Artificial intelligence is – according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica – the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. Today, this technology has become a universal field as it has been applied to a large and unexpected variety of fields. At the moment, it has been capable of generating extraordinary innovations such as diagnosing diseases or – as we shall see - creating artworks after suitable training.
At ISSUE .07 we focus on emerging photographers. Therefore, one may ask: what does artificial intelligence have to do with this? There are many AI artists which have become popular in the last years such as Robbie Barrat, the Obvious collective or Mario Klingemann. The EyeXmachina (The Eye of The Machine), is a distinguished art collective that applies AI to photography. It’s composed by Dr Stylianos Kampakis, Jack Oat and Fabio Rovai, they constantly challenge the limits of creativity (I would say in a very uncanny and intriguing way).
Stylianos is a data scientist, Jack is a professional photographer and Fabio is enrolled in an MSC in AI and data science for creative industries. Melding their talents and skills, in collaboration with artificial intelligence, the collective creates unique prints using machine learning and photography. They mainly use three elements during their process: photographs taken by Jack, generative adversarial networks (GAN) and image enhancers implemented by Stylianos and Fabio. The most important tool is their GAN coded and maintained by Stylianos, made by two different classes of algorithms: the generative string creates new images, while the discriminatory one asserts the uniqueness and credibility of the final product.
My favourite project of EyeXmachina is FACEOFF. In August 2019, they successfully organised an exhibition in Bethnal Green in London which attracted over 200 curious visitors. They showed hundreds of images following the full generation path, from the most abstract products to the most realistic faces. One year later they decided to continue their project participating to the Burning Man festival. Obviously, this year the event was held virtually and, in that frame, the collective held an online exhibition entitled “The Face of Burning Man”. The collective asked the participants of the virtual festival to share photos of their faces, which then they used to generate new prints.
As you may all notice from the images that are shared on this article, the final products are equally extraordinary and uncanny. Clearly, they don’t resemble human beings or even any recognisable being. However, there are some elements which are sometimes very well defined, such as the eye. The mixture of these aspects of real humans gives the viewers a terribly uncanny feeling – keeping in mind that they’ve been processed by a machine. That’s their aim: they challenge the fringes of perception while exploring the beauty of the uncanny. Basically, EyeXmachina stimulates our brain and questions the narrative that the default mode network of the neurons of our brain imposes upon reality.
They realised they were successful when, during the physical exhibition, people stared at the images trying to understand which parts made the subject human and which parts did not. In the end, to be fair, the more novel, ambiguous or strange something is, the more it catches our attention. And yes: it worked with collectors who bought their prints. They also plan to run their future own gallery. At the moment, their prints can also be purchased on the blockchain as non-fungible tokens, encouraging new forms of emerging technology.
The art market has eagerly welcomed the first print named ‘Edmond de Belamy’ created with the same machine learning process, in 2018 at Christie’s. It was estimated between 7.000 USD and 10,000 USD, but got sold for almost 45 times its highest estimate, 432,500 USD. How the art market will react in the future to these artworks is yet to be seen, but so far it is definitely not failing.
On the other hand, there are many ethical and legal conundrums surrounding AI generated artworks. For instance, to what extent does the authorship solely belong to the human collective? To what extent is the AI capable of being creative?
However, back in history, when photography was invented in the early 19th century it wasn’t easily accepted as an art form since the common belief was that the camera was doing the work. However, as we all recognise today, photography is an established fine art genre. Overall, I think we’re still in the initial phase of this type of art, where AI is perceived as a novel creative mean.
Will machine learning be a new tool to create a new fine art genre?
Author, Dominique Ciccolella - Linkedin
All the photographs featured in this Article were realised through machine learning techniques. Fine art prints of all photos are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
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