List Center unveils major new public art commission by Agnieszka Kurant

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List Center unveils major new public art commission by Agnieszka Kurant
List Center presents new public art commission by Agnieszka Kurant made in collaboration with MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The MIT List Visual Arts Center unveiled The End of Signature (2021–22), a newly commissioned Percent-for-Art work by Agnieszka Kurant for the Graduate Tower at Site 4 (Building E37) and at 238 Main Street in Kendall Square. Kurant will present an artist talk about this latest project on Tuesday, September 13, at 6 PM, in the MIT Welcome Center Auditorium located at 292 Main Street, Cambridge, MA.

For her MIT commission, Kurant developed a new iteration of The End of Signature using artificial intelligence to create two collective signatures, each realized as a monumental light sculpture mounted on a building exterior. The two-part commission consists of one animated LED sculpture that appears to sign and re-sign the rear façade of 238 Main Street, and one large-scale neon signature on the plaza-facing cantilevered façade of Building E37. The LED sculpture at 238 Main Street aggregates signatures the artist gathered from MIT scientists, scholars, and academics, both past and present, while the neon work at E37 was derived from signatures she collected from local Cambridge-area residents.

To make these collective portraits, Kurant collaborated with three doctoral students in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), Katie Lewis, Divya Shanmugam, and Jose Javier Gonzalez Ortiz, as well as their advisor, John Guttag who is the Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at MIT. Together they designed a neural network (called a GAN—a generative adversarial machine learning approach) that was trained with a dataset of real, hand-written signatures. Over time, this neural network developed the capacity to generate composite signatures composed of features combined from the artist’s vast dataset. The final artwork takes the form of the two separate collective signatures transformed by the AI algorithm into an “averaged” signature.

In The End of Signature and other works, Kurant establishes a novel way of producing art forms, and group portraits, by accumulating input from thousands of people. With its foreboding title, The End of Signature also alludes to technological shifts in which handwritten signatures are increasingly obsolete. Additionally, Kurant’s work speaks to ideas of shared authorship—both the collaborative research, discovery, and design that occurs among scientists, scholars, architects within the MIT community, and the teamwork and mutual aid that shapes political movements and civic endeavors within the Institute and beyond.

Agnieszka Kurant was selected for the commission by Percent-for-Art committee members, including: Azra Akšamija, Associate Professor, MIT Program for Art, Culture, and Technology; Jon Alvarez, Director, MIT Office of Campus Planning; Richard Amster, Director, MIT Campus Construction; Robert Brown, Director of Perkins & Will Architects, Executive Architects of Kendall Square Initiative; John Durant, Director, MIT Museum; Paul C. Ha, Director, MIT List Visual Arts Center; Michael Owu, Director, Real Estate at MITIMCo; Stuart Schmill, MIT Admissions; and Emily Watlington, MIT Graduate Student in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art.

Agnieszka Kurant (b. 1978) was born in Łódź, Poland, and lives and works in New York City. Kurant’s work in systems, sculpture, and film has been exhibited widely in the US and Europe at institutions such as SculptureCenter, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto; Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and many others. She co-represented Poland at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale (2010, with Aleksandra Wasilkowska). Her recent fellowships and residencies include the Berggruen Institute’s Transformations of the Human program (2020–21) and the Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at MIT’s Center for Art, Science, and Technology (2016–18). She is also the recipient of the 2020 LACMA Art + Technology Lab Grant, the 2019 Frontier Art Prize by VIA Art Fund and the World Frontiers Forum, and the Google Artists and Machine Intelligence Grant.

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