Fabio Rovai and The Immersive KIND Residency
A collaboration between Machine Learning and Immersive Technologies
Written by Beth Jochim.
“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” — Steven Johnson
More and more often artists and creatives are showing a strong interest in investigating an inclusive and sustainable future. Ranging from digital fashion to new media art, they are becoming increasingly concerned with discovering new collaborations, business models and opportunities to foster innovation.
Fabio Rovai, a London-based fashion photographer, digital director, new media and AI artist, has recently joined the Residency program of The Immersive KIND, a multidisciplinary collective and studio specialized in 3D, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Extended Reality (XR), and immersive technologies, such as game engine software. This collaboration has been designed with the idea of advancing creative applications of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) through a fruitful dialogue with the studio’s XR technologies, which is led by Kadine James, CEO and Founder, and Lucy Wheeler, Creative Director.
Rovai’s works explore the interdependence of humans and machines, the space that lies between them, and new approaches to the current fashion system. Guided by a curious and observant spirit, he does not want to be limited by his practice, but rather welcome inspiration from different disciplines to maintain a constant creative flow.
The artist is one of the six finalists of Gap x Dazed New Gen Gap initiative, a program organized over the summer to support emerging visual artists based in the United Kingdom or in France and offer them the possibility to express their vision on issues they care about. Rovai’s project for Gap x Dazed has started from the assumption that the future of fashion will be in collaboration with machine learning. Rovai has created synthetic fashion images and used AI in every process, starting from the visualization of images to their final realization. According to him, this approach would allow a “reduction in the environmental impact and waste, which catwalk shows and fashion shoots produce”, and offer a new way of thinking in the fashion industry.
In an interview on Dazed Digital, the artist explained that the Covid-19 lockdown pushed him to learn coding from scratch and adopt machine learning in new projects. His fascination with AI, which began with an expressive and artistic interest, has now resulted in something intimate and personal. The combination of a free spirit with an aesthetic approach contaminated by the fine arts industry pushes Rovai to reach different exciting results, as he pointed out in an interview for Creative Review.
“I approached this new technology in the same manner I would have approached photomontage. I was researching a particular aesthetic and a way to create a more sustainable form of representation, without showing any human form.” — Fabio Rovai
As XR Artist in Residence at The Immersive Kind for the year 2020, Rovai is closely working with Kadine James, CEO of the studio, Creative Technologist and member of the UK5G Creative Industries Working Group. Their collaboration has brought to life Machine’s Illusion, a triptych series that questions the relationship between humans and machines, and the role of machine learning as a medium and creative tool. The work also aims to explore the concept of digital citizenship and how machines relate to our personal data.
About this collaboration, James said “Fabio Rovai’s Machine’s Illusions are an exploration of what can happen at the intersection of new media and machine learning and we are inspired by his work. The intangible elements of art are inherently human — from intention and inspiration to imagination and emotion with the next generation of Artists discovering that AI can act as a new tool in its creation. The Immersive KIND XR Artists residency provides an opportunity to work closely with me and The Immersive Kind team; Fabio was selected from 100’s of applications. Together we are exploring how AI can act as both an artistic medium and creative collaborator, with the ultimate expression shaped by the hand of the next generation of artists that are using machine learning tools to create.”
The triptych is built on the manipulation of portraits taken at different stages of James’ life (at 18 months, at 15 years old, and as an adult) through the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). The piece displays the way in which machines interact with our personal data and digital archives over time.
Speaking of Rovai’s work, co-founder at The Immersive Kind Lucy Wheeler, who is also an Immersive artist and creative technologist, underlined how human-computer interaction brings complexity at different levels: “This collaboration between artist and machine learning expresses humanity’s desire to evolve alongside the rapidly advancing technological innovations. The artist’s visual direction is compromised to let the machine input its scripted aesthetic. Complexities of agency within a digital society is presented.”
Rovai’s Residency aims to also explore the concepts of digital identity, which suggests that our data could live on after we are dead. Following this idea, James and Rovai are busy in designing Kadinebot, a bot that fits into the discussion of digital immortality. The concept of augmented eternity and swappable identities is currently explored by several academics and technologists who question the possibility of embracing a digital afterlife. Among them, Dr. Hossein Rahnama — CEO and Founder at Flybits, and Visiting Professor at MIT Media Lab — believes that “by enabling our digital identity to perpetuate, we can significantly contribute to global expertise and enable a new form of an intergenerational collective intelligence.”
Fostering collaborations with creative minds, The Immersive KIND seeks to bring to life collaborative R&D projects through knowledge exchange and favor new approaches and innovation within the digital realm.