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Editor’s Pick: ‘Bloemenveiling’ by Anna Ridler & David Pfau

Text by CLOT Magazine

Entangled Realities: Living With Artificial Intelligence is an international group exhibition hosted at HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel), an interdisciplinary art institution dedicated to digital culture, new technologies, and the new art forms of the information age. Entangled Realities: Living With Artificial Intelligence opens on May 9. It is focused on artificial intelligence and its effects on human lives and society.

With this exhibition, Hek is committed to addressing how one of the most important technological advancements of the 21st century is changing the paradigms of art and artistic creation. On October 23, 2018, Christie’s auctioned an AI-created piece in a major auction, the question that first came to mind was about authorship: Who is the artist/author? The tool producing the piece, the man who created the code or the men that had the idea of producing the piece of art?

Does the artist see AI more as a tool or as a creator? CLOT Magazine spoke to artist Anna Ridler and research scientist investigating artificial intelligence and machine learning David Pfau. Their project, Blomenveiling will be showcased at Entangled Realities: Living With Artificial Intelligence. For Anna Ridler, artificial intelligence is both, the tool and the creator, ‘I see it as both a material (the dataset or imagery I give it), a tool (the way that it creates the eventual images that it produces) and a process (the way that I work with AI is quite iterative –  I collect data, feed it through the algorithm, change the data, rerun the model – the work changing all the time throughout) – there is an interesting tension between the rules of the algorithm and creativity that it sparks. It is very much me who is making the final creative decisions – although machine learning can copy and suggest it is very much me who is making the work, she told CLOT Magazine over the Email. 

Blomenveiling is a sort of flower auction, short moving image pieces of tulips created by artificial intelligence will be sold at an auction using smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. The smart contracts that define the work and how it can be sold will contain code to make the video work mirror how real tulips bulbs behave.

This drives the conversation to how are AI and blockchain challenging old paradigms in the art market; on one hand, with AI you can generate infinite works on demand. On the other one, blockchain has almost the opposite effect, though. It takes an effectively limitless resource – information – and makes it artificially scarce. That’s a very frightening prospect in many ways but one that we wanted to explore in this piece. Anna Ridler and David Pfau reflect. 

Blomenveiling examines not only value and desire and economic dynamics but also human and machine interaction. This makes relevant how artists use AI to produce their artworks, sparking a wide conversation inside and outside the art world. There is a long tradition in media art of artists taking the latest technologies to push and explore their boundaries, and using machine learning very much fits into this.

When making art with it you are really making art with two separate things: an algorithm and a training set. Training sets are reflections of their context – they inevitably come to enshrine certain cultural or social attitudes because they are always compiled by human beings, they are the products of people  (and a similar thing could be said of algorithms, they too are the products of people) – and using AI is a way of exploring this – it allows us a way of reflecting back on ourselves and the world that we have created, Anna Ridler and David Pfau continue. 

The focus of Entangled Realities is the effects of AI on human life and society, and its reality-building effects. What challenges do artist Anna Ridler and research scientist David Pfau imagine are ahead for this reality-building effect? Reality-building is supposed to be the sort of thing that happens organically. We tell each other narratives to help frame and make sense of the world around us, and we basically trust that these stories are being told by people who see the world the way we do. Now so much of our consensus reality is being created by the software we hardly understand – financial markets where bots endlessly trade with other bots, social media algorithms that control what narrative we see, even AI fakes that make us doubt our own ears and eyes. It’s going to become harder and harder to sort out where the human influence is.

(Media courtesy of the artist)
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