada (Prix Pierre Ayot 2019, Sobey Art Award Longlist 2018 and 2020) and internationally (Japan Media Arts Prize 2016, Aesthetica Art Prize 2017), and can be found in private and institutional collections.

He practices art-making as a form of continual search and discovery, a way of engaging and becoming in the world. These guiding principles -change, risk-taking, and acquiring of new skills - underpins the diversity of practice, methodologies, and output media which result from it. Each work is an imperfect record of a particular moment, with the overarching thematic meanings found in the discontinuities between works and approaches.

Website and links: IG:@adambasanta


Towards a Partial-computability of Art

In his lecture “From Computation to Consciousness”, cognitive scientist and Ai researcher Joscha Bach proposes a definition of consciousness as a set of core overlapping computational functions (2015). These functions (i.e. a “directional attention mechanism”) fuse together discontinuous sensory experience into a seemingly-continuous “story” anchored by a representation of a protagonist/self. Within this computational paradigm, ‘facts’ are not perceptions of ‘things in the world’, but rather an adaptive resonances between of sensory information and computational functions. Bach suggests to recalibrate notions of ‘meaning’ and ‘truth’ as “suitable encodings” (with computable properties such as spareness, stability, adaptability, cost of acquisition etc) within a computational context (2015).

I would like to explore parallels between Bach’s thinking, Negarestani notion of inhumanism as a “vector of revision” for the inherent biases limiting humanist thinking (Negarestani 2014), and my own experience as an artist - an artist interested in creating dynamic systems through which art can be created; as a person who suspects they themselves may be a dynamic system which happens to create art; as an artist helplessly trapped in a system called the Artworld.

Building on Bach’s ideas within the general umbrella of inhumanism, I would like to propose an account of functional computational dynamics relating to the calculation of values (monetary, artistic, cultural, moral, etc) currently present in (1) Art-making, (2) individual perception and value-allocation in relation to art, and (3) the Artworld (comprised of individual computing agents within an algorithmic structure). Though this perspective, Art can be seen as a software (comprised of underlying semi-computable functions), and it is though this perspective that structures for value calculation can be revealed, reflected on, questioned, refined, recalibrated in terms of biases, and perhaps structurally modified (by changing operators or adding newly designed functions).

However, within our current cultural narratives, engagement with art and aesthetics is notoriously personal, mysterious, unquantifiable - a secular-spiritual modification of ‘divine inspiration’. Ironically, this common-sense understanding contradicts our experience that engagement with art is not random: there must be (even if unknowable) an underlying criteria of evaluation which integrates (1) evolutionarily perceptual functions alongside (2) culturally-developed specialized functions along learned vectors of analysis, modulated by (3) the collection of personal biases of the observer (taste), and (4) corresponding to a consensus-based collective computation referred to as the Artworld(s).

While it is accepted that impression of a work can be influenced by aesthetic, conceptual, and stylistic preferences, interpersonal relations (‘is the artist my friend?’), and market forces (‘is the artist “important”?’ ‘what is the context’), formalizing these as interlinked computational structures is seemingly forbidden. Equally neglected is elucidation or even speculation on which functions may be expandable (i.e. what variables are used to calculate “artist reputation”) or nested, what are the recursive interrelations between generalized cognitive functions (organizing sensory input) and specialized, culturally*-informed functions (giving art-specific ‘meaning’ to registered sensory input), etc.

Even when faced with the computable notion of monetary value, we seem satisfied to stick with a general formula: a work’s value is determined through the relationship between the Work-as-a-thing, Artist-as-a-creator, and Market-as-context (stated mathematically, perhaps $Valueartwork = (Work x Artist) / Market ). Again, efforts to formalize what computational processes could account for such general variables are generally discouraged, despite a general common-sense understanding reputation is formed through some calculation of partially quantifiable sum of career activities, reception, press, contacts, etc.

While the objection to a computational approach to Art often invoke extreme complexity, distributive and/or personal nature to reject the notion of computability, it is likely that resistance to such approaches is motivated by the threat posed to underlying humanist notions (‘creativity** as expression of human spirit’; ‘creativity being uniquely human’; ‘art necessitating creativity’; etc). It is an echo of the general reluctance of the application of computable structures to explain underlying concepts of self, consciousness, and meaning making; if, as Bach posits, consciousness is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves, perhaps Art (a single representation comprised of discontinues artistic activities) can be considered as a collective story society tells about itself. In the specific case of Art, it is arguable that the ambiguities created by resistance to computational accounts, and the lack of transparency of its underlying processes, benefit and amplify existing structures of power: such ambiguities are necessary for Art to remain one of the world’s most unregulated and manipulable financial markets.

My proposed research will undertake a recursive dialogue between phenomenological reflection and explicit diagrammatization of possible computational structures underlying calculation of values in Art. Proposed diagrammatic structures will be reflected on and shared with peers, be subjected to mental testing, updated, and re-evaluated. When structures appear to have been accurately revealed, they may be applied as functional computational systems in order to be experimentally tested.

Furthermore, a movement towards computable notions in art may lead to mathematical re-articulation of concepts related to value calculations, such as Originality, Diversity, and Representation. While some concepts may contain individual variation (i.e. personal biases) and non-computable*** variables (‘how much do you like a piece on a spectrum of love-to-hate’), the emphasis of the approach is not precise numeric calculation, but rather an elucidation of the structural and computable nature of such processes.

*Given that cultural-specific evaluation criteria emerge over time, it is likely that within a certain culture, the overall systemic structures (there may be multiple, and they may overlap) are shared, with variation in evaluation stemming from a collection of personal biases (i.e. personal taste).

** This is despite the fact that without some flexible notion of computation, we could never learn or create new cognitive functions (i.e. learning how to like new things).

***My approach does not necessitate that neither universe, consciousness, or Art need be completely/fully computable. It is sufficient for certain elements to be computable for the approach to allow a partial explanation of such phenomena (with other elements remaining shrouded in mysteries such as God, spirit/soul, animism, etc).

Bach, Joscha. “Joscha: From Computation to Consciousness (31c3).”, 24 Sept. 2015, Accessed 4 Feb. 2024.

Negarestani, Reza. “The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human.” E-Flux Journal, vol. 52, Feb. 2014, Accessed 5 Jan. 2023.

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