The convergence of the human hand and the latest Artificial Intelligence technology is explored in Scott Eaton’s debut exhibition, Artist+AI: Figures & Form in the Age of Intelligent Machines, which opens at Somerset House, New Wing G16, on June 18, 2019.
The exhibition combines the latest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) with the centuries old practices of drawing and sculpture. All of the featured works are a result of a dynamic interaction between Scott’s traditionally-trained hand and the AI tools he has ‘taught’ to work as his assistants. In doing so, Eaton, an interdisciplinary artist with a background in anatomy, sculpture and engineering, underscores the impact AI is set to have on art-making and in particular how it will change our perception and understanding of the human form.
He observes: ‘For as long as humans have made art, the figure has been a primary focus of creative exploration. In each age new tools, techniques and styles influence how the figure is portrayed. Often the tools remain the same - pencil, charcoal, paint, clay - but the style changes - impressionism, cubism, surrealism, abstract expressionism. At certain times, however, there are seismic advances in technology that create entirely new possibilities for representation – photography, moving image, animation … and now AI.’
Eaton creates and trains AI to translate his drawings and animation into photographic, figurative representations as well as abstracted sculptural forms. His interest in this emerging field of AI is not in creating agents that ‘create art’ autonomously, but rather in making art ‘assistants’, AI collaborators that take direction and enhance the creative possibilities available to the human artist.
Eaton adds: ‘In the teaching process, AI learns its ‘craft’ by continually comparing different visual repesentations – in this instance line drawings and photographs. After millions and millions of views, it gradually begins to understand how to transform a drawing into something photographic, and eventually it learns to faithfully produce figures. At this point it becomes a capable collaborator in the creative process.’
Figures & Form in the Age of the Intelligent Machines is composed of three parts: first, animation showing timelapses of drawings and sculpture emerging from the AI cauldron; second, a series of drawings and prints of the collaborative compositions; and third, a selection of sculptures realised in the round by artist + AI. The work resonates diverse influences ranging from Klimt, Schiele and Bacon to Rodin and Boccioni.
The magic of the process is revealed, Eaton says, when you guide the AI to create something unlike anything it has seen before: ‘The AI has no choice but to do what I ask, no matter how difficult or unreasonable my request. The result is often a wondrous, unexpected, interplay of visual ideas, both mine and the machine’s.’