In an undetermined future, on a planet Earth that has almost become uninhabitable; human’s leading role has been occupied by hyper-advanced AI technologies. Animal life has nearly gone extinct, with a few exceptions, including some remaining humans who have undergone a backward evolution, intellectually and sensorially devolving to the point of becoming complete servants of consumerism. The HONs (Human Organism Normal) have lost their social and intellectual abilities. They are gradually transforming into carbon-based extensions of the digital cloud due to the excessive exposure to mass media, the Internet, social media, and overconsumption. Unable to survive interdependently in a community, they remain in isolation in underground facilities similar to concept stores.
SUGAR, a discontinued model of the first AC (Artificial Consciousness) robots generation, embarks on a quest to restore humans' damaged cognitive abilities. The encounter with a HON (embodied by Bjørn Melhus) reveals the extent of the human mind’s decay: the spirited creature’s habits and monologue (sentences repeated in a daunting loop) replicate the frequent oversharing of unelaborated thoughts and feelings that is typical of social media communication, while also emphasizing the all-embracing control achieved by AI. With its captivating narrative and its anxiety-inducing monologue, the work intentionally challenges our ability to stay focused. It does so by replicating the unrest one may experience as a result of scrolling down too many feeds, posts, and updates on the cellphone screen.
Exhausted by the failed attempts to restore the HON’s social abilities, SUGAR finally exits the bunker and walks on the surface of the planet among the debris and ruins of a past world, of extinguished animal and vegetal life. Rests of bleached corals in the underground units are in communication with the sponge-like creatures living on the planet's surface; they seem to charge SUGAR through the emanation of electrical spores or impulses. The structure, reminiscent of a mushroom’s network, hints to a possible interdependent evolution between AI technology, the remaining forms of life on the planet, and other cosmic forces. With this association, the work takes distance from anthropocentric positions by suggesting that, despite climate breakdown and the sixth extinction underway, humans are but one chapter of life itself, which will find ways to adapt and evolve with or without us. (Vanina Saracino)
Images: Bjørn Melhus, SUGAR, 2020 © Bjørn Melhus & VG Bild-Kunst