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Art AI Festival catches up with Sofia Crespo

Sofia Crespo is one of the artists we exhibited at this year’s Art AI Festival.  Her bio-inspired work, entitled Neural Zoo, was on display during the Festival in both Highcross and Haymarket shopping centres.  It is visually stunning work, and attracted a lot of public attention during the Festival.

In describing her work, Sofia said that one of her main foci is the way organic life uses artificial mechanisms to simulate itself and evolve, which implies the idea that technologies are a biased product of the organic life that created them and not a completely separated object.

Neural Zoo is an exploration of the ways creativity works: the combination of known elements into a new previously unseen element. The work has been made in collaboration with a convolutional neural network. The images resemble nature, but they represent an imagined nature that has been rearranged. Computer vision and machine learning have been used to generate a speculative “naturess” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation.

one of the art pieces exhibited during the Art AI Festival 2019

We had the chance to ask her a few questions after the Festival had wrapped – and below are her answers.

Why do you use AI to create the images?

I enjoy the feeling of not knowing what to expect when I process a dataset. I love how machine learning algorithms have helped me grow me from my own way of designing and thinking about an image by showing me different layouts and arrangements that I hadn’t imagined before.

Why images and not video or other art form?  

I am actually working on a long video sequence right now. Images are just the beginning for me, I guess because they’re just a single frame and 2D. It’d be nice to process moving sequences and work with 3D models in the future.

How do you decide which images to select?

They are selected intuitively, mainly inspired by nature. I quite like the idea of using algorithms inspired by the functioning of the brain to imagine natural shapes, creating a new texture biodiversity within a digital environment.

How is your work developing through the use of AI and what do you see as the main challenges for your style of artwork in the use of AI?

The challenges are mainly technical knowledge, and hardware. I wish I could collaborate with Machine Learning engineers at some point to continue expanding and understanding what’s possible using the technologies we currently have. My work is developing highly shaped by technology, since I’m challenged to think about what I want to communicate within what I find technically worth pursuing.

We very much look forward to seeing more of Sofia’s imaginative bio-inspired work as it continues to evolve in the future.

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Artists discuss their creative practice with AI at the Art AI Festival 2019

We had a fascinating day of presentations and discussion at the Art AI Festival’s one-day conference. This post features our artist speakers who all work with creative artificial intelligence (AI) but use it in different ways. The post includes short summary videos by each speaker and is intended to give you a flavour of the topics and perspectives presented about creative AI practice from the practitioner’s viewpoint.

Ernest Edmonds, creative artificial intelligence pioneer and Professor of Computational Art at the Institute of Creative Technologies, began the day’s proceedings with a keynote that set the scene for the presentations and panel discussion later in the day. In his talk, he set out to ask some important questions: can AI make art; can AI be the artist; or, can AI be helpful to the artist? He points out key differences between connectionist (eg., neural networked) and symbolic AI: the former has many issues currently associated with it, not least some major ethical concerns, whereas symbolic AI makes its description and application clear at the outset. He positions his work in the latter domain, where the AI is adding to creative possibilities, increasing possibilities for audience engagement and enables him to build more responsiveness into the artwork. Ernest states that AI has been a positive force in his creative focus over the last 20 years, stressing “… [my] artwork learns from the audience and evolves and develops in itself, over time, which matches how we evolve ourselves and develop our understanding”.

In this short video, Ernest describes his thoughts in more detail.

Our second keynote was Mario Klingemann whose artwork Interstitial Space was on display at Phoenix as part of the Art AI Festival 2019. He discusses how his work relates to classical art, such as paintings and portraiture, specifically discussing the work of Francis Bacon. In his talk, entitled Trapping the Accident, Mario describes how he believes we are entering a new stage in the use of AI for creative practice. The use of GANs (generative adversarial networks) are accessible to ever more artists although this leads to a dilemma: how is it possible to create an original language in this increasingly crowded creative space?

Image from Interstitital Space 2019

Mario describes AI as a new media form, much like photography, which he refers to as ‘neurography’, suggesting that creative questions cannot be addressed with any other media. In particular, he feels AI helps him as an artist by augmenting his own imagination, which he describes as limited as a consequence of being human. AI therefore enables him to find and create new ideas.

