In both the artistic sphere and culture more generally, reactions to the prospect of AI art range from fascination to vexation and something akin to terror. It is a contentious debate that often neglects to include those actually at the forefront of this changing artistic landscape. So, we spoke to art-director and technologist Jumoke Fernandez about her creative practice using artificial intelligence. Answering our questions from practicalities to ethics, Jumoke gives her two cents on the place of AI art and design in modern culture.
Jumoke is an impressively talented self-taught art director specialising in works created using artificial intelligence software. As a child of the Internet age, her work is particularly referential to post-Internet art and video game lore. She has produced creative content with an array of notable brands, and currently lectures on the use of pioneering technology in creative practices.
Hi Jumoke, nice to speak with you. How are you today, and where do you answer us from?
Hello! I am doing great. I’m writing from Berlin, Germany.
Your artistic practice is one of an art director and synthographer specialising in the transformative technological realms of Augmented Reality (AR), Blockchain and Aritificial Intelligence (AI). Could you expand on your understanding of synthography, what it entails in practice, and how it makes creative use of these latest technological developments?
Synthography is the practice of creating images and videos using artificial intelligence, that could mean using a text to image generator like Midjourney or training your own stable diffusion models based on custom data sets. Artificial Intelligence has many applications to all industries, from detecting cancerous cells in the medical field to identifying the needs of a plant through an image of its leaf. As a creative working with these tools I use machine learning solely for creative pursuits. Although, I believe we should invest more in Human Intelligence, as we are still the ones designing and using these tools.
I tend to understand AI art as the contemporary intersection between art, science and technology, and you mention your father taught you to code at age seven – very impressive! Is your educative or experiential background grounded in the sciences, then, or is it more traditionally artistic? At what point did you develop an interest in creating digital art?
I was home educated from a young age, my mother was an art teacher and my father was a musician and software developer, as they designed my educational curriculum from the age of 9 to 16 I had a good mix of (computer) sciences and traditional arts (life drawing, history of art etc). I grew up with the Internet with Hatsune Miku as my spirit animal and idol but  I would pinpoint my interest in digital art properly blossoming when I was 17 and discovered post-Internet art.
I think there is a general ambiguity about what the process of creating AI art actually entails. When beginning work on a synthograph, for example, how do you move from an initial prompt to the final image?
Depending on who you ask you would get a different answer for this, for me personally I use a large variety of tools and train my own models depending on what the project needs. In some cases I use AI to create the final image, other times I might then add manual retouching or compositing techniques.
You specialise in digital art for mobile games and entertainment apps. How would you describe your artistic style? Are you particularly inspired by any specific games or avatars?
I love to immerse myself into the lore and style of the specific game or world I am working on and create new media which feel like they belong in that space. When working with existing IP such as Black Mirror, Miraculous Ladybug or Tamagotchi, your job is to fully live in that world and craft new items, environments or characters which bring joy to fans of these universes. When building a new world, lore is still the crux of the practice, to have a believable art direction it needs to be based on a science or story - as an art director of worlds, taking the science and lore behind a world and building out an artistic style guide which reinforces and supports that is my main task.  Personally, I have always been a big fan of games like Final Fantasy 7 and Bayonetta, I also enjoy the gameplay and aesthetics of games like Splatoon. Currently I am enjoying playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Danganronpa 3.
You are a self-professed Internet kid, what aspects of Internet culture are you most drawn to, and how do you incorporate this into your work?
The Internet has always been my second home. Finding strangers you share interests with is always such a magical thing, which I still enjoy today.
In addition to your creative projects, you have also lectured at several institutions including the New Centre for Research and Practice and Zhejiang Wanli University. Why did you decide to pursue teaching and what do you specialise in?
Working with the New Centre was a joy and it was fantastic to guide students of all ages as they explore AI for the first time. I generally focus on the implementation of new technology into creative practices. I started giving workshops to pre-school and high-school students almost 10 years ago, at the time I was exploring natural pigments and collecting ochres and umbres from coastlines across South West England and I gave workshops on traditional paint making to children. As someone whose education relied heavily on the subject enthusiasm of those around me, I feel acutely aware of the impact one can make through teaching and mentoring. Knowledge and skill sharing is one of the most noble things we can do and nothing brings me more joy than sharing my interests with people. I’m currently creating an educational platform called Body of Work - which aims to upskill and equip creatives with the tools needed to thrive in the new era.
The exponential development of AI tools within the artistic process over the last couple of years has been inextricably bound to an enlivened debate surrounding artistic authorship, authenticity and originality. The consensus seems to be shifting towards a view that AI software is simply a new tool for human artists. Would you agree with this? Is it possible to justifiably ascribe one author to a piece of AI art generated, as it is, by innumerable references to the information in its database?
This is a question I am asked quite a lot and I think there is no right answer. In my personal opinion I believe AI is a tool and it’s up to you how little or much you want to use it.  As creatives, we take inspiration from things on a daily basis and do not feel any need to credit or list the numerous inspirations for everything we do. We wouldn’t have had hip-hop without sampling. Remixing is a humanitarian act and radically anti-capitalist, it is the cornerstone of folk culture and we wouldn’t have most of the things we enjoy today were it not for creative people throughout history taking, retelling and recrafting things through their own lens.
Many have noted the dubious ethics of AI generators, especially regarding copyright and ownership issues. Have you encountered this issue much in your experience? How do you think AI tools can be used in the most ethical way to create something genuinely novel?
It is definitely a topic. If you choose to use open source models you can start to have a much more ethical option using Stable Diffusion. Most people by now have heard of the website Have I been Trained? but you might not know that you can actually use their API Spawning to remove over 1 Billion images from your base model which have been opted out. Additionally you have the option to train models based on your own work or through collaborations with artists. Unfortunately, if you do not go the open source route then your ethics and options are guard-railed by the institutions and companies who create the models, Midjourney, Dall-E, Firefly are all closed source models and we are not privy to their training data let alone given the option to tailor it to our own needs. At the end of the day, your output will only be as interesting as your input, many creatives working with AI are not able to get past the default aesthetics of their chosen tool as they don’t explore enough to break free. Anyone who cares about the topic of new aesthetics or ethics should explore open source models, if you are interested in using Stable Diffusion and don’t know where to get started then have a look at Pinokio AI or Replicate.
How do you envision the progression of AI use in the creative sphere? Do you think AI art poses a risk to the careers of graphic designers and other employed creators?
How little or much these tools will affect our careers is fundamentally up to us as an industry and our employers. There are definitely employers out there who would opt for a fully automated content creation process at the expense of authenticity and output, but there are also many who understand the value that human beings bring - we should all aim to be collaborating and employed by the latter regardless of what the future holds.
Finally, you have worked with an impressive array of clients from Netflix to H&M, what would be your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration would be to work on a stage performance for my no.1 all-time-favorite idol Hatsune Miku.