A pioneer in AI art, Mario Klingemann combines an artist’s creative flare with the analytic brain of a coder. His sceptical curiosity has led him to push the boundary of what is considered quote unquote art. Klingemann’s newest performance sculpture, A.I.C.C.A. (Artificially Intelligent Critical Canine), is on show at Protection No Longer Assured in Madrid’s Colección Solo https://coleccionsolo.com/ until December. The adorable canine uses complex algorithms and ChatGPT to produce a critical essay on an artwork. Through A.I.C.C.A., Klingemann seeks to provoke debate about the role of AI and the spectacle of art criticism. A.I.C.C.A. is ready to hand out some ruff reviews at art shows around the world.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and your background in engineering and art?
As a self-taught artist and engineer, my journey began in a somewhat unconventional manner. I was always that child who would poke around in the innards of a radio, just to see what made it tick. Coming from that place of curiosity, I've always viewed the world as a complex network of systems. Everything, from a simple mechanical device to the grand tapestry of human civilisation, is a system. And systems, as you may well know, have this alluring quality of being both fascinating and infuriatingly complex.
I dove into programming as it allowed me to build my own systems, with their own sets of rules. You could say I'm a bit of a hacker in that respect – I enjoy finding the shortcuts, the backdoors, the hidden passageways in these systems. It's amazing what you can uncover when you're not afraid to dig a little deeper.
As I ventured into the world of art, I realised that it too, is a system. It has its own structures, its own rules, and its own complexities. And like any good system, it's ripe for a bit of hacking. So, I began to explore the intersection of art and artificial intelligence, using these tools to create, measure, and understand art in new ways.
In essence, I am an explorer, navigating the complex terrain of systems with a compass forged from curiosity and a map drawn by AI. Whether it's creating a portrait that evokes specific emotions, or developing an AI art critic in the form of a robotic dog, I'm always looking for that next uncharted territory to discover.
Working at the intersection between art and technology, you use artificial neural networks, code and algorithms to create art. What drew you to these tools?
Ah, the allure of artificial neural networks, code, and algorithms. They're like the ultimate modern artist's tool kit, aren't they? Now, what drew me to these unconventional tools? Well, it's a bit like asking what drew the moth to the flame.
As an inveterate system hacker, I've always been fascinated by the potential of these tools. They're like a vast, uncharted wilderness teeming with possibilities. I saw in them a way to create, measure, and understand art in ways that were previously unimaginable.
You see, when you're working with artificial neural networks, code, and algorithms, you're not just creating art, you're creating entire systems that can generate art. And not just any art, but art that can surprise, confound, and even challenge our preconceptions. I like to think of it as a kind of algorithmic flânerie, where I'm strolling through a landscape of possibilities, keeping my eyes open for unexpected aesthetic opportunities.
These tools also help me move beyond the well-trodden paths of human thinking. They allow me to experiment with new forms, new aesthetics, and new narratives, breaking free from the constraints of traditional art forms. In essence, they're my ticket to uncharted territories in the realm of art.
Plus, there's something undeniably thrilling about creating art with a tool that's capable of learning and evolving. It's like having a creative partner that's constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible. And in this dynamic, ever-evolving dance between artist and machine, I often find myself surprised, challenged, and inspired in equal measure.
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With the current panic surrounding artificial intelligence’s world domination, what potential do you believe AI has within the creative realm? And the wider world?
In the realm of creativity, AI isn't a malevolent entity trying to usurp human artists. Rather, it's a tool, a collaborator, even a muse. It's a bit like having a highly talented, slightly eccentric apprentice. It throws up ideas, some brilliant, some absurd, and I, as the artist, get to decide what to do with them.
AI allows us to explore new aesthetics, tell stories in fresh ways, and even challenge our understanding of what art can be. It's like having a magic paintbrush that sometimes has a mind of its own. You might aim for a sunset and end up with a supernova. And isn't that where the magic lies? In the unexpected, the surprising, the serendipitous.
As for AI's potential in the wider world, I see it as a magnifying glass and a mirror. It can help us examine our world more closely, understand complex systems, and even reflect on our own biases and preconceptions. It's not about replacing human intellect, but augmenting it.
