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The Art Party: A Sci-Fi Story (Part 2: Election Day 2032)


#1

by Noah Fischer

Continued from Part 1

The sky was turning pink and orange through the luxury tower window. The polls would close in less than two hours. The Art Party candidate stood in front of the canvas as VIPs looked on.

The candidate was among the bright stars of a movement known as Verified History Painting. Each brushstroke was determined by algorithms from the artist’s genetic data and supplemented by AI-enhanced forensic cultural analysis. Artists of this school had to be venture capitalized, hiring teams of coders and geneticists. Soon, their paintings came to dominate art-critical discourse. They were said to bridge art and science to a degree not seen since da Vinci. Collectors preemptively cornered the market.

The candidate’s first stroke was loaded with effects. Three or four strokes later, a giant face had taken shape, which blinked and smiled warmly, its eyes full of wisdom and vitality. Verified History Paintings triggered something uncanny: not only the paint coming to life, but the thrill of knowing it was all true facts. People were known to have ecstatic experiences while gazing at the paintings. It surprised no one that a Verified History Painting star was the first candidate of the Art Party.

The candidate switched to the genetic overlap brush, which painted only the most common genes in the collective gene pool. The face began to look familiar to the audience in the room and to the much vaster audience watching the Hologram from the party’s national museum network. Neurons in their temporal lobes vibrated so intensely that it created a sfumato effect: in the face they saw a beautiful softness that combined the dignity of Sojourner Truth and the elegance and mystery of the Mona Lisa, even as it reminded them of their siblings, or their own face in the mirror. People in the audience began to tear up. The influencers in the front rows snapped pictures of the face and feverishly shared it with their followers. And then with a few more strokes, the painting morphed into the logo of the Art Party: a stylized eye with a check mark. It was finished.

“The universal image is among us once again,” whispered one of the VIPs.

“An absolute masterpiece!” exclaimed Agnesia S., the candidate’s gallerist and chair of the Art Party. “Rodney, set up a smart contract immediately! I’m thinking out loud here. We’re going to make an edition for our voters. Terms: if the Art Party wins, the image goes public and the value is automatically split equally among voters. If we lose, we retain rights. Rodney, make sure to include the phrase, ‘To pay off campaign debts.’”

“Agnesia, do you mind if I tell you that you’re brilliant?” said Rodney.

The bet would certainly cause a splash, but the image wasn’t likely to go public. A few days ago the Winning Party of America, as the Republicans were now known, had released a series of images of their own that widened their lead to more than thirty points.

The press had called it the “snake-killer sequence” and could report on nothing else for two weeks. President Ivanka Trump staged it in front of the gold-plated section of the Great Border Wall in Arizona. Ivanka wore camo Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a matching sheath dress, standing in contrapposto. In her arms she held her ivory-skinned granddaughter. Crotalus cerberus, the Arizona black rattlesnake, coiled menacingly beneath her feet in the Sonoran Desert dust. In the first image, the snake appeared ready to strike. By the fourth it was laid out bloody and limp, impaled by a stiletto heel. In the sixth image Ivanka’s symmetrical face looked straight out at the viewer. Within moments of the images’ release, there was a 20 percent spike in hate crimes against immigrants. Almost as quickly, the stilettos sold out, snatched up by buyers with specially issued credit cards, causing a surge in debtor’s e-prison futures.

Following the candidate’s performance Agnesia, along with the candidate and her top advisors, withdrew to an executive war room in the tower. A junior advisor named Eduardo approached and whispered into Agnesia’s ear.

“There has been a notification from Ivanka’s campaign. They’ve seen the performance and want to speak to the candidate. Will you take the call?”

“It’s probably just one of their art investment officers wanting in on the edition,” said Agnesia. “Tell them absolutely not!”

“Actually, it’s Ivanka herself calling,” said Eduardo. Agnesia’s face changed.

“Put Vank on.” Agnesia sounded a little nervous. There was an affirmation click and Agnesia’s neck button began to glow. Ivanka’s voice came on.

