The advent of AI-generative technology has profoundly revolutionized how we as humans interact with the world around us. AI has helped to amplify our efforts at mastering such diverse and diametrically opposed fields of knowledge, from medicine to finance. Considering the impact that it has had in the field of natural sciences, the question then arises: what consequences will using artificial intelligence software have on the distinctiveness of human creativity in the domain of visual arts? How will it affect our cultural and emotional landscape?

These are some of the ideas which are explored in the 6th edition of the boutique fair S.E.A. Focus, titled Serial and Massively Parallel, which runs from January 20th to January 28th 2024 at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark in Singapore, a city which has been at the forefront of technological development in Southeast Asia. John Tung, who is curating the exhibition, hopes that it will be able to present the region's contributions to AI-generated art:

There has been a proliferation of technological works across the region, but very often Southeast Asia does not get the same kind of visibility in the international arena. Singapore as a country always wants to be on the frontier of new developments, from cloud computing to artificial intelligence. In some ways the art community’s interest in technology is part of a trickle-down effect.

Tung emphasizes that the goal of this year's edition of S.E.A. Focus is to draw attention to the increasing suspicion and fear that we have towards AI, stating the title of the event references how differently the human brain functions from computers.

A computer is able to do things in a very serial fashion but it’s not able to run stimuli from multiple sources in parallel as efficiently as the human brain. So I took this as a jumping-off point to think about the place artificial intelligence has in art-making but also in the world at large.

The curator conceived of the exhibition in a free-flowing format, which is a departure from the usual fair layout featuring rows of booths. More than 50 artists and 22 exhibitors are hosted at the event, with the focus being more on spotlighting a spectrum of different artistic practices, including traditional art mediums such as sculpture, rather than only showcasing the newest in cutting-edge technology.

Two of the artists whose works are featured at S.E.A. Focus are renowned Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the Filipino artist Ella Mendoza. Weerasethakul began experimenting with ChatGPT-3 before it became mainstream, using it to conduct fictional conversations with people from the past, like Salvador Dalí and the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, and even non-human entities such as the Sun. He combined these imaginary talks with diaristic footage of his home country that he made over the years to form the basis of his oneiric video installation A Conversation with the Sun (2022).

Ella Mendoza's contribution is in stark contrast to the preceding work. Titled the weight of the rest of us (2023), it consists of a set of raw ceramic pots hanging in a net and is a poignant manifestation of the question: “What place do such technologies have in underdeveloped economies which are reliant on agriculture?”

In conjunction with S.E.A. Focus, Art SG is running from January 19th to January 21st 2024 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center. Shuyin Yang, the director of the fair, noted that there are a larger number of technology-based artworks being presented at this year's edition, remarking that

Singapore has always been known as... a highly tech-aware society and people are very receptive to [new media] works.

The presence of regional names at the second edition of Art SG will be complemented by several international exhibitors who will be displaying the works of the early pioneers of digital art. New York-based bitforms gallery is featuring the artistic creations of Manfred Mohr, who is widely regarded as the godfather of digital and generative art, which he began experimenting with in the 1960s using plotters and mechanical devices to sketch out lines with the help of algorithms. London-based Gazelli Art House, is showcasing several artists, the late British-born painter Harold Cohen being prominent among them. His creation of the computer program AARON is viewed as the precursor to today's AI image generators DALL-E and Midjourney. Other artists featured include Refik Anadol, Jake Elwes and more.

The varied artistic venues of Singapore have more to offer in the field of digital art, encouraging dialogue between aspiring Southeast Asian creators and international names. ArtScience Museum is hosting New Eden: Science Fiction Mythologies Transformed, an exhibition which explores themes such as hybridity, mysticism and otherworldly utopias through March 3rd 2024. At Tanjong Pagar Distripark, Singapore Art Museum is showing Proof of Personhood: Identity and Authenticity in the Face of Artificial Intelligence through February 25th 2024, delving into the unstable relationship between identity, agency and authenticity in pop culture.

Singapore Art Week runs from January 19th to January 28th. Find more information about events and exhibitions here.

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