Ai-Da, named after the English mathematician Ada Lovelace, is like any other artist. She not only draws but is also a performance artist. She paints, however, with the cameras in her eyes, her Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms, and a robotic arm. This ultra-realistic humanoid artist, created in 2019, has made and exhibited art across the world, most recently during the ongoing Venice biennale.
The creator of Ai-Da, gallerist Aidan Meller, says “we are edging away from humanism, into a time where machines and algorithms influence our behaviour to a point where our ‘agency’ isn’t just our own. It is starting to get outsourced to the decisions and suggestions of algorithms, and complete human autonomy starts to look less robust. Ai-Da creates art, because art no longer has to be restrained by the requirement of human agency alone.”
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The emergence of Ai-Da is one of the many examples of how technology is changing the art world. More artists are now using digital elements and tools like augmented reality (AR) and leveraging AI capabilities to generate art. But the question remains: Who is the creator? For instance, Ai-Da paints, draws, even sculpts. But some of her work, according to her official website, is made with human input “to encourage discussion about the relationships and dynamics between machines and humans”.
Pakistan-based artist Muzzumil Ruheel, who is presenting an AR-powered sculptural project, Meeting Point, at the India Art Fair, says that while tools like AR help, technology—AR, virtual reality, AI—is just a medium. “For me, this is an exciting time to enter the digital world,” says Ruheel.
In Meeting Point, viewers can see and interact with a landscape of words that have been left unheard. The project integrates Ruheel’s interactions with lingering words and conversations that keep wandering in different spaces. They have no physical existence but Ruheel uses AR—as a lens—to manifest them around the viewer. All they have to do is use their smartphone, clicking on a link or scanning a QR code, to see the words around them.
“It is a school of thought. Whenever something new comes up, one side rejects it and the other accepts it,” says Ruheel, when I ask him about where he sees tech-art and this collaboration heading. “This is what happens when any new form of technology emerges. If we look at AI, where is it learning from? It’s learning from humans. When it comes to artwork, it’s about ideas and thought. There’s a sense behind it, combined with a lot of research. AI, robotics (in the art world)—they are all mediums that have developed with time. We should adapt and try to make use of them. Eventually, it will make more space for people to think.”
The art world has shown considerable interest in “creative AI” and Machine Learning (ML). A recent report (AI And The Arts: How Machine Learning Is Changing Artistic Work) from the Oxford Internet Institute investigated the scope of AI-enhanced creativity, and whether human/algorithm synergies could help unlock human creative potential, through a case study of how ML techniques are being used in art. Researchers interviewed 14 experts in the creative arts, including media and fine art, whose work centred on generative ML techniques, as well as curators and researchers.
They found that in the emerging space of “ML art”, artists self-identified in a range of ways that did not always centre on AI technology. “We found that new activities required by using ML models involved both continuity with previous creative processes and rupture from past practices,” a summary of the report notes.
Interestingly, the report explains, the artists highlighted a difference in scope between human and machine creativity. While ML models could help produce surprising variations of existing images, practitioners felt the artist remained “irreplaceable” in giving the images artistic context and intention—that is, in making artworks.
Kamya Ramachandran, founder-director of BeFantastic, a Bengaluru-based tech-art organisation founded in 2017, says the interplay between artists and AI is important. AI is no longer just a tool, it’s a collaborator. “The human hand is absolutely required to make sense of what is generated (by AI). There is a lot of human ardour of art-making present within AI art,” says Ramachandran.
She uses the example of muse.Together (Ajaibghar & Uma Khardekar), a large, interactive mural—featured at the Fair—that has visuals generated by AI but put together in collages by human artists. Ramachandran calls this AI-generated assemblage of 11 imaginings of our collective futures, prompted by the global climate emergency, a collaboration where “one can’t do without the other”.
It’s not the only installation of tech-art that BeFantastic is showcasing at the Fair. Whale Tales, for instance, looks at the role whales play in checking climate change. The project presents their stories interactively with the help of AI-generated imagery to inspire respect and empathy for their dwindling numbers. Similarly, between.today inserts the viewer— in a live format—into the frame of works by artists such as Vincent van Gogh. All this happens through AI, which has understood and learnt van Gogh’s style and texture.
Ramachandran says one can look at these tools and technologies as an orchestra. “You need the conductor—the human hand. Whether it’s curation, emotion, assemblage or storytelling. I think it’s still a developing relationship.”