PANOPTICON

Robert Henke - Lumiere III at Teatro della Fortuna, Fano, Panopticon

Filippo Rosati: Umanesimo Artificiale

Umanesimo Artificiale(UA) is a studio and an artist platform based in Fano, Italy, with a spread team of collaborators throughout Italy. It organizes events, workshops, and research projects and collaborates with both private and public institutions. UA focuses mostly on exploring artificial intelligence, live coding, interactive online experiences, AR, and trying to focus all its educational activities into a more structured and defined school. The school will be based on art, science, technology, and philosophy. I had the great pleasure to talk to UA founder Filippo Rosati.

As a founder of Umanesimo Artificiale, you reflect on the world dominated by increasingly intelligent technologies. UA has a multidisciplinary approach: research, education, events, label. How did you shift from physical to virtual due to pandemic and what did you gain or lose?

The shift was quite organic as we are medium-agnostic. We are not particularly tight to a specific medium, so we easily refocused on online projects, or what was available at that particular time. We like to play with ideas, with research-based conceptual projects. We are as interested in the final output of a project as in its concept and creative process. If you plan it right, you can still communicate your message, the meaning of your work with an online project. Of course, not all projects can be conveyed digitally, so we definitely lost the more immersive projects, the installations, and the performances where space itself and the environment play a key role.

Immersive is not just about audiovisual immersive; it’s also a matter of disconnection: offline, we tend to zone out more than when we are online, bombarded by constant notifications. Experiencing a project on your browser means that at least you have Facebook, Instagram, and email tabs open. There is quite some scientific research on how the constant influx of online information, prompts, and notifications competing for our attention may encourage individuals to displace their concentration across multiple incoming media streams – and the consequences this may have for attentional‐switching versus sustained‐attention tasks.

( Max Cooper – “Yearning for the Infinite” at Teatro della Fortuna, Fano | Photo: Mattia Galvani )

But again, this is a loss, a limit, but also an inspiring challenge and opportunity. I believe, and I saw, many artists go back to the drawing board questioning their own work and new mediums to produce and communicate their works. Those who are more prone to experiment and research definitely had an easier transition. I also saw many artists reach out to professionals from other fields, like science and technology; taking online classes and workshops; experiment from scratch with new software. This is very promising, and I hope it stays also after the pandemic; I strongly believe in the magic at the intersection of art, science, and technology.

As for Umanesimo Artificiale, we got the chance to work with awesome artists and great new projects. Umanesimo Artificiale was born to experiment with creative coding, to promote art, science, and technology and a healthy relationship with the technology; we were already experimenting with artificial intelligence and new technologies (augmented reality and such), so, in a period when everything is coding, several artists reached out to us and we were lucky to start a very interesting collaboration and research projects. We lost the chance to be more present in our local community, as we were supposed to open a temporary gallery in our hometown last April 2020. That’s fine, we will launch it stronger and harder when it will be possible.

The increased necessity of social distancing connected us to others by virtual networks where we are the nodes and the links are formed a new type of digital relationships. We became networks of digital hives. Do you think the new normal only kicked the progress forward which was otherwise hibernated?

I’m not sure if I would say ‘hibernated’, but the lockdown definitely accelerated digital adoption in almost any field, arts and culture included, and throughout every level of society. Think about smart working, remote learning, or, in the art world, the rush to create VR experiences and CGI *everything*. Umanesimo Artificiale started as a distributed studio and network of artists. We are officially registered in Fano, a town in the Marche region in Italy. 60.000 inhabitants, the majority of which still don’t know and don’t get what we do :). We had to have a strong online presence and reach an international audience from day one. Living on the internet for us was a common thing even before the coronavirus. Not (only) because we chose to, but because we had to. Moreover, certain artists, most of which are part of our network, had already very strong digital relationships and were already building a strong presence on online communities, whether on Facebook, Telegram, Discord…; just think about the live coding/algorave community.

