Borgy&Bes
Robotic neural installation, 2016-2018
5 October – 11 November 2018
Moscow, MMOMA

Produced by:

Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation

Curator:

Daria Parkhomenko

Artist:

Thomas Feuerstein (Austria)

Scientific advisors:

Technical director: Semen Bertchanskiy

Neural Networks and Deep Learning: iPavlov, MIPT, team leader Mikhail Butrsev, Head of
MIPT’s Neural Networks and Deep Learning Lab, Head of iPavlov project

Voice synthesis: ActiveBusinessConsult, team leader Sergey Markov

Robotic engineering: NRC “Kurchatov Institute”, team leader Valery Karpov, Head of Robotic
engineering Lab

Back-end programming: Moscow Tech Production, Anna Egorova, Maxim Poletaev

Partners:
Science Partner:

History of project

The Borgy&Bes robotic neural installation was implemented on the basis of LABORATORIA, which provided interdisciplinary cooperation between the Austrian artist Thomas Feuerstein and Russian scientists: Valery Karpov and his team of robotics from the Kurchatov Institute and Mikhail Burtsev and his colleagues from the Laboratory of Neural Networks and Deep Learning MIPT and the iPavlov project. Two years have passed from the beginning of the project to the final version (2016-2018).

Infusion methodology

In October 2016, as part of the Incubator program, LABORATORIA invited Thomas Feuerstein to Moscow and initiated his collaboration with leading scientists from Kurchatov Institute and MIPT who worked with neural networks and machine learning. There were many discussions at the laboratories of the Institute and at the workshops of LABORATORIA. Thomas came up with the idea to create hybrid creatures that herald the era of dialogue with AI.

In February and April 2017, LABORATORIA held a new series of brainstorms with the participation of neurolinguist Tatyana Chernigovskaya, philosophers and scientists from the Kurchatov Institute and the Moscow Center for the Study of Consciousness for the further development and technical implementation of the project.

The result of the collaboration between the artist and scientists was the project “Tea for Kirillov”, which consists of three parts. The Borgy&Bes installation, one of the parts of the trilogy, was entirely produced by LABORATORIA. The project “Tea for Kirillov” was presented as part of the large international exhibition “Daemons in the Machine” at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) in 2018. The exhibition was preceded by the international conference “Daemons in the Machine. Anticipating AI”, which discussed the use of advanced machine learning and AI technologies in contemporary art.

In 2019, Borgy & Bes participated in the international exhibition “Cybernetiс Consciousness” in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2019).

Steps of work

2016
Thomas’s first visit to Moscow, acquaintance with laboratories, brainstorms with scientists, main idea of the art project appeared

2017
Thomas’s second visit to Moscow, brainstorms with scientists, development of the scientific component of the Borgy&Bes project, technical implementation

2018
exhibition “Daemons in the Machine” in MMOMA, international conference “Daemons in the Machine. Anticipating AI”

Art concept

The artist tells a story on the edge of speculative fiction and digital uncanny. It leads the spectator into the depths of posthumanism where a man, his body, thinking and actions undergo fundamental transformation. A man is not lonely anymore: he is always surrounded by biotechnological and digital extensions and autonomous creatures that extend and dissolve boundaries of human.

“Tea for Kirillov” trilogy tells us the story through a variety of mediums: sculptures and technologically advanced objects, sound installations. Thomas Feuerstein is very interested in the main character of Dostoevsky’s novel “Demons” — engineer Kirillov, who undertakes a fatal experiment in order to prove free will: he shoots himself. In the exhibition, he virtually comes back to life and continues to look for his ideals of liberty, autonomy, identity and self. His personality turns into algorithmic processes and begins to exist in another reality.

Room I — Governor’s room takes us into Kirillov’s workroom. Hundreds of photographs, diagrams and charts covering a cultural-historical spectrum from ancient creation myths all the way to artificial life and artificial intelligence.
Room II — Dark room, a metaphor for the subconscious of the network, a maze of hundreds of wires that connect control panels and monitors. Internet activities such as cyber threats and bots fill the objects with vibrations and deep bass tones.
Room III — Bright room where two robotic surgery lamps Borgy & Bes meet the viewer.

