Frieze Los Angeles: Conversations on Patronage: Evolution of the Human, Art in the Age of AI and Synthetic Bio

February 16, 2019

2pm Paramount Pictures Studio – Los Angeles, CA

Conversations on Patronage: Evolution of the Human, Art in the Age of AI and Synthetic Bio

Presented with the Berggruen Institute


16 Feb 2019 | 2:00pm

Sherry Lansing Theater, Frieze Los Angeles

Paramount Pictures Studios Backlot

CA 90038 Los Angeles

To view the video from this event, please click here.


As part of the new Berggruen Institute Transformation of the Human (ToTH) program, artist Agnieszka Kurant discussed her work in relation to the evolution of labor, knowledge, creativity, nature and surveillance capitalism with the philosopher and anthropologist Tobias Rees of the Berggruen Institute and pioneering synthetic biologist Drew Endy of Stanford University.

Participants: Agnieszka Kurant (Artist & Artist Fellow, Berggruen Institute), Drew Endy (Pioneering Synthetic Biologist, Stanford & President, BioBricks Foundation)

Moderator: Tobias Rees (Director, Berggruen Institute Transformation of the Human & Reid Hoffman Professor of the Humanities, New School for Social Research)

Conceptual artist, Agnieszka Kurant explores how complex social and economic systems can operate in ways that confuse distinctions between fiction and reality or nature and culture. Probing collective intelligence, surveillance capitalism and the evolution of labor and creativity, her works often behave like living organisms. Her past exhibitions include a commission for the façade of the Guggenheim Museum, a solo exhibition at the Sculpture Center and commissions for Palais de Tokyo, Witte de With, Cleveland Triennial, Moderna Museet, Bonner Kunstverein, Tate Modern and Performa Biennial. She is an artist in residence at MIT CAST and a Berggruen Institute artist fellow.

Drew Endy is bioengineering faculty at Stanford University and BioBricks Foundation president ( His research teams pioneered amplifying genetic logic, rewritable DNA data storage, reliably re-useable standard biological parts, and genome refactoring. Drew helped launch the new undergraduate majors in bioengineering at both MIT and Stanford; he also co-founded the iGEM competition, a global genetic engineering “olympics” now engaging over 6,000 students annually ( Drew was a co-founder of Gen9, Inc., a DNA construction company and served as director while Gen9 was successfully acquired. Esquire lists him as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.

Dr. Tobias Rees is the Director of the Transformations of the Human program at the Berggruen Institute and Fellow of the Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR). Rees’ expertise lies at the intersection of anthropology, art history, the history of science, the philosophy of modernity and the study of knowledge. More specifically, he is interested in how categories that order knowledge mutate over time—because of humans, microbes, snails, the weather, AI—and the effects these mutations have on conceptions of the human. The main areas of Rees’ research have been the brain sciences, global health, the microbiome, and AI.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.