New ArtLab exhibition showcases machines that think

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EPFL ArtLab’s new exhibition, titled “Thinking Machines. Ramon Llull and the ars combinatoria,” explores a bold approach to acquiring scientific and artistic knowledge. It has opened to the public on 3 November 2018.

With its new exhibition, ArtLab takes us back to the Middle Ages and explores how the exceptional ideas put forth by Catalan philosopher and theologist Ramon Llull (c. 1232–1316) have influenced fields ranging from computer science to modern and contemporary art. The reverberations of Llullian thought on technology and culture are today reflected in a revolutionary approach to teaching based on computational thinking.

The exhibition’s 70 works – comprising medieval manuscripts, multimedia displays, paintings and sculptures – show how numbers and mathematics fit into the realm situated at the crossroads of art and science, human thinking and mechanical execution, imagination and conceptual design. The works are from such avant-garde artists and thinkers as Salvador Dali, Daniel Libeskind, John Cage and Raymond Queneau.

A fresh way of looking at technology

The exhibition is being organized jointly by the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM), the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) and EPFL. It sheds new light on modern technology and how it developed over time under the combined influence of art and science. Visitors are invited to discover how Llull’s “combinations” are reflected in the generative and algorithmic principles used in today’s cutting-edge technology. The exhibition also raises important ethical questions related to the use of artificial-intelligence-based systems to collect and transmit information.

The exhibition was designed by three internationally renowned artists and thought leaders: Professor Amador Vega from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona; Professor Peter Weibel from ZKM; and Professor Siegfried Zielinski from the Berlin University of the Arts. Professor Sarah Kenderdine, the director of ArtLab, is overseeing the show at EPFL.

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