anywhere in the universe | The Common Guild, Glasgow
17 June - 15 July 2023
‘open stacks’, a digital video installation by Yuri Pattison, is situated in the heart of one of the largest public libraries in Europe, The Mitchell Library. Unfolding across multiple screens, Pattison’s videos use the popular online format of ‘ambience videos’ which combine slow-moving visuals and soundscapes meant to aid focus and relaxation. Pattison’s ambient videos have been created in collaboration with an ambient YouTuber, animating base images produced by the artist using AI image generation tools to blend original and found photographs.
A second soundtrack, audible via headphones, presents a series of essays voiced by disembodied AI-generated narrators who ruminate broadly on the consequences of a world steadily overwhelmed by the private, commercial interests of technocratic powers. These unidentified, yet somehow familiar, narrators postulate variously on creative homogenisation and increasing cultural degradation; the pillaging of our shared intellectual and artistic heritage; eroded workers’ rights and the status of labour economies; and the social and political consequences of the unchecked centralisation of knowledge.
The voices have been programmed to mimic an amalgam of accents and anachronistic speech patterns recognisable for their perceived intellectual authority. The words they ventriloquise, which are unreliable, meandering and sometimes bizarre, are also authored by AI tools (large language models), as with the images on screen. Slipping between sense and nonsense, the video essays, made up of poor copies and degraded data, expose the intellectual limits and biases of AI. They make clear AI’s necrotic tendency to endlessly resample scraps of past human endeavour – with nonetheless alluring effect.
‘open stacks’ explores recent digital trends involving the rapid encircling and extraction of knowledge by networked technology, artificial intelligence and corporate power. Pattison addresses the library space as a stage upon which linearity, time, and veracity are in a constant state of recirculation, reformation and collapse. Through critically confronting immediate concerns and current discourse on AI technology, Pattison speculates on what appears to be history’s closing chapter of individual authorship, and the opening of a new one dominated by corporate intellectual property. ‘open stacks’ asks what becomes of human intelligence, and our perceptions of history and the present, when information is confined rather than accessible to all. The installation demonstrates the seductive aesthetics of tech whilst hinting that it is not yet too late to reclaim freedom of knowledge from extractive neoliberal powers.