Using the camera located in her eyes. Ai-Da digitally draws her work by observing the world around her and plotting out coordinates. In her most recent series, she has turned this gaze back on herself, in a process time-honoured by artists: the portrait. Is a computer really capable of this kind of introspection? Meller wants to provoke debate about the potential of AI in the art world, asking if you can make a self-portrait without a self?
Ai-Da’s algorithm is carefully designed to not be perfectly realistic, rather developing a signature style for the artist, using expressionistic lines to create a fractured style. The kaleidoscopic forms are then hand-painted over by an artist, while Ai-Da adds final touches with mark-making. The neon and pastel-coloured, slightly off-centre images have a glitch-like aesthetic. They are reminiscent of feminist artworks that use computer imperfections to question the boundaries we place around our bodies, dividing humans and machines, males and females.
Ai-Da has been subject to her fair share of sexual objectification, being referred to in The Times as “Brigitte Bardot in a brunette wig”. ArtNET has questioned Ai-Da’s ‘attractive’ appearance, accusing her creators of deliberately producing a “sexy fembot” earlier this year. The shattered self-portraits are slightly reticent, denying the viewer total access to her image as they stare into the fragmented forms. Could they be a critical glance at modern femininity and self-hood, an effort to deny the masculine gaze by breaking up the feminine form? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Ai-Da is not capable of this level of self-awareness yet; she simply sees the world and reproduces it.
Ai-Da’s portraits have proved polarising, with The Telegraph referring to them as ‘formulaic” and lacking expression. The spontaneity and authentic emotion that we associate with art, arguably cannot be recreated with an algorithm and this could leave viewers underwhelmed.
However, whether the opinion is positive or negative, if people are discussing the implications of asking a computer to digitally produce portraits, this is intentional. Her creators tell TIME magazine that the point of Ai-Da’s display is to question the ‘uses and abuses’ of machine learning. In our current culture of image obsession, with selfie-cams, photo retouches, AI fakes and cosmetic enhancements becoming increasingly prevalent, we are asked to contemplate the potential and the risks of living through our online personas.