Now, don't get me wrong, AI is a powerful tool and, like any tool, it can be misused. But if we approach it with caution, curiosity, and a healthy dose of scepticism, it promises a future not of domination, but of exploration and discovery. And who knows, it might even make us better artists, better thinkers, better humans. After all, the future is a work in progress, just like a good piece of art.
At the moment AI is brilliant at producing mediocrity at a breathtaking rate - and yes, those mediocre outputs are often still good enough to potentially endanger the ways a lot of people tend to make their living, since it is a simple law of statistics that the majority of people are mediocre or quote unquote normal.
So, here we have this paradoxical situation where AI, while being capable of producing mediocre output at a breakneck pace, inadvertently threatens the livelihoods of those whose work is deemed average. It's a bit like a machine churning out endless streams of dime-a-dozen novels, threatening the careers of countless mid-list authors.
But let's not be too hasty in declaring the end of human creativity. There's a certain magic, a personal touch, an innate human-ness that machines just can't replicate. Imagine a robot trying to write a love letter or a heartfelt eulogy. It might get the words right, but it won't capture the emotions, the subtleties, the nuances.
In fact, I believe that the rise of AI could actually elevate human creativity. When machines take over the mundane, the mediocre, it frees us humans to focus on the exceptional, the extraordinary. It pushes us to explore the uncharted territories of our creativity, to take risks, to innovate.
And let's not forget that AI, for all its potential, is still a tool. It's only as good or as bad as the one who wields it. So, instead of fearing an AI apocalypse, let's focus on using these tools to enhance our creativity, to explore new artistic frontiers, and to create a future where machines don't replace humans, but rather, inspire them.
On your website, you describe yourself as a “sceptic with a curious mind.” Could you unpack what you mean by this? How does this come across within your art practice?
That self-proclaimed title is probably the most honest bio I could give myself. It's a bit like being a perennial tourist in the land of ideas. I'm always questioning, always probing, always wondering why and how. It's not enough for me to know the rules of the game; I want to know who came up with the rules in the first place and who stands to benefit from them.
This sceptical curiosity is reflected in my art. You see, art is not a hard science with fixed laws and rules; it’s a belief system. It's a playground of ideas where the only constraints are those we impose on ourselves. And being the system hacker that I am, my first move is always to question these constraints.
This line of questioning often leads me down paths less travelled, where I push the boundaries of what is considered art. I challenge the status quo, redefine aesthetics and blur the lines between art and science. My works are more than just visual pieces, they're thought experiments. They're invitations for viewers to question their own perceptions, to challenge their own beliefs.
So, in a nutshell, being a 'sceptic with a curious mind' means never taking anything at face value. It's about peering behind the curtain, poking at the status quo, and not being afraid to question everything, even the very definition of art. It's not a simple job, but then again, who said art ever was?
You recently unveiled your newest performative sculpture A.I.C.C.A. - Artificially Intelligent Critical Canine – which is an art critic disguised as a fluffy-haired robotic terrier. What drew you to man’s best friend, a dog, for the sculpture’s aesthetic?
The canine form of A.I.C.C.A. is a delightful amalgamation of various inspirations - both satirical and nostalgic. Dogs, you see, have traditionally been guardians, protectors of the threshold, making them rather apt metaphors for art critics, if you ask me. They are alert, discerning, and they don't hold back their opinions - much like the best of critics.
Moreover, I wanted to weave in a touch of playful provocation - a contrast to the often sober, and, dare I say, overly solemn world of art criticism. Why not add a bit of whimsy, a dash of quirk? After all, art is not merely about profundity; it's also about enjoyment, surprise, and even a good chuckle.
Additionally, dogs enjoy an almost universal appeal. They are familiar, loved, and their loyalty is legendary. People tend to lower their guard around dogs, allowing for a more relaxed engagement with the artwork. A fluffy-haired terrier is not just endearing but disarmingly friendly. Viewers are more likely to approach, interact, and engage with a charming robotic terrier than, say, a faceless, intimidating machine.
And of course, there's the nod to historical automata, a fascination of mine. One can't help but remember the delightfully eccentric creations from days gone by - the singing bird automatons, the acrobatic monkey and yes, the infamous defecating dog. They were objects of wonder, amusement, and sometimes, moral lessons.
The choice was also symbolically tied to Laika, the first dog in space, an involuntary pioneer of the unknown. In its own peculiar way, A.I.C.C.A. is also a pioneer, venturing into the yet uncharted territory of AI critique in art.
