The funny thing about human fear of future machines is that it’s at its most acute when the machines are at their most human. Big hulking metal robots? No problem. But robots that are almost human? Terrifying, incomprehensible, the subject of millions of sci-fi books and movies.
That fear bubbles throughout this group show of tech-focused art. It starts with the incredible Joey Holder and her installation of twisted metal and plastic creatures, each one part-ancient trilobyte, part-future sex toy. They hang from the walls, ready to hatch and slither up you. They’re brilliant, menacing things.
Anicka Yi’s sheets of living kombucha material hang in the middle of the space, like skin sheared off the creatures she set flying around the Turbine Hall last year, all gooey and gross, like machines becoming slowly organic. Jake Elwes’ AI-porn film comes next, based on forcing a machine learning tool to create its own erotic imagery. It’s vile, uncanny and totally discomfiting. Then you get Keiken’s spa-like installation, where you can wear a glowing haptic womb and feel some creature kicking against your belly and gurgling in your ear. The machines are alive, and they’re now growing inside you.
The machines are alive, and they’re now growing inside you.
Upstairs, Theo Triantafyllidis’s generative film is an infinite simulation of endless hordes of video game characters fighting to the death; cops and anarchists and ancient warriors and zombies destroying themselves for eternity. It’s an awesome work of art that leaves you more worried about what us humans do with technology than what technology will ever do with us.
There are three artificial reality elements to the show which you download an app for, but they’re too fiddly, gimmicky and disappointing to really work. And the older works here – an early video game piece by Rebeccal Allen, cyborg women by Lynn Hershman Leeson – are interesting, but feel full of hope for the future, which doesn’t quite sit right with the rest of the show.
Maybe it’s a generational divide. The older artists are all full of optimism, and the younger ones see the truth of our technological present and imminent future. Theirs are works filled with anxiety, fear, violence, control and uncertainty. Let’s just hope they’re wrong