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Can A Machine Make Art?

Simon Ingram Matotchkinchar 2011 | Collection: University of Auckland

Simon Ingram challenges our idea of the artist in his new show The Algorithmic Impulse, 21 November 2020 – 7 March 2021 at City Gallery Wellington, surveying twenty-five years of work by the Auckland-based artist. 

Made by mathematical, mechanical, and electronic means, his works explore the relationship between the artist, nature, and technology. His early Automata Paintings were composed not by intuition but using simple algorithms. Later, his painting machines generated novel compositions on the fly in response to lowfrequency radio waves. Also featured within the show, Ingram’s machine Monadic Device creates paintings in response to a person’s brainwaves, input via an EEG headset, and translated by computer software. 

Visitors will have the chance to see the machine in action, as Ingram dons the headset to make a painting at 3pm on Saturday 21 November. Then every subsequent Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, a member of the public will be hooked up to the device. The resulting paintings will form part of the exhibition, before being collected by their makers to own. Applications to participate in Monadic Device are now open on the City Gallery Wellington website. 

The show unveils new works produced by Ingram in collaboration with John Paul Pochin and Robert Spite under the name Terrestrial Assemblages. In Earth Models, the effects of regenerative agricultural approaches are presented on unboxed computers. As the models evolve, they share data—output from one becoming an input for another. There is also a still life, where a hyperspectral camera (which registers light outside the visible spectrum) observes organic matter decay—a nod to Dutch still-life painting. 

‘The Algorithmic Impulse encompasses the interplay of artist, technology, world, and cosmos—culture and nature. It offers a great introduction to Ingram’s work. And, for those who already know his work, his Terrestrial Assemblages works add a new twist. They are quite unlike what went before’, says Chief Curator Robert Leonard.

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