Critics’ Picks

  • View of “If AI Were Cephalopod,” 2019.

    0rphan Drift

    323 10th St.
    May 4–June 8

    0rphan Drift’s visceral and dreamy four-channel video installation If AI Were Cephalopod, 2019, is an ode to the octopus, whose intelligence still baffles scientists. In the video, serene underwater footage of octopi, CGI renderings of octopus skin, and scans of caves are layered with heavily processed video effects and painterly masks. The work unfolds through a series of simple propositions that begin with the titular phrase, “If AI were cephalopod.” In these written statements, which merge scientific facts with lyrical extrapolations, the video speculates on what would happen if artificial intelligence could, like the octopus, camouflage itself, create diversionary clouds of ink, identify toxicity, and taste with its tentacles. While the work feels more expansive than moralistic, a viewer can still conclude that a man-made thinking organism with these attributes would be disconcerting. One of the largest concerns the hypotheticals raise is that if AI could camouflage itself, it could surveil us and serve the interests of scientists, governments, or corporations alike.

    Nascent forms of invisible AI are already with us: Complex algorithms developed by Facebook, Google, and other tech giants insidiously aggregate data and implement targeted mechanisms. As the supposed distinctions between AI (designed to interact socially) and the more asocial ocean creatures (dedicated to their own survival) become murkier, we must remodel machines to prioritize the long-term social good over the undeniably human desires for profit, control, and security.

  • Conrad Egyir, The last brother in America, 2019, oil, acrylic, Plexiglas, glitter, synthetic flowers, and wood on canvas, 90 x 72".

    Conrad Egyir

    Jessica Silverman Gallery
    488 Ellis Street
    May 9–June 28

    The tone is springlike, with crisp whites and bold graphic patterns rendered in sunny colors strategically punctuated with bright fake flowers. Conrad Egyir’s mixed-media paintings gathered in the exhibition “Ameliorations” serve as emblems, portraits, and quasi-religious narratives that honor black bodies and allude to iconographies of the African diaspora. Some works take the form of giant postcards or sheets of dot matrix paper. Within the compositions, bodies are arranged and iterated in geometric ensembles with shifts in scale that position some as deities and others as civilians embodying certain moral imperatives or illustrating a route to spiritual ascension.

    The Ghana-born, Detroit-based artist merges a Pop-inflected dialogue with the flattened perspective and family subjects common among works by artists such as Kerry James Marshall and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. In a direct quotation of Mickalene Thomas, Egyir uses black glitter to give a twinkling, halo-like glow to the hair of certain subjects. What distinguishes Egyir’s work is his more minimal backdrops—solid swaths of pastels, whites, and light grays—along with his employment of graphic-design strategies. Four portraits of figures from the Detroit arts scene feature dimensional laser-cut text down the sides—words that imagine grandiose roles for the sitters, such as “the faithful country spirit”—while oversize stamps depicting Ashanti artifacts frame these objects as missives between two worlds. There’s an official air to these pieces; they borrow the language of approved, canonized types of pictures, those that appear in municipal buildings and houses of worship. Commanding and colorful, regal and playful, Egyir’s paintings are difficult to resist.

  • Amie Siegel, The Noon Complex, 2016, three-channel HD video, color, sound, indefinite duration.

    Amie Siegel

    Ratio 3
    2831a Mission Street
    April 5–June 1

    Amie Siegel’s new show begins with a series of prints (“Body Scripts,” 2015) made from reproduced pages of Alberto Moravia’s 1954 novel Il Disprezzo (published in English as A Ghost at Noon). Using teal gouache, Siegel has blocked out references to characters other than the female protagonist, as if she were forcing the story to pass the Bechdel test.

    Siegel’s three-channel video The Noon Complex, 2016, inverts this visibility. Here, the artist has digitally removed Brigitte Bardot’s character from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt (1963), which was inspired by Moravia’s novel. Two of the channels, mural-size projections, depict the interior of the modernist Villa Malaparte in Capri; Godard’s camera lingers on an empty couch, or in front of a picture window where Bardot once stood. The third channel plays on a smaller screen, where Siegel’s camera follows a blond actor reenacting Bardot’s blocking in an empty gallery, highlighting the fact that Bardot’s body itself was an object on display in Godard’s film.

    The exhibition concludes with a captivating twenty-seven-minute video essay, Genealogies, 2016, in which a measured voice-over illuminates the interconnectedness of Il Disprezzo, Contempt, and dozens of other cultural works—from an essay by Freud to a filmed performance by Pink Floyd—in the recurring address of certain myths, fantasies, sites, and images. In Siegel’s many examples, the anxiety of influence takes on a conspiratorial air.

    Objects are said not to cast shadows at midday, when the sun is directly overhead; historically, noon was considered the time when ghosts roamed the earth undetected. Through her copious research, Siegel reveals the long shadows cast across Western culture by several singular works of art.