Belu-Simion Fainaru, AI installation with University of California, Irvine science researchers in Venice

Belu-Simion Fainaru, AI installation with University of California, Irvine science researchers in Venice

Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Belu-Simion Fainaru, Belongs Nowhere and to Another Time, 2019. Installation detail at the Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale. Photo: Pavel Curagau.

November 27, 2019
Belu-Simion Fainaru, AI installation with University of California, Irvine science researchers in Venice
Symposium: October 15–16, Art and Computers! What does it mean?
University Ca'Foscari
Aula Mgna Silvio Trentin Auditorium
Ca Dolfin Building
Facebook / Instagram

The confines of art and technology have always constituted a land of paradox, haunted by vast cross-breeding as well as segregationist dreams between “Mainstream” Contemporary Art and Digital Art. The attempt to graft the latter on top of the other has been a fact qualified by Lev Manovich as problematic as early as the 1990s, an opinion reconfirmed by recent viewpoints. From the volume A Companion to Digital Art (2016, Christianne Paul ed.) we are introduced to the fact that, while the members of the new media paradigm do not sufficiently exploit the history of art and its conceptual potential, the artists use the concepts of the new artistic paradigm—interaction, programming, participation, network—without a deep understanding of the technology behind them. In the article “Digital Divide” (ArtForum, 2012) Claire Bishop reformulates the problem on different terms: despite the inevitable resetting of reality according to the categories of the digital world, contemporary artists are unable to capture how sight, thought, affect are filtered by this digital. At the same time, the world of Digital Art remains an isolated territory, without echoings in the world of galleries, or the national pavilions in Venice.

In 2019, the Romanian-Israeli artist Belu-Simion Făinaru aims to probe the validity of these theses. In effect, he brings to Venice, in the national pavilion of Romania curated by Cristian Nae, a series of digital works realized in collaboration with professor Alex Nicolau, professor Alexander Veidenbaum and a group of A.I. researchers from the Computer Science department at the University of California, Irvine. These include The Talking Plant, an interactive installation talking in a soft voice that reiterates the same tones of the electronic consciousness in the movie Her. Found somewhere at the intersection of posthumanist discourse with post-internet aesthetics, the plant-agent exhibits all the attributes of a human being. She possesses a body, she awaits for caress, she can handle irony, flirt or reject, and she knows her way around the poetic verse.

Unlike the now-iconic natural plants seen at ZKM three decades ago and which communicated through immaterial projections (The Interactive Plant Growing, Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau, 1993), Făinaru’s plant presumes a plastic body and a semi-robotic voice. We live in times when the natural hybridizes with the technological, times when a cyborg-plant makes poetry battling the habit of reducing people to objects. In the adjacent installation, The Talking Head, the avatar of the poet Celan, renounces rhymes to better comment on the problem of virtual identity.

Now would be an opportune moment to mention the privileged relationship between the artist and Paul Celan, the Jewish poet who also left Romania in order to become, paradoxically, one of the first writers of Romanian origin who wrote in German. It should be pointed out how the recurring theme of “black milk” harbors Făinaru’s installations, and then returns to poetry, intensifying its meaning. Heidegger would say that, in this way, Făinaru brings poetry to the point of presence, moulding it into shape. I wonder, what would the philosopher known for his commanding critique of technological positivism say about joining Poetry with Technique (Ge-stell)? 

A possible answer could arrive by referring to another installation of the artist, Rose of Nothingness, exhibited at Art Basel 2019: Unlimited and at Plan B Gallery (Berlin, 2015). It is important to explain from the outset that, through the criticism of Technique, Heidegger does not target the total count of tools, which are, in all cases, indispensable today. Rather he decries the tendency of technicization, of reducing nature and man himself to a mere function. In this context, the way in which Făinaru uses technology, deviating it from the tracks of functionalism to the freer grounds of play and poetry does nothing but reinforce the ideas of the philosopher. In Rose of Nothingness, the artist points toward the sky a traditional irrigation system used mainly in the desert. Instead of watering the field, the technological piece lifted at the level of clouds pours into a dark pool black tears of milk. A fluid but continuous connection establishes itself between heaven and earth. 

