Songs of the Sky
„For centuries, we’ve looked to the sky to divine the future. Today, we look to the Cloud.” – James Bridle
Dozens of cloud faces gaze down at visitors from the exhibition wall. Many of them seem to smile, while others remind us of people we know, or creatures from mythology. The Korean artist duo Shinseungback Kimyonghun—consisting of Shin Seung Back and Kim Yong Hun—assembled these human-like cloud formations in their 2012 series Cloud Face. Instead of the artists themselves, however, it was the algorithms of a face-recognition program that caused the shutter to be released every time it detected figures in the sky. Once a realm of human imagination and a source of insight, the cloudy sky now reveals the limits of machine-driven artificial intelligence.
As early as 1922, the famous American photographer Alfred Stieglitz turned his camera to the sky for the first time “to find out what [he] had learned in 40 years about photography.” His series of cloud pictures, which he initially called Songs of the Sky before they became famous as Equivalents, paved the way to abstraction for a medium that had been associated with the depiction of reality. A century later, the thematic exhibition Songs of the Sky . Photography & the Cloud uses the original title to discuss the current change in photography due to digitalization and its consequences. Thinking about photography today entails a consideration of the infrastructures that form and organize networks. Regardless of whether images are generated by surveillance cameras or satellites, or consist of digitized archival material or personal vacation photographs on our smartphones and laptops, all photographs are saved on the cloud operated by artificial intelligence.
Similar to the way that clouds resonated in the beginning of abstraction in photography one hundred years ago, the way artists today interact with the cloud reflects the twenty-first century’s visions of the future. Juxtaposing historical and contemporary cloud photographs, the exhibition Songs of the Sky . Photography & the Cloud mirrors the consequences of cloud-computing technology on climate change and geopolitics. What stories can photographs relate about the “soul of the sky” (Étienne Pitois) in the digital age?
Will commercial enterprises that maximize their earnings by evaluating and using our cloud data end up buying all of the clouds in the sky? Will the immense carbon footprint of the technical cloud accelerate global warming to such an extent that in the future it will be rare to see many-faced cloud creatures floating by in the sky? Songs of the Sky . Photography & the Cloud was curated by Dr. Kathrin Schönegg. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog that was published by Spector Books, Leipzig.
Includes works by Claudia Angelmaier, Sylvia Ballhause, Marie Clerel, Raphaël Dallaporta, Fragmentin, Noémie Goudal, Louis Henderson, Internationales Meteorologisches Komitee, Noa Jansma, Stefan Karrer, Almut Linde, NASA, Observatoire de Juvisy, Lisa Oppenheim, Trevor Paglen, Meghann Riepenhoff, Simon Roberts, Evan Roth, Mario Santamaría, Adrian Sauer, Andy Sewell, Shinseungback Kimyonghun, and Louis Vignes & Charles Nègre.
The textual work "Below, in, and above Clouds" by Adrian Sauer brings together his own thoughts as well as researched materials on the topic of clouds. The glossary accompanies the themes of the exhibition and discusses the effect of weather on photographs as well as the human-influenced climate change and the technological cloud. Seen together, the thirty commentaries on photographic technologies, weather, and IT show a spectrum of perspectives of the ephemeral phenomenon of the cloud.
The exhibition "Songs of the Sky . Photography & the Cloud" was on view at the renowned photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles from Jul 4 – Sep 25 2022 in the South of France.