ART-AI Festival 2018 - The Kitty AI taking place in Leicester
between 16-31 May.


We are building on last year’s event, where we had a series of events and activities that were really well received but we thought we would try to scale up a little this year!  Before we tell you more about this year’s event, let us share with you a bit about last year - the first Art-AI Festival...

This began as a broad discussion between Luba Elliott (Curator) and Tracy Harwood (Festival Director).  Luba had considerable experience of running a London Meetup focusing on Creative AI that has generated international interest and is still going with regular meetings. Tracy has a particular interest in engaging audiences with emerging technologies and her research looks at the impact of these have in changing behaviours.  From an initial ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if we could do an event in Leicester…’, Tracy and Luba quickly began to plan how it might be achieved, with a main goal being to find novel ways to raise the general public’s understanding of the capabilities and question marks around AI.

As our thoughts began to take shape, we talked to Chris Tyrer, the digital arts programme manager at Phoenix - Phoenix is the natural home in Leicester for conversations about contemporary digital arts.  The forming team then quickly realised that another partner was needed to generate the all-important public impact.  So, that’s when Hammersons, owner of Highcross Shopping Centre, became involved.

With a tiny budget of just £4000 donated by the #DMULocal community arts programme at De Montfort University, the four partners managed to achieve a fairly big hitting event in 2018. The event drew heavily on one Tracy’s colleagues at the Institute of Creative Technologies, Fabrizio Poltronieri, whose artwork, Hatred Apparatus, had recently been shown at Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria).  The team asked Fabrizio to consider how the work might be reinterpreted for a public domain, and without the hate speak!  A couple of months later, in May 2018, Love Apparatus was showcased as a live AI in Highcross Shopping Centre.  The artwork used Twitter to respond to tweets that mentioned #LoveLeics in a message, drawing on a massive dataset of poetry that it had been trained with.

In addition, the team were delighted to have the support of other artists: the HumanMachine improv comedy collective performed a live Turing test with the audience; Anna Fusté, based at MIT MediaLab, travelled from Boston (USA) to Leicester and ran workshops with school children from the Sandfield Close Primary School; Pinar Yoldas’ (Ann Arbor, USA) KittyAI was presented in the Phoenix Gallery.  Between these activities, a series of artists talks and a short film season which included the newly released Alpha GO, the Art AI Festival generated an astonishing level of interest for what was a rather low key and highly experimental Festival – with Highcross’ participation, we reached over 600K people in the city and online through our social media presence we reached around 200K.  We also generated a lot of press interest through the children’s workshops.

And, earlier this year, the Art AI Festival won Leicestershire Live’s inaugural ‘Innovation in Creative Sector’ award.  So, the Art AI Festival has been born!

And so to this year... with funding from Arts Council England, De Montfort University and the #DMULocal programme, plus in kind support from the partners, we have brought to Leicester world leading artists in this emergent field of creative practice.

This year, given our focus on the engagement of a general public audience, our line up of artists’ installations includes work that demonstrates a breadth of creative AI practices.  These are :-

  1. Mario Klingemann (Germany) – Interstitial Space 2019, an interactive artwork located here in the Phoenix Gallery. We’re also thrilled that Mario is part of the one day Conference Programme on 23 May.
  2. Libby Heaney (UK) – Britbot, another interactive artwork, a chatbot, originally trained on the British Citizenship test and also on display at Phoenix. Libby is also part of our Conference Programme on 23 May, presenting on Britbot and her other chatbot work.
  3. Gene Kogan (USA) – Neural Synthesis, located in the Leicester Central Library, is a visually stunning video art installation which was created using a development of Google’s Inceptionism algorithm. This piece we have also located in the local hospital for staff and older patients with memory issues, for which it was actually originally commissioned, but we cannot invite a general public into the hospital space.  What’s particularly interesting about Neural Synthesis is the discussions it has already generated from a research perspective into its potential as a therapeutic tool and Tracy is now working with clinical and medical science researchers to develop this work further.
  4. Sofia Crespo’s (Germany/Argentina) Neural Zoo is located in both Highcross and Haymarket Shopping Centres. Her work comprises a series of pictures that reflect what she refers to as an imaginary ‘naturess’, with the AI she has used being trained on images from the natural environment.
  5. Nadine Lessio’s (Canada) Working with Useless Machines project is on a video artwork of her creation of machines that have function but no purpose. The artwork is on display at Haymarket Theatre. This work is being used to inspire local children this year: workshops with schools from across the city are taking place at Haymarket Theatre, where they will work with the Sidefest STEM team to create their own ‘useless machines’ – and some of these will also be on display at Haymarket Theatre alongside Lessio’s artwork.

Overall, these artworks demonstrate a wide range of uses and applications of artificial intelligence in of creative technologies practice.  And in addition to seeing the artworks, we have created a recommended walking tour route that also takes visitors past some of the iconic landmarks of Leicester city centre, giving you a chance to reflect on the roles of the AIs you have seen as you go.  We estimate the walking route will take about an hour, but of course you can linger much longer if you want.  We have provided a downloadable version of our programme which includes a map of the suggested walking route – enjoy.

Alongside these installations and artworks, there are two FREE events - bookings required!

17 May | Human+Machine

Human+Machine events comprise three separate activities: a guest lecture by Gerhard Fischer (USA), a launch event and a comedy improv performance by Improbotics.

23 May | State of the AI-Art

State of the AI Art is a one day conference (with extended optional activities including a guided walking tour of the installations and a VR-AI film). Keynotes by Prof Ernest Edmonds, Mario Klingemann (artist) and Georgia Ward Dyer (Nesta), talks by Libby Heaney (artist), Luba Elliott (creative AI curator), Fabrizio Poltronieri (coder-artist-researcher), and with plenty of opportunity for networking and viewing the artworks at Phoenix.

