With the threat: “I am a robot“, Peter Elsner began his introductory lecture for the Visual Art Section’s conference “New Media – New Materials“. The lecturer did not only spread fear among the conference members, but enabled them to gain a useful overview of a broad subject, where one is only too grateful for a bit of help. The lecture remained unsettling right until the end, because the view it gave into our near future showed the machine becoming increasingly ’human’.
Elsner has gained a unique competence within this field via a research-based and artistic handling of one part of this computer culture as well as via more than 20 years of dealing with students at the Snellman High School in Helsinki. Freshly ‚mined’ from his mountain of work, he brought together a pile of material. It is easy to imagine that, given another opportunity, the material might attain another form.
In this age of the robot, the most heavy-duty technical fantasies take as their basis those situations where the human being in daily life, in the workplace, in traffic and the provision of services, will increasingly be supported and soon replaced by the self-driven, calculating and individually deciding machines. In YouTube one can gain an impression of the level of development of the robotic company Boston Dynamics.
From the lecturer’s numerous references to futuristic speakers, engineers and critical commentators, we will just present one here. Jaron Lanier is a US-American information expert, computer scientist, artist, musician, composer and entrepreneur. He is considered to be a pioneer of the early years of the internet, as one of those who co-influenced the concept of ’virtual reality’. Lanier is a driving part of this new technical revolution, but separates himself from the digital optimists. In 2014 he recieved the highly acclaimed peace prize from the German book industry, above all for the attitude of ’digital Humanism’ as it is expressed within his book ’To whom belongs the Future’? For him the human being is still more than a machine and a set of algorithms. Larnier warns about the concentration of power by the internet companies and a threatening social catastrophe. Whoever has the largest data-collection and data-storage capacity, rules the future. This data, mostly made freely available to us naive internet users, will be analysed and evaluated by the most capable computers without restriction.
The world of machines is becoming larger and more powerful. The challenges for Anthroposophy and single individuals are becoming increasingly greater and more pressing. This earnest fundamental mood, stemming from Elsners presentation, presided throughout the entire conference. In today’s world we are to a high degree enmeshed within a technical culture which is setting itself apart from nature as a veritable sub-nature with extreme rapidity. One of the last matters to which Rudolf Steiner drew the attention of the members of the Anthroposophical Society in written form is to be found in the following ’Letter to the Members: From nature to Sub-nature’, in which the basic mood is that there is no avoiding or escaping, we must wade through and bear this technical sub-natural culture. However, we should not be overcome by it. The human being must find the strength, the inner power of knowledge, in order not to be overwhelmed by Ahriman in the technical age. We must recognize sub-nature for what it is. It can only be thus understood if the human-being ascends in spiritual knowledge at least as high within the supersensible as he has descended into the sub-natural.
It was now clear, Elsner was no robot, but rather a pluralistically active artist, an illustrator, sculptor, guitarist, band singer, performer and teacher all under one hat. As a human being, Elsner himself appears to be a riddle. Regarding his own computer-assisted pictures (picture transformation and digital finger drawings on the touchscreen) he said: I experience the post-modern human being in his endless loneliness and as standing at the abyss.
Elsner’s statements will not influence the conference members with the work they have done so far. Most of them are painters, sculptors, some with experience of installation and perfomance art, a few are photographers and film-makers. However, his remarks help one to gain orientation in what is experienced as the uncertain and chaotic threshhold condition of the mainly technologically driven development of our civilisation. It is not simple for anyone to properly follow and penetrate what is happening in the world. However, one cannot avoid having a sense for the current upheaval within established structures and the reorganisation of values and relationships
That this current, problematic state of affairs was taken as focus point within the Visual Arts Section might be surprising. However, it is understandable when one considers the deeply affected contemporaneity of the section’s leader Marianne Schubert, who is ever again prepared to allow herself to experience art everywhere in the world as the individual expression of the general mood or mental state of a society.
Übersetzt von Edwin Kobbé, Juni 2017