Monday, April 27, 2015

The Art of Jackson Pollock and Gustav Klimt in Ex Machina

by Drew Martin
I saw Ex Machina in the movie theater today. It is the kind of well thought out, patient science fiction that I like. It references a lot of movies and there is a role that art plays in it that I want to mention even though one instance is quite obvious.

Caleb, an employee at an advanced search engine company, BlueBook, is invited by the founder/owner, Nathan, to put a fetching AI robot, Ava, through the Turing test - to see if she can pass for a human. While discussing consciousness they stand before a Jackson Pollock drip painting [I do not recognize it as a copy of his work and although I see it referred to as a "replica"...I think it was just whipped up for the movie without an attempt to approximate an actual work]. The painting is there to nod to the human nature of "automatic art" - "Not deliberate, not random. Someplace in make art without thinking."

Ava spends her evenings at a simple desk in a small room drawing pictures. At first they are abstract geometries but then, after Caleb's request, she creates a picture of a glass-enclosed courtyard garden she can see, and then a portrait of him. These drawings are all triangulated and software driven.

The other, less obvious reference is to Gustav Klimt's painting of the sister of 
Ludwig Wittgenstein - one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers who covered logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He is referenced several times in the film. Klimt's painting of his sister represents Ava's human side. Towards the end of the film, Ava walks by it wearing a white dress.

To promote the film an Ava "session" website was set up, on which Ava asks you (typing) if she can draw a picture of you. If you say yes, your laptop camera turns on, snaps your picture, and then a triangulated image of you is worked out. Pictured here, bottom, is my portrait drawn by Ava. Check it out at