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towards amazing weird noose

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Date Minted: May 4, 2020

Artist Description: Espen Kluge 'towards amazing weird noose' 2019, JavaScript. From the portrait series 'Alternatives' exclusive for Kate Vass Galerie

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

There’s not a single colorful dot to be found in towards amazing weird noose, yet Espen Kluge’s strange, brilliant piece has more outwardly in common with pointillism than perhaps any other art style. Kluge’s is a piece composed of many minute elements, all lines, strings, colors and convergences, that creates a larger impressionistic picture, just as long ago, George Seurat would compose whole landscapes out of multicolored dots, arranging them here here and here, until a grandiose picture was ultimately formed, one best seen from far away, one which would break down into its elements if observed from too close. Towards amazing weird noose doesn’t seem much following in Seurat’s footsteps and crafting a cogent image from its many independent compositional elements, instead reveling in its delicate balance upon the thread between abstract and impressionistic. In other words, towards amazing weird noose both very clearly depicts a person, and also has us wondering whether that resemblance is something ingrained or the product of our own attempts to impose order? 

Much of Kluge’s published work takes this same approach, that of complex human portraiture devolved into lines, spots, random assortments of color. It’s cubist architecture multiplied by machine learning and built into the image of a person. And each person in Kluge’s oeuvre remains 99% faceless (ignoring the artist’s preoccupation with mouths). Towards amazing weird noose maintains Kruge’s nonsense naming structure, utilizing a title that seems to have been pulled from an arbitrary sentence, or could simply be an abject collection of unassociated words. Thus even the title echoes the image’s ability to form something cohesive out of dissociative parts. Weird noose displays a classic Generative AI methodology of composition, a too-complex sequence of too-many overlapping parts and colors. Even the pointillists would shudder at the intricacy of Kluge’s work. Nevertheless, they would step back and see what I’m sure we all see when seeing weird noose from a distance: a white woman’s face, she with brown hair and pink lips, her face a carnival of firework color, her form blocky and artificially flattened at its edges.

It’s strange to consider all the mental associations this piece sparks, and even more impressive that an algorithm’s choice have sparked them. It seems, for instance, that this woman’s skin has a smoothness, despite there being no single textural detail which would necessarily convey this. Perhaps, yes, we can point to the confluence of overlapping lines on her neck/chest and how they shirk the gradient texture of, say, the pointed mountain-peak browns climbing up her upper neck. But attributing an adjective like “smooth” to the woman’s surface is still something we ourselves are overwhelmingly responsible for, as if we’re being tricked into helping the artist complete their picture. If you look at weird noose for a while, you start to make out other effects of these varied textures. The aforementioned brown peaks around upper-neck and chin which resemble some kind of fortified underjaw, or a chin made of rock. The colors in the woman’s face —the red and blues and pinks and yellow where her eyes, nose, cheeks should be— are they standing in for her makeup, or communicating something about the crackling quality of a woman’s beautiful face, or is this just another ephemeral effect of an accidental AI Generation?

Before I wade into the following points, I want to stop and mention that I am enamored with AI and GAN art. And Kluge’s piece is so unique in its composition, so advanced in its underlying algorithmic mechanism, and so powerful in its ability to make an impression.


…the problem with Generative art, especially in a piece like this, is that it’s impossible for an observer to glean just how much of what they’re seeing is intentional vs. how much is accidental. Is it therefore appropriate to read into any specific aspect of this piece, the colors and textures and overlaying of the lines at any given point? Weird noose is beautiful; of that there can be no doubt. The colors are well-toned and complimentary, the image itself endlessly interesting to look at, and the end-result as constructed by the machine is impressively-rendered, with startling accuracy for something so devoid of specific detail. But at what point do we as observers necessitate more than pure, unblanched aesthetics? At what point is weird noose more than just an interesting diversion designed by a computer? At what point does it simply appear uninspired? 

I suppose I’m reacting to a certain sense I get that weird noose is a lifeless portrait. That is, it’s lifeless in the very most basic usage of the word. Again, it’s very beautiful, and that itself justifies the piece’s existence. It is, if nothing else, an interesting experiment with AI Generation and with the limitlessness of human perception when gazing upon quasi-familiar images. But to me, the piece falls flat after that point.

It’s impossible to examine the how’s and why’s of a thing when we cannot be certain it was made with any hows and whys in the first place! If the artist’s intention was to create something above meaning, outside of motivation, with the kind of anarchist punk-rock feel of Pierre Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit, well then there’d still be some intention there. And it wouldn’t exactly be subtle. But Generative art shares a heavy burden with much abstract or minimalist art in that their intentionalities are often too subtle to be seen, either buried layers under the surface or completely inaccessible otherwise. Some generative artists have alleviated this issue by including lengthy artist descriptions, or otherwise revealing the data points fed into the algorithm, but in lieu of that, weird noose seems random and disjointed, a happy accident as opposed to a carefully-designed composition. 

This is not to downplay Kluge’s artistic talent, which is magnificent. And inventing an entirely unique style in the mid 21st-century is technically a feat worthy of recognition. And again, there are plenty of reasons to stare deeply into weird noose, and Kluge’s pieces will make you feel plenty of things. But we can’t know how many of those things we’re feeling on purpose. With art, we observers want to be manipulated. We want to be led somewhere. We don’t just want to flash, snap, bang appear in that place; we want the thrill of the journey. And with weird noose, even though I know I’m somewhere else, I’m not sure where. And more importantly, I’m not sure why.