‘A Dream Within a Dream’
The AI Art Corner #4
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” — Albert Einstein
A Dream Within a Dream is the evocative title of the exhibition curated by art advisor Jessica Davidson on Artsy. The virtual group show presents 36 artworks, between limited editions and one-of-a-kind pieces, created by artists Carla Gannis, Qinza Najm, Patrick Lichty, Tesla Mir, Anne Spalter, and Travis LeRoy Southworth in collaboration with Playform Studio .
In her introduction, Davidson, who works with innovative art businesses in the tech sector, has drawn a parallel between the existential questions of our digital age with those posed by American poet Edgar Allan Poe in the poem A Dream within a Dream (published in 1849), where he explores the very essence of reality and illusion.
The show is the result of the intense experimentation of a core group of selected artists with artificial intelligence. Born from the constraints imposed by the lockdown, these works have soon turned into one of the first virtual professional exhibits since the COVID19 outbreak and demonstrate the resilience of human creativity.
Playform is the brainchild of Dr. Ahmed Elgammal, professor at the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University and founder and director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers. It is a creative collaborator and a platform, built from the ground up by creatives and for creatives , which aims to empower artists with no skills in computing and expand human creativity. The underlying idea is that the future of art will see an increasingly close collaboration between humans and machines. While everybody can try the easy-to-use AI tool for free, the Studio is a program specifically designed for visionary artists who intend to invest in their artistic development and creativity. Studio residents will get unlimited training credits to train their own AI models, collaboration and promotion opportunities, chances of exhibitions and much more.
A Dream Within a Dream opened on September 14th on Artsy’s website, followed by a virtual showcase where the artists had the opportunity to talk about their creative process, their ideas and experience with AI. As the curator pointed out, the works are very varied and well representative of the style and conceptual world of each artist.
With the series AI Homage to Hans Hoffman (2020), digital mixed-media artist Anne Spalter investigates the concepts of freedom, escape and possibility using airplanes as subject matter.
Applying Playform Style Transfer, Spalter unifies the recurring theme of the airplanes, as a symbol of independence and chance, with the style of the abstract expressionist painter Hans Hoffman. The result is a cheerful series of prints with airplanes’ silhouettes and Hoffman’s palette.
Through her practice, Spalter shows also how AI-generated images can be used as a starting point for works in other media. For example, in another work the artist has used her Instagram feeds as input images and airplanes as style images, creating interesting and bizarre compositions that have been later translated with pastels on canvas, or transformed into surrealistic, dreamlike AI sculptures/installations.
As Dr. Elgammal observed , every artist can find their own way to create new work with AI-based tools, suggesting that artificial intelligence can be a versatile means (and medium) to amplify creativity and augment artistic expression.
Transmedia artist Carla Gannis shifts the attention to problems of our society. She also investigates the concept of identity in an age where the real and artificial are blurring. Using AI, Gannis creates a body of work based on her childhood memories for an avatar named C.A.R.L.A. G.A.N. The avatar’s works compete with the ones created by her human self with the intention of analyzing the response from the public.
In the series Do Androids Dream of Endangered Animals? (2020), presented in the show, the artist instead adopts the visual language of liminality, a concept that occurs in anthropology to mean the disorientation or ambiguity during a rite of passage, when the participants have not yet reached the new status. Using Playform, Gannis brings to life backgrounds that combine architecture from all the continents with flora and fauna “to stitch together human-made constructions with biological nature.”
Qinza Najm is an inter-disciplinary artist who explores cultural power, gender and politics. Interested in the body as both a medium and a subject matter, the artist explores not only the relation with the surrounding space, but also with our mental, physical and spiritual potential. At the core of her work, which spans from installations to performances to paintings, there is a strong desire to bring out the human ability to accept, adapt and change.
In the series Cl-AI-ming Space (2020), Najm gives life to abstract images based on bodies that have undergone a transformation through distortions, deconstructions and other modifications to symbolize human resilience.
Proceeding through the virtual exhibition, we come across the work of writer and educator Patrick Lichty whose interest is to use AI to map his own mind. The series Personal Taxonomy (2020), created in collaboration with Playform, investigates not only how technology shapes our world and society, but also how AI can help us to understand something more about the way we (visually) approach the world. Influenced by oriental calligraphy, Lichty’s body of work aims to detect and deconstruct the patterns in our head.
“What I am trying to do is to find the deep grammar of my own visual language through analyzing two large bodies of work, and seeing if patterns emerge, and what they are.”
Travis LeRoy Southworth, artist and image specialist, trained Playform on his own body of work called Color, Balance (2016–2020) to create almost evanescent pieces. Through abstract and blurry images, Southworth reflects on the changes that the concepts of identity and human relations are undergoing, and on the dematerialization that seems to characterize our culture.
“Bodily artifacts removed from fashion photography become the base for paintings I create in Photoshop. I add subtle hue filled layers of digital paint and push pixels to blend remnants of the figure into the background. I use color as a spatial feature, shifting away the boundary of the body to further blur lines between abstraction and figuration.”
“There’s often this element of science and experimentation with art. but also childlike wonder, and curiosity and play to get to that point.”
Optimism and a positive vision of technology as a potential human ally transpire from the body of work of multimedia artist Tesla Mir. In her pieces, the designer converges different influences taken from science, technology and the sphere of imagination, and creates delicate tondos that portray the entrance to the world of chance.
When it comes to AI, many artists are still left behind. The difficulties in adopting machine learning within a traditional artistic practice, in fact, do not depend only on the ability to program, but also on a difficult terminology, access to computational resources and availability of data for the training. Playform takes care of these issues and creates an environment in which the artists have to focus only on their work.
The platform, designed specifically for creatives, stands in contrast to the general trend in which the artists use and manipulate algorithms developed by academia or large companies, for non-artistic reasons. Playform, instead, is trained on artworks from “different epochs, designs, architectural structures and many other creative outputs” and opens a realm of new possibilities tailored for artistic purposes. This positions the work of Dr. Elgammal and his team as an important contribution, both to the democratization of technology for a non-tech savvy audience and to the development of tools specifically designed for creatives.
It uses optimized generative AI methods that can be trained with much less data, e.g., only tens of images versus thousands of images, significantly speeding up training. As Dr. Elgammal underlined: “At the design side, we focused on making the user experience intuitive and free of AI jargon.”
The next step for Playform will be the creation of a Marketplace, but this might be the topic for a future post.
In the meantime the exhibition will be live until October 27th on Artsy’s website: https://www.artsy.net/show/playform-studio-a-dream-within-a-dream. ∎