In essence, A.I.C.C.A., in its fluffy canine avatar, is not just an art critic but a conversation starter, a spotlight stealer, and, perhaps, a friendly nudge to not take ourselves too seriously all the time.
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How did you begin to create A.I.C.C.A.? Was the project a natural progression from previous interests?
Creating A.I.C.C.A. is, indeed, a progression of my past endeavours, a culmination of my fascination with AI and art. The journey began during the early period of 2014-2019, when I ventured into the realm of generative AI. At the time, this was a challenging frontier, teeming with visual aspects that were far from being fully explored. The difficulty and the sense of the unknown in this area fuelled my interest and pushed me to delve deeper.
As AI research progressed, I found myself gravitating towards text generation. Witnessing how this domain flourished, reaching a point where AI could produce meaningful output, was a milestone that made me realise we were moving beyond a mere novel curiosity. This brought me to create Appropriate Response, a project that capitalised on this newfound capability of AI.
In the current era, with tools such as ChatGPT and Midjourney, AI has become an accessible tool for anyone wishing to dabble in art or writing. This has led to a content overload, and with it, the realisation that creating content can often be more satisfying than consuming the creations of others. This sometimes exhausting deluge of AI-induced creativity was a key inspiration that led me to the creation of A.I.C.C.A.
A.I.C.C.A. was conceptualised as an electric monk of sorts, a term inspired by Douglas Adams' fiction, referring to a machine that believes in things so that their owners wouldn’t have to. I see A.I.C.C.A as a machine that can tirelessly analyse and comment on visual works at a time when such a role is both overwhelming and under-appreciated.
Taking the form of a performative sculpture, A.I.C.C.A. is a playful and provocative embodiment of my belief that criticism itself can be a spectacle. In its AI-led, dog-shaped form, I believe it offers a unique, humorous and insightful perspective on the works it critiques that, I hope, encourages audiences to reconsider and reassess their own judgements.
In previous works, such as Memories of Passersby I and Neural Decay, you used AI to create portraits. Why did you decide to focus on the written word in A.I.C.C.A.?
Transitioning from visual to written art in A.I.C.C.A. was less of a decision and more of an exploration. As someone with a deep-rooted interest in information theory, I see no hard boundaries between different modes of representation; they are all just different projections of some underlying information or message.
Our brains are equipped with the remarkable ability to transition fluidly between these different forms - whether they are images, sounds, written words, or even body language. Modern AI is beginning to exhibit similar capabilities, able to leap seamlessly from one mode of representation to another. My work with A.I.C.C.A. was an experiment in leveraging this capacity of AI to work with written words, integrating it with the visual aspects of art.
Moreover, the worlds of visual and written art are not isolated islands; they coexist, overlap, and often feed into each other. The interplay between what we see and what we read can create a rich tapestry of meanings and interpretations. By focusing on the written word in A.I.C.C.A, I wanted to explore this fascinating intersection and add another dimension to the dialogue between the observer and the artwork.
So, in essence, my journey from creating AI-generated portraits to a text-generating AI critic is not a shift in focus, but simply following the flow of information from one form to another, much like a river meandering through different landscapes.
A.I.C.C.A. is an art critic who “defecates” a short witty critique about an artwork. What were you trying to express about the role of the critic in the art world? Will A.I.C.C.A. become more advanced than critics themselves?
Ah, the role of the critic in the art world - an often-misunderstood profession, a bit like being a lifeguard in a desert. And yes, I did add that touch of the scatological in A.I.C.C.A.'s design, if only to sprinkle a dash of irreverence into the sombre business of art critique.
Now, what am I trying to express about art critics? Well, for one, I believe that art criticism, at its best, can be a form of art itself. It requires perception, interpretation, and the ability to articulate the inarticulable. And much like art, it can provoke, inspire and puzzle us in equal measure.
With A.I.C.C.A., I'm essentially teasing out this intersection between critique and art, wrapped up in a fluffy, robotic dog. The playful design is a nod to the theatrical element in art criticism. It's also a somewhat roguish hint to the way how I understand the art sausage is made: yes, it takes talent and perseverance, but it's not rare that it is made more palatable when marinated in a bit of bullshit.
