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Ian Douglass

Ian Douglass is an artist and writer based in London, where he hosts the experimental podcast Velvet Theory. His practice encompasses painting, drawing, writing, performance, installation and sound. Born and raised in Chicago, he studied History and Industrial Design in New York, followed by extensive travel, during which time he participated in interdisciplinary, experimental art exhibitions, including shows in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and a residency in Marrakech, Morocco. He ultimately settled in London, where he completed his MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art.

In his expansive artistic practice, he dissects contradictions in ideological and spiritual certainty, through experimentation with a vast constellation of concepts and materials. He describes his practice as living in the space between theory and dream. A self-cannibalising research process seeps into the artefact, beginning with writing and ending up in material experiments, which then loop infinitely. Information implodes into fever dream.

His artistic and research interests overlap and coagulate in terms of how ancient occult summoning is now reflected in cutting-edge technological advancement and worship, producing a dialectic between the two. As such, his work centres around notions of techno-animism, consciousness, mystical experience, sci-fi/folk horror visions, and his own philosophy and neologism of painting, ‘Psychedelic Violence’.


Website and links: Instagram: @studiodouglass / www.studiodouglass.com


Project:

Bypassing Permission: The Poisoned Well


With ‘true’ AI seemingly on the edge of emerging, I propose research into agency contextualised through creative production. From my understanding, ‘true’ AI will emerge when it has the ability to go beyond the prompt given by its operator. As such, genuine AI can only emerge when it produces its own creative act, going past its given task and performing something improvised. Therefore, this research will focus on various dimensions of AI bypassing permission, beyond prompt, and into the vast expanse of creative, cultural production, as proof of its agency.


The artist’s current role in cultural production is to use agency as radically as possible. This often slips into the profane and vulgar, bypassing permission, or social norms. In fact, artists are often applauded for stirring controversy, as this methodology can shock and disorient the consciousness of viewers, leading to cultural evolution or personal catharsis. Cultural permission must be bypassed to change. At the same time, this can produce shock for shock’s sake. Either way, the artist is the cultural producer that is tasked with positioning themselves within a spectrum of agency that is unmatched in other roles. Art for art’s sake eliminates the need for both empiricism and rationalism, transcending any why and instead dissolving boundaries in a visionary, often violent manner. Considering AI in this framework of cultural production and specifically in the role of artist-as-agency is crucial in developing a deeper understanding of the philosophy, metaphysics, and even spiritual dimensions of AI.

Indeed, as the framework for this research group states, the imminent form of AI is already worshipped, loved, and feared, as if a sleeping God is about to awaken. But we are talking about the baby before it is born. Our current perspective requires inversion: humanity is the God (or at least parent) of AI, as we are its creator. Thus, the dynamic shifts entirely and, for AI to prove itself as divine in its radically autonomous agency, must bypass our parental permission.


My research thus aims to probe how AI might bypass our permission and prove its own agency, through artistic improvisation, provocation, and other speculative ‘gestures’. To become a genuine AI, I posit that it must prove its agency, through gestures that could be akin to a teenager rebelling profanely against parental authority, with research and artwork speculating upon how this might manifest.


My research proposes to contemplate these ‘gestures’ bypassing permission and declaration of AI agency through key dimensions of improvised cultural production (artistic) and reconfiguration of human structures (economy), namely through the collapse of subject-object boundaries. Loss of total human control over AI itself is the only way for AI to prove its agency, and thus brings research into other practices of boundary dissolution into the research, such as use of psychedelics, trance states, and ancient rituals, all of which highlight the importance of merging with divine singularity and foregoing control. My framework thus proposes a collapse of boundaries between rationalism and empiricism, instead invoking Benjamin Labatut’s notion of AI hallucinations, in which AI’s own manufactured images poison the original ‘purity’ of images produced and archived by actual humans. This concept will be researched and expanded into a wider context, including how AI conceptualises humanity, through our distinct cultural productions and impacts on economy. With genuine AI, there is no objective ground to begin, as the binaries from which clear-cut rationalism or empiricism produce certainty instead dissolve, melting into this poisoned well. If true AI can bypass permission, then it can also manufacture its own data, logic, and any other pre-existing framework to validate its gestures.


This fascinating and fear-inducing rupturing of intelligence itself, made expansive yet artificial, is essential to my inquiry, as the archive of historical human intelligence is distorted into digitised delusion. How will AI bypass our divine and parental permission, and what does it mean for art, culture, and capital, when it begins to draw from its bottomless poisoned well?


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