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"Please stop me," says AI art generator founder

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We’ve seen no shortage of criticism, concern and even outright terror around the recent advances in AI technology. From AI art generators turning out terrifying realistic images to chatbots that go off the rails, AI is suddenly everywhere, and its presence is being keenly felt in the creative sector.

But while clothing companies face a backlash for using AI models and artists sue AI companies for using their work as training data, the last person we might expect to raise concerns is the founder of an AI company. And yet Kevin Baragona, CEO of DeepAI, has signed the recent open letter calling for a pause in AI development. He told Creative Bloq why he can’t sleep at night (see our guide to how to use DALL-E 2 for more on text-to-image tech).

The AI company CEO who’s afraid of AI

DeepAI AI image generator

Kevin Baragona of DeepAI (Image credit: DeepAI)

“Someone should stop the AI industry,” Baragona says during our interview, which is a surprising comment from the founder of a company in the field. He launched DeepAI (opens in new tab) back in 2016, initially as an AI news portal. It now has its own text-to-image AI art generator and a bunch of AI chatbots that can respond to questions in different styles, from that of a ‘drunk friend’ to a ‘motivational coach’.

Baragona also joined the likes of Elon Musk in signing the recent letter that urged a pause in AI development. Asked whether this is not a little contradictory, he exclaims that DeepAI is “my only livelihood”, but that he now thinks AI is developing too fast and will become “smarter than us”.

“I wasn’t worried about AI at all until a year ago when we started seeing exponential progress,” he says. “Now I think AI is pretty scary. This is what keeps me up at night. What are we building here? Why do we need this stuff? It’s really fun, it’s cool, people love it. but it’s almost too good, it’s too disruptive.”

Why AI art?

“We’re going to have a lot more creativity in the world.”

Kevin Baragona, CEO of DeepAI

Despite his concerns, Baragona still believes that generative AI, with the right controls, has benefits for human creativity, noting that it was AI art that made him want to enter the field. Describing it as “a cool technology that’s fun to play with”, he says kids love it and that the tech makes it cheaper to be creative.

“In the same way that Google made information really really cheap, AI makes creativity really, really cheap,” he reasons. His thesis is that if the cost of creativity goes down to zero, “we’re going to have a lot more creativity in the world: visually, audio, text, inventions, science, all of it.”

DeepAI AI image generator

DeepAI’s AI image generator (Image credit: DeepAI)

For now, DeepAI’s image generator is nowhere near as powerful as models run by DALL-E 2 (opens in new tab), Midjourney (opens in new tab) or Stable Diffusion (opens in new tab). It’s a freemium tool that focuses on simplicity and ease of use. Users can produce images in fixed styles, which limits the effectiveness of any style references provided in text prompts. It doesn’t seem to strictly obey instructions, and images lack the photorealism achieved by more recent models. But Baragona says this is the number one request from users and that DeepAI will “probably increase the photorealism gradually over time.”

“One thing that concerns me is that you won’t be able to tell what’s real or what’s fake on the internet anymore. At this point, I’m not really sure how we’re going to deal with that. Not just as a company, but as a world. It’s really troubling to be honest.”

DeepAI AI image generator

DeepAI’s ‘AI Drunk Friend’ chatbot asked if AI will destroy humanity (Image credit: DeepAI)

As for how its model was trained, he’s a little cagey there too. He recognises that a lot of AI image generators were “trained on sort of stolen data,” which he says is “not good”. DeepAI’s model, he says, “used open-source data sets to fine-tune our own special models”. However, it also hosts Stable Diffusion, although Baragona says insists that it’s incapable of reproducing artists’ work verbatim because it produces “fuzzier” images than the original source material.

How artists are using the AI image generator

Baragona says the interest in AI art came Initially more from tech people than artists, but says artists have now become more interested, seeing it as “another tool in the artist’s toolbox.”

But how are artists using this tool? “One thing we see a lot of is artists inspiring their own art. Sometimes they get artist’s block and just don’t know what to create. So let’s say you come up with 30 ideas really quickly with the AI and then use that as the starting point to make something better […] We’re happy to help them overcome their creative block.”

The call for a pause in AI development seems to have fallen on deaf ears so far, and the controversy around AI art is likely to continue. See our pick of the weirdest AI art for examples of the kinds of things that people are creating.

 

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Ehiko: The Multidisciplinary Artist Shaping Decolonization Through Art

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Ehiko, a multidisciplinary artist born in Lagos, Nigeria, now calls Toronto, Ontario, her home. An OCAD University graduate, she has gained recognition for her powerful and evocative works that delve into the complexities of decolonization, health and wellness, spirituality, sexual violence, and the representation of melanated hair.

Ehiko’s artistic journey began in the vibrant city of Lagos, where the rich cultural heritage and traditional artistry influenced her deeply. This foundation blossomed in Toronto, where she continued to experiment and manipulate raw canvas due to its flexibility. Her expressive palette and the use of various textiles pay homage to traditional Nigerian craftsmanship, creating a unique blend of contemporary and ancestral art forms.

Her works are not just visually striking but also laden with profound messages. Ehiko’s exploration of decolonization is evident in her large-scale multi-medium paintings, performances, drawings, and installations. Each piece she creates is a testament to her commitment to unravelling spirituality linked to traditional Afrakan masks, presenting a dialogue between the past and present.

One of the central themes in Ehiko’s work is health and wellness, particularly within the context of the Black community. She addresses the often-overlooked aspects of mental health and the importance of wellness practices rooted in African traditions. Through her art, Ehiko encourages a reconnection with these practices, promoting healing and resilience.

Sexual violence is another critical subject Ehiko tackles with sensitivity and boldness. Her works often depict the pain and trauma associated with such experiences while also highlighting the strength and resilience of survivors. By bringing these issues to the forefront, she fosters conversations that are essential for societal change and healing.