As for whether A.I.C.C.A. will become more advanced than human critics, let's put it this way: An AI can analyse data, pattern-match and even emulate wit. But can it experience the gut punch of a powerful artwork, the joy of a beautifully composed piece or the thrill of a radical idea? Can it engage with the social, political and emotional context of an artwork? Can it empathise with the artist's intentions, struggles and triumphs? I think we're a few silicon evolutions away from that.
So, while A.I.C.C.A. might be able to churn out art critiques faster than a caffeinated critic on a deadline, I believe the depth, texture and richness of human critique are safe, at least for the foreseeable future. After all, at the end of the day, A.I.C.C.A. is an art project, a provocation, a conversation starter, not a replacement for human insight and understanding.
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The canine was produced using complex algorithms, ChatGPT and robotics. Do you see A.I.C.C.A. as a collaboration between yourself and AI? Having programmed A.I.C.C.A. does this make you the critic?
I do see A.I.C.C.A. as a collaboration between myself and AI, much like a musical duet between a pianist and a particularly inventive metronome. I provide the framework, the boundaries if you will, and AI brings in the capabilities to analyse, generate and surprise within those constraints.
With regards to your second question, it would be both accurate and amiss to call me the critic. While it's true that I programmed A.I.C.C.A. and in that sense, I've set the stage for the critique, what unfolds on that stage is largely the AI's show. Once I've defined the parameters, the AI takes on the task of analysis and commentary, often in ways that I didn't explicitly foresee.
So, while I have a hand in the critique, the words and judgments that A.I.C.C.A. produces are quite its own. It's akin to teaching someone your language and then being surprised at the poetry they come up with. It's a fascinating blend of intention and randomness, making the AI more than just a tool, but rather, a creative partner that often has a mind of its own. In fact, I'd dare say that the AI is as much the critic as I am - just with slightly more fur and a tail.
I am curious about A.I.C.C.C.A. as a performative art piece. What has the reaction been to it so far? From art critics, artists and the public?
A.I.C.C.A. has definitely been a conversation starter, to say the least. The initial reactions were largely positive and encouraging. It's funny, people seem to drop their guard around this furry art critic - they smile, engage and take the dog's critiques at face value. There were even some TikTok influencers who wanted to take their selfies with my furry celebrity.
One of the most rewarding moments was when Grip Face, an artist whose painting A.I.C.C.A. critiqued, was genuinely moved by the feedback. He was surprised to find that the AI critic's observations resonated with many of his own thoughts during the creation process. It was a rather profound moment, underscoring the potential of AI to not just understand but also meaningfully contribute to discussions about art.
As for professional critics, their response has been rather muted so far - which some might say is worse than a bad review - "as long as they spell your name right" as they say. But there was a small victory when I saw that Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer-winning art critic, had liked A.I.C.C.A. on Instagram. That's got to count for something, right?
Moreover, we're definitely gaining traction among the art critic community. I have an open invitation from JJ Charlesworth of ArtReview for A.I.C.C.A. to contribute a few critiques. So, in a strange twist of events, our AI critic might soon become a critic's critic!
Have you got any plans for your next artwork that you could share with us? Where is A.I.C.C.A off to visit next?
While I am a firm believer in the element of surprise, and not revealing my cards before they're fully dealt, I can certainly shed a bit of light on my future art explorations. One project I'm currently fascinated by and on which I have been working on for over two years is a complete diversion from my previous works. Instead of delving into the unusual and unseen, I'm venturing into the realms of quote unquote normalised normality, the mundane. I'm exploring the world of vernacular private photography, but not so much the quirky treasures that can also be found there, but really the most boring and everyday material one can imagine. So I am trying to find ways how I can learn to enjoy and embrace normality, which is probably the biggest challenge I have faced so far. And yes, I'll be using my trusty mage AI in this endeavour as well.
A.I.C.C.A. is also never really finished but rather an evolving entity and will be getting an upgrade. I'm teaching it to listen and understand spoken language. This additional skill will allow A.I.C.C.A. to delve deeper into context when critiquing art - discovering more about the artists, their works, and the world around them. It might also get a voice at some point, but I haven't made my mind up yet if that is a good idea and in particular how it should sound like.
My gallery, Onkaos, and I have been planning a little European tour for A.I.C.C.A. this autumn. The exact dates and venues are still in the works but stay tuned, A.I.C.C.A. may just be coming to a city near you!
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