I was obsessed with the true and false binary for a very brief period in the summer of 2019. These binary statements meant everything when coding my research on a computer-generated analysis of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics (I know that’s a little too theatre kid, but bear with me). Knowing how to categorize words in a productive way felt impossible without using something so strict as a true-and-false parameter.
Coding is not easy, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence. In a world of tech secrecy, using a binary doesn’t cut it. Binaries don’t work on complex modern problems. There is a spectrum of solutions needed to give AI the chance to shine. With restrictive AI practices, there is a world of gray that is hard to clear out.
However, “Stephanie Dinkins: On Love and Data” is anything but just gray. It’s neon yellow, deep violet and a spectrum of what AI is here and now.
At the School of Art & Design Stamps Gallery downtown, “Stephanie Dinkins: On Love and Data,” curated by Gallery Director Srimoyee Mitra, celebrates Dinkins’s manifesto of “Afro-now-ism”: an active statement for what art and tech should be against systemic oppression.
Mitra pulls from Dinkins’s most recent works to create a place where visitors can experience AI that fosters community and generational storytelling.
One of the most technically complex exhibits comes in the form of a dialogue. “Conversations with Bina48: Fragments 7, 6, 5, 2” is the recorded in-person, face-to-face interaction between Stephanie Dinkins and advanced social robot Bina48 (short for “Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture”). The four clips of conversations last about a minute each — yet, as you listen, you can hear the repetitive nature of AI emulating personal thought. They touch on love, life and Bina herself, who is perhaps the only robot who is a Black woman.
Bina speaks with complex, long sets of statements. She circles around a point, shading it into existence rather than painting it all at once. If not for the stark image of Dinkins and Bina’s faces inches from touching, I might not have felt the intimate nature of their connection. Their proximity was magnetic, seeing the subtlety of Dinkins compared to the more simulated nature of Bina’s delivery.
This piece, like most in the exhibit, is in that exciting space of ongoing: not quite final, ever-changing. The nature of AI makes projects hard to complete — how can they be finished, when AI is evolving every second? Changing, adapting and radicalizing new ways to dismantle and connect; if anything, this constant growth gives the collection a sense of unity. Everything’s in action. Sensors, speakers and AI harmonize to create a holistic image of technology that electrifies.
“Secret Garden” is the culmination of this action. An immersive installation of projectors and speakers illustrates three generations of Black women’s power and their stories. The use of space and projection breathes life into the space. A woman is seen ducking to the sides of a corner, and the projected background is composed of flora that highlights the space the women hold together. It perfectly embodies the women’s stories — stories of resilience and power in the face of generational inequality.
Binaries are stupid. When it comes time to create content, whether coded or not, I shouldn’t depend on something so limited. It’s time to think about how tech can bring power to communities that have often been hurt by coding practices. “Stephanie Dinkins: On Love and Data” shows how and what AI should be.
Open at the Stamps Gallery until Oct. 23, it is worth seeing Dinkins in a league of her own.
Daily Arts Writer Matthew Eggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.