Ben Snell is a New York-based artist whose practice investigates materialities and ecologies of computation.
Ben Snell’s work focuses on exploring computational power as the raw material of our time. Using contemporary techniques in dialogue with traditional motifs, he situates technology as a mirror to reveal the self as a computational being. With emphasis on inquiry and introspection, his work takes the form of drawings, photography and sculpture.
Dio is sculpted by a computer program that learned from classical sculpture archives. The computer that created Dio was then ground into the dust that coats its own creation.
Jenny, a computer, is tasked with extracting the morphological essence of Greek and Roman sculpture. For every sculpture it sees, it tries to distill it into its most basic components.
Drawing a simple spiral with a robot (here, a UR10 robotic arm) reveals its characteristic essence of being and moving in response to an imperfect world.
Drawing a simple spiral with a robot (here, a DMS router) reveals its characteristic essence of being and moving in response to an imperfect world.
LIDAR is a range-sensing technology typically employed by the military to survey land from above. The artifacts produced through the process of capture reveal a deep interconnectedness between observer and observed.
Snell on using Artificial Intelligence to create Dio:
How has AI impacted your creative practice?
“AI, like many contemporary computational systems, reveals an undeniable richness to the inner life of the machine. Yet, this flourishing of life lacks an expressibility, constrained by liminal influences designed into its being, epitomized by the separation of implementation and interface. A desire to consummate product and process, mind and body, physicality and virtuality, has expanded my practice into new domains of inquiry, and in so doing, unearthed hosts of new questions relating computational materialities and the transmosis of agency across information ecologies.”
What excites or worries you most about AI?
“Tools, AI included, give us the power to augment our abilities, our environments and others’ behaviors. However, the act of using a tool in turn shapes the behavior of its users. What worries me most is failing to recognize the inherent worth of alternate forms of intelligence: agents with animacy, albeit in expressions fundamentally different than our own. How do we develop a meaningful dialogue and empathy with “companion species” and understand our place in a global ecology? Perhaps, recognizing ourselves as computational beings might be a first step in the process of reconciling our own humble origins.”
What specific AI / machine learning technologies do you use?
“I utilize a range of machine learning and AI technologies, depending on the conceptual appropriateness of a specific architecture to the piece at hand. I fundamentally believe the computer acts in ways similar to us, yet we have such a lack of words for describing the machine’s behavior in ways we can understand on an intuitive, emotional level. To give new meaning to the machine’s actions, and to do so in a way that is respectful of its audience, I adopt a more accessible and metaphorical language set to describe the algorithms. For this reason, I don’t speak about implementation details in the technical vernacular of computer scientists, but rather, in a down-to-earth sort of way, acting as mediator between us and the machine.”
Born (1994) in Los Angeles and based in NYC, Ben Snell holds a B.A. in Experiential Art and Design from Carnegie Mellon University and was recently an Artist in Residence at Pier 9 Autodesk.
Snell’s Awards & Residencies:
2018 Artist in Residence, Autodesk Pier 9, San Francisco, CA
2015 Artist in Residence, 72andSunny, Los Angeles, CA
Snell’s Selected Exhibitions:
2019 BWAC, Red Hook Summer Popup Show, New York, NY
2019 La Galleria at La Mama, When Black Swallows Red, New York, NY
2019 The Factory, LIC Arts Open, New York, NY
2018 Autodesk Gallery, Finale, San Francisco, CA
2017 Miller Gallery, DCI, ICD, Pittsburgh, PA
2015 Granoff Center, Brain and Body, Providence, RI
2019 Vellum Magazine Fall 2019 “The Forest of Illusion”