Source Link on SuperRare
Date Minted: November 25, 2018
Artist Description: In 1966 two military computer nodes in Canada begin generating unknown symbols in an incident known as “The SAGE Anomaly”. http://bit.ly/sageAnomaly This is one of the possible symbols reconstructed using the DCGAN machine learning technique. See exif for more. (Historical Science Fiction)
Commentary: Max Cohen (@CohentheWriter):
Something that comes up again and again in my writing about crypto art is the disappointment I feel that so much incredible art, art that makes wildly creative use of digital environments, nevertheless must remain sequestered into the small, flatnesses of our screens. Though I’m constantly talking about how much crypto art is disadvantaged by how we see it (on SuperRare, on Twitter, etc.), I find myself nevertheless challenged again and again by artists who don’t see the online environment of all this art as a prison but as a strength. And to that end, Bard Ionson has done something remarkable with his Representation of the Entity (v.4), which isn’t best understood as a standalone artwork but as a node in a larger narrative system. This piece derives its power almost entirely from outside, though interconnected, sources, something which is more-or-less impossible to do in the physical art world and which brilliantly leverages the fact that the piece is contained in a place like SuperRare, where titles, descriptions, links, and an entire oeuvre, are present and easily-accessible.
The narrative surrounding Representation of the Entity (v.4), written in a three-part short narrative that’s linked in the Artist Description, suggests that the image itself isn’t really crypto art at all, but something darker, more cryptic, mysterious and threatening. Ionson’s story, written by an unnamed narrator, is the fragmented (presumably fictional) retelling of something a friend’s grandfather, a former Canadian intelligence officer in the mid-20th-century, said amidst Alzheimer-induced mutterings. In his glory days, the Grandfather worked at a classified Canadian intelligence installation, handling radars, missile control systems, and weapons technology during the height of the Cold War. Throughout a series of scattered memories, the grandfather reveals how one cold night in 1966, strange symbols began appearing on a radar interface, and the story soon veers off into questions of Russian interference and alien intervention and quantum entanglement and time travel. It’s quite a compelling read (https://www.patreon.com/posts/sage-anomaly-22775973) (updated here: http://sageanomaly.com/sage-anomaly/)
The conceit of Representation of the Entity (v.4) is that it’s an AI-generation of one such symbol, a (get this) representation of the interfering entity, discovered within the confines of the story when one of the characters digs through old military records. We can see the image’s resemblance to alien skull; the oblong face and one shining quasar eye. The color palette and greater composition are both reminiscent of radar images, especially as radar exists in our cultural consciousness, influenced by a half-century of sci-fi films. Even if somewhat simplistically designed, the image is eerie. The juxtaposition of colors and the childishness asymmetry of the lines suggest a verisimilitude within the context of the narrative. And indeed, the piece (as well as the seven others which are part of the same series) is inseparable from the story; they are halves of the same whole, and to deny one of the added stature of the other is to deny the piece its full expression. And should we suspend our disbelief for even a moment, or be caught up by the story even slightly, this piece adopts a nascent but gnawing undertone of dread.
Representation of the Entity (v.4) requires the story which contains it, just as the story requires the piece. The narrative would not maximize its emotional effect if we are not able to see the images that are pertinent within it. Likewise, this piece itself requires this written context to be more than it appears to be.
The experiment is what matters here, not necessarily the aesthetics or the success of the story itself (it does happen to be riddled with grammatical mistakes, but that’s neither here nor there). This attempt to exploit crypto art’s online environment, to let itself be a stop on a larger multimedia scavenger hunt, and using natural tools of the internet —links as portals, text accompanying image, unceasing mutability— as a way to increase our buy-in with the piece is unprecedented, especially in late 2018 when this piece was minted.
In this way, Representation of the Entity (v.4) manages to create an emotional environment around it, and an emotional context as well, which harkens most powerfully to real-world installation art or performance art. Digital art experienced through the lens of our own personal computers, in our own personal spaces, it’s always going to be hamstrung somewhat by its lack of overt visual context. When you see a piece hung up huge in a sparse museum room, or in a gallery, or being fawned over by camera-hockers, there’s a quietly-communicated importance that comes from the place itself. It’s highly subconscious, but it lends importance, and some amount of memorability, to pieces seen this way. Scrolling down a Twitter timeline and seeing artwork after artwork, day after day, it unfortunately leads to a kind of mental burnout, and so many wonderful works fade into the multitudes.
I can’t stress enough that in the Representation of the Entity (v.4) experiment, Ionson predicted and counteracted this eventual effect years before it existed. I’ve not seen many pieces with this sense of scope or this sense of invented place. I may not have seen any. It would be improper to discuss Representation of the Entity (v.4) without placing it in the context it was borne from, which it was meant to be seen in, which it is but a fragment of. But that’s a hallmark of much great art: That it’s more than itself, that it’s indelibly inexorable from a small universe which hides behind its textures.