DO TRIVIAL MACHINES DREAM NONTRIVIAL DREAMS (Innsbruck, 2008)

Christian Stefaner-Schmid is staging an apocalypse scenario in Innsbruck's Stadtturmgalerie under the title
Zombie Environment # 12: Do Trivial Machines Dream Nontrivial Dreams


The background for the exhibition is the artist's long-term interest in zombies, as well as in the
constructivist concept of trivial and non-trivial machines, which was introduced in the 1970s by the
Austrian physicist Heinz von Foerster (1911-2002) based on ideas developed by the British mathematician
Alan Turing (1912-1954), one of the most important cofounders of modern information and computer theory.

The starting position for the exhibition scenario: The earth has been freed of humans. Human life no
longer exists. Only closed circuit television cameras show a machine's subjective view of a world
stripped of humans. The only things still living are trivial machines. Are they, or could they be
considered to be, zombies? Based on his knowledge of so called "pseudointelligent" systems, which
he developed during his work process, Christian Stefaner-Schmid has simulated an apocalypse scenario,
which assesses the probability of his conjecture.
The visitors find themselves in a video control room and a corridor leading into the control room.
Notes, diagrams, formulas, and statements have been marked directly on the walls of the corridor.
For Christian Stefaner-Schmid, his video-graphic stagings are in no way about showing the possible
consequences of an environmental catastrophe caused by humanity. On the contrary, the only
"catastrophe" in his scenario could at best be constituted by the sudden disappearance of humanity
itself. For the artist, it is more about the question of whether humans might continue to live on
in machines, or whether so-called trivial machines may, despite their primitiveness of their
functioning, be adequately viewed as artificial humans.
What criteria characterize trivial and nontrivial machines at all? Trivial machines do not change
their own operational condition - that is, they always fulfill the same function. Nontrivial machines,
on the other hand, change their own operational condition, i.e., they fulfill various functions depending
on their history. Fundamentally, non-trivial machines may be produced from trivial machines.
This particular logic of a constitutive dependency of the two systems on one another is undermined by
the fact that they can hardly be distinguished from one another (or not at all) by an external observer
who knows nothing of the respective inner functionings of the machines (from Foerster, Wissen und Gewissen, 1997).
Stefaner-Schmid makes use of this fact in his artistic investigation, which is primarily based on the assumption
that intelligence in itself possesses a primitive (that is, primordial) valence. Yet this primitiveness is also
inherent to a zombie. In its "nature", the zombie is a predefined form of ambiguity par excellence because it
cannot in the first place be characterized as a trivial or non-trivial machine. "Zombies" are mostly characterized
as beings without their own will, who have been brought back from the dead or else have had their souls stolen,
whose behaviour is determined by pure automatism. Indeed they are the result of a one-time, irreversible
transformation from living into dead, a sine qua non condition, which entirely constitutes their existence . . .
Stefaner-Schmid uses the question of zombies as a critique of capitalism and consumption. These zombies,
who reprove us for consumption and for our lifestyles, are invisible in the exhibition; they can only be
postulated as conceptual objects of desire. The yearning for them manifests itself clearest in the dark
control room in which we can see the live CCTV images of empty streets and places. May they return and
join the other (non-) trivial machines...

Andrei Siclodi (Director, Kuenstlerhaus Buechsenhausen, Innsbruck)


big virus machine - black on white emulsion paint (approx. 2.3 x 3.2 m)

notation I - punch (card) vs. "nature" - black on white emulsion paint (approx. 1.2 x 2.0 m)

signals meetingpoint - black on white emulsion paint (approx. 1.2 x 1.2 m)

guidance system - made up from a random clash of keywords - black on white emulsion paint (approx. 1.5 x 1.5 m)
(there is a live version on this site)

cctv-control room - installation exhibition view - black on white emulsion paint (room)



thanks to: Sun Li Lian Obwegeser und Andre Siclodi