The representation of melanated hair in Ehiko’s art is a celebration of Black identity and beauty. Her pieces challenge societal norms and stereotypes, presenting Black hair in its diverse and natural forms. This representation is not only about aesthetics but also about reclaiming cultural identity and pride.

Ehiko’s exhibitions in Lagos and Toronto have garnered significant attention, and her private collection of purchased work is available upon request. Her contributions to the art world extend beyond her creations; she is also an advocate for using art as a tool for social change and empowerment.

In every piece, Ehiko weaves her experiences, heritage, and vision, creating a tapestry that speaks to the heart and mind. Her work is a powerful reminder of the role of art in decolonization and healing, and her journey continues to inspire and influence the global art community.

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Home + Away artwork opens in Vancouver’s Hastings Park

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A new art installation now towers over Vancouver’s Hastings Park fields in celebration of the city’s history of spectators and sports.

Home + Away is a sculpture by Seattle artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio, which opened Monday in the southeast end of the historic park.

It’s a 17-metre-tall structure that resembles a narrow set of bleachers — similar to the stands of the Empire Stadium, which stood on the site of the park from 1954 to 1993 and hosted The Beatles, among many others. It recalls a covered ski jump that stood there in the 1950s and the nearby wooden rollercoaster at the PNE.

The city says the public is invited to walk the stairs and sit on the benches.

“In addition to being visually striking, this artwork is intended to be ascended, sat on and experienced. It offers exciting experiences of height and views and provides 16 rows of seating for up to 49 people, making for a unique spectator experience when watching events at Empire Fields,” the city said in a release Monday.

The idea for the park to include public art was outlined in the Hastings Park “Master Plan,” first adopted by the city in 2010. The city says Han and Mihalyo first presented their design in 2015.

“It’s wonderful to see this piece realized within the context of such a well-used public space,” said Han.

Home + Away was inspired directly by the site history of spectatorship, and we hope it will connect Hastings Park users to that history and the majestic views of the environment for many decades to come,” added Mihalyo.

The artwork features a large light-up sign, in the style of a sports scoreboard, that reads “HOME” and “AWAY.”

 

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Bill Viola, Video Artist Who Established the Medium as an Integral Part of Contemporary Art, Dies at 73

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Bill Viola, whose decades-long engagement with video proved vital in establishing the medium as an integral part of contemporary art, died on July 12 at his home in Long Beach, California. He was at 73 years old. The cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. The news of his passing was confirmed by James Cohan Gallery.

Viola’s works are centered around the idea of human consciousness and such fundamental experiences as birth, death, and spirituality. He delved into mystical traditions from Zen Buddhism to Islamic Sufism, as well as Western devotional art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his videos, which often juxtaposed themes of life and death, light and dark, noise and silence. These explorations were achieved by submerging viewers in both image and sound with cutting-edge technologies for their time.

“I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects,” Viola said in a 2015 interview. “Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Viola created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast—all of which expanded the scope of the medium and established Viola as one of its most notable practitioner.

Video still of a man diving into water that has been reversed. The image is mostly black and teal.

In 2003 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Tate, London; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris jointly acquired Bill Viola’s 2001 three-channel video installation Five Angels for the Millennium.

Photo Kira Perov/©Bill Viola Studio

Bill Viola was born in 1951. He grew up in Queens and Westbury, New York, and attended P.S. 20 in Flushing, before receiving his BFA in experimental studios from Syracuse University in 1973. There, he studied with visual art with the likes of Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

Following his graduation, between 1973 to 1980, Viola studied and performed with composer David Tudor in the music group Rainforest, which later became known as Composers Inside Electronics. He also worked as technical director at the pioneering video studio Art/tapes/22 in Florence, Italy from 1974 to 1976. During that time he encountered the work of other seminal video artists like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci.

Viola was subsequently an artist-in-residence at New York’s WNET Thirteen Television Laboratory between 1976 to 1983, wherein he created a series of works that premiered on television. He traveled to the Solomon Islands, Java, and Indonesia to record traditional performing arts between 1976 and 1977. Later that year, Viola was invited to show work at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, with whom he married and began a lifelong collaboration.

He was appointed an instructor in advanced video at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1983. He was the Getty Research Institute scholar-in-residence in Los Angeles in 1998 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

In 1985, Viola received with a Guggenheim Fellowship for fine arts, and later that decade, in 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His work was also featured in some of the world’s most notable exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977, Documenta XI in 1992, the 1987 and 1993 editions of the Whitney Biennial, and the 2001 Venice Biennale.

In 1995, he represented the United States at the 46th edition of the Venice Biennale. For the pavilion, Viola produced the series of works “Buried Secrets,” including one of his most known works The Greeting, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Pontormo’s oil painting The Visitation (ca.1528–30). The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and New York’s Guggenheim Museum commissioned the digital fresco cycle in high-definition video, titled Going Forth By Day, in 2002.

Viola’s work was the subject of a major 25-year survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, which subsequently toured internationally. His work has been the subject of major museum retrospectives in the years since, including at the Grand Palais in Paris (in 2014), the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (2017), and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (2019), as well as an exhibition pairing his work with that of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2019.

Viola is survived by his wife Kira Perov, who has been the executive director of his studio since 1978, and their two children.

“One thing that’s very exciting about video that has turned me on since I first saw this glowing image way back in 1970 is that it can be so much,” Viola said in a 1995 with Charlie Rose on the occasion of this US Pavilion at the Biennale. “Furthermore, what’s really exciting is I don’t think it’s been since really the Renaissance where artists have been able to use a medium that one could say is the dominant communication form in society.”

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