Mental Machine: Labour in the Self Economy, 2022, is a live performance by Kawita Vatanajyankur made in collaboration with Pat Pataranutaporn from the Fluid Interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of Western Australia and Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art, Mental Machine explores the concept of labour in our current era of accelerated technological enhancement.
In Mental Machine, Vatanajyankur becomes a human-machine hybrid as she embodies two cybernetic alter egos—each uniquely programmed with different beliefs and mindsets. Pataranutaporn created these cybernetic selves through the poetic use of an AI-generated character pipeline using the artist’s personal data. In doing so, Vatanajyankur’s mind and body are guided or manipulated by her cybernetic selves to thread a massive graph-like textile pattern across the floor of the Gallery.
The performance is a response to rapid developments in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which are training machines to think, talk and work like humans. By then positioning a human being as a "mental machine," the artists ask many interconnected questions that shape our shared futures: as we teach machines to become human are we recreating ourselves to become more like a machine?; if AI algorithms can influence human behaviour by exploiting human biases and manipulating our emotions then are we truly free to choose?; is it possible to break the cycle of unconscious self-objectification and dehumanization that is driving society?