Art and Science Bring Beauty in The Work of Multimedia Artist ALAgrApHY
Explorations of AI Art — Episode 08
“I pursued science because ever since I was a child I was fascinated by everything and wanted to hack it , break it into its smallest components and understand it…I kept art as a passion and so I was a scientist by day and an artist by night…” — ALAgrApHY
What do science and art have in common? Can they influence each other? Are they meant to be together?
These are some of the questions we asked ALAgrApHY, a Paris-based multimedia artist and scientist (PhD in Complex Systems and expertise in AI and Data Science) who is currently exploring the connection between art and science.
ALAgrApHY has been teaching machines to be creative since 2013, first with algorithmic art, and then from 2016 using deep learning CNNs, RNNs, and GANs. He won several awards participating in events such as the ISCB Art in Science Competition and the AFM BioMed Scientific Image Competition, and his art has been displayed in several shows and exhibitions in prestigious venues, including the Salon d’Automne at the Champs Elysees and the Grand Palais in Paris. ALAgrApHY is also involved in public speaking (i.e., TEDx), he works with UNESCO and Mairie de Paris on a few projects, and he is artist in residence at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) in Portugal.
The encounter of art and science brings beauty. When I heard of this, I did want to learn more about ALAgrApHY’s work and philosophy. I share our interview here.
Beth Jochim: Could you tell us a little about yourself and why you felt the urgency to link science and art?
ALAgrApHY: Born to a family of artists, it was paradoxically out of question that I become one or pursue a degree in fine arts. The twisted society we live in translated my parent’s love into a fear of me not making it as an artist. Therefore, I chose the second least stable of possible careers. I chose to become a scientist, an academic more precisely, and after several degrees, from masters to postdocs in complex systems, bio-inspired computing, I went back to where it all started.
I pursued science because ever since I was a child I was fascinated by everything and wanted to hack it , break it into its smallest components and understand it…I kept art as a passion and so I was a scientist by day and an artist by night hoping that my two halves will meet one day, perhaps around midday. However, hoping was not enough, I tried to build connection bridges…
For the past decade, I have been a scientist by day (PhD in complex systems, Data Scientist and expert in artificial intelligence, Postdoc in the University Pierre et Marie Curie ) and artist by night (painter, photographer and director) and I have been teach machines how to make art through algorithms (since 2010) and through artificial neural networks (since 2015).
Beth Jochim:You built a bridge between art and science to create “beauty”. What does this mean to you and to your public?
ALAgrApHY: Science is truth, but truth can be harsh sometimes so art softens it and makes it more bearable. Nietzsche said: “We have art in order not to die of truth” and he added “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” where chaos could be the art, the freedom of the mind, or no mind, that is translated to “Mu shin” (in Japanese), a mental state commonly practiced by zen and daoist meditators.
Beth Jochim: One recurrent theme in your art is “Ubuntu”, an Nguni Bantu noun that means “the quality of being human.” How does this apply to your art? How does art answer your questions about origin, identity and diversity?
ALAgrApHY: Ubuntu is the African proverb that translates into “I am because we are” which means that we are defined not only by our names, places or dates or birth that are mere labels imposed by our society, but rather by all our interactions with others using languages and concepts that we have evolved through our interaction with others and our environment.
Beth Jochim: You are an artist that covers AI Art to algorithmic and generative fractal art to data art (and more, as your practice focuses also on photography, painting and film making). How does your mindset change in the use of different tools and mediums? How do the different techniques answer your need of expressing yourself?
ALAgrApHY: As a painter, the parameters vary between base colors, mixes thereof and with their solvents, brush shapes and strokes needless to mention the composition, subject, theme…etc.
As a photographer, the parameters vary between framing, shutter speed, focus, after effects, lens opening, needless to mention the composition, subject, theme…etc.
As a filmmaker, it is the same as a photographer besides the storytelling, cutting, image sequences…etc.
With digital art, spanning from algorithmic art to AI ART, I gain access to new parameters that allow me to express new thoughts and messages, namely about co-existence and peace, identity and origin.
Artificial Neural Networks in general and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in particular, have many parameters and hyper-parameters just for the training part, needless to mention, the training data and pre-processing.
The more the parameters, the bigger the challenge to fine tune them into a piece of art that speaks to many hearts.
Beth Jochim: Can you tell us about a special project you have worked on so far?
