Untitled (Zugzwang)

2015 -Ongoing
UV print on aluminum
45.7 x 45.7 cm

 Work Info >

In 1950, mathematician Claude Shannon published the groundbreaking paper Programming a Computer for Playing Chess, in which he described how a machine or computer could be made to play a “reasonable” game of chess. Around the same time, Alan Turing, an English logician and cryptanalyst was developing his own related ideas about a chess-playing algorithm. While working independently of each other in classified programs for their respective countries, computer chess turned out to be one of the few shared intellectual curiosities the two had the liberty to discuss during Turing’s visit to Bell Labs in 1943, where Shannon was working at the time. It was in these casual conversations, some say, that the history of computer chess began.

Although initial attempts to pit human players against a computer proved disastrous for the latter, the closed, systematic nature of the game and advances in computing power since then have flipped the advantage in the computer's favor.

In May 1997, 49 years after Shannon’s paper was published, IBM’s chess playing computer, Deep Blue, defeated Gary Kasparov, world chess champion at the time, in a highly controversial six-game match. It was a momentous event that put humans’ intellectual superiority over machines in question. Long considered a game of intelligence, chess has been a test bed for artificial intelligence due to a well-defined structure and the ability to monitor and record its play precisely.

Since their rather slow start in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, computers have become exponentially better at playing chess, with current chess engines able to easily defeat even the greatest grandmasters under normal conditions. However, whether computation will ever "solve" chess is still an open question.

In his paper, Shannon gives a conservative estimate, now known as Shannon's number, of the number of possible playable chess games. The actual number is, in fact, significantly larger than Shannon estimated, and is often illustrated by the popular assertion that there are more potential chess games than atoms in the observable universe.

Without a doubt, it is this quality that makes chess a game of inexhaustible possibilities, an attribute that has delighted and confounded players for more than 1,400 years, despite the game’s restrictive rules. But how can anyone consider a life-long dedication to a game at which a computer will always perform better?

Untitled (Zugzwang) offers an ongoing series of chess player portraits within the 64-square grid that is a chessboard.

Oscillating between representation and abstraction, these portraits deal in fractured configurations with the abstract, thereby offering a glimpse of the appeal as well as the overwhelming complexity and even the potential trapping of the deceptively simple, yet unsolvable, puzzle that is chess.