Installation view of "From 'Apple' to 'Abomination' (Pictures and Labels)" by Trevor Paglen as featured in The Irreplaceable Human at the Louisiana Museum of Art

Trevor Paglen, From 'Apple' to 'Abomination' (Pictures and Labels). Installation view, The Irreplaceable Human, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023-24. Photo: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art/Malle Madsen

Museum Exhibitions

Trevor Paglen in "The Irreplaceable Human" at the Louisiana Museum

Nov 23, 2023 – April 1, 2024
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Humlebaek, Denmark

(opens in a new window) The Irreplaceable Human is Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition this winter and spring – a comprehensive inquiry into the conditions of creativity at a time when artificial intelligence is raising questions such as ‘what is unique about humans?’

The exhibition examines and illuminates this question showing works by more than 60 artists along with contributions from science and literature. This is art and cultural history coming together to address one of the most pressing issues of our time, taking up the entirety of Louisiana’s South Wing.

The focal point of The Irreplaceable Human is creativity as seen in the light of the rapid advance of artificial intelligence into all aspects of our life. The exhibition engages with this very moment in time and with the question of whether, in our contemporary society, the conditions for creativity are present – or good enough. What can we do that computers and artificial intelligence cannot? What is it about humans that is irreplaceable?

In view of technological developments, it has become especially clear that uniformity, efficiency, and measurability play a major role in the way we live today. This is good news for the computer, which handles predictability better than we do. But is it good news for us humans?

The exhibition stems from a concern about structural imbalances in modern society – not least in relation to children and young people today.

Mathias Ussing Seeberg, curator at Louisiana

Creativity is a central concept in our culture, and has many meanings. We use it frequently and in a broad range of contexts. Being creative can, for example, both mean being able to do something with your hands, but also being a little too smart, bordering on the criminal – think ‘creative accounting’. Regardless of context, at its core the concept of creativity means being good at inventing, being good at creating something valuable and new. The extent to which something is deemed as creative is therefore also a question of what we consider valuable. When does something gain meaning and thus value for society or the individual? What is innovation, original thinking, the truly new?

We might associate the concept of creativity with the evolution of humanity and the world. History and archaeology have demonstrated that constant invention and adaptability is a key characteristic of humanity. Creativity has helped ensure our survival and continued evolution, for better and for worse.

The usage of the term creativity typically insists on there being something exceptional about humans. Creativity is part of the story we tell about ourselves. But today, as computers are becoming ever more advanced, the realm of what might be unique to humans is beginning to shrink.

The human being under pressure is a central motif throughout the exhibition – human beings reduced to their functionality in a system, for example, as in the Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida’s masterpiece Mebae (Awakening) from 1998. Here we see schoolboys with identical faces sitting in perfect rows. Some have even become the microscopes being used in the teaching, like children turned into instruments.

Etchings by German Andrea Büttner – three of her Phone Etchings from 2015 – trace the movements of fingers on the screen of a mobile. They are images of what the vast majority of us in our part of the world spend our spare moments doing, filling the intervals and the breaks where once we did nothing. Powerful forces are at play, as mighty companies increase their earnings the more time we spend on our screens. But less ‘empty’ time also means that we may miss out on the stray thoughts and daydreams that are important for our creativity.

It is up to the viewer whether the works act as a kind of assessment of where we find ourselves now or whether they pose questions such as ‘Is this really where we want to go?’ The aim of the exhibition is to create the foundation for a conversation about the role of creativity in our society. As a whole, the exhibition argues that we need to take the long view: to prepare the ground beyond what seems immediately lucrative, and to dare to believe that something new and valuable will emerge from it. As such, the exhibition makes a stand for creativity as crucial to the positive development and survival of society, and as having value beyond the logic of the spreadsheet.

The exhibition at Louisiana is presented in two parts. In the first part the focus is on creativity’s potential unfolding, a kind of depiction of where we are now focusing on the themes of childhood, work, and artificial intelligence.

The second part of the exhibition has a sharp focus on how we cultivate our humanity. Within chapters with the themes of time and cross-pollination, the exhibition looks at aspects that are forgotten about or under-valued in current society. It stems from a desire to celebrate things that in the most profit-driven areas of our society are considered weak, redundant, insignificant, ‘bad for business’ or perhaps simply difficult to measure.

This major exhibition tackles all of this with the help of artists, scientists and writers in a format that follows in the footsteps of Louisiana exhibitions such as Arctic (2013), The Moon (2018) and Mother! (2021).

Learn more at the (opens in a new window) Louisiana Museum of Modern Art's website.

  • Museum Exhibitions — Trevor Paglen in "The Irreplaceable Human" at the Louisiana Museum, Nov 23, 2023