This was followed by a talk by Libby Heaney, whose artwork Britbot has also attracted considerable attention at the Art AI Festival 2019.

The BBC’s Amy Payne (reporter) filming with Britbot at the Art AI Festival 2019

In this short video, Libby describes her practice-based focus on AIs as chatbots, and how this creative form may potentially be used to disrupt narrowly defined narratives. For example, her artwork Britbot has evolved by learning from people that interact with it. In doing so, the concept of Britishness embodied within the original dataset, which she describes as having derived from a very middle class view of Britain, has dissolved and become more ‘blurry’.

Fabrizio Poltronieri, a researcher based in Leicester at the Institute of Creative Technologies, also discussed his creative practice. As one of the exhibitors at the 2018 Art AI Festival, in this video he also talks about his installation, the Love Apparatus. His practice with computers and AI is as a partner in creating art and solutions for society: he uses a mix of connectionist (neural networked) and symbolic AI in many different ways to achieve a particular solution. He sees them as symbiotic in their work with humans – he is passionate that the human remains ‘in the loop’ of creative practice and the finished artworks. Computers may well help us to create new possibilities in the world through the collaboration between the ‘creative minds’ of humans and machines. He stresses the importance of the festival in generating a space for a critical mass of creative AI practitioners to discuss its potentials for new artforms and practices.

Our final artist talk of the day was by Jake Elwes. As an artist using AI in his creative work, Jake talked not only about the creative successes he has had but also how he has used the failures and glitches generated by AI in his work. He shared some of the inspiration and outputs of his techniques for data capture, including “Dada Da Ta”, a piece in which he captured audio-visual content of the world’s most influential figures by cleverly embedding the story of their power and presenting it in a rather unique way. His presentation also highlighted a question that he explores through his practice: what is the role of the artist and how is their agency affected by AI? He emphasises that his aim is not to showcase the technology but to create something conceptually poetic that, although it can perhaps only be generated through AI, is not fundamentally about AI for its own sake.

Our day ended with a presentation by Luba Elliott on the ‘State of the AI Art’ – a summary of the breadth of creative practice used by artists including the work of our speakers and numerous others who are exploring its potential.

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Piotr Mirowski, co-founder of Improbotics, talks to us about improv comedy performance with AI at Art AI Festival 2019

We were delighted to host Improbotics at the Art AI Festival for the second year! The troupe was co-founded by Piotr Mirowski, a research scientist in artificial intelligence, and Kory Mathewson, a recent PhD graduate of the University of Alberta, Canada.

Piotr explains in this short video diary how they developed the concept of a comedy improv performance with an AI and how it works in practice. The video is interspersed with some scenes from this year’s performance, which took place at Phoenix in Leicester.

We can’t wait to see how this performance develops further – roll on 2020!

 

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Art AI Festival Workshops: Useless by Design

Students from Brockington College and The Lancaster Academy participated in workshops to create ‘useless machines’ at the 2019 Art AI Festival.

Their creative work was inspired by the video art installation on display at the Haymarket Theatre: Nadine Lessio‘s “Working with Useless Machines”.  In the video, Lessio engages in a series of experiments that illustrate technologies that simply fail to do what they are intended for.  Alexa is grumpy, argumentative and at times lonely, the fortune teller absurd (fig 1).  Useless machines, by their very definition, have function but no purpose!

Fig 1

Haymarket Theatre | May 16-31

Students responded to this by creating and programming robots that did the opposite of what they were told: some ran away from light, some became musical instruments, others repeatedly attempted to destroy themselves.

This short video diary tells you a bit about the workshops, which were generously supported by Haymarket Theatre CEO, Jed Spittle.  We were also delighted that Micro:bit‘s Emma Smart was able to pop along to one of our workshops.  Micro:bit has also donated some of the equipment to us for the workshops, which meant children had an opportunity to test some of the latest kit in building their useless machines, facilitated by the SideFest STEM team, led by Jason Boomer and Emily Kirby.

And this video summarises another day’s proceedings and the hilarious results!

You can see both the video and the artwork on display at Haymarket Theatre, where it is being generously hosted by the venue until 31 May as part of the Art AI Festival 2019.

The event was coordinated by De Montfort University’s DMULocal team, and workshops were managed and facilitated by the amazing SideFest team, a Leicester-based social enterprise that works to promote STEAM education for all.

 

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