Bâtiments Mutants

The Architectural Beast distorts architectural imagery at the FRAC Biennale

During the course of the installation, images selected by the invited artists are gradually replaced by results found by searching for the day's search of the most popular "architectural" images. (Courtesy FRAC)

For the 2019 Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC) Biennale in Orléans, France, SCI-Arc director Hernan Diaz-Alonso curated The Architectural Beast, an installation featuring 17 contemporary artists and architects. Together with Diaz-Alonso, Los Angeles-based designer Casey Rehm co-produced the installation: 12 paired video screens that nod towards Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (or The Large Glass installation). The top panel exhibits printed images the artists have selected to represent their work, while the lower screens show that same imagery being transformed by artificial intelligence software developed by Rehm.

Also named The Architectural Beast, the software was designed to independently alter the imagery presented over the course of the three-month installation. According to Rehm, the program’s AI is “initially trained on curated datasets of images and texts of the artists representing an institutional understanding of architecture, to an understanding of architecture of populist valuation.” The AI, in other words, spends each night conducting image searches for the day’s most popular architectural images and then uses the results to manipulate the original imagery. “By the second month of its life,” Rehm explains, “it should cross the 50 percent line of curated artist and internet images in its network.”

“Through artificial intelligence,” wrote Diaz-Alonso in the installation description, “the work featured will be exposed to a perpetual state of transformation and mutation. The exhibition gathers a key set of practices, primarily from architecture, but also from art and fashion, to reveal facets of the strange beast that the tumultuous paradigm shifts of recent decades have left behind.”

The AI also uploads the imagery as individual posts on Instagram daily under the username @thearchitecturalbeast, each of which is complemented by cryptic texts that are developed by a separate AI program. This writing, which at first glance read like heavy theoretical essays with the aid of predictive text, was initially trained on the written work of Rehm, Liam Young, and Damjan Jovanovic. The combination of text and imagery created by The Architectural Beast demonstrates one way architects can let go of the wheel and give artificial intelligence greater agency in the role of human-centered design.

The installation is currently on view through January 19.

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