PARIS — Claire Malrieux’s autonomous artwork “Climat Général” (“General Climate”) is a dynamic, self-generating hyper-drawing that is projected onto a large screen comfortably nestled between rows of flamboyant, gothic stone arches. The old and very beautiful 14th-century stone work of the Ancient Sacristy at the Collège des Bernardins provocatively frames an ephemeral artificial intelligence activity: the collection of daily meteorological data flows from the main predictive climatic models around the world that nourishes the somewhat Kandinskyesque perpetual drawing machine Malrieux has devised. Each morning, new meteorological data influences the algorithms, as programed by Sébastien Courvoisier, which produces the behavior of the shifting drawing. One could call this project, curated by Philippe Riss-Schmidt, a self-generative graphic film or a non-linear animation.
Supposedly, by using nearly real-time data analysis, Gaïa and the Anthropocene are evoked and visualized by the slowly gliding, ever-changing drawing, which at first glance resembles conventional screensaver software. It produced a light feeling in me because the picture plane never gets clogged with fine lines. There is just a constant fluttering and sliding of blue and black drawn elements that, given the right state of mind, can be mesmerizing.
Sure enough, that initial snide glance is soon superseded through the powerful accompanying soundtrack by Alexandre Dubreuil, which bolsters the piece’s very impressive scale. A somber, loud, rumbling drone noise is peppered with sweet electronic notes to haunting effect. The combination of the strong howl evocative of a wolf or a strong wind with the fragile, floating imagery is engaging, particularly given the acoustic properties of the stone sacristy setting. Comfortable seating soon had me willingly idling away a good half hour of spellbound time somewhat tinged with tragedy. When I eventually peeled myself away, I felt a positive emotion lingering; the automated drawing machine models an environment in perpetual mutation whose end cannot arrive.
There is something charmingly naïve about this project. Nevertheless it blows the dust off of well-known AI artworks like “AARON,” the rather bad art-making computer program Harold Cohen created long ago. Climat Général also reminded me of what Ray Kurzweil, the godfather of AI futurology, inanely predicted in his 1998 book The Age of Spiritual Machines: that by 2020, autonomous machine art would be prevalent, and soon after, AI robot artists would “exceed” human artists in ability. Such claims ignore the often-heard complaint that predictions like this oversimplify art to resemble well-behaved engineering problems devoid of social and political contextual complexity. That said, Twitter bots certainly have the capacity to be artistically engaging and even offer an acute grasp of how systems and technologies are interwoven into the artistic imaginary.
Climat Général is an expressive computational system developed with creative aims in mind. Its infinite number of combination permutations stimulates the open-minded curiosity of imagination for those patient enough to sit with it. It is a pleasure to accept the un-privileging of human choice and glide with it into a nihilistic landscape of potential points of interest bereft of privileging human desire — the very thing that brought about the general climate of the Anthropocene.