Ai-Da: Artificial Life Imitating Art

By Caitlin Milne



After visiting an interactive installation art piece by Yoko Ono at the Blenheim Walk Gallery in Leeds Arts University, it led me to question whether female artists are undermined by an association to their male counterparts (in this case Ono’s notorious relationship with John Lennon). This led to multiple diversions about Yoko Ono’s art as a whole, whilst delving into research about her performance art, I was led from Ono to Marina Abramović’s (another female with associations to her lover and fellow artist, Ulay Laysiepen). I began to question the risk endured when performance art concerns interaction with the body of the artist, looking at ‘Cut Piece 1964’: involving Ono sitting in a suit with a pair of scissors in front of her, inviting the audience to cut a small piece of her clothing to keep, and ‘Rhythm 0 1974’: encompassing Abramović standing still for 6 hours inviting the audience to do whatever they wished to her using one of the 72 objects she had placed on a table, that included the likes of a rose and feather, items of food, to scissors and a gun loaded with a bullet. However, what I then stumbled across is arguably more frightening; the discovery that the world’s first AI Humanoid Robot Portrait ‘Artist’ is being created. Named after Ada Lovelace – the 