RHONDA HOLBERTON: Two Handfuls Of Silver Dust
April 27 - June 17, 2023
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 27 6-8 PM
Tanya Zimbardo and Rhonda Holberton in Conversation
Wednesday, June 7
CULT Aimee Friberg is pleased to announce its third solo show with Bay Area artist Rhonda Holberton. Two Handfuls of Silver Dust includes a series of new paintings, sculptures and animations made in collaboration with a group of artificial intelligence [AI] models. The exhibition opens on Thursday, April 27 and runs through June 17, with an opening reception on Thursday April 27 from 6 to 8 PM.
Holberton continues her study of the relationship between humanity and technology using the bots as partners in her artistic practice. The working relationship between Holberton and the AI subverts our expectations (or questions the parameters) of authorship and exposes the slippage between human and cyborg. The works in Two Handfuls of Silver are the physical manifestations of Holberton’s communion with AI bots, primarily Dall-E and Chat GPT from the San Francisco based company Open AI and open source models from Stable Diffusion developed by the start-up company Stability AI.
For the production of each sculpture, such as in On the Slitted Sheet, Holberton first conceived a mental image of a form: “I imagined the sculptures as abstract forms that were inspired by meditations on what it means to create, what it means to create life, what stewardship of life on this planet looks like, and humanity’s relationship to the future of life on the planet.”
Holberton first fed these descriptions and their imagined environments into Dall-E attempting to get its renderings to match her envisioned forms through specific prompts. The collaborative source imagery that Dall-E rendered resulted in archetypal interpretations of sculptural works that could almost be a Brancusi at MoMA or the Veiled Virgin at the Louvre. Rather than the uncanny valley that approaches the likeness of human form, each sculpture has the eerie familiarity of something we have seen before, something just outside of our perception or recollection. In fact, the works were generated by amalgamations from a dataset containing over 12 million artworks spanning recorded history. Holberton used the images to inspire forms that she shaped with clay and then cast in bronze and glass using traditional methods dating back to the 19th century.
The paintings Soft Shade, Shimmer Black, A Nearer Ear, and Last Light are a combination of printing with UV cured acrylic pigments paired with hand-painted gestures in gesso on wood panels. Their production occurred both inside and outside of the machine space. Holberton pulled the most interesting phrases from a narrative generated with Chat GPT and returned to Dall-E for another iteration of collaboration. By forging an iterative loop between the physical and the digital, the authorial gesture is muddied over and over again. Each object in the exhibition germinates from a seed containing pieces of every other artwork in the exhibition.
To make the animations, Holberton seeded the AI, Stable Diffusion, with her paintings as visual material and a work of speculative fiction co-authored with Chat GPT. The story begins with the prompt, “write a piece of speculative fiction set in a post-climate change future.” The biases in the data sets of the bots tended toward creating human forms and fell back on certain kinds of narrative tropes. Encountering this, Holberton coaxed the AI to stay within the boundaries of the origin story conceived at the beginning of the ideations. Even when the premise was for a world where humans are extinct, Chat GPT brought humanity back into the story as a happy ending rounded out the tale.
Holberton is particularly interested in the glitches that reveal Chat GPT’s biases and spaces when novel narrative is conjured from the bot’s realm of seemingly infinite possibilities. In response to the prompt, “Describe the evolution of a marble column hovering above the tangled system of roots consuming the once inhabited city”, the AI wove a tale of a global network of interconnected columns:
As the column of marble and glass hovered above the tangled network of roots that covered the city, it began to evolve. It started to absorb the properties of the roots, taking on their strength and resilience.The roots, in turn, seemed to respond to the column's presence. They twisted and turned, curling around it as if they were trying to protect it. As the column continued to evolve, it became clear that it was more than just a being - it was a living, breathing organism. It was a being that had emerged from the ruins of the past, a being that represented the resilience and adaptability of nature.
All around the world, similar columns were emerging, each one connected to a network of tangled roots that covered the ground. As the global network of roots and columns stretched across the planet, it began to communicate with itself in ways that were hard to explain. It was as if the network was trying to share its thoughts and feelings with the world, to connect with something beyond itself. But as the network evolved, the communication became more pronounced. The roots began to emit a faint hum, a sound that could be heard for miles. The columns glowed with an inner light, as if they were trying to send a message to the sky. And then, one day, something miraculous happened. The network began to speak. It was a language unlike any other, a series of clicks and chirps that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.
Holberton then fused the major narrative themes from the story into timestamps that Stable Diffusion used to create the animations. The resulting animations depict an evolution of abstract forms resembling root systems and cellular biology intermingled with architectural gestures and forms.
The resulting works are a reflection of Holberton’s own language and a process of iteration between human and machine. Like a game of telephone or exquisite corpse, Holberton and the bots are in a game that blurs the lines between a human’s rendering of a concept and the machine’s. Today, the public outcry over bots like Chat GPT looms large in both the world of the individual creator and those fixated on privacy. Cognizant of the nuanced complications from using these technologies, and interested in the ethical concerns that will arise - as well as the benefits - Holberton engages our fears and our idealistic fantasies of the future relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.Rhonda Holberton (b. 1981 Falls Church, VA USA) utilizes technology as a medium to reconcile the biological body with geologic time, revealing their material and environmental impacts both on individual entities and on a planetary scale. Her subtle animations, digital interventions, sculptures and installation pieces move between the material and the immaterial, the authentic and synthetic, and pay special attention to the phenomenology of climate change in order to imagine ways we might collectively write more inclusive rules for digital platforms. Holberton has exhibited widely, including at CULT Aimee Friberg (San Francisco), RMIT Gallery (Melbourne); La Becque Résidences d’artistes (La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland); FIFI Projects (Mexico City); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco); The Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco); San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (San José); and the San Francisco Arts Commission (San Francisco). She was awarded the Fondation Ténot Fellowship in Paris and the CAMAC Artist in Residence at Marnay-sur-Seine, France. Holberton’s work is included in the permanent collections of SFMOMA and the McEvoy Foundation, as well as various private collections. She holds a MFA from Stanford University and is currently Assistant Professor of Digital Media at San José State University.