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A new exhibition at the Portland Art Museum reflects on artificial intelligence, climate change, and resilience.

Experience a digital garden driven by machine learning and imagine a future where plants save us from the effects of society’s ills in Hito Steyerl: This is the Future.

Presented by Portland Art Museum February 20, 2023

Hito Steyerl: This is the Future.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is popping up everywhere it seems, and while it’s not new, its application in everyday life is more ubiquitous than most people perceive. That annoying predictive text or autocorrect? That’s AI. So is facial recognition technology.

Prominent German filmmaker and artist Hito Steyerl addresses the impact of AI on society in a new exhibition now on view at the Portland Art Museum. Hito Steyerl: This is the Future explores a vibrant, imagined garden through an immersive environment of video projection, sculpture, and architectural intervention. Steyerl is one of the foremost artists offering critical reflections on the complexities of the digital world.

Hito Steyerl: This is the Future

With its pulsing soundtrack, dazzling imagery, dark humor, and astute narrative, This is the Future—created in 2019— explores the age-old human desire to predict the future and how AI neural networks promise to deliver it to us.

The exhibition opens with a short film featuring bright colors and fluid, digitally disrupted images. We meet Heja, an incarcerated woman who captures airborne seeds on wadded-up paper to cultivate a garden in her cell. She must protect it from the prison guards so she hides it in the future, where her plants evolve through the predictive powers of the neural network. The plants become potent remedies for a range of today’s social and psychological ailments such as alleviating social media addiction to resisting the culture of overworking. Interspersed with Heja’s story, a second narrator, the voice of a neural network ponders humanity’s desire to see and control what is yet to come, ultimately reminding us that despite thousands of years of predictions, no human can escape the inevitability of death. “Entering the future is a massive health hazard,” according to the narrator.

Hito Steyerl: This is the Future.

The film sets the stage for Power Plants, a series of video sculptures recently acquired by the Museum through the Contemporary Collectors Circle initiative. Multiple LED screens mounted on steel armatures host colorful and morphing imagery generated by a neural network that predicts a future type of plant-based on machine learning of thousands of images of plants. Short texts describe the healing properties of the plants—which seem to grow out of a rocky landscape indicative of the devastating climate crisis—intended to be future remedies for contemporary social, political, ecological, and technological ills.

Hito Steyerl: This is the Future.

Steyerl has described This is the Future as a positive look at our future, despite the impending climate crisis and its worsening impact on society.


Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205

Wednesday - Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free admission for kids ages 17 and under



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