Mind The Machine

Shantell Martin and Sarah Schwettmann

Open Gallery is pleased to welcome Shantell Martin back to present Mind the Machine, a collaboration with computational cognitive neuroscientist Sarah Schwettmann. Martin and Schwettmann have trained an algorithm to create illustrations in Martin’s characteristic style, and are installing a machine performing that algorithm, its artwork and its source material, in the gallery for this exhibition.

Martin has honed a personal and immediately recognizable style in her artistic practice. In Mind the Machine, Martin invites Schwettmann to explore structures underlying her artistic process. The result is a set of illustrations created by Martin and Schwettmann’s algorithm that confront Martin’s artistic identity, and question the space between artists and machines.

Over the year since Martin’s last exhibition with the gallery, Schwettmann and her colleagues used examples of Martin’s work to train an algorithm to generate long-form line drawings in Martin’s style. Martin first completed a series of three hundred drawings developed from one hundred hand-drawn templates. Every morning, for one hundred days, Schwettmann sent Martin three different templates to complete. By the end of the exchange, each template had been completed three times.

The consistency of Martin’s different completions of the same template indicated to Schwettmann that aspects of Martin’s process were machine learnable. Using Martin’s drawings as training data, Schwettmann and her colleagues created an algorithm capable of completing Martin’s templates the way Martin would; with original compositions.

In Mind the Machine, Martin and Schwettmann install a robotic plotter that durationally performs new drawings generated by this algorithm while surrounded by the three hundred illustrations that Martin created to train the algorithm.

For Martin, the consistency of her own responses to each template shows the regularity in her artistic process that she knows intimately. For Schwettmann, the algorithm formalizes those regularities in Martin’s process; demonstrating that aspects of Martin’s identity can be represented in a machine.

We often get our narratives for understanding algorithms and machines from an entrenched technocracy. In Mind the Machine, Martin and Schwettmann invite us to explore the narrative of a disembodied artist and imagine what our world might look like were we to automate the creative process.

Shantell Martin (b. 1980) holds a B.F.A. from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, and has worked at an artist in residence at the MIT Media Lab, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and most recently, at the Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop in San Francisco. Martin's work has earned international recognition from arts institutions including the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Bata Show Museum and a number of private galleries. Martin’s work has been featured by the New York Times, Vogue, Fortune, and a range of other international media outlets. Some of her commercial clients include Vitra, Flos, Martone Cycling, Kelly Wearstler, Vespa, Slow factory, among others.

Sarah Schwettmann holds B.A.s in Computational and Applied Mathematics and Cognitive Science from Rice University in Houston. Schwettmann has worked as a theoretical neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, University of Pittsburgh, and currently at MIT. Schwettmann is a PhD candidate in the field of computational cognitive neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences where she developed the institute’s first course on vision at the intersection of art and neuroscience.