Derek Mainella: It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
4 October - 18 November
Castor is pleased to announce It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine by Derek Mainella, his second exhibition with the gallery.
The exhibition title, culled from the REM song reflects the significance of a double meaning: A - of an apocalypse - the subject of much art making in our time and perhaps something that has become a bit over used and softened by Hollywood’s High Def version. B - the more complex issue of the changing world - the end as we know it and a past that will never appear again. For example, technological aids mean we will never have a day of not knowing where someone is, how to get from A to B, stumbling on an impromptu good time whilst not constantly being on call. Perhaps not even knowing what time of day it is, where to go next, or what another 10 to 1000 people are doing simultaneously.
Depending on one’s age, we might remember such simpler analogue times, but these will never exist again. There are kids who will grow up having devices their entire lives, and will never have experienced this kind of reality.
This in a way, like revolution, forms a kind of apocalypse. Not the judgement day variety but there is a sense of the eradication of the past. Indeed the world now being closer to the edge than it has been in several decades, also mirrors this sentiment in real time. Although destruction of the planet is probably not imminent, in spite of the delirious heads of state playing schoolyard bully- the world events running parallel to this are changing our reality forever. Not to mention technological platforms.
Derek Mainella’s paintings, composed in digital space, when turned physical also convey a mediated reality; figures which represent various mutations, emblematic forms of a new or projected reality rising from said destruction.
Appropriately designed through the prod and swipe of a digital interface, then rendered ‘in the flesh’ on canvas, the notion of ‘drawing’ reappears in the act of transposition, then the traditional hand of the artist in the act of painting; while also usurping such tactile modernist elements as slices and color fields previously uncontaminated by a connection to any kind of human image.
In Mainella’s paintings we see figures engaged in an inner world as both reaction to overwhelming changes or an escape from it. Mirroring the piped in visual noise of modern life, Mainella channels disparate sources from classic cartoons, digital advertising, product placement, b movie kitch. Are we viewing a painterly take on our reality or an A.I representation of it, are these figures seemingly stoic disposition simply a method of control?
‘It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine’
William Davie: Essay
Economic malaise. Race riots. Disdain for elected leaders. The threat of nuclear missile attacks. Chemical and biological agents being used against children and civilians in warfare. Mass shootings. Donald Trump as president of United States of America; the leader of the free world. Terrorism. Voice activated smart technology. Fearmongering. The far right. The far left. The Opioid epidemic. FGM. Watch a video of a beheading on your phone, your computer, your T.V., your tablet; anywhere, any time. Brexit. Distrust of police. Spiking murder rates. Child suicide bombers...
A lyric heard on the radio, it’s incendiary statement that’s both nihilistic and oozing with swagger. It is a fitting sentiment for our current times; but of course, we imagine that this could have been fitting for any time in history, or in the future, for that matter.
A quick glance on any news website, news app, news channel, and you might be forgiven in thinking that we really are on the cusp of the end of the world as we know it.
But... I feel fine? How can this be? With all that is going on and changing, seemingly irrevocably, how can this be?
Perhaps then, it’s not the end of the world per se but the time up until this very point; the past. A past that we cannot return to. A physical reality mediated and altered. We are at a crossroads in history, that is marking the entry of new ways of life; ideas, synergies with technology, compulsions, desires, ways of seeing, ways of experiencing, and from this we harbour hope, optimism.
As the 21st century has entered its second decade, the digital age has meteorically changed the nature of personal interaction, consumerism, product development, how business is conducted, global connectivity, localized cultures, finding love and sex, education, the consumption of information; it’s hard to think that only one hundred years ago, the First World War was seeing the horrific capabilities of mechanized warfare for the first time. The terrors of trench warfare, the slaughter of millions for sometimes only tens-of-meters of land, that were passed down through vividly devastating accounts, can now be relived and reimagined through a first-person shooter videogame in the comfort of your own home.
I use this example because, I believe, that it epitomizes the characteristics fundamental to this change in the way of life that we are in the midst of. It shows the detachment from a physical reality in favour of a digital one. The game serves no purpose to teach younger generations and does little to celebrate or honour the millions that gave their lives; it simply provides immersive entertainment whereby you kill computer controlled soldiers. It is this type of artificial intelligence that mimics human behaviour that is key to the changes that are coming.
This is already having an adverse impact on the way certain aspects of warfare are being conducted. Military drones are being deployed across the globe and piloted by men and women in the safety of their homeland. Using screens and game console controllers they are able to simulate the environments that our friends and family play the videogames in our homes. But, the artificial intelligence bots are, in this case, humans.
But just how far will we go with artificial intelligence? Will they one day be able to make life or death decisions in place of humans?
Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil has said that the work happening now with artificial intelligence will change the nature of humanity itself.
Currently, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo Dot voice controlled devices that are the closest forms of readily available artificial intelligence. These can undertake basic tasks on our electronic devices through voice command. But as the technology for greater adaptability becomes available and artificial intelligence is able to undertake a greater variety of more complex perfectly every time, this will undoubtedly demand and precipitate a reworking of fundamental human behaviour and social and cultural structures.
We are already seeing the early testing of self-driving cars. Could a machine think for us; make our physical bodies a non-necessity?
With this arises the so-called Trolley Problem. It’s a philosophical thought experiment created as an introduction to highlight the moral distinction between action and inaction. The classic example is that you are in a runaway mine cart, hurtling down tracks towards a group of five oblivious people. There is no time to warn them, your only option is to pull a switch and divert the cart on to a different track, which only has one person standing on it. You will save five lives, but at the cost of actively killing one person. What do you do? There is no set protocol. How could we expect a driverless car to programmed to make the right decision, if we don’t have one? It also bring to question, would the artificial intelligence prioritize the safety of those inside or those on the road?
Although an outrageous thought, it’s not too unrealistic. Once a technology finds the right platform for widespread consumption, its evolution and development can be steadfast and society is then forced to catch up. We only have to look at the smart phone to see just how this can happen.
First released in Japan in 1999 by NTT DoCoMo, less than twenty years later, lives, business, memories, social media profiles, affairs, shopping, are all vicariously conducted through them with global owner ship at a reported 43%; roughly 3200060000 phones.
Although it’s a hyperbole at this time, the impact of artificial intelligence on our lives is not one of science-fiction. The changes are happening now are subtle yet massive as we experience them first-hand. The question of how far this artificial intelligence will reach and how readily available it will be to the public can only be hypothesized once it is present. Societies will inevitably face teething problems, or perhaps even worse, and their does, from the outset, seem to be a risk that technology will overtake it and make human society either irrelevant
For at worst, extinct. On the other hand, the possibilities of utopian societies achieved in part through the integration of technology, are just as plausible.
William Davie is a writer based in London who regularly contributes to Aesthetica Magazine, Ambit Magazine and This Is Tomorrow where he also serves as editor.