18.05.-28.07.2023 DEVIN KENNY, FRANZ WEST Shake-Up Environment, [tart vienna], Projectspace Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman, Vienna, AT
PMR: As an edition, we chose a series you did for the Whitney Museum’s online program in New York. How did that come about?
DK: I had a project in mind for which I wanted to get access to the institution’s archive of exhibition photographs. After they let me access several thousand photographs, a rather small sample, I ran them through GANS (Generative Adversarial Network System), a machine learning system for images. I thought the result would show something like the lowest common denominator and, above all, the architecture of the exhibition spaces. But the result was much more complex and interesting. The program created hundreds of thousands of images. In addition, I requested access to an archive of artists’ correspondence from the 1940s to the 2000s. These were mainly scanned postcards and letters. It was relatively difficult to get them, because the Whitney was worried that I would create something that would make the museum look bad or misrepresent the artists. I got them in the end. From the AI-generated images and the correspondences, I made the collages. I used Photoshop tools that are similar to artificial intelligence image processing such as the healing brush, clone stamping, and other techniques to scramble and make something new from the source material.
PMR: So they are works created jointly by you and the AI?
DK: That was the idea! I wanted to collaborate, as much as possible, with the AI. This was before the hype and mass proliferation of AI image generators that we’ve seen this year. But I would not say it’s collaboration in the sense of working as equals. I feed the AI certain materials, it’s not free to choose, and it’s not free to stop collaborating.
PMR: And because you alienate the correspondence between the artists and the institution, stories in the works are only hinted at in almost poetic word constellations. This connects them to Franz West’s lamp, which, as is often the case in your works, is also handwritten and tells a story. To read it, the lamp has to be circled several times, but even then it remains incomplete.
DK: Yes, the stories are opaque. It was a privilege for me to have access to these personal letters and I wanted to protect the relationships that unfolded before me. By the way, this is a similar process to sampling in HipHop, where existing audio is used in a different way. That’s how I worked with these letters. The result is these cryptic techno-poems made of fragments, some of which seem very soulful, but remain coded.