Mental Machine: Labour in the Self Economy
Performance, two-channel video, photography, text
Mental Machine: Labour in the Self Economy, 2022, is a live performance by Kawita Vatanajyankur made in collaboration with Pat Pataranutaporn from Fluid Interface at MIT Media Lab. Commissioned by AGWA and SLF ICAA, Mental Machine explores the concept of labour in our current era of accelerated technological enhancement.
As the suffering subject of her own performances, Vatanajyankur creates situations that require her to endure prolonged physical and emotional hardship. The extremity of these performances are oriented as a critical response to the exploitation of workers, the problems associated with hyperconsumerism, and the porous relations between humans and machines.
In Mental Machine, Vatanajyankur becomes a human-machine hybrid as she embodies two cybernetic alter egos – each uniquely programmed with different beliefs and mindsets. Pataranutaporn created these cybernetic selves through the poetic use of deep learning algorithms (deepfakes) that were developed from the artist’s personal data. In doing so, Vatanajyankur’s mind and body are guided or manipulated by her cybernetic selves to thread a massive graph-like textile pattern across the floor of the Gallery.
Like a spool used in textile manufacture, in this durational performance Vatanajyankur enfolds her entire body with a roll of red yarn which she laboriously manoeuvres using her head, teeth, neck, arms and legs. Throughout the performance, Vatanajyankur encounters a multitude of options that influence her labour, and ultimately shape her decision to repetitiously thread this ever-growing textile, or to unravel the threads and undo her labour.
The performance is a response to rapid developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which are training machines to think, talk and work like humans. By then positioning herself as a ‘mental machine’, Vatanajyankur asks many interconnected questions that shape our shared futures: as we teach machines to become human are we recreating ourselves to become more like a machine?; if AI algorithms can influence human behaviour by exploiting human biases and manipulating our emotions then are we truly free to choose?; is it possible to break the cycle of unconscious self-objectification and dehumanisation that is driving society?
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE CYBERNETIC SELVES
In ‘Mental Machine: Labor in the Self Economy’, Vatanajyankur’s live performance puts her body and mind within the state(s) where she is repeatedly being guided and manipulated by the expressive opinions and dialogues conversed between her two different cybernetic alter egos instructed with different beliefs and mindsets through the poetic use of deep learning algorithm (deepfakes) trained on the artist’s personal data. In the work, Vatanajyankur transforms herself into a yarn spool, enfolding her whole body with an extensive red roll of yarn while she is threading a graph-like textile pattern. Similar to a psychological ‘human puppet show’, her decisions in actions are trapped, baffled and caught between the arguments and guidance that mentally rheostat her body movements. Through such internal influences, her mind is tangled in between the division of performative options and choices; to
continue the never-ending and ever-growing essential creation of production or to untangle the interwoven threads in order to eventually break free from being dehumanized within the repetitive performative process. By unveiling the entwined threads, shall she end the cycle of eternal manipulative illusion(s) controlled and defined by the unseeable puppet masters? This mental experiment philosophically illustrates Vatanajyankur’s journey towards the true essence of humanization through the unfinished human-machine dialogue that unravels and explores the mysterious meaning(s) of the word ‘freedom’.
About Kawita Vatanajyankur：
Vatanajyankur has achieved significant recognition since graduating from RMIT University (BA, Fine Art) in 2011. In 2015 she was a Finalist in the Jaguar Asia Pacific Tech Art Prize and curated into the prestigious Thailand Eye exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London. In 2017, her work has been curated into ‘Islands in the Stream’ exhibition in Venice, Italy alongside the 57th Venice Biennale, Asia Triennale of Performing Arts at the Melbourne Arts Centre, as well as ‘Negotiating the Future’ , The Asian Art Biennial Taiwan. In 2018, She showed her works as part of the Bangkok Art Biennale. In 2019, Vatanajyankur has held her largest museum show to date at Albright Knox Art Gallery in New York, USA. In 2021, Vatanajyankur is showing her works as part of ‘Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories’ at Maiiam Museum of Contemporary Art in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Germany. In 2022, Vatanajyankur joined The Bangkok Art Biennale for the second time and exhibited her work as part of ‘Fun Feminism’ at Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland and ‘The Uncanny World’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan, Busan, Korea.
Vatanajyankur has exhibited widely across Australia, as well as Asia, USA and Europe. Vatanajyankur’s work is held at the National Collection of Thailand and in Museum collections including Singapore Art Museum, Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Dunedin Art Museum), Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum, MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art (Bangkok), as well as university collections and private collections in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and America. She is currently represented by Nova Contemporary, Bangkok and Antidote Organisation, Australia.