Finally, we would appreciate your feedback about your experience of this year’s Festival and the artworks we have showcased.  Please take a few moments to complete our online survey.

Do also follow our activities during the Festival on @ArtAIFestival, Instagram ArtAIFestLeics and hashtag #ARTAI2019

With best wishes

Tracy Harwood (Festival Director)
Luba Elliott (Curator)
Chris Tyrer (Digital Arts Programme Manager, Phoenix)
Jo Tallack (General Manager, Highcross)

Today, AI is everywhere – and yet virtually invisible to us.  So what is AI, and why should we care?  As far back as the 1950s, it was described (by Marvin Minsky of MIT Media Lab and John McCarthy, a US-based computer scientist who became known as the ‘father of AI’ and coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’) as a technology, or machine, that would perform a task which if conducted by a human would require intelligence to complete.  This is obviously a very broad definition, and human intelligence is applied to a vast array of tasks – planning, learning, problem-solving, decision-making, interpretation, knowledge presentation, manipulation as well as social intelligence and creativity. AI is now commonly used in speech and language recognition systems such as the virtual assistants, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, as well as in applications (APIs) that enable you to identify your friends and family members in photographs online, and by businesses such as your bank to detect fraudulent activity.  It will increasingly be used to make sense of the ‘internet of things’ sensor datasets that will in future connect our ‘smart cities’.

AIs fall into two broad categories: narrow AI and general AI.  Narrow AIs are used for very specific and tightly defined tasks but artificial ‘general’ intelligence (AGI) is quite different.  AGIs are intended to be flexible and capable of learning, possibly in the future becoming ‘superintelligences’ – it is the type of AI that is often depicted in films such as Hal (2001: Space Odyssey), Skynet (Terminator) or Ava (Ex Machina). These AIs are ‘trained’ using powerful computer processors and machine learning models (eg., Google’s TensorFlow) to ‘deep learn’, working with huge datasets to produce new data on which they continue to learn.  In effect, they create very large databases that enable them to pattern match in order to assimilate a learned task.  This learning can be seen in, for example, IBM’s Watson, which won the US quiz show Jeopardy in 2011 by beating the best human players, and Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo, which won the ancient Chinese game of Go against a human Grandmaster in 2016. Both these examples demonstrate the capability of the technologies to recognize and respond to a problem almost instantly.  You can watch and hear more about AlphaGo in our Festival film screening (see programme for details).

Fuelled by science fiction, robots that are increasingly autonomous, that can navigate the world and communicate with us in human-like ways, are now overlapping with AI technologies.  These kinds of devices are evidenced in the near future of self-driving vehicles, package delivery bots and drones and various service robots that will increasingly interact with us as hotel and business receptionists, through transcription services and social media – such as, for example, Poltronieri’s #LoveApparatus (created for our Festival and running at Highcross until 13 May), although not a robot, the AI communicates as if it were human.  In March 2018, Tesla successfully drove its first semi-autonomous electric trucks across California whilst Uber’s fully autonomous taxi killed a pedestrian in Arizona, the first by an autonomous device but probably not the last. The technologies also regularly produce realistic imagery which replicate image and voice of humans – in 2013, Eguchi Aimi, a singer with the Japanese all-girl band AK48 was revealed as ‘not real’ – this was some time after they had achieved a number of chart-topping songs – and today we rarely turn to any media channel without confronting the spectre of fakery in our midst.  These stories are generated, targeted and distributed using data miners and AIs. And yet, AIs are capable of much good: they may be used to detect healthcare problems before symptoms appear, can provide comfort and companionship to the lonely and elderly, such as Cera and Bloomsbury AI’s Martha, and support executive decision-making, such as Tieto’s Alicia T, the latter potentially ensuring business profits are maximised and its finite resources well managed.

Stephen Hawking, the ground-breaking Cambridge physicist who passed away in March, famously stated that AIs pose a fundamental threat to human civilization, a statement also supported by Tesla’s Elon Musk. Their claims, among the voices of many others working in research and industry as well as government and policy, pave the way for a more informed and open discussion on devising a working code of ethics in the development, application and deployment of AIs.  Whilst practically, at present, the technologies are a long way, maybe decades, away from becoming the superintelligences portrayed in our films, the future threats are real.  Robot AIs are very close to conducting routine, manual tasks that were formerly the domain of low-skill workers (eg., fruit picking and warehouse packing).  Forecasters suggest, however, that AIs are more likely to enhance and augment our everyday mundane jobs than replace us.

Ever since Google DeepDream captivated the world with colourful puppyslugs, more and more artistic projects incorporating the techniques of artificial intelligence have been making their way into the mainstream. Artists and creative technologists are experimenting with these tools to generate animations in the style of their ink drawings (Anna Ridler), to explore their artistic qualities and limitations (Mario Klingemann) and to understand how human actors can give meaning to AI-written playscripts (Sunspring). Aside from applying artificial intelligence as a tool, other artists are thinking more broadly about the implications of living in a world heavily influenced by AI technology, whether that's about our malfunctioning technological inventions (Zach Blas) or the future possibilities of satellite AIs becoming artists (Lawrence Lek). Working with, or thinking about intelligent machines has become the artistic preoccupation of the 21st century.

In fact, Leicester has a long history with the role of AI in art – De Montfort’s Ernest Edmonds (Director of Institute of Creative Technologies) is an internationally recognized pioneer in the field, developing a form of computer-arts practice over 50 years ago! Indeed, some of that work is being showcased in Leicester later in May at the Computer Arts Society’s 50 Years celebration ( His and other artists in this domain, including some of Poltronieri’s work (see installation at Highcross for our festival) can be also seen in the digital collection at the V&A in London.

Scroll to top