The Substitute, 2019
digital video, colour, sound
Courtesy the artist
Presentation at the 23rd Biennale of Sydney was made possible with generous support from the UK/Australia Season Patrons Board, the British Council and the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season.
The Substitute asks the question of why humans obsess over creating new life forms, while neglecting existing ones. In 2018, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg created the animated film The Substitute following the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), named Sudan. This species of rhino roamed the grasslands and savannah woodlands of countries in East and Central Africa since the early Pleistocene period (over 2.5 million years ago)and when Sudan passed, there was a media frenzy around the world.
In collaboration with artificial intelligence agency DeepMind, Ginsberg digitally resurrected the northern white rhino in a white room. The rhino, an artificial agent begins its life as disparate pixels unaware of its surroundings. Using data generated by cutting-edge AI research at DeepMind, the digital rhino becomes fully formed and learns his way around the enclosed space, gaining intelligence. “Through witnessing this artificial rhino, Ginsberg probes questions about future lifeforms (natural and artificial) as scientists urgently seek to recreate this species through genetic modification and surrogate pregnancies.” Today there only remain two northern white rhinos in the world, Sudan’s daughter, Najin and grandaughter, Fatu.
“We briefly mourned a subspecies lost to human desire for the imagined life-enhancing properties of its horn, comforted that it might be brought back using biotechnology, albeit gestated by a different subspecies. But would humans protect a resurrected rhino, having decimated an entire species? And would this new rhino be real?” – Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg