Art, But Not As We Know It

Written by Harriet Maher

April 8, 2022

With just two weeks before the opening of the 2022 Venice Biennale, one of the more avant-garde exhibitions being planned in the city is by a hyper-realistic ‘artist’ robot from Oxford, England. Ai-Da Robot was created in 2019 by Aidan Meller, built by Engineered Arts, and has a robotic drawing arm designed and programmed by Salah El Abd and Ziad Abass. She has exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Giza Pyramids in Egypt; and the V&A Museum, London. Now, Ai-Da is bringing her thought-provoking art to Venice, echoing a theme of the biennale that considers the transition from human to machine.

Ai-Da Robot with one of her paintings. Photo by Nicky Johnson.

Meller created Ai-Da not with the question ‘can robots make art?’ in mind, but rather, seeing as they can make art, do we as humans want them to? His project is a materialisation of an Orwellian dystopia, where humans are rendered potentially useless in the face of AI and technology:

“If Ai-Da does just one important thing, it would be to get us considering the blurring of human/machine relations, and encouraging us to think more carefully and slowly about the choices we make for our future – Orwell and Huxley’s messages still ring relevant and we would do well to take heed.”

Ai-Da’s installation at InParadiso Gallery is a collateral event to the main biennale, staged at the entrance to its central pavilion. The presence of Ai-Da in the ancient city, and her association with one of the best-known and oldest art exhibitions in the world, is a sign of growing awareness of AI, algorithms, and trans-human technology and their impact on our daily lives.

One of Ai-Da’s works for ‘Leaping into the Metaverse’

For her show in Venice, titled ‘Leaping Into the Metaverse’, Ai-Da considers the future of technology and how humans will interact with the much-hyped space of the metaverse. Touted as a democratic, decentralised and entirely open online world, the metaverse is, despite its best intentions, already showing signs of being just as commodified and dominated by powerful corporations as the world wide web. Ai-Da appears to anticipate this, as her show is themed around Dante’s Divine Comedy and rather dramatically conceptualises the metaverse as Purgatory.

Portrait of Ai-Da. Photo by Victor Frankowski.

Of course, Ai-Da herself is perhaps the most interesting part of the artwork on display. And her creators know this; she is referred to as a performance artist as well as a painter and sculptor. Ai-Da Robot will perform live painting sessions in Venice, producing four new portraits throughout the exhibition. The process is a painstaking one, as Ai-Da uses her ‘eyes’, which are cameras, in conjunction with algorithms to interrogate what she ‘sees’ around her, make decisions, and ultimately create an original piece of art. The whole operation can take up to five hours for one painting. As Meller observes, when we talk about Ai-Da as an artist in her own right, with her own style, opinions and objectives, we simultaneously acknowledge that she is obviously a result of human creation. With this complex relationship between human and machine, Ai-Da Robot begs the question – what is art, and who can be considered an artist?

Read more about Ai-Da here

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