Dixit Algorizmi – The Garden of Knowledge
The Pavilion of Uzbekistan at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia presents a reflection on the seminal work of Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, a scientist and polymath born and raised in the city of Khiva (present-day Uzbekistan). Al-Khwārizmī’s treatise On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals (825 CE) was responsible for the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe, and it was the Latin transliteration of al-Khwārizmī’s name to Algorizmi that gave us the modern word algorithm.
Dixit Algorizmi – The Garden of Knowledge sets out to question the origin myths and narratives surrounding modern technologies, using the lens of contemporary artistic practices to explore their forgotten roots and overlooked resonances with distant places, times, and cultures. The pavilion engages divergent interpretations of technology as a medium, acknowledging the depth and complexity of its history to be explored through an extensive public program.
Al-Khwārizmī’s most significant research took place at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. The House of Wisdom was a place of gathering and exchange and is widely assumed to have been centered around formal gardens planned in the Islamic tradition. During his tenure at House of Wisdom, al-Khwārizmī was instrumental in countless scientific activities that involved a wide-ranging group of scientists and intellectuals. The design of the Uzbekistan Pavilion will reference this tradition in its spatial arrangement, recasting the Islamic tradition of the garden as a place of gathering and exchange as a technologically augmented space of research, reflection, and experimentation. The gatherings and exchanges within the Garden of Knowledge will be structured in a public program scheduled for the duration of the Biennale.
Our intention is for the pavilion of the Republic of Uzbekistan to represent a departure from the classical paradigm of participation in the International Art Exhibition, according to which the pavilion is understood primarily as a container for artefacts. Inspired by the environment within which al-Khwārizmī himself operated, we aim for the pavilion to become a space of the production of perception and the exchange of ideas — a ‘garden of knowledge,’ so to speak, in which heterogenous voices, from within and outside the field of artistic production, can converge and overlap. We conceive of this space as a place of meditation but also of composition, in which it is possible to question the greater order of things, and to consider the trajectory of the histories of art, science, technology, philosophy, and innovation from new perspectives. Throughout the course of the seven months of the Art Biennale, artists, scholars, historians, scientists, writers, and philosophers will be invited to address the possibility of alternative modernities, not so much attempting to replace the current image of modernity as to expand it in recognition of its deep origins — in distant, and unexpected, times and places.
The Garden of Knowledge here becomes a landscape to host conversations and performances reflecting on the history of technology and its relationship with contemporary artistic production. The public program activates the pavilion as a site of knowledge exchange - bringing together a network of international designers, researchers, musicians, poets and artists to share ideas in the garden and create future collaborations.
Conceived as a central element of the Garden of Knowledge, the performance Velocity0 is the fruit of an ongoing collaboration between Uzbeki musician Abror Zufarov and artist Charli Tapp, currently living in Japan. For this performance, Tapp further augmented the capabilities of a Yamaha CP80 Grand Piano he had already partially automated as part of a previous collaboration with us (Player Piano at St. Etienne Biennale 2017). For Velocity0, this automation was taken to the next level through the introduction of an AI engine, and following extensive training of its neural nets it succeeded in establishing a realtime dialogue with Zufarov’s execution of Shashmaqom, a rare and technically complex genre of traditional Uzbek music that does not conform to the rules and axioms around which Western musical software is built. For its duration, this musical dialogue between man and machine brought into the pavilion a ghostly and unknowable presence.
Velocity0 by Charli Tapp is an ever-evolving installation in which, driven by a series of computerized processes, 88 electromagnets hit the keybed of a beat-down touring Yamaha CP80 Grand Piano. In 2021, Uzbek musician Abror Zufarov’s music met with the ghostly Neural Network composer during the exhibition Dixit Algorizmi (CCA, Uzbekistan), attempting to produce an infinite score based on the teachings and misunderstandings of its encounter. Running in parallel with the public program hosted in the pavilion, the installation serves as a materializing hub for a program of international composers, invited to experiment with Velocity0’s algorithm, through a dematerialized platform called The Program. In doing so, each participant’s input will output a unique generative score, ephemerally played until the next update, feeding a non-linear organic soundscape narrative. While the installation will serve as an endless algorithmic concert, its program will kick off with Transcode/Transmute: a series of intermittent performances based on the building blocks of the Shashmaqom’s centuries-old musical system.
The pavilion becomes a landscape to host conversations and performances - this landscape constructed of standard size sheets of polished stainless steel are laser cut to create arenas for these events. The material references a landscape of water - a central element in Persian garden design and reflects the floating gardens and participants and multiplicity of associations. Following the biennale the installation returns to its material state - creating new installations and events.
Floral sculptures and floating compositions created by Studio Mary Lennox were installed throughout the space, creating a dream-like abstraction as interpretation of the garden. Clouds and constellations of florals reflect an uprooted landscape that does not belong to a single territory, but exists in a multitude of parallel associations and instances at once. Limonium flowers were chosen as a native species common in Uzbekistan, with shades of blue and purple referencing key motifs in both Uzbekistan's botanical landscape, as in traditional Uzbek architecture and design.
Algorithms possibly represent the most consummately human practice of all time: the development of rules through which to resolve problems by breaking down the complexity of our world into simpler parts, thus making a subject accessible to a wider audience. There’s an app for that.
The temptation to see algorithms as a recent innovation that is integral to the technological advances of our time is a form of hubris that discounts the fact that algorithms are among the most ancient and material practices, predating many human tools, as well as the field of computer science itself.
What are the alternatives to the hegemony of Western-centric diffusionism? Just as it is possible to imagine ‘alternative modernities’ coexisting in the modern world, so is it necessary to believe in the possibility of alternative technologies capable of creating and sustaining non-conforming clusters, communities, environments.
Dixit Algorizmi – The Garden of Knowledge
National Pavilion of Uzbekistan
20/04/2022 - 27/11/2022
Arsenale, La Biennale di Venezia
Curators: Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Sofia Pia Belenky, Camilo Oliveira, Francesco Lupia) and Sheida Ghomashchi
Exhibition design: Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Sofia Pia Belenky, Camilo Oliveira, Francesco Lupia)
Institution: Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Special support: Saida Mirziyoyeva - Deputy Chairwoman of the Council of the Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Commissioner: Gayane Umerov - Executive Director of Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Visual identity and catalogue design: Studio Folder (Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, Molly Davies, Serena Gramaglia, Nunzio Mazzaferro)
Project management: Madina Badalova - Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Project assistants: Temur Ortiqov, Laziza Akbarova, Dilorom Tursunova, Jasur Asliev, Malika Zayniddinova - Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Exhibition installation: We Exhibit
Communication & PR: Casadorofungher Comunicazione, Flint culture
Soundscape: Charli Tapp, Abror Zufarov
Botanical environment: Studio Mary Lennox