Andrea Alessandrini – I Am Not A Robot

I Am Not A Robot (Witty Books, 2023) asks more questions than it answers. How do we differentiate from the illusions of our constructed virtual worlds and that of reality? How do we satiate our requirement and desire for order in ever-changing environments? Are we confined to an existence based on binary calculations, or can we cling on to engaging with the world in a fluid and experiential way?

Through deliberate combinations of poetic imagery and critical thinking, which seek to challenge the viewer to observe and understand their world in greater measure, Andrea Alessandrini has put together what feels like a puzzle to be solved.

The imagery itself is engaging in its construction, and from the outset you wonder whether this is a series of images that has been taken deliberately for this publication or whether they have been amassed more incidentally and then considerately gathered together for the book. Often clinical but occasionally wonderfully delicate, they are clearly influenced by the likes of Gerry Johansson and Michael Schmidt. In their simplest form they are black and white cityscapes, a collection of surfaces that to Alessandrini’s merit, manage to avoid slipping into the banal. Their true strength lies in their relationship to one another, which through careful sequencing and the development of the edit unveils a remarkable evolution in shape, texture and gesture. Relying mainly on pairings, the structure of the sequence invites the viewer to consider the construction and form of our built environments. Combinations of bricks, shadows, trees, tiles, balconies, railings, pipes, each speaking to one another to ask us to observe the gaps, the similarities, the breaks and the bindings. 

Binary system, Zero

Fuzzy logic, Jacket

These pairings are a gentle means through which to invite us to consider the book’s broader concepts, the Yin and Yang, described in the opening pages as “two polar forces which are intertwined and interdependent in the universe”. The book is an exploration of how they, in turn, elevate and are drawn towards one another. The images do well to invoke this through the aforementioned combinations, and the connection between the two sides is clearly demonstrated. However, I don’t believe they are intended to be viewed as opposites; just like the Yin and Yang, their relationship means that the images elevate one another. It is a clever conceptual tool, which not only supports the work, but allows the reader to think beyond what they are seeing on the page as well.

Though the imagery feels strong enough to hold this concept, even greater depth is introduced through the occasional text such as “Opposites thus only exist in relation to each other” and “Anything in the dream of reality can be represented as a model of its binary constituents, in a string of 1s and 0’s, processed by a computer.”, each offering gradually evolving thoughts on binary code, mathematical theory and problem solving. This may sound relatively technical, but the overall combination adds to the poetry of the imagery. The depth of intelligence required to engage with the texts does seem to increase as the book goes on, and as someone who really wants to enjoy the pictures it does feel a bit like I’m being asked to work for it. There are many recurring themes, images and tropes here, ensuring that as a reader, whilst the text elongates your understanding, the images and their relationship to one another remain highly approachable.

The book leads us towards greater theoretical concepts which we are invited to question, namely that as our computer-generated worlds become more believable, how do we judge what is real and what is an illusion? When we enter into immersive and interactive digital spaces, how do we define what is real and what isn’t? This is posed most clearly by a short sequence towards the end of the book consisting of images of large facades which appear to have images printed onto them. There is no attempt to hide this fact as the crinkled edges and eyelets are clearly visible, and the effect is unnerving. Initially feeling as though we were looking at a reflection of a scene behind the camera, we soon realise that the facades are actually large sheets covering up construction work which shows artist renderings of what the street scene will look like in the future. The resulting imagery has evidently been photoshopped together and contains alien-like figures walking, cycling, driving or simply standing, staring off into the middle distance. Some look lost, some look straight into the lens. Their presence is a startling combination of the real world and digital world, brought together but left un-unified, feeling both approachable and totally fake. The dream of reality, the Yin and Yang brought together, the man and the machine. If you were looking for a straight answer, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. 

The design of the book manages to present these concepts in an approachable way, utilising features such as the unique lines of hole punches down the sides of each page. In what could have felt like quite a cold and calculating book the intrusion of the holes only adds to the sense of binary code being deciphered. One can’t help but feel there is a code running through the book itself, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Alessandrini (and whoever else he has let in on his secrets), might have constructed some brilliant algorithm with which to sequence the book or hide a message which the reader may or may not find.

Virtual reality, 908-910

Binary system, Yin and Yang

Recursion, Luciano

Boolean logic, Union

Andrea Alessandrini

I Am Not A Robot

Witty Books, 2023

(All Rights Reserved. Text © Simon Bray. Images © Andrea Alessandrini.)

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