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Fine arts students present an immersive exhibition exploring artificial intelligence and neurodiversity

Led by Bonnie Baxter, I'm Not a Robot runs APRIL 20 and 21 in Val-David, Quebec
April 16, 2024
A group of people grouped together in a large art studio and smiling for the camera
Bonnie Baxter: “The collaboration between an analogue artist and a digital artist brings many surprises.” | Photo by Patrick Seemann-Ricard

A collaboration between Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Maison Emmanuel in Val-David, Quebec is set to unveil an immersive and interactive new exhibition. I'm not a robot is a blend of artistry and empathy that forefronts the following question: What does it mean to be human?

Led by part-time instructor Bonnie Baxter, this interdisciplinary project will be on display April 20 and April 21. It features advanced screen-printing students, as well as Jérôme Maltais, an intermedia student, and Natalie Sereda-Bazinet, an MFA student in print media. Together they worked alongside the residents of Maison Emmanuel, a therapeutic community dedicated to adults with developmental disabilities.

Baxter explains that the collaboration with Maison Emmanuel and Maggie Roddan, who supervises the ceramic studio there, stemmed from a mutual desire to organize an exhibition like the one they held at the community centre in Val-David in 2017.

“I still hear from students saying that it was not only their most memorable experience at Concordia but also in Montreal. Maggie and I wanted to recreate the richness of this learning experience,” Baxter says.

Diptych image of a robot made from wire and fabric with a young man in a backwards baseball cap working on it. The robot head with a student working on it. | Photo by Bonnie Baxter

‘Differences are to be celebrated’

Through mediums ranging from printmaking to ceramics to weaving and embroidery, each of the students will offer a unique perspective on the theme of artificial intelligence and neurodiversity.

“Maggie and I were thinking about the difference between machines and us, and of empathy as being what defines us as humans. Interestingly, we also questioned the perception that individuals with autism are often believed to lack empathy.  We felt that intersection of AI and neurological diversity was a fertile ground to explore,” Baxter explains.

"Differences are to be celebrated. Assumptions are built into machines as to what is the accepted and expected way to be. Neurodiversity opens the door to the possibility of different experiences and visions within the rich spectrum of human experience and what it means to be human," she adds.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a life-sized robot, equipped with AI that can respond to questions from the public, developed through an internship between Maltais and local sculptor Michel Beaudry and with the support of intermedia professor Bill Vorn. This interactive installation serves as a focal point for visitors, inviting them to contemplate the evolving role of technology in our lives.

“The collaboration between an analogue artist and a digital artist brings many surprises and like other projects within this exhibition brings much learning,” Baxter notes.

But the collaboration doesn't end there. Maison Emmanuel's residents have contributed through their ceramic expertise, which has in turn inspired the students.

Three people in an art studio, two watching as an older man explains something with his hands. A workshop with Toronto artist Ed Pien. | Photo by Patrick Seemann-Ricard

Additionally, the exhibition will include nine-foot expressionist robots on Japanese paper crafted by students in a workshop led by Toronto artist Ed Pien, and a weaving from Maison Emmanuel weaving studios led by Sarah Kring. These were electronically embroidered at Concordia’s Milieux Institute’s Textile and Materiality Cluster, supervised by Genevieve Moisan, with the participation of student Shanen Louis.

Baxter mentions that this embroidery features the lyrics of the Tin Man’s song “If I Only Had a Heart,” from the Wizard of Oz. It echoes how the creations together form a tapestry of feelings and perspectives that challenge traditional notions of art and humanity.

Learn more about the exhibit 
I am not a robot / Je ne suis pas un robot and Concordia’s Department of Studio Arts.


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