|2014||Agnieszka Kurant,Termite colonies|
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“I was inspired by the fact that termites belong to just a handful of species in nature that, in the process of evolution, formed complex worker societies with clear class divisions, just like humans. They have soldiers, farmers, foragers, nurses…. But, unlike ants for example, they build these sustainable monumental structures — the mounds, which resemble cathedrals or pyramids. Each mound is a product of a collective intelligence of, often, over a million specimens. So it is very similar to a human society, collectively creating or erecting monuments, or landmarks of culture.”
Agnieszka Kurant, Artist, in Even Magazine
A.A.I. is a sculptural installation comprised of uncanny fluorescent termite mounds fabricated by termite colonies from materials provided by conceptual artist Agnieszka Kurant working with entomologists at the University of Florida. Through this interspecies collaboration, Kurant interrogates notions of authorship, collective intelligence, and outsourced labor. Termites were particularly interesting to Kurant due to the distributed cognition present in a colony where million of specimens work together to produce the mounds, a process and a form of organization common to different complex systems, including termites, ant colonies, the stock market, and the Internet.
Outsourcing the labor to the termite colonies is also a form used by the artist to question the perils of contemporary crowdsourced labor, as signaled in the name of the piece, AAI, “artificial artificial intelligence”. That phrase was coined by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, to describe the type of work difficult for a computer to conduct but easy to crowdsource in small tasks to individuals around the globe, as what is done in the web services Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT). By making a reference to AAI, Kurant wanted to shed light on the invisible and exploitative labor and the emergence of a new working class, which she has also explored in other projects such as Assembly Line (2017) ,a co-created project with AMT workers and computer scientists at the MIT AI lab at CSAIL.