Caterina Barbieri live at Chiesa San Francesco, Fano, Panopticon

(Caterina Barbieri live at Chiesa San Francesco, Fano | Photo: Davide Olivi)

What are your thoughts on the gamification of society? In a world where everyone is forced to go virtual, the methodology to fight boredom and zoom fatigue seems prioritized.

In a world where everyone is forced to go virtual, a methodology to fight boredom would be to go out and meet friends, but it’s not possible. In certain parts of the world, you are allowed to go out, but everything is closed: museums are closed, theaters are closed, bars and restaurants are closed. The Instagram feeds saw a blossoming of pictures of flowers and trees, as parks and forests are the only accessible spaces. Which is fine and actually a positive thing because, hopefully, made us rediscover the beauty of nature and realize we are part of a fragile ecosystem. Is this a way to fight zoom fatigue? I don’t know.

As technologies mature, especially AI, there are many concerns about ethical implications. Don’t you think society is limping behind the progress and governments are late to respond and regulate collateral damage?

Absolutely. Technology has always moved too fast for the governments to catch up. Stewart Brand in 2000 in the Time was talking about self-accelerating technologies and saying that “The newest technologies – computers, genetic engineering and the emerging field of nanotech – differ from the technologies that preceded them in a fundamental way. The telephone, the automobile, television, and jet air travel accelerated for a while, transforming society along the way, but then settled into a manageable rate of change […] Computers, biotechnology and nanotech don’t work that way. They are self-accelerating; that is, the products of their own processes enable them to develop ever more rapidly. New computer chips are immediately put to use developing the next generation of more powerful ones; this is the inexorable acceleration expressed as Moore’s law.”

Jeff Mills plys _Woman in the Moon_ in Fano, Panopticon

(Jeff Mills plays “Woman in the Moon”)

Today, with artificial intelligence and soon with quantum computing, we are at a new different level, and the discourse is shifted more towards ethics and morality. It’s a very complex issue and I don’t believe the government is even aware of what’s happening, let alone being able to regulate it. As Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings have demonstrated, the people who should regulate know very little about the tech they are supposed to regulate. Towards a government that is too slow to form an opinion, too slow to regulate, and most of the time unable to act, I believe the only thing we can do as individuals is to inform ourselves and make our informed opinions. Raising awareness through art projects and initiatives is also part of our humble mission as Umanesimo Artificiale.

Bitcoin hitting records recently and the market is transforming. What are your thoughts on NFT art and the blockchain economy? Are you going to implement it for your organization?

I have recently started digging into it on the occasion of our digital exhibition “Uno, Nessuno, Centomila” on electricartefacts.art, where we implemented NFTs. As with every innovation, there are enthusiasts and detractors. Right now crypto art is very hyped, also due to the recent GameStop Saga and bitcoin price rising. I’m curious to see how it evolves. Umanesimo Artificiale is always open to experiment and on the lookout for innovations, so we may do something in the future!

What projects can we expect from Umanesimo Artificiale? Can you share your plans?

We have quite a few things going on at the moment. We will activate a program of artist residencies, hopefully in person here in Fano, or digitally if Coronavirus limitations will not allow for artist traveling. We are creating a digital platform to experience a touring IRL (in real-time) installation project. Furthermore, we are coordinating a SciArt (science and art) research project involving the preservation of alpine glaciers via monitoring through sound. Our latest project ABCD1 – a sonification of DNA mutations through artificial intelligence style transfer – has been selected as a finalist of the Re:Humanism Prize 2021, so we will continue the research and will exhibit at MAXXI, Contemporary Art Museum in Rome. We have the digital exhibition “Uno, Nessuno, Centomila” live on Electric Artefacts until April 9th. Plus a few other projects :). We like to keep ourselves busy and thankfully this allows us to collaborate with incredibly talented artists.

So what does it mean to be human in the age of artificial intelligence?)

This is a million-dollar question! I try to answer with a question: what gets you up in the morning?

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