Friday, February 16, 2024

Octopi + AI @ Gallery QI

 By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt


Viewing Memo Akten’s Distributed Consciousness installation on opening night. (Lonnie B. Hewitt)

You may not see any connections between cephalopods and artificial intelligence but an installation by Memo Akten at UC San Diego’s Gallery QI aims to change the way you see and think about such things.

The multi-disciplinary artist, an assistant professor in UCSD’s Department of Visual Arts, is inviting us to move beyond the distinctions we make between humans and animals, living and non-living intelligence, and begin to embrace a more expansive, more rewarding conception of the interconnectedness of all things.

Akten’s current installation, Distributed Consciousness, had its beginnings in a small fishing village in Turkey in 2021, when Covid postponed his coming to San Diego by putting his U.S. visa on hold.

He spent a lot of time in the ocean, and often saw octopi when snorkeling, but a close encounter with a rock-sitting octopus that suddenly seemed to be flashing in brilliant colors made him start thinking about what that animal was thinking and what kind of mind it might have. Octopi share a fair portion of our DNA, he discovered, and they have brains in each of their eight arms--distributed consciousness. What they have may be a kind of consciousness we don’t really understand, but diving into these sorts of issues is what Akten calls hallucinating. Hallucinating, he says, is not something that means you’re crazy: it’s expanding your ways of envisioning new possibilities. And that, he adds, is what artists do: “Hallucinating is part of our job description!”

Close-up of an octopus from Distributed Consciousness(Courtesy Gallery QI)

The talk he gave at the opening event on January 25 attracted a full house, and there were many questions from the audience. The questions, like the audience members, were mostly academic, but the concept behind Distributed Consciousness can be strongly appealing to everyone. He is encouraging optimism, imagination, collaboration, and community.

The installation features custom AI-generated artwork encoded with 256 verses of poetry created through GPT-3, a language model that can generate poems, stories and dialogue out of whatever is input into it. Akten, who has been working with AI for decades, spent thousands of hours interacting with GPT-3, refining his input, and creating images of octopi.

He’s not just doing hyper-bright octopus portraits; he’s trying to change how we look at, think about, and relate to our real and virtual worlds. 

More images from the installation. (Maurice Hewitt) 

You can experience Distributed Consciousness through March 24 at Gallery QI in Atkinson Hall at UCSD. Hours: Monday-Friday. 12-5 p.m.  Make yourself comfortable on the beanbag cushions, stay as long as you want, and see how you feel about real life, AI and yourself when you leave.

For more about Memo Akten and his work:

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

No comments:

Post a Comment