A still image from the video Flag, © Albena Baeva, 2023
A solo exhibtion at Toplocentrala, Sofia
13 September – 7 October 2023
Opening: 12 September 2023, 6 pm
Just when the scale and certainty of the current climate crisis dawn on us, technology companies collectively embark on an artificial intelligence (AI) arms race. They spend vast amounts of Earth’s limited resources and energy to create an AI that generates endless streams of banal images and texts consisting of monotonous sentences. Adhering to the motto “fake it till you make it”, these companies continue to repeat the claim that true artificial intelligence capable of reaching and exceeding human achievements is only one step away. Promises and fears that artificial intelligence will replace humans or outright wipe us off the face of the Earth complement the media hype.
Amid misleading advertising and hype surrounding AI, a weird feeling remains. While remarkable, this technology does not even try to solve the problems that affect most people. We have no need for conversations with our younger selves, more images resembling the works of well-known artists or fake biographies. Why don’t we put more effort into reducing our dependence on finite resources, have cleaner air, less bureaucracy and corruption, and a better health care system?
Flag builds on a QR code that is generated by an AI. QR codes are the emblem of today’s online navigation. These images are automatically generated by one program as a navigation link that another program can read. It is an image created not with human aesthetics in mind but solely for machine consumption.
Current generative imaging models can create surprisingly believable artistic images because they have been trained on vast collections of human-created art and online artifacts. But what if we asked such an AI that is capable of generating images to create a simple QR code? Since this model does not know what a QR code is, the image it generates will be an imitation that does not function. This QR code will be useless and will lead nowhere.
Albena Baeva places this QR code generated by Stable Diffusion on a white flag. Flags are not just emblems of countries or institutions. They are also used to mark objects or to attract attention. A spellchecker flags words not included in its dictionary. In soccer, a flag is raised to draw a referee’s attention to a violation of rules. A white flag is raised by someone who surrenders.
A yellow torus that resembles a lifebelt carries the white flag with the QR code, reminding us of the thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean every year. This digital raft floats in a 3D-generated ocean in an endless video loop, in which calm waters alternate with strong winds and storms. We find ourselves somewhere in the distant future when the Earth has been submerged in water. In her characteristic interactive style, shortly after the end of our summer vacations, Baeva invites us to swing on a swing made of car tires and look at the sea. A sea that seemed so close and warm all summer and of which we dream as a place of refuge, a holiday, our rescue. A sea that is gradually taking over everything we know.
The Myth of Ka Credits:
Writer: Ivanka Mogilska, based on an idea by Albena Baeva
Voice recording: Eva Ralyakova
Sound recording and processing: Blagovest Dimitrov