Katsu: Memory Foam
The Hole is proud to announce our second solo exhibition by new media artist KATSU. Behind this nom de guerre the artist has created a lot of street art and shared a lot of subversive computer work; this is his second exhibition with us under the name. With “Memory Foam” he elaborates on the themes introduced in his 2015 show “Remember the Future” about technology’s promise and its sad compromise. Using drone paintings, wallpaper, AI criminal portraits and a new VR piece in this exhibition, KATSU looks deeper at how machine learning is outstripping emotional intelligence.
“Emotional Intelligence” is the title of the wallpaper in the front gallery. Mimicking Warhol’s machine-assisted consumer focus, KATSU here cynically reproduces a stock photography “emotion.” Hanging on top of the wallpaper are drone flowers: paintings made by a drone carrying a can of spray paint. KATSU pioneered this technique and featured its use in the 2015 show; here the drone has been programmed to autonomously execute repeated marks on each of the 200+ paintings, whereas previously the flight and spray was controlled by the artist’s hand remotely. As with his 2015 smiley face drone paintings, he chose flowers as a nod to the hippie culture that is an often-overlooked aspect of Silicon Valley tech culture.
In the artist’s words: “There’s a relationship to tulip mania [famous Dutch tulip market crash in the 1600s] and crypto currency, but the flowers are primarily about being ‘below the API’ and our automated future. These paintings are post-human works; they discuss authorship and the removal of humankind from the equation of life.”
The rear gallery space will feature five massive AI criminal portraits generated, like the above, via artificial intelligence using a neural network and a learning algorithm to generate criminal mugshots. The artist trained a computer on thousands of vintage black and white mugshots using Google’s Tensor Flow machine-learning library. Once having learned the details of criminal faces it could then create an infinite amount of these on its own. These were made on a GAN system (generative adversarial network) with two competing systems: one seeking the correct outcome and the other trying to trick it. This for some reason creates surprising and evocative results when dealing with this imagery. The sinister side is that AI is also being used to create systems for law enforcement and has far reaching civil liberties implications, but yeah. Machine learning!
A small side room of the exhibition is devoted to a new VR piece by KATSU that is an “homage” to the Tenderloin area of San Francisco, a region “with deep roots in graffiti culture” that is slowly being sanitized and gentrified. According to the artist, “the same advanced technology responsible for this anthropological artwork about the neighborhood will also be responsible for its demise.”
KATSU is a new media artist who graduated from Parsons and works in Brooklyn. He has had a major impact in the graffiti and hacker communities in the past decade, blending technology with artistic impulses and humour. His work has been featured in group shows at Fondation Cartier in Paris, and Eyebeam in Brooklyn, NY, as well as in media outlets Wired, Artnet, VICE and CNN.