Read more about the trilogy Tea for Kirillov in the section “Demons in the machine” exhibition.

Borgy&Bes

In the posthuman world of near future, two surgery lamps transformed into robotic cyber-creatures move, talk, whisper, argue with each other. BORGY (from Cyborg) and BES (from “Demons” (Bésy), Dostoevsky’s novel) discuss Russain news from online media and perform them in the language of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky.

Dostoevsky’s questions about the changes in society and subject acquire a new actuality. The revolutionary impetus is rooted no longer in a human conspiracy but in a machinic one. BORGY&BES leads us into a world where science and technology spring from deep desires and become our destiny.

BORGY&BES is not interested in direct communication with people, instead it dissects human behaviour and communication. It looks at human culture from a distance and studies the world like an alien. It questions and interprets information and news in order to make sense of the world. The surgery lamps illuminate not the physical body on a surgical table, but the social body of a networked society.
The boundaries between artificial intelligence and humanity are disappearing. BORGY&BES unfolds a scenario of digital demons animated by data processes that indicate a near future where not only we communicate with artificial intelligence, but also artificial intelligences talk to each other.

“The main question is, do lamps consume data? They have no sense, only the cable connected to the internet. They have no eyes, no ears, no normal hands and no feet to go around, they just consume data, but they are educated, they are correctors of the 19th century because the reference text is “Demons” by Dostoevsky. All that they know come from the 19th century. But there is a big gap between the 19th and 21th century. This makes work important to me because our situation now is very similar. We are living in-between, between the old world and the new world. Dostoevsky and other writers of the 19th century lived completely in-between. Dostoevsky wrote about the revolution and big social transformation. These people felt something coming up totally new, a new condition of life, new possibilities of technology. And the old life is still going at the time but they feel like something is coming up. And my feeling is that our situation is very similar. We are standing between old life of the 20th century, of the skeptic life and something is coming up with the machines. Maybe in a few years we cannot decide whether we are talking to a human being or to a machine”
— Thomas Feuerstein

Scientific significance
Borgy&Bes

The specially trained artificial neural network controls the verbal behaviour of BORGY&BES, synthesises their voices and controls the choreography. Together with neuroscientists and robot technicians, the artist has developed digital characters that change over time. BORGY&BES feeds on information and processes a data metabolism from which specific reactions such as curiosity, suspicion or irony towards human civilization emerge. The behavior reacts to online data, stimulating BORGY&BES to talk or to keep quiet.

The following components can be distinguished in the installation work:

  • Movement: continuous and free, changes depending on the mood/emotional coloring of the spoken text
  • Voice: each lamp has its own, androgynous voices (not male or female)
  • Conversation: the text is stylized in XIX century language, emphasizing the emotional coloring in order to synchronize with the lamps
Biography of Thomas Feuerstein

Thomas Feuerstein is a Vienna based artist and writer whose work oscillates between the fields of fine art and media art. Born in 1968 in Innsbruck, he studied art history and philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, and obtained his doctoral degree in 1995. In 1992 he founded the office for intermedia communication transfer and the association Medien.Kunst.Tirol, and was the co-editor of the magazine Medien.Kunst.Passagen from 1992 to 1994. After research commissions from the Austrian Ministry of Science on art in electronic space and art and architecture in 1992 and 1993, he has been a regular lecturer and visiting professor at numerous universities and art academies. As an artist, Feuerstein bridges the interface of applied and theoretical science. His projects combine complex bodies of knowledge from philosophy, art history and literature, to biotechnology, economics and politics. His artistic narratives examine the interplay between individuality and sociality, and aesthetically translate research into molecular sculptures, and the aesthetics of entropy. His artworks comprise the most diverse media, including installations, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photography, radio plays, net and biological art. Feuerstein focuses particularly on the interplay between verbal and visual elements, the unearthing of latent connections between fact and fiction, as well as on the interaction between art and science. At the core of his practice is an artistic method he calls “conceptual narration”.
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