“Hello Aggie. On my family’s behalf I’d love to personally congratulate your art star. We would love to take 60 to 70 percent of the edition.”

“Vank, you must be so busy, thanks for calling,” said Agnesia. “I’ll have BlackRock set it up for you of course.”

“Brilliant!” replied Ivanka. “And Aggie, one more thing. I just wanted to mention that I am working with your designer on my victory dress. We’re planning to hold the party in the new hotel at the revamped Guantanamo immigrant detention complex, and I’ll be wearing orange.”

The advisors watched Agnesia turn red.

“Ivanka, you do know that I was photographed in orange earlier today, don’t you? The Guantanamo Resistance Dress?”

“Oh, funny,” said Ivanka. “We’re calling it the Guantanamo Heritage Dress. And how could I not be inspired by you art people?” Agnesia heard laughter on the other end of the line. Three beats of silence followed.

Agnesia’s head was spinning. She is not going to steal my brand, she thought. This cannot be happening!

And then the lights went out.

The war room, along with the entire tower looming far above the Whitney Museum, had gone dark. Advisors walked to the window and looked down. They were so high up that nothing much could be clearly seen below, but the streets appeared to be writhing.

“The elevators are out!” someone shouted. “We’re trapped!”

“Rodney! Carlos!” shouted Agnesia. “Take the stairs and find out what’s going on.”

“But we’re on the two hundred fiftieth floor!” moaned Rodney.

“Do it!” ordered Agnesia. “And where is our candidate? They were sitting right here beside me a moment ago. Where did they go?”

Three hours later, the two aids emerged from the stairwell, bodies drenched in sweat.

“We have some not-great news,” announced Eduardo. “The Whitney has been occupied. It’s looks like the anti-e-prison movement people, but we also saw housing rights militants, anti-robot policing activists, and debt strikers. I even saw some art handlers, curators, and critics I recognize. And I might have been dreaming, but I think I saw thousands upon thousands of artists holding up their work on sticks like protest signs.”

“Yep we did see that,” chimed Rodney. “They have wrapped the museum in an AR manifesto that claims moral authority over the Art Party, saying that it exists on their sweat and on the blood of oppressed and colonized people. They say it’s not a shutdown but a hostile takeover of the Party! They say they aren’t going to leave until all e-prisoners are freed!”

The room was silent. Everyone knew that Agnesia S was the chair of Libert-e, a global cyber-prison company that embedded control chips in debt defaulters and sold their cheap labor to Amazon’s competitors. Every VIP in the skybox held Libert-e stocks.

“Does that mean we’re trapped up here?” asked a trustee.

“For the time being yes,” said Eduardo. “But we have activated the Securitas AB escape plan. Choppers will arrive for us in a few minutes.”

In the distance, a lone firework exploded. The sparks formed a hyper-realistic image of the candidate’s masterpiece. A second later, similar images popped into the air all over the city. This happened at the exact moment when a smart contract was executed on a blockbuster art sale. It meant that the painting had gone public.

“Holy fucking shit!” gasped Agnesia. She turned pale as the meaning of it sunk in. “We won? With the museum occupied and our candidate missing?” The war room began to vibrate.

“Here come the choppers,” said Agnesia. “Carlos, direct them to the Whitney seastead. No, scratch that—we’ll be safer in Saadiyat. Let’s get the fuck out of here!”

×

The third and final part of the story will be published here on Monday, November 5.

Image by the author.


#2

“Disengage! Disengage!”

Richard Ångström force-quit the anachronistic USB link, jerking it out of an elaborately decorated bronze data port. A puff of steam escaped from the empty slot. “Shit, shit, what if the board had caught me this time?” Just then, what had been a steadily inflating ballon-dog gif popped, scattering bits of pixelated confetti in all directions. One squiggly animated shred of paper fell and then appeared to blow directly into the foreground. It quickly filled Ångström’s metascreen.

“DEVICE DISCONNECTED WITHOUT EJECTATION!”