ALAgrApHY: “The dormant muse(s)” and “ Dame souriante d’âmes souriantes”(smiling lady of smiling souls) were the results of a collaboration between algorithmic art and AI ART that gathered thousands of unique faces of people that do not exist from all origins, ages and sexes into two pieces. The first was accepted in 2017 to show at the Grand Palais in Feb 2018 and the second has shown at the Salon d’Automne (Paris) that has started movements such as cubism and fauvism a century ago.
Beth Jochim: How will AI evolve? What is the future of AI Art?
ALAgrApHY: Insofar, AI has been automating our mundane tasks and helping us focus on solving and answering deeper questions. Put aside all the marketed and biased buzz that AI ART has witnessed recently, it has created many opportunities for emerging and established artists to express themselves differently and to use off-the-shelf applications to pre-process or post-process their artworks. This can be seen as a collaboration between man and machine. The machine is definitely doing a lot of processing and editing, nonetheless, the artist has to draw the line between what is art and what is not, what is to heart and what is not…
I can see AI ART or AI-generated ART becoming more and more autonomous and accessible to the masses as well as for mass production and reproduction. The consequences can be just like when photography came about and people had cameras producing many many pictures stored on many many servers.
The challenge is to find the needle in a haystack and I hope that the needle search carried by art critics, art gallerists and art journalists will play fair promoting and displaying beauty regardless of the underlying costs or benefits.
Beth Jochim: Is AI Art understood? What is your opinion about engaging the public with a form of art that is defined, by other artists, still in its infancy?
ALAgrApHY: AI ART is still in its infancy and it is often misunderstood as it is often promoted and ill-defined or miss-labeled by art marketers that care less about facts or content, aesthetics or meaning. The public is however catching up and learning about how AI and ART can co-exist and co-create, leaving always space for artists to draw a line and interact with the machine. I am looking forward to the advances in AI and how this will impact our lives in general and our creativity in particular.
Beth Jochim: Would you like to share with us any project or idea for the future?
ALAgrApHY: I have a few projects and exhibitions lined-up for 2020, namely:
02/2020 at the Grand Palais (Paris): ROBOTIC-TAC, an overheating gynoid (fembot) robotized using artificial intelligence conveying the impact of technology and AI in our daily lives.
03/2020 at Rue de Rovoli (Paris): The Scent of AI, A collaboration between AI, VR and our olfactory senses.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” — Albert Einstein
For some people, finding a link between art and science seems almost an oxymoron, a“contradiction in terms” as the two fields are often seen to be the opposite of each other.
What is the equation between the rigor of science and the free creativity of art? Aren’t the two fields showing a completely different mindset? Can they co-exist?
The answer to this question is that art can smooth and soften the corners of a truth brought to light by science, which is sometimes difficult to bear.
ALAgrApHY’s work investigates the condition of being human using a fresh perspective and a new language. This new language is supported by an artistic versatility expressed in the use of different mediums that often contaminate each other. Many philosophers, such as Parmenides of Elea, Plato, Plotinus and also Hegel have addressed the problem of the “One”, speaking of it metaphysically and looking at the concept of the divine. In “Ubuntu”, instead, the “One and the many” are humanized and find their meaning in an interaction that has spanned the centuries. Humans have built relationships that go far beyond beliefs, identity and geographical boundaries. “Ubuntu” is the sharing of our human nature that has been defined over time.
When thinking about what AI Art brings to the table, the Paris-based artist speaks very clearly: “Put aside all the marketed and biased buzz that AI ART has witnessed recently, it has created many opportunities for emerging and established artists to express themselves differently and to use off-the-shelf applications to pre-process or post-process their artworks. This can be seen as a collaboration between man and machine.”
AI Art is an opportunity for creativity and for giving body to thoughts. It is also a challenge as the many parameters imply a great work in tuning a piece of art that speaks to many hearts.
The future of AI Art is bright, but an important role for its understanding and appreciation will be played by art critics, journalists and gallerists.
ALAgrApHY’s next exhibitions will take place in Paris in February and March 2020. Stay tuned!∎
Resources and References
 For following news about shows and exhibitions:
 www.alagraphy.com (to join the mailing List)
About the author: Beth Jochim is the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI, and Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. She works at the intersection of technology and arts. She is actively involved in different activities that aim to democratize the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, bringing the benefits of AI/ML to a larger audience. Connect whit Beth in LinkedIn or Twitter.
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