Recycle Group – Nature of Non-Existence

As the latest in a series of artists who use Virtual and Augmented Reality as part of their working practice, the Gazelli Art House, London features a new exhibition by Russian duo, The Recycle Group, named because they use both recycled imagery and materials. The pair have won awards for their pioneering use of technologies and the way they bridge incompatible subjects such as the classic and the contemporary. They represented Russia at the 57th Venice biennale. Now they examine the relationship between man and machine.

In this exhibition, Nature of Non-Existence, the group, who comprise Andrey Blokhin and Georgy Kuznetsov, are looking at the way machines view our world. The human figure in the top shot is not visible to the naked eye. All you see is the diagram behind it. However, when you download the group’s app on your phone and then hover the phone’s camera over the diagram, the human figure appears. And it moves too.

The same goes for the sculptures you see in the left hand picture above consisting of rectangular shapes. Hold the phone over one of them and the ghostly figure appears, as on the right. The experience is to show you how machines can make their own sense of things. We’re getting the machine eye’s view.  

“All the hi-tech around us now asks the same question,” says Andrey Blokhin as he shows me round the exhibits. “What exists for the machine, what doesn’t exist, what it can analyse and what it can’t analyse.”

We all use technology in our everyday lives: we take it for granted and are learning to trust it implicitly. Soon driverless cars will epitomise this trust and if it goes wrong, there will be moral questions about how this technology is used. In some ways, the Recycled Group is trying to understand machine logic and to humanise technology by giving us, in some sense, what it sees.

We all know how computers can calculate much more quickly than the human brain and we have seen how the best chess players have been defeated by a super-computer. Yet the logic of the human brain remains far superior to the machine, at the moment at least. Questions remain as to how our relationship will develop and if we could ever lose control of technology. Could we reach a stage where turning off a computer say wouldn’t work if it was part of a network in which another machine could quickly take its place.

The sign you see above upstairs at the gallery says “It doesn’t exist”. When you hold the Recycle app over the sign it disappears. The machine can’t cope with it. Its logic is different. “Abstract art for a human doesn’t exist for a machine,” says Blokhin.

When a machine can’t cope with certain situations it prefers it not to exist. Non-existence therefore becomes a natural part of a machine’s thinking, just as natural as trees and mountains are to us. “We’re trying to combine these things together so it’s interesting because here is a conflict between two visions – of the human and the machine.” 

We can exploit the failure of machines to recognise certain things. We’ve all used websites which ask us to recognise icons that a computer cannot interpret to prove we’re not a robot. The exhibition contains four LED screens that create optical illusions depending on the angle from which you look at it. There are many things on them such as a picture of a pony that the machine simply can’t read. On an upstairs bas-relief black laser cut work is a sculpture that mirrors human cellular neurons referencing nodes of a Wi-Fi network. It also features a list of concepts the machine would prefer not to exist such as chromakey, capture, clear sky, sun, liquid, the internet. 

“We should understand their logic before we totally trust machines”, says Blokhin. “We’re just trying to figure out what may the philosophy be for the understanding of this and we’re trying to show this to people.”

Nature of Non-Existence is showing at the Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover Street, London W1S 4NN until 5 January 2019

All images are courtesy of the artists and gallery.  

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