Celan’s verses (known to and appreciated by Heidegger himself), namely “Black milk of sunrise in the evening we drink it /drink it in the morning we drink it at night/drink and drink / we dig a pit in the sky where there is room to lie,” compose a Death Fugue that commemorates the Holocaust while also debunking the hypothesis that preserves mystery or the sacred at the core of technology. The way in which Făinaru balances the elements, sky, water, and earth, in his installation, reiterates the Heideggerian metaphor of the tetrad of man’s dwelling: on earth under the skies, in harmony with the transcendent.

While Celan, the suicidal poet, fostered the belief of feeding into the idea of death, the Jewish wisdom of Kabbalah in accordance with Heideggerian philosophy declares that nothingness, freed of space and time, can become bursting with meaning, as does Being itself. In this context, we understand that only in the hands of a contemporary can poetry emerge out of technics, the sacred vibrate as a meeting place of wonder and sin (sacrifice) and death elevated to the heavens can be approached with eroticism and transgression, as Bataille would urge us to do. 

The Technological Poetry of Black Milk, Text by Raluca Nestor Oancea (Translated by Georgiana Cojocaru)

Symposium: The new computer and media art challenges the traditional art world-its customary methods of presentation and documentation, as well as its approach to collection and preservation. Artificial Intelligence practice raises questions of what will our future look like given the new technical possibilities by using Artificial Intelligence and dealing with digitalization in the contemporary artistic practice in which simulation becomes the new aesthetic canon, paving the way for a field of unprecedented  and unexplored reflection aimed at rethinking the basic questions on ethics, aesthetics, and the very status of art.   


Maria Mannone (University of Palermo), Natural Roots and Mathematical Abstraction: Algorithms and Beauty in Music.
Antonio Camurri (University of Genova), Multi-Timescale Sensitive Movement Technologies.
Marc Leman (Ghent University), Integrative research in art and science.
Felipe Cucker (City University of Hong Kong), Approximation theory and visual representation.
Luc Steels (ICREA, Barcelona), How can AI engage with the art of painting?
Catherine Hug (Art historian and curator Kunsthaus Zurich), The artist’s handwriting in the age of digital bricolage.
Pedro Gadanho (Former curator at MoMA, former director of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon, Loeb fellow at Harvard University)
Philippe Van Cauteren (Artistic director S.M.A.K, Museum for Contemporary Art, Gent), From the eye to the hand and back.
Raluca Nestor Oancea (New Media Researcher, The National University of Arts Bucharest), Belu-Simion Făinaru: The confines of art and technology at the Venice Biennale
Avital Bar-shay (Cultural initiator, Artist, architect, and director of the Mediterranean Biennale), Art on the move-The Mediterranean Biennale as a place for change
Belu-Simion Fainaru (Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, director of AMOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sachnin, Alex Nicolau (Professor of Computer Science UCI), Alexander Veidenbaum (Professor of Computer Science UCI), The art installation, Belongs Nowhere and to Another Time (Giardini, the Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, )
Eitan Machter (Wizo College of Art and Design, Haifa), Global Capitalism and the commercialization of art in the digital era. 

Gianfranco Bilardi, University of Padova, Sergio Canazza, University of Padova, Belu-Simion Fainaru, Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Alex Nicolau, University of California, Irvine, Marcello Pelillo, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice,  Alex Veidenbaum, University of California, Irvine

Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale,  Department of Computer Science, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science, University of California, Irvine, (Computer science specialists: Professors Alex Nicolau and Alexander Veidenbaum), University of Padova, University Ca’Foscari,Venice, Plan B Foundation and Gallery, Romanian Culture Institute, Venice, AMOCA, The Museum of Contemporary Art Sakhnin, The Mediterranean Biennale Sakhnin.

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Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
November 27, 2019

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