“Sympathetic White Robots (and Cyborgs)”
Installation (Vinyl Wallpaper and Video on Monitor), 11 x 6.5 feet (dimensions variable)
Commissioned by Oxy Arts
“In the collage Sympathetic White Robots (and Cyborgs), produced for the exhibition, the artist compiles stills from films that marshal empathy for AI agents who are coded as white and humanized through their association with whiteness, including Ex Machina, Blade Runner, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Suparak’s video, Virtually Asian, is embedded in the collage. It assembles footage from films like Star Wars and Ghost in the Shell, which extract Asian visual cultures to perform worldbuilding at the same time that they omit Asian actors from the worlds they build.
Suparak’s media archaeology interrogates imaginaries of AI that instrumentalize Asian bodies while performing Asian erasure, and identifies openings for building imaginaries of the future otherwise.” – Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, co-curator, Encoding Futures
Sympathetic White Robots (and Cyborgs) was commissioned by Oxy Arts for the exhibition “Encoding Futures: Critical Imaginaries of AI,” and is one part of Astria Suparak’s ongoing research project, Asian futures, without Asians.
ENCODING FUTURES: Critical Imaginaries of AI
Curated by Mashinka Firunts Hakopian and Meldia Yesayan
Oxy Arts, Los Angeles, CA, Sept. 16—Nov. 19, 2021
Ford Foundation Gallery, New York, NY, Sept. 6–Dec. 2023
- Short video tour at Oxy Arts
Artists: Algorithmic Justice League, Stephanie Dinkins, Aroussiak Gabrielian, Maya Ganesh, Kite, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Niama Safia Sandy, Caroline Sinders, Astria Suparak, Mandy Harris Williams
Algorithmic worldmaking often unfolds in a “black box”: an opaque space of automated decision-making whose rationale is hidden from public view. Researchers and cultural workers are opening up the black box for scrutiny to imagine possibilities for feminist, antiracist, and decolonial AI. This exhibition assembles the work of artists who visualize the limits of our current algorithmic imaginaries, and envision speculative futures engineered for just outcomes.
Sympathetic White Robots (and Cyborgs) is a new installation commissioned for this exhibition.
In conjunction with the exhibition is Speculative Monuments for LA, a virtual residency program featuring artists Nancy Baker-Cahill, Audrey Chan, Joel Garcia with Meztli Projects and Patrick Martinez.
In conjunction with the exhibition Encoding Futures: Critical Imaginaries of AI, Occidental College is offering the course “Art, AI, & The Aesthetics of Algorithmic Justice,” taught by Mashinka Firunts Hakopian in the Department of Art and Art History.
From the course description: “This course attends to the work of artists who map the limits of our current algorithmic imaginaries, render algorithmic harms visible, and imagine speculative futures optimized for just outcomes.”
The syllabus is available online at: https://www.mashinkafirunts.com/syllabus-art-ai-the-aesthetics-of-algorithmic-justice
The Hollywood Reporter, “How Sci-Fi Films Use Asian Characters to Telegraph the Future While Also Dehumanizing Them,” Evan Nicole Brown, November 16, 2021
Asian Futures, Without Asians illuminates the lopsided nature of one Hollywood genre and critiques the way media is concepted to guide audience empathy. Suparak’s [installation] investigates how artificial intelligence is coded in film, and the ways in which sympathetic robots and cyborgs, who are often white, are designed as “who the audience is supposed to root for,” Suparak says, adding: “The way they’re presented is in stark contrast to how Asian robots are often dehumanized.”
Encoding Futures — which examines how artificial intelligence molds society, and how algorithms have the power to define the world to come — was co-organized by Oxy Arts with Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Mellon professor of the practice at Occidental, and Meldia Yesayan, director of Oxy Arts. It takes a multidisciplinary approach to looking at representation, both in terms of how the future is presented and who gets to exist there.
Says Hakopian of selecting Suparak’s work for the show, “Part of the reason why it was so crucial to include this work is because it is a really remarkable media archaeology that’s looking at how Hollywood cinema has shaped popular imaginaries of AI. And so, Hollywood has played an outsized role in determining what AI looks like, sounds like, feels like within the popular imaginary. And I think Astria’s piece does an incredible job of bringing that to the fore.”
ForYourArt, “Top Pick of the Day,” Sept. 16, 2021
Hyperallergic, “Your Concise Los Angeles Art Guide for October 2021,” Matt Stromberg and Elisa Wouk Almino, October 2021
“Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month.
Hey, LA! Below are 10 shows we think are worth your time this month. Artists uncover the biases of AI, a show mines Japanese animation beyond manga, and two solo shows spotlight original local artists June Edmonds and Pippa Garner. […]
‘Encoding Futures: Critical Imaginaries of AI’: Algorithms, rather than actual humans, are increasingly shaping how data is used and interpreted, but rather than representing cold objectivity, they often reproduce entrenched systems of bias and oppression. Co-curated by Oxy Arts and Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Encoding Futures features artists who illustrate the failings of AI-generated algorithms, and imagine how they could be used to produce a more equitable future.”