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Digital Art Exhibition to Showcase Creative Potential of AI

Ross Kelly


Digital Art

Curators say the artworks will resonate with Edinburgh’s reputation as both a leading festival city and a global hub of data-driven innovation and AI excellence.

A compelling new digital art exhibition has launched today showcasing the creative potential of artificial intelligence.

Jointly presented by the University of Edinburgh with the Edinburgh International Festival, The New Real exhibition will see artworks presented by AI artists Jake Elwes, Anna Ridler and Caroline Sinders.

The exhibition marks the first output of a wider research programme to support the recovery of the arts and creative industries.

Curated by the Edinburgh Futures Institute, the two art pieces seek to explore the increasingly blurred boundaries between the physical and digital worlds and ponder how our lives are being shaped by technology.

Both works will be presented alongside a series of online discussions examining how data systems and AI reflect and shape our social reality.

Mechanized Cacophonies

Mechanized Cacophonies by Ridler and Sinders, both of whom are artists and machine learning experts, is an immersive and interactive online artwork inspired by lockdown.

This exhibition will explore how experiences of nature are mediated by technology. Working remotely, Ridler and Sinders captured sounds from a broad range of sources, including natural and industrial environments.

The duo then trained a machine learning neural network to generate immersive, haunting soundscapes generated by artificial intelligence.

Ridler and Sinders said the project is a reflection of their time working in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When working with machine learning you need thousands and thousands of images or input, sometimes millions or even billions. A core part of our practice is creating these datasets ourselves, spending months photographing a single object or similar,” they said.

“Covid interrupted this process and meant that we could only use imagery that we had immediate access to. We also wanted to work with nature through technology as this was how we were experiencing the world.”

“Pushing the boundaries” of digital art

Led by Jakes Elwes, the accompanying exhibit, The Zizi Show, was developed alongside a community of drag artists.

In this show, Elwes deconstructs a virtual cabaret show which organisers say “pushes the limit” of what can be imagined on a digital stage.

As part of the project, Elwes used deep learning to create images of fake bodies, which in turn enabled him to create Zizi, a deep-fake drag act who hosts the vivacious cabaret.

Zizi is capable of learning a variety of dance styles, looks and mannerisms by observing human performers, which audiences can explore while enjoying live music.

“The Zizi Show aims to bring together two things I love; artificial intelligence and the world of drag performance,” Elwes commented.

“In an entertaining and humorous way, drag has allowed me to dig into some of the social issues built into machine learning technology.”


The artwork also gives the audience a glimpse into the processes used in the construction of Zizi, which Elwes said will help dispel our obsession that machines are becoming more human.

“Deep-fake technology has enabled me to do drag in collaboration with machine learning (after learning drag from thirteen extremely talented performers), perhaps proving that drag queens, drag kings and drag things will never be replaced by artificial intelligence,” Elwes added.

Dr Drew Hemment of Edinburgh Futures Institute led The New Real project. Commenting on the launch, he said the ingenious exhibition shows that “great art won’t be dimmed” by the long-running coronavirus lockdown.

“Creative content is increasingly digital and AI is enabling new forms of production and dissemination that were unthinkable only a few years ago – astonishing possibilities open up with these tools in the hands of such talented artists,” he said.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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