The exhibition, through June 21, continues the Great Hall Exhibition series’ commitment to celebrating the contributions of exemplary women artists.
The Institute of Fine Arts is pleased to announce its spring exhibition, Avital Meshi: Subverting the Algorithmic Gaze. The exhibition continues the Great Hall Exhibition series’ commitment to celebrating the contributions of exemplary women artists. It is the second in the series to take place online. The exhibition will be on view on the Institute’s website from March 28 – June 21.
New media artist Avital Meshi combines performance and algorithmic activism in her work. She interrogates what it means to be observed by software with identifying capabilities. Using her body and the bodies of those around her, she interacts with and tries to override systems that can be seen as promoting a “modern phrenology.” In her interactive AI performance Techno-Schizo, Meshi changes her hairstyle and facial expressions to highlight how the confidence level of the program she uses can be altered. As she moves her face, hands, and hair, the system continually tries–and fails–to classify her correctly, underscoring the limitations of facial recognition systems that often have higher error rates with minorities and people of color. Similarly, in The New Vitruvian, Meshi interacts with the algorithm using a chair as a prop. Crossing the porous boundary that defines how human or non-human one appears in the eyes of the program, she moves with the chair and finds herself identified as a person, a horse, a cat, a refrigerator, and a chair, among other animate and inanimate objects. To allow visitors to experience this classification for themselves, Meshi will operate several sessions of her interactive artificial intelligence artwork, The AI Human Training Center, during the run of the exhibition.
In the endurance performance ZEN A.I. (created in collaboration with transdisciplinary performer Treyden Chiaravalloti), Meshi meditates with the help of two programs. The first of these monitors her and the room in which she sits while constantly classifying her and the objects around her. The other delivers a stream of sometimes ominous, sometimes laughable, instructions to guide her practice. Although this piece initially appears humorous, Meshi’s contrived environment—replete with screens depicting burning candles and message notifications—becomes a dystopian space of constant surveillance and direction. However, Meshi consents to this obvious monitoring to encourage the viewer to become more conscious, as she puts it, of “our current hyper-connected environment in which an asymmetrical, nonconsensual algorithmic gaze exposes our society to discriminatory practices.” Only by gaining greater awareness of the monitoring systems embedded in everyday devices and in the public sphere, and of their use and abuse by government and security agencies, can people hope to bring equity to a growing and problematic form of surveillance.
Meshi’s work invites people to see that they can reclaim agency over technology. It provokes conversations around identity and identity transformation, surveillance, recognition, and classification. As the artist states, it is crucial to recognize “the technosphere as a natural phenomenon not dissimilar to thoughts, or gravity… Acknowledging algorithms as such gives the conscious observer autonomy over the regulation of their impact.”
Avital Meshi (b. 1978, Jerusalem, Israel) is a new media and performance artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an MFA from The Digital Art and New Media Program at UC Santa Cruz, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and BSc + MSc in Behavioral Biology from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Performance Studies Program at UC Davis. Meshi has exhibited her work in the Currents New Media Festival in Santa Fe, Root Division Gallery in San Francisco, Sesnon Gallery in Santa-Cruz, ACM SIGGRAPH, NeurlPS, Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, and more.
This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Valeria Napoleone XX.
We extend special thanks to the artist for lending her works on view and for allowing visitors to experience The AI Human Training Center. Goldie Gross, Alejandra López-Oliveros, and Janelle Miniter curated the exhibition. Jason Varone designed the website and Professors Edward J. Sullivan and Christine Poggi provided faculty support.
About the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU
Since 1932 the Institute of Fine Arts has been dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in the history of art, archaeology, and conservation. This tradition was enhanced in 2013 when the Institute, revealing the potential of the Duke House’s Beaux-Arts interior as a venue for contemporary art, inaugurated its student-led Great Hall Exhibition program. Acclaimed artists Lynda Benglis, Rachel Harrison, Martha Friedman, Judith Hopf, Jamie Eisenstein, Amy Yao, Sarah Peters, Xaviera Simmons, and Cauleen Smith are among those featured to date.
ValeriaNapoleoneXX is an umbrella platform for projects and initiatives working towards increasing the recognition and validation of art practices by female artists through collaborations and partnerships with institutions and individuals in the world of contemporary art.
ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA is an ongoing commitment to underwrite the Great Hall Exhibition Series at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, two solo exhibitions a year focused on the work of female artists.
 Thorin Klosowski, “Facial Recognition Is Everywhere. Here’s What We Can Do About It.,” Wirecutter: Reviews for the Real World (blog), July 15, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/how-facial-recognition-works/.