Transactivism and AI: An interview with Adam Broomberg

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By Verisart

Adam Broomberg is a contemporary artist and educator living and working in Berlin. He is a professor of photography at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) in Hamburg. For two decades, he was one half of the critically acclaimed artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin. His work is held in major public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou and others.

Adam Broomberg has created his inaugural NFT work in collaboration with computational artist Isaac Schaal and the transgender activist, artist and actress Gersande Spelsberg. Going. Full Time. #1 was minted on March 26 in partnership with Verisart and SuperRare. Bidding is open on SuperRare until 1pm EDT March 28.

Adam Broomberg with Isaac Schaal and Gersande Spelsberg
Going. Full Time. 1
Edition 1 of 1
A collaborative work  

Adam Broomberg’s inaugural NFT, Going. Full Time. 1, was created in collaboration with computational artist Isaac Schaal and the transgender activist, artist and actress, Gersande Spelsberg. All three share equal ownership of the work and will share the primary and any subsequent sales on the secondary market. This inverts the one-way flow of power that has haunted photography since its’ very inception. 

Adam Broomberg with Gersande Spelsberg and Isaac Schaal. 
Going. Full Time. 1.
Still image, courtesy of the artist.
Going full time. 

We caught up with Adam Broomberg who talked us through the process of creating his Going. Full Time series. 

“I met Gersande Spelsberg (aka Gigi) in the summer of 2020 in Berlin on the dating app Tinder. Our relationship soon grew into a creative and collaborative one. Gigi went through sex reassignment surgery 5 years ago. Transitioning is a complicated process that involves any or all of the gendered aspects of a person’s life, which include aesthetics, social roles, legal status, and biological aspects of the body. Gigi is not someone who does anything half-heartedly and her description of the physical and emotional pain but also the utter liberation and beauty involved in going full time was awe-inspiring.”

Adam Broomberg with Gersande Spelsberg and Isaac Schaal. 
Going. Full Time. 1.
Still image, courtesy of the artist.

“Collaborating with the computational artist Isaac Schaal, I wanted to understand how artificial intelligence would visually narrate the process of gender transitioning. We gave an AI algorithm a seemingly simple task. To start with a single analog image I took of Gigi on a 5”x4” negative and to try and visually illustrate what a gender transition would look like. We scanned the negative and fed it into a neural network consisting of millions of artificial neurons and the millions of connections between them.”

Adam Broomberg with Gersande Spelsberg and Isaac Schaal. 
Going. Full Time. 1.
Still image, courtesy of the artist.

“Trained by AI researchers on a massive dataset of hundreds of thousands of human portraits, the AI has learned to map what it believes to be all possible variations of the human face into a multi-dimensional space: the latent space. In this space, moving in any direction (a latent walk) causes the face to change, with different directions corresponding to different changes (face shape, hair color, eye color, hair shape and length, etc.)” 

Adam Broomberg with Gersande Spelsberg and Isaac Schaal. 
Going. Full Time. 1.
Still image, courtesy of the artist..

“We have to imagine this latent space not as flat like a photograph but a space with thousands of dimensions. Each face is a point in that space.  The dataset that trained the AI taught it to create a linear spectrum between male and female. Walk in one direction, become more feminine. Walk in the opposite direction, become more masculine.” 

“Hidden within the folds and valleys of this space, however, is the ghost of the dataset the AI was trained on, which carries the human decisions and biases that went into its creation. This work is an unedited version of its week of hard labour.” 

Adam Broomberg’s inaugural NFT is certified by Verisart, an award-winning blockchain certification platform. Designed to empower artists to tell the story of their work, the digital certificates include additional images, videos and documents. For collectors, Verisart’s patent-pending Certificates of Authenticity (COA) form an integral part of collecting NFTs. They provide confidence in the identity of the artist and the verified history of the artwork.

Adam Broomberg with Gersande Spelsberg and Isaac Schaal. Going. Full Time. Still image, courtesy of the artist.

About the Artists 

Adam Broomberg (b. 1970, Johannesburg) is an artist and educator. He currently lives and works in Berlin. He is a professor of photography at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) in Hamburg and teaches in the MA Photography & Society program at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. For two decades, he was one half of the critically acclaimed artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin. Broomberg has had numerous solo exhibitions, most recently at The Centre Georges Pompidou (2018) and the Hasselblad Center (2017), among others. His participation in international group shows include the Yokohama Trienniale (2017); Documenta, Kassel (2017); The British Art Show 8 (2015-2017); Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern (2015); Shanghai Biennale (2014); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); Tate Britain (2014). His work is held in major public and private collections including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Baltimore Museum of Art, Centre Pompidou, Cleveland Museum of Art, MoMA, Stedelijk Museum, Tate, Yale University Art Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum. Major awards include the Arles Photo Text Award (2018), ICP Infinity Award (2014) for Holy Bible and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (2013) for War Primer 2.

Isaac Schaal (born 1997, US) creates conceptual and visual art using code and artificial intelligence. His art blurs the line between artificial and human intelligence, challenging viewers to reflect upon what ways they are, or are not, like a machine. His art explores value, empathy, humility, and our own algorithmic nature. He is a graduate of Minerva Schools at KGI, and lives and works in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Gérsande Spelsberg (born 1977, FR) is a transgender activist, artist and actress. Spelsberg has collaborated as an aesthetic consultant for artists and musicians such as Planningtorock, Olof Dreijer (The Knife), Leonor Scherrer and Viron Erol Vert.  She has exhibited and produced as a visual artist at 0047 Gallery in Oslo, Norway and has contributed with a live performance at the 57th art biennale in Venice. 

Bidding on SuperRare for Adam Broomberg’s inaugural NFT, Going. Full Time. 1 closes at 1pm EDT on March 28. 
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Verisart

Verisart is a pioneering blockchain certification platform for artworks and collectibles. Verisart treasures creativity by empowering artists to tell the story of their work. Patent-pending Certificates of Authenticity enable trusted transactions by giving collectors confidence in the identity of the artist and the verified history of the artwork.

Author profile

SuperRare is a marketplace to collect and trade unique, single-edition digital artworks.

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