Helen Verhoeven | Humans

October 26 – December 2, 2023

Gregor Podnar is excited to announce Humans – our first solo exhibition of Helen Verhoeven  featuring the artist’s latest series of works.

Helen Verhoeven’s work ranges from very small to monumentally large, from simple and iconic to crowded and multifaceted. It concentrates on the human experience: the turmoil of the individual and the frenzy of the group. In the new series Humans, Verhoeven explores the intersection of therapy and artificial intelligence (AI).

Helen Verhoeven utilizes AI programs to incorporate generalized assumptions about art and humans into her work: “After first exploring the automated results of internet scraping and digital regurgitations of our collective knowledge, I began to develop strategies to manipulate the algorithms and sabotage some of the safeguards. The amount of content that is not allowed in many of the current language and image generators creates a profound limit on what topics can be explored. Much of Christianity’s imagery is, for example, deemed ‘inappropriate’ and can thus not be visualized. Content to do with sex and violence is prohibited, eliminating some very central aspects of human nature from representation. As these programs gain a more prominent role in image and culture production, they begin to mirror to us what we look like, what we do and who we are. As they begin to shape our self-image with a particular pre-prescribed morality and aesthetics, the question of intervention and alternative image production becomes important. Sabotage and the hand-made gain urgency.”

Similarly, as the AI programs begin to replace companionship and provide primary emotional support relationships such as therapy treatments, the machines’ ‘understanding’ and bracketing of topics has big implications. The topic of therapy is central in HUMANS.  Verhoeven explores the transactional negotiations around power dynamics and the making of meaning between analyst and client, or in the case of AI, between man and machine. The social contract in therapy rests on some make-belief and role play, on trust, perception, deception, and invention.

Using AI as a tool for image production is similar to interacting with an AI companion or therapy avatars in that it offers a support that obscures our inherent alone-ness. Verhoeven collaborates with chatbots to simulate situations (mostly therapy sessions and domestic engagements): “I asked it to fictionalize collaborations between me and other artists. For example, how I and some other artist would paint together, how we’d execute the imagined wishes of yet another person, like some dead psychologist or a writer. I then used AI image generators to visualize these imagined collaborations and then I collaborated some more, by altering these sketches first in the computer or through collage, and then again as I used my hand and the physical materials of paint to make my images.”      

Helen Verhoeven (1974, Leiden, Netherlands) lives and works in Berlin. She studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the New York Academy of Art. Her works have been exhibited internationally in institutions such as the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Kunstmuseum Bonn, amongst others. Verhoeven won the Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting in 2008 and the ABN AMRO Art Award in 2019. She was commissioned with a large-scale painting on Dutch history for the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in 2015.