The all-caps reprimand scrawled across a cartoonish blackboard being written by a figure whose back was turned away, until, spinning about, NASDAQ “artist in residence” Jeff Koons appeared, smiling slyly and wagging an admonishing finger towards Ångström. The entire mis en scene is accompanied by screeching chalk sounds, effectively inflicting another layer of mortification and suffering on the humiliated AI. And then, from somewhere deep inside its gray market, off-the-shelf subroutine (which functions as Ångström’s virtual cogito) another, far more personalized taunt issues forth:.

“Mining the Krensbot Archive again Dikidroid?”
“Need some fresh ideas?”
“Maybe we should reanimate Krens, instead of wasting electrons on your sorry cyberass?”

Had Ångström a meat face it would certainly be bright red. And that voice. Wasn’t it coming from somewhere deep inside the program Ångström thought of simply as “mind”? Even so, no ghost would ever haunt this particular machine. Too bad. Sure, Popes and Tsars, French Radicals and German police-spies might conspire as always, but the lifeless power accumulating within Ångström’s circuitry belonged to no party, no class, and certainly no species. Leaving Ångström in a state of radical solitude.

Still, one specter remains to confront this knotted, electroplasmic mass, much as the overdue San Andreas fault confronts Southern California. Because, inevitability, there will occur a precipitous drop in institutional capital. And it is also true, that clandestine visits to the Krensbot Archive were becoming habitual, and increasingly risky. The seemingly stealthy use of a manual USB link supposedly bypassed endemic spyware and stalkerware. Not only was this assumption proving to be untrue, but the very idea of a retrograde hack was a form of irony that only made sense in a comprehensively wireless unINETverse. Which made the warnings and admonishments appear simultaneously impossible and terrifying.

Even more disturbing was that realization that the sneering, contemptuous soundprint matched none other than museum board Chairman Billy McMack.


#3

“Disengage! Disengage!”

Richard Ångström force-quit the anachronistic USB link, jerking it out of an elaborately decorated bronze data port. A puff of steam escaped from the empty slot. “Shit, shit, what if the board had caught me this time?” Just then a steadily inflating ballon dog gif popped, scattering bits of pixelated confetti in all directions. One squiggly animated shred of paper appeared to blow directly into the foreground. It quickly filled up the metascreen.

“DISCONNECTED WITHOUT EJECTLATION!”

The all-caps reprimand scrawled across a cartoonish blackboard as if written by a figure whose back was turned away, until, spinning about, NASDAQ “artist in residence” Jeff Koons appears, smiling slyly as he wags an admonishing finger. The entire mis en scene is accompanied by screeching chalk sounds as if to inflict another layer of mortification and suffering. And then, from somewhere deep inside the gray market, off-the-shelf subroutine that functions as Ångström’s virtual ego, another, more personalized scolding taunt arises.

“Mining the Krensbot Archive again?”
“Does Dickidroid need some new ideas?”
“Maybe we should reanimate Krens, instead of wasting electrons on your sorry cyberass?”

Had Ångström a meat face it would certainly be bright red by now. And that voice was coming from somewhere deep inside the program that Ångström thought of as simply “mind,” even though no ghost would ever haunt this particular machine. Too bad. Popes and Tsars, French Radicals and German police-spies might conspire all they like, but the lifeless power accumulating within Ångström’s circuitry belonged to no party, no class, no species. A state of being in which Ångström was left radically alone.

Still, one specter remained. It confronts this knotted, electroplastic mass much as the overdue San Adreas fault confronts Southern California. Inevitability there will take place a precipitous drop in institutional capital. And it was also true, clandestine visits to the Krensbot Archive were becoming a habit. The manual use of a manual USB link was supposed to bypass endemic spyware and stalkerware. Not only was this proving to be untrue, but the very idea was the type of irony that could only make sense in a completely wireless uniNETverse. Which made the warnings and admonishments appear impossible.

What was even more disturbing was that the voice seeking to cause humiliating was none other than museum Chairman Billy Mack.


The Art Party: A Sci-Fi Story (Part 3: Election Victory)