Lost at Sea: AI Ships in the Time of Quarantine
Building on a residency at MASS MoCA in which I developed a series of oil paintings based on AI-generated imagery of salvation and armageddon (which led to a sold-out show at SPRING/BREAK Art Show NYC 2020), I have continued to use AI image creation as a basis for new compositions, this time to create imagery and video about ships trapped out at sea in the time of quarantine. The images combine ghostly ever-morphing forms and the ships seem to move but end up going nowhere. All the ship forms and background colors are generated with AI algorithms.
Theoretically, the work draws on philosophies of Carl Jung and Arthur Schopenhaeur as a conceptual framework for the exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) in image generation. I am interested in the concept of representation as discussed by Schopnehauer (e.g., “objects are representations”) in the context of generating this seascape imagery with various AI GAN processes. In particular, how do these objects exist distinctly from perception by a subject (i.e., when only “seen” by a machine)? And how does this “perception,” when divorced from human senses, result in an “understanding” of an object or landscape/seascape? During the AI algorithm’s “learning” process, it often develops shapes and compositions that do not resemble anything exactly familiar or that we have seen before.
The AI image results worked with in these series draw on an image set that I supplied (combining container ships and luxury yachts) that is visually meaningful to me, so it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the newly born compositions are often inspirational, serving as what is functionally a machine-created unconscious that could be the subject of Jung’s quote: “In addition to memories from a long-distant conscious past, completely new thoughts and creative ideas can… present themselves from the unconscious – thoughts and ideas that have never been conscious before.” (With “unconscious” replaced by “AI algorithm;” the AI algorithm is functioning in a way analogous to the human unconscious).