Situating Artificial Intelligence Art in Traditional Visual Cultures

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By Harshit Agrawal

Harshit is an artificial intelligence (A.I) and computational artist. He uses machines and algorithms and often creates them as an essential part of his art process, embracing becoming the cyborg artist. He often juxtaposes traditional art styles and visuals with machines and computation, creating a space to both direct, and be guided by the machine.

As we engineer the nuts and bolts of a new ‘species’ standing around by the corner of its own ‘intelligence’, one question that seldom gets any attention is, what is such an entity’s cultural underpinning, what is its visual and aesthetic background, especially as we make it our primary medium of societal and individual reflection.

With AI art slowly but steadily gaining popularity internationally, one visual trend hard to miss is the art being created by it reflecting European and American art histories and aesthetics predominantly, both because of majority AI artists being from that region, and because of better availability of digital art archives of those regions. Does it then mean that that is what AI art’s foundations will be? What is an AI machine’s cultural underpinning and how can we broaden its scope?

In a lot of my works, like in the series Machinic Situatedness, I ground this new artificially intelligent artist collaborator in Indian visual culture and art, drawing inspiration from its art various forms and figures, which rarely find representation in art datasets digitally available. I work with a variety of Buddhist Thangka paintings as my source, alluding to the cycles of transcendence which we undergo as a species, continuous cycles of trying to become something more than ourselves, which we are now channeling through the evolving role of AI in our lives.

This work draws a lot of inspiration from Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha. While Paik calls upon the aspect of reflection and contemplation, with Machinic Situatedness, in the age of A.I as machine’s step into the realms of creation, I get a machine to ‘dream’ up its imagination of Buddha, in a manner conveying the awakening of bits.

Machinic Situatedness 4
Edition 1 of 1
Machinic Situatedness is a series of artworks that uses artificial intelligence (A.I) to explore the subject ‘cultural situatedness’ and influences in the genre of AI art. These works are created by an A.I drawing inspiration from Budhhist painting styles to create an abstract, dream like output using GANs. This series asks the questions- what is an AI machine’s cultural underpinning and how can we broaden its scope? These draw a lot of reference from Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha work, here alluding to the cycles of transcendence which we undergo as a species, continuous cycles of trying to become something more than ourselves, which we are now channeling through the evolving role of AI in our lives and AI itself is by learning more from us.
Machinic Situatedness 5
Edition 1 of 1
Machinic Situatedness is a series of artworks that uses artificial intelligence (A.I) to explore the subject ‘cultural situatedness’ and influences in the genre of AI art. These works are created by an A.I drawing inspiration from Budhhist painting styles to create an abstract, dream like output using GANs. This series asks the questions- what is an AI machine’s cultural underpinning and how can we broaden its scope? These draw a lot of reference from Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha work, here alluding to the cycles of transcendence which we undergo as a species, continuous cycles of trying to become something more than ourselves, which we are now channeling through the evolving role of AI in our lives and AI itself is by learning more from us.

In another series called Masked Reality, I use A.I to explore the subject of faces, traditions and identity, especially its malleability in the age of technology. I generate faces drawing inspiration from traditional mask cultures of the central region of India.

Masked Reality 1
Edition 1 of 1
Masked Reality is a series of artworks that uses artificial intelligence (A.I) to explore the subject of faces, traditions and identity, especially its malleability in the age of technology. These works are created by an A.I drawing inspiration from mask cultures of the central region of India. This juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern, both used to engage with the world from new vantage points, is an attempt to think of alternate visual cultures of AI too.
Masked Reality 3
Edition 1 of 1
Masked Reality is a series of artworks that uses artificial intelligence (A.I) to explore the subject of faces, traditions and identity, especially its malleability in the age of technology. These works are created by an A.I drawing inspiration from mask cultures of the central region of India. This juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern, both used to engage with the world from new vantage points, is an attempt to think of alternate visual cultures of AI too.

Throughout our years of existence as a culture, we’ve crafted and performed several kinds of rituals and ceremonies, both collective and individualistic as acts of transformation and transcendence. Masks and face transformative decorations have been fundamental across the world and definitely in the Indian culture in our journeys into unknown realms, in our celebrations of the malleability of human representation, or as a tool for practical disguise and entertainment. It helps us engage with our world from a completely new vantage point, augmenting our sense of self, very similar to what technology, especially A.I enables today. What happens when these media of transcendence collide? Can we teach machines about our cultural heritage, and as a result make them an instrument for our own exploration and engagement with our heritage? As technologies advance, there is gravitation towards convergence and dilution of cultures, to fit into manners of technology standardizations. Instead, can we use these advancements in technology to offer us a new lens to look at and engage with our past heritage in exciting and completely new, unconventional ways, crafting alternate aesthetics, confusing tradition and technology?

More of my works can be found here- http://harshitagrawal.com/

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