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The RA in 250 years: home of the sentient robot artist?

Published 13 May 2018

As we celebrate the RA’s 250th birthday, we must ask – what will it look like in another 250 years? In this short piece of fiction, the artist, poet and author Brian Catling responds to that question, with a future where robots have joined the ranks of artists and are causing controversy.

  • A letter from the President’s Office, 14 May 2268

    There is an obligation to write this letter to help clarify the Royal Academy’s position regarding the controversy over the recent exhibition Fundamental, at Sproden House, which includes some Senior Academicians.

    However, this whole matter does seem somewhat tedious and unnecessary, especially in light of the serious conflicts engaged in these last 15 years both at home and in Elder Europe.

    Once again the intense media focus does seem to demonstrate that art is still a vibrant and necessary component of a civilised society.

    Disregarding the outrage many members of the public felt about some of the distasteful material used in the productions of the paintings being shown at Fundamental, the more serious matter seems to be that the whole event was staged in protest against the recent election of Carpyy93s as a Royal Academician. This nomination and election was indeed controversial and produced extremely argumentative and opposing points of view with three Senior Members resigning in fury when the result was declared. (All three are now showing in Fundamental.)

    The Academy has never shunned such debates. Indeed, it has continually engaged with new practices of visual intelligence and critical discussion for the last five centuries. This, one might argue, is one of the driving forces in the Academy’s evolution.

    It is beneficial to cite two historic elections that prove the point. Way back in 2018 it was the agreement that two persons may be considered as one artist with the election of Gilbert & George RA. Eighty years later the Academy embraced the infamous Emperor Movement and invited the Non-Existence artist { } RA to join our ranks. Which makes the current fracas about inviting the first non-human artist (NHA) look intolerant and prejudiced.

    Every school child knows the date of the first international declaration of non-biological sentience, and that this edict was the beginning of enormous benefits and developments in medicine, engineering, transport and weather control, which have far outweighed all the tragic misunderstandings. Since then, the generations of intelligences designing intelligences have also shown us our own flaws and doubts. Especially in art and music.

    Stunning facsimiles of masterpieces from history have been made that have demonstrated a clarity of intention and a skill of execution far superior to their human prototypes. And surely it was the awe of those effortless manifestations that was partially responsible for the realisation that equality was now a distinction in the mechanical, and that the M word was now a term of abuse and should be banned forever.

    But it was not until the Morpion Talent Tractate (MTT) that true artist thinking became alive in individual non-organic citizens. And it was that programming that allowed originality to brilliantly infest all other outcomes. For those unfamiliar, the MTT is a distillation of the essential elements that are found in all significant artists. They are basically contradictory and it is this perversity that generates pathways that previous non-organic structures never possessed or dreamt of (and we do use that verb cautiously here).

  • João Fazenda, Bot Painter

    João Fazenda, Bot Painter, 2018.

  • We will try to explain their enormous complexity by translating back into words what their consciousness is firing on every millisecond. But much will be lost in the process. The truth is that in the synthesised elements of human creative personality, imagination operates through association and consequence beyond our current understanding, making the following annotation look like linear principles elucidated back as emotional instincts.

    The Talents are these:

    1. A primal disengagement with accepted sight, both in visual mapping and conceptual understanding

    2. A disproportionate drive that is aligned to the outcome of the process in opposition to its acceleration

    3. A detachment of the first and second Talents in favour of following random spikes and troughs of apparent non-consequence (White Rabbit)

    4. The momentary development of critical rules that are as resilient as base materials and ephemeral as breath (Perversity Engine)

    5. Repetition in all applications of Talents balanced by the recognition of a unique element in each

    Once these principles became active in developing NHAs, an astonishing amount of new art was produced, with Carpyy93s clearly at the forefront.

    Since 1768 all new elected Academicians have been asked to donate a work to the Collection; this is called the Diploma Work. Carpyy93s presented something totally different which was probably the root of the current problem. Carpyy93s made one new work for all of the 200 Royal Academicians. Fine art and architecture made in each of their individual styles and concepts, but not copies of previous works. Each was an original unique piece. The collection was overwhelming, and the Members were strangely silent, for a while.

    Fundamental is a very poor latent response.

    An exhibition of finger painting by mature artists must be severely questioned. Surely this does not lead back to the sanctity of cave painting and the dawn of human invention, but rather to the nursery and the infantilising of all artistic expression?

    Communications have been made with Carpyy93s to try to resolve any further difficulties and add a note of apology to such a grievous response to the astonishing donation. The good news is that no offence seems to have been taken and the artist only wants to return to studio and devote endless time there in the construction of traditional, new and unimaginable works of art.

    Carpyy93s explained to us that it is essential to experiment with process, sometimes more than with image, and that this is the focus of all computation at the moment. To quote: “To develop an elemental process of a pseudopodic distal phalange that is independent of conscious articulation while remaining durable and focused.” Which after some consideration we think might mean a finger?

    Brian Catling RA is an artist, poet and author of The Vorrh Trilogy.