“We spend the time of our lives” Blue ocean lighting reads right inside the entrance to Athens’ largest public park, Pedion tou Areos, the temporary home of Plásmata, a digital art gallery of gigantic proportions.
Just steps away from a monument to King Constantine I, the sign – courtesy of Danish artist group Superflex, reminiscent of flashy commercial billboards – appears to have a satirical feel. We’ve been bombarded with such ads, tailored to us by powerful algorithms and full of cliched cliches, what choice do we have but to believe it?
Commissioned and produced by Onassis Stegi and curated by Future Everything, Plásmata is Europe’s largest outdoor digital art gallery. The show moves on from last year’s edition, You and Artificial Intelligence: Through a Computational Lens, which explored how algorithms influence and reshape society and our perception of the world. This time around, the experimental exhibition seeks to investigate the idea of the body—whether individual or collective, human or non-human, or planetary—and its interaction with technology.
In addition to meaning “creatures” in Greek, the word “plásmata” comes from the root “plasso,” which means to manufacture or mold – as such, 25 new, large-scale works explore how we use data to create different types of objects and identities, to make and remanufacture copies of of ourselves.
One of the works that deals with the intrusion of technology into the human body – and seems to sound the alarm against it – is “Happiness” by Dutch theater director and visual artist Dries Verhoeven. In this installation, a robot runs an abandoned pharmacy, telling visitors about different medications, antidepressants and pain relievers that can alter and improve their emotional reality.
“It is a sign of our times, in our longing for happiness, we are increasingly pinning our hopes on the artificial field, in artificial intelligence, in drugs and other alternatives to nature,” Verhoeven told Euronews.
However, other works look more optimistic. At first glance, Spanish artist SpY’s Divided appears to be talking about a breakup; A huge luminous red ball conjures up the earth and is divided into two halves.
“By depicting the divided Earth, I try to suggest how differences can be understood not as a form of separation, but rather as the quality and quality of integration,” says SpY.
He explains that the artwork is a response to the way “algorithms have taken over so many aspects of our lives.”
“Where there was focus, we now have distraction, automatic reactions rather than thinking,” he supposes, “and most importantly, confrontation and isolation have replaced empathy.”
Visitors can walk through the light-filled walkway between the half-domains, become part of the artwork themselves and experience what SpY describes as “a moment to escape this new reality,” and engage in a rare moment of togetherness. “The new digital reality may widen the gap between all of us, but we are still part of one being,” he says.
These topics have been addressed by the Seoul-based Kimchi and Chips collective, whose “other moon” photosynthesis sees sunlight collected by solar cells during the day, returning to the sky at night to create a satellite that flies 70 meters above the ground. Another “moon”, visible one kilometer away, shows a focal point that connects people in physical space – in contrast to the separation imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, and digital solutions that have replaced physical interaction.
Alongside the artwork, the NOWNESS digital video channel is curating an algorithm-free display of short films in the park’s former amphitheater, disrupting the digital platform’s usual practice of delivering customized content determined by an algorithm – returning viewers to a group viewing experience instead.
This collectivity is enhanced not only by the show being free and open to all, but by its specific location in a public park. Pedion tou Areos started as an army training ground and is now the largest public park in the Greek capital.
“How can you resist meeting each other, being together, and experiencing the magic of a crowd? That’s why we cherish Pedion to Areos.” says Aphrodite Panagiotaku, Director of Culture at the Onassis Foundation, regarding the selection of Pedion to Areos as the exhibition site.
Plasmata’s positioning in such a public space aims not only to create a sense of connectedness, but also to bring what Papadimitriou and Tsiavos describe into the public sphere as “urgent conversations” about ethical questions related to AI, data and surveillance.
They explain that “these instances allow people to ask important questions…expanding and extending the boundaries of public space and public discourse.”
Leaving the park, and wandering away from the illuminated blue Superflex sign, we may find ourselves asking the question, “Are we really having the time of our lives?”