Love & data: Stephanie Dinkins’ new U-M exhibition explores bias, inequality within AI systems

September 14, 2021
Written By:
Sydney Hawkins

Algorithms are everywhere. They use personal information to offer up suggestions for our entertainment experiences; they filter our social media content; and they’re also used for purposes we’re not always aware of—like predicting the likelihood of repeat offenders in the criminal justice system.

But have you ever wondered who creates the codes for these algorithms? Or how the biases of these creators might impact how they’re used?

Stephanie Dinkins is a renowned transmedia artist known for seeking out the answers to these questions through her work, often creating plat­forms for dia­logue about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence as it inter­sects race, gen­der, aging and our future histories.

A new exhibition, “Stephanie Dinkins: Love & Data“—the first comprehensive survey of her work—is now on view at the University of Michigan’s Stamps Gallery in downtown Ann Arbor until Oct. 23.

Inro panel for a new exhibition titled "Stephanie Dinkins: Love & Data"

Inro panel for a new exhibition titled “Stephanie Dinkins: Love & Data”—the first comprehensive survey of work by transmedia artist Stephanie Dinkins, which is on view at the University of Michigan’s Stamps Gallery in downtown Ann Arbor until Oct. 23, 2021. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

As part of the show, she’ll open this year’s virtual Stamps Speaker Series Sept. 16 and is set to present a new projection work, “On Love & Data & Holding Space,” Sept. 24-25 in Detroit as part of DLECTRICITY, a night­time out­door fes­ti­val of art, light and tech­nol­ogy that show­cases extra­or­di­nary art by emerg­ing and estab­lished artists and cre­ative design pro­fes­sion­als.

Through her art pro­duc­tion, exhi­bi­tions, com­mu­nity-based work­shops and pub­lic speak­ing engagements, Dink­ins has become a cen­tral fig­ure nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally for her work expos­ing bias and inequity within arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

“My inten­tion is to encour­ag­e action towards mak­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems more inclu­sive, acces­si­ble and transparent,” said Dinkins, who will debut new and inter­ac­tive instal­la­tions and work­shops at U-M this semester that build on her con­cept of “Afro-now-ism.”

In a her poetic man­i­festo-like text, “Afro-now-ism: The unencumbered black mind is the wellspring of possibility,” published online in the NOEMA journal in June 2020, Dink­ins asks her audi­ence, par­tic­u­larly those from com­mu­ni­ties of color, to not only con­front the litany of vio­lences that humans have wielded upon one another, based on the insti­tu­tional and social con­struc­tions of race, caste, class and gen­der to main­tain sta­tus quo and the cur­rent sys­tems of power—but rise above it by tak­ing action to start build­ing the world that they desire.

​”The question is not only what injustices you are fighting, but what do you in your heart of hearts want to create in this world?” she wrote. “For Black peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar, it means con­ceiv­ing your­self in the space of free and expan­sive thought and act­ing from a crit­i­cally inte­grated space, allow­ing for more com­mu­nity-sus­tain­ing work.”

Each of the 10 works in the exhibition, including a glowing, neon sculpture titled after her “Afro-now-ism” concept, offer dialogues and ways of making artificial intelligence systems more inclusive, accessible, representational, and transparent.
Visitors can also experience “Secret Garden,” which debuted at Sundance in January 2020. In it, Dinkins creates an immersive installation and web experience where viewers are invited to step inside a garden and encounter oral histories spanning generations of African American women.

According to Stamps Gallery director and exhibition curator Srimoyee Mitra, Dinkins—through her instal­la­tions and work­shops—devel­ops a dia­logue with the audi­ence on the hier­ar­chies embed­ded within machine learn­ing and AI archi­tec­ture and one’s indi­vid­ual agency in trans­form­ing the algo­rithms within it.

“We’re hoping audi­ences will explore and par­tic­i­pate in a dialogue on cre­at­ing a more inclu­sive, data-based nar­ra­tive of what gov­er­nance ‘of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple’ can look like in an AI-medi­ated world where care is encoded within our dig­i­tal civic system,” she said.

The exhi­bi­tion is sup­ported by the Andy Warhol Foun­da­tion for the Visual Arts. The Stamps Gallery (201 S. Division St., Ann Arbor), operated by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, is free and open to the public Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursday until 7 p.m. The most up-to-date COVID-19 safety policies can be found here.

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