Serpentine Galleries Wants Cultural Institutions to Collaborate on AI

A report released by the London institution outlines how the art sector can play a role in shaping this new technology.

Shadowy figures watch bright colored projections on walls of gallery
A view of Refik Anadol’s exhibit Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive at the Serpentine North Gallery. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

For London’s Serpentine Galleries, 2024 is the year of artificial intelligence (A.I.). The organization, which encompasses the Serpentine South and Serpentine North galleries, has long been at the forefront of A.I. experimentation. Now, its Arts Technologies department is dedicating its annual publication and programming to showcasing how the emerging technology can be used for public good.

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Its recently released Future Art Ecosystems: Art x Public AI report “provides insight and strategies for the cultural sector and beyond to make sense of the impact A.I. is likely to have on our everyday lives and what role artists and art organizations can actually play in shaping this future,” said Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of Serpentine Galleries, at the publication’s launch on March 19. Previous Future Art Ecosystems (FAE) editions, which explore the implications of technology for art institutions, have been dedicated to topics like advanced technologies, the metaverse and decentralized technology.

The decision to focus on A.I. is both “a response to the urgent issues of the current moment” and “an attempt to chart a long-term vision for the cultural sector,” according to the report, which emphasized ongoing battles over the technology’s public perception and artist anxieties that A.I. could make their practice irrelevant. “To either prevent or accelerate dominance of individual actors across the A.I. stack, the cultural sector—as well as the art and advanced technologies (AxAT) ecosystem more specifically—have an opportunity to be part of new coalitions, to calibrate public-facing expectations, and to demonstrate different possible directions for A.I. development,” said the report.

Its publishing coincides with the 10th anniversary of Serpentine Art Technologies, which was formed to demonstrate how the public arts sector can be a valuable space for technological experimentation and research. Its first commission, a chatbot called AGNES from artist Cécile B. Evans, was launched in 2014. The department has since collaborated on major A.I. projects with the likes of Ian Cheng, James Bridle, Jenna Sutela, Pierre Huyghe and Hito Steyerl. Serpentine took its interest in the technology a step further in 2019 with the formation of the Creative A.I. Lab, a collaboration with the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London that researches and oversees creative A.I. tools.

How can cultural institutions think strategically about A.I?

Strategic priorities put forward by the 2024 report include highlighting the need for deeper collaboration across cultural institutions and technological and civic ecosystems. “The scale of challenges and opportunities presented by all advanced technologies, and A.I. specifically, means that impactful intervention necessitates a plurality of specializations across cultural, civic, legal, technical, and policy domains, in order to foster an environment where longer-term partnerships between and across contexts and sectors should be developed,” said the report.

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It also urged cultural institutions to bolster their technical literacy through inter-organizational training programs, in addition to suggesting they use A.I. to test new models and platforms that allow audiences to interact with institutions in new ways. Prototyping new models of distribution and ownership can help shift the cultural field away from “the current model of corporate, philanthropic, and public funding,” which “sets up a framework where cultural organizations are seen to be at the receiving end of a value exchange.”

The tech will be the face of Serpentine Art Technologies’ 2024 program, which includes an ongoing Refik Anadol exhibition at Serpentine North—his solo show Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive uses A.I. and the visual data of coral reefs and rainforests to create immersive environments. In October, the gallery will host an exhibition from Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst dedicated to vocal datasets, vocal A.I. models and governance frameworks. Serpentine Galleries is “proud to continue platforming digital artists so that they have a seat at the table as powerful new technologies play increasingly important roles in shaping the future of society,” said Bettina Korek, the arts organization’s CEO, in a statement.

Serpentine Galleries Wants Cultural Institutions to Collaborate on AI