There are often heated debates over the Artificial Intelligence network that is enveloping us, threatening to cancel our thoughts and replace them with an algorithm that will pass off that which is false as the truth. Hollywood goes on strike for fear that film writers and workers will lose their jobs. ChatGPT goes in fits and starts, as even the godfather of AI, Geoffrey Hinton, distances himself from it.
What will our future be like? Will we end up in the clutches of social alienation? Will sensors and computers catapult us into parallel worlds? Will tomorrow bring us more freedom to imagine and research or will it clip our wings? Will it be utopia or dystopia? The Metaverse Hypothesis exhibition in Rome attempts to take on these controversial issues. It will be hosted in Palazzo Cipolla, at Via del Corso, until July 23. Opening hours are 10 am to 10 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. The event, headed by Terzo Pilastro Foundation president Emmanuele Emanuele and curated by Gabriele Simongini and Serena Tabacchi, is yet another exhibition on the boundaries of contemporary art seen through the lens of a possible future where authors will be glued to super-intelligent computers capable of creating imaginary worlds.
However, the journey to the edge of reality is certainly not a revolutionary trend of the third millennium. The comment comes from tireless exhibition curator Gabriele Simongini, who is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome as well as a critic and historian. According to Simongini, brilliant artists have created fantastic visions and metaphysical universes since the Baroque era, expanding and contracting space in weird and unexpected ways.
In a nutshell, Metaverse Hypothesis aims to be the first international exhibition to combine the past and present, with artworks made by hand centuries ago and digital creations set next to each on an equal footing and without preconceptions
The purpose is to navigate the ever-fluctuating world of Hypothesis to an unknown end, an intellectually honest operation that carries with it an ethical warning. As Simongini vigorously declaims, woe unto those who will vanish into the unconsciousness of the present, trusting in the future with eyes closed. Memory must be preserved, that is, knowing who we were before setting on the path of how we will be.
Standing in perfect balance on this crossroads between past and future, the exhibition features the works of 32 artists, sixteen of them historical and sixteen digital, with most noble references to how we were. First comes the architecture section, which showcases Piranesi and Andrea Pozzo side by side. The former’s engraving from his Carceri (prisons) series depicts a steely alternation of claustrophobic stairways, arches, and trusses such as one would see in a nightmare, next to the latter’s sketch of the fake Sant'Ignazio, an illusionistic and virtuoso play of perspective whose original can be seen in the church just behind Palazzo Cipolla. Escher’s befuddling geometries and upside-down cities are also represented, with Tetrahedral Planetoid. Equally mind-boggling is the checkered labyrinthine funnel created by Pier Augusto Breccia, a heart surgeon who discovered his love for art and abandoned operating theaters forever at the age of forty.
Another labyrinth awaits featuring Fabio Giampietro and Paolo Di Giacomo, where visitors are directly engaged by getting on a swing and rocking to and fro as an algorithm slings them into a sort of funnel where anything can happen. Similarly, Krista Kim’s augmented reality lets one wander through the Bronx by putting on a viewer and holding a handlebar, while rearranging the urban landscape into a utopia of one’s own making. By contrast, the artwork next to it is a geometric “city” by Vasarely made of colorful and abstract intersections. Moving on to Futurism, Fortunato Depero’s Metropolitan Simultaneity similarly depicts an intricate and whirling New York City. Opposite to it, Giorgio De Chirico’s Piazza d'Italia con Arianna evokes an unnatural silence, while Carlo Maratti’s baroque figures levitate up there in the sky, playing hyperbolically with perspective in the sketch for Allegory of the Clemency.
Then comes the mystery of bodies. Boccioni's ingenious bronze Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is a dynamic transformation, just like Klingemann’s faces, the result of digitally “assembling” and “spinning” thousands of portraits into an imperceptible and continuous transformation, as lips purse and foreheads, eyes, and noses keep changing to create new characters. The adjacent room is entirely black, after an idea by Alex Braga: a piano that plays itself while skeletons dance on the walls by “transfiguring” the visitors who walk through.
Not even poetry is left unscathed, as Sacha Stiles reworks Sappho's verses with AI. Echo and Narcissus appear to be placed at an astronomical distance by the thin black lines spread out at right angles in the picture.
By contrast, Refik's nature is exuberant with a trick of 70 million floral images extracting a continuum of colorful visions from a magma of data. Fuseworks’ site-specific creation is a series of parallel universes based on six videos, the concept being that each one of us experiences a personal and unique world. The last section is dedicated to video games, the ancestors of the metaverse, featuring Ugo Nespolo. Again, one plays alone on a computer. The most disturbing implication of such a future is living in the solitude of one's room, in a sort of totalizing and sterile telecommuting and endless lockdown that encompasses both artist and viewer. No sweat, nor brush or graver or fingers or breath on an instrument.
The future is knocking too hard to be ignored. To date, Metaverse Hypothesis, which opened on April 5, has attracted ten thousand visitors, especially young and foreign people
These numbers will only grow, based on record-setting tourist bookings. Ticket lines extend beyond closing time on weekends, and you may not get in without getting a ticket in advance, while visitors must take their time on Giampietro’s swing and with Krista Kim’s virtual Bronx. As Simongini points out, “On Facebook, the visitors’ most recurring words are surprise and amazement.” At any rate, in his essay published by Drago Editore is a quote from Spielberg's Ready Player One (2018): “People need to spend more time in the real world”.
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