Artist Adira Griffin underneath “Gather the Forest”, an interactive art piece by Stuart Romm, Amy Landesberg, Jordan Graves, and Hudson Treu displayed on Georgia Tech’s Media Bridge. (Photo by Terence Rushin.)

A new art exhibit at Georgia Tech titled “Extension of Community: What it Means To Be Sustainable in a Digital World” opened last month on Georgia Tech’s campus. 

The exhibit examines “what it means to exist in today’s technology-enabled world while ensuring our planet can thrive,” according to the website, adding that it looks to “showcase issues related to our natural environment in order to build community and action around the climate crisis.”

A total of 14 artists and scientists from Atlanta came together to make the exhibit possible, according to the website — Jeremy Bolen, Juan-Pablo Correa Baena, Jordan Graves, Adira Griffin, Sylvia Janicki, Joel Krieger, Amy Landesberg, Matt Lewis, Pam Longobardi, Nassim Parvin, Stuart Romm, Hunter Spence, Mauricio Talero, and Hudson Treu. Those artists used “solar panels, interactive digital media, geolocation, AI image generation tools, plastics, plants, biosensors and geospatial data visualization” as components of the interactive exhibit.

A big focus on the sustainability front for the exhibit is the Anthropocene — the current period of time relative to Earth’s history. The Anthropocene has been argued to be marked perhaps most distinctly by humans’ impact on the planet, with some arguing that the key marker of this era will be plastics.

Birney Robert, curator of the exhibit, said the connection between the arts and sustainability is not always so evident but that it certainly exists.

“[One of the exhibit artists] is using trash — these vagrant plastics — as her art to tell this daunting story of our single-use society,” Robert told Saporta Report in an interview.

The exhibits are found at the campus library and the Kendeda Building — the most sustainable classroom in the U.S. This was done purposefully, said Robert, given a library’s role in cultivating knowledge and the classroom for its green building standards. 

Beyond sustainability, this exhibit represents the intersection of art and technology, with much of the visualizations and interactive components made possible through technology. 

In 2021, Georgia Tech launched 20 strategic initiatives to advance the institution’s goals, one of these being Arts@Tech, signifying an increased presence of arts on the campus.

The exploration of these topics comes timely, with the advent of widely used artificial intelligence and AI-generated photos.

Two visitors recline in Jeremy Bolen’s Sulfur Skies installation in the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech. (Photo by Terence Rushin.)

When we think about art and AI, one wonders what is art and who is the artist behind NFTs and AI-generated art – is it human or machine? And it’s both,” Robert said. “When we think about the environment and sustainability, we wonder how technology, humans, and nature can work together to help the planet – this is what this exhibit Extension of Community asks.”

In the fall of 2021, Robert was awarded a grant to curate two exhibits. One of these, “Extension of Self,” explored what it meant to be human in a digital world. The second exhibit became the “Extension of Community” show, which is currently underway.

Robert said three questions are central to the project: How have our technological and digital developments helped and harmed us? How can we be more digitally sustainable? And what are the limits of technology, and how can we shift our behaviors to help heal the planet?

The exhibit features six projects at various locations around the Georgia Tech campus. The projects and their respective artists are described towards the bottom of the website. They range from the idea of using biosensors to communicate with plants to geospatial data visualization of pollution in Black and Brown communities. 

An artist talk for the exhibit will be hosted on Georgia Tech’s campus on Sept. 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. More information can be found here.

“Extension of Community: What it Means to be Sustainable in a Digital World” will be open until Nov. 1. After that, photos from the exhibit will be available online.

Editor’s Note: This page was updated on 10/6 to provide the names of the participants and to clarify a quote from Robert.

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