Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, AB - To Jul 30
Artificial intelligence and virtual reality have been with us for a while now – long enough that they now feel less like life-changing innovations than ruins of a failed future. Recent inventions such as ChatGPT and the haptic bodysuit have won over some minds, while others remain skeptical. Fortunately, we have artists like Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser who, though aware of the uses and abuses of our new technologies, venture beyond a gadget’s utility in pursuit of its aesthetic – and ethical – potential.
Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (2020) is a multimedia installation comprised largely of a docudrama-style video that presents sci-fi themes through in-person interviews. At the centre of the video is Piña, a “digital repository” that has achieved consciousness and filed uploads from Ecuadorian and Filipino knowledge-keepers. It is through Piña that we meet real-life members of Ciber Amazonas, a community of Indigenous journalists and activists. One of its members is Alba Pavón, an Afro-Ecuadorian community leader who relates the story of how enslavement structured her knowledge of medicinal plants. Another is Janet Dolera, a spirit-medium who heals through massage.
Also included is a series of drawings inspired by traditional Ecuadorian and Filipino weaving and printed on piña cloth, a fibre made from pineapple leaves. Comilang and Speiser have introduced into these drawings elements of the neural network patterns employed in the same machine learning that allowed Piña its consciousness, and as such its agency as a powerhouse of colonial resistance.