Darwin’s evolutionary theories get a modern art makeover

Evolution, one might argue, was the original interactive technology. Randomness, through interaction with stimuli, is organized into with an underlying sense of logic. Then it all happens again.

This is the underlying idea behind Daniel Rozin’s exhibit “Descent With Modification,” which is running at New York’s bitforms gallery until July 1st, 2015. Taking inspiration from Darwin’s seminal tome On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, the Israeli-American artist’s works use software to simulate “genetic drift.” Shapes gradually shift in a manner that would be relaxing if they weren’t in effect replicating the extinction of species.

In Darwinian Straw Mirror, the first of Rozin’s four “Darwinian Software Mirrors,” a viewer stands before a camera and large television. Before her eyes, the image on the screen evolves to resemble her. A computer that has been programmed to act out “evolutionary pressures” is driving this evolution. From a jumble of shards, it is selecting those that look most like the human and move the image towards its goal of resembling the subject.

Computers act out “evolutionary pressures.” 

What is natural selection when the ‘natural’ component is the programmed mind of a computer? On the one hand, it is profoundly unnatural. This is not the natural way of things so much as something that has been created. Yet it would be foolhardy to deny that most things that appear to happen naturally are now intermediated by technology. Algorithms shape choices that we feel are entirely ours. (If a news story isn’t picked up by Facebook’s algorithm, does your mother know it exists?) This is not nature per se, but it is the new natural way of things. “Descent With Modification” is evolution in 2015: real, captivating, and a little scary.