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How artists using AI can reconnect us to ourselves

Artists are embracing AI as a new tool to create work which reflects on the body and mind

Artificial intelligence does, and will increasingly, play a significant part in our lives. Even a laptop or smartphone will contain a small amount of artificial intelligence. This, hand in hand with our increasing reliance on digital technologies as our primary forms of communication, has significant implications on the way we live and how we relate to the world around us.

When so much of what we live with is artificial how do we continue to feel connected to ourselves and grow as people? Art is leading the way in this discussion. Artists rather than being daunted by the prospect of AI are embracing it as a new tool to create work which reflects on the body and the mind.

Natasha Singh, the co-founder of Timeblur Studio, opened her 2018 Ted Talk by asking the audience to “Imagine you live in a world where… you look at yourself in the mirror and the mirror tells you much more than how you look but how you feel.” That goes some way to explaining Timeblur’s work Nadi.

Nadi uses image processing, generative art technologies and unique software to create digital sculptures through responding to a participant’s yoga practice. The projecting images produced by Nadi will be distinctive to each person, reflecting how in yoga everyone experiences, performs and breathes in their own individual way, offering each participant a new perspective on how their body moves.

”Artists rather than being daunted by the prospect of AI are embracing it as a new tool to create work which reflects on the body and the mind.”

During lockdown, Timeblur has encouraged Yogis around the world to upload recordings of their practice to their website. It then takes their team just twenty-four hours to transform and send the participant their Nadi form, which is then also shareable on social media.

The aim of this is to create a form of ‘creative co-existence’ amongst those who practice yoga whilst more communal elements, such as lessons are an impossibility. This shows the power of art and technology to find creative solutions to the practical problems of isolation during the pandemic, and how by artists embracing AI, they can offer us ways of experiencing art that would have been impossible in previous generations.

Sofia Crespo’s approach is different to Timeblur, she develops machines with their own form of neuropathways to create work that makes us think about the fundamentals of how our minds work. Her most recent project ‘Neural Zoo’ uses a series of deep learning to process large datasets of images and ultimately produce new images reflecting how the machine ‘sees’ these datasets.

The images that are produced are so familiar, but they are not an accurate portrayal of how we as humans see the animals the machine is trying to understand. What they do however, is show us a new perspective on the natural world that wouldn’t be possible without the use of machine learning. Crespo is adamant that it does not matter who or what ‘arranged the pixels’ for the images but more ‘who sees it’. Essentially, it does not ultimately matter that a machine made these images because what is important about them is that they reposition our viewpoint on the natural world, and the conclusions we reach are the most important element of the art.

” generated by artificial intelligence gives us entirely new ways of understanding ourselves.”

These strands of thought are evident in an earlier project of Crespo’s ‘Trauma Doll’. This came from an understanding that eventually, as artificial intelligence began to more closely represent the human brain, then it would experience ‘glitches’ similar to those present in neurodiverse people. ‘Trauma Doll’ is programmed with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and it is with these ‘glitches’ it processes the information it is fed, primarily images and text from the information with reference to mental health.

The works generated by ‘Trauma Doll’ are reminiscent of memes, with their use of text and images. These collages can help us understand our mental health and particularly the way we communicate about it using online support networks. In conversation with me, Crespo has said that artificial intelligence offers us the opportunity to learn more about our behavioural patterns, as “a large part of the healing process involves self awareness.”

Both Singh and Crespo’s work presents us with a reality more than real. By examining the relationship between our bodies and minds with artificial intelligence they present us with a fresh perspective of understanding ourselves. Just as the artists who pioneered photography as an artform presented us with a moment in time that exposed the human condition in a way painting never good, art generated by artificial intelligence gives us entirely new ways of understanding ourselves.

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