Or, the Creatures of Prometheus II

COLA 2019 Individual Artists Fellowship Exhibition
Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Art Park, Los Angeles, CA
May 19 – July 14, 2019

COLA 2019 CATALOGUE ESSAY

Or, the Creatures of Prometheus has overtaken Peter Wu’s creative practice. An evolving multimedia project, this second chapter, on view in the COLA exhibition, extends his concentrated examination of our relationship to technology, creative control and evolution, and otherness as a lived and technological experience.

Or, the Creatures of Prometheus I, installed at San Francisco’s R/SF Projects in late 2018, is a six-minute-and-forty-three- second visual consideration of mechanized death. Driven by an irresistible ambient score, flashing images of human bones and guillotine blades honor Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) for its prescient warning about technological advancement and our love-hate relationship with artificial intelligence (AI).

This iteration of Wu’s project considers otherness from multiple and overlapping perspectives: AI as either helpless forms that cannot survive without our paternalistic attention or terrorizing entities that must be contained, as numerous science fiction books and films speculate, and the artist’s experience of growing up a person of color in a small Canadian town. Distinctive elements—including the white 3-D head modeled after the artist’s (the head glows in the dark to mimic the supposed thirty seconds of consciousness after the guillotine blade falls) and dialogue recalling childhood memories— squarely locate the artist at the center of this techno-psychological experiment. Like the mad scientists we know from books and movies, Wu tests on himself these ideas of who or what is held out as the other.

For Wu, Or, the Creatures of Prometheus II is a dream. It is a proposition of what encounters with AI could be if artificial life-forms could create content without human oversight. Wu walks up to that line in using poem generators JanusNode and Gnoetry and tapping into Google’s deep writing bot via TensorFlow by feeding it text from Frankenstein. What the computer spits out is dark and lyrical, blurring the line between human and automated authors so completely that audiences may not identify the source. To give voice or emotion to this experiment, Wu surrenders certain capacities in order to advance different creative potentials

Are we to fear this dream as a nightmare? What will it mean if artificial intelligence reaches sentience and the capacity to create content or life? Will we, the creators, suddenly become secondary, the human other to AI’s totalized self? We are not far enough along to answer those fearsome questions, but we may glimpse answers in the work of Peter Wu. Perhaps, as Prometheus gave mortals fire and broke their bondage to the gods, we will someday surrender our creations to their own fate.

— Roula Seikaly


Or, the Creatures of Prometheus II, 2019
Glow in the dark PLA 3D print, wood, translucent fabric,
mapped HD video projections with sound (TRT 6:44 minute loop)
96 x 72 x 72 inches

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