A rather too brief exhibition, well hidden away in the bowels of Somerset House and not mentioned in the official handout listing what is currently on view in the main gallery spaces there, raises many questions that aren’t being asked in our rather smug London contemporary art world. Entitled The Artist + AI, it is a compact solo show for an American artist called Scott Eaton. There has been a certain amount of flirtation with the idea of Artificial Intelligence in art presented here recently, but nothing previously that has been as coherent as this.
What AI offers you are things consistently in a state of becoming, creating and un-creating themselves
The basic premise of Artificial Intelligence, as this relates to contemporary art, is that you give the computer some toys to play with, and a little bit of guidance, and then turn it loose. It makes the art for you – no further human input required. This formula tends to work better in fields that may indeed be related to what we call ‘art’ (the term itself is in any case ever more loosely defined) but which don’t seem to offer compelling example of image-making: that is, things made to be looked at for their own sake, in strictly aesthetic terms. Quite a lot of this peripheral stuff is currently on view at the Barbican, in a show called AI: More Than Human. Among other things, this event invites you to ‘Enjoy a drink from our resident robot bartender’ – in place throughout the run of the show.
Artist + AI takes a rather different tack, with Artificial Intelligence working as the obedient collaborator of the artist responsible for the show. There are prints. There are sculptures. And there are things happening on screens. Where the first two categories are concerned, the influence of the Modernism of the first half of the 20th century is marked. Every now and then you feel like saying: ‘Hello Mr Modigliani – really nice to see you here!’ And pre-Modern influences manifest themselves too. You don’t have to look very far to spot the occasional bit of input from African tribal sculpture.
Though the static artworks – final products of the collaboration between creative human and creative computer – are nice enough, what tends to fascinate are the moving images presented on screens. Also, the multiple images that offer a narrative of successive transformations.
Where what you see on the screen is concerned, the offering is an image that restlessly transforms itself, from abstract forms into recognisable paraphrases of human likenesses and human activity. What AI offers you are things consistently in a state of becoming, creating and un-creating themselves, using the guidelines given to the computer by the artist. As you look, you are immersed in the creative flow. That, I think, is a genuinely new sensation.
EXHIBITION OF WORK 19-23 June, 2019 10-5:30pm daily Somerset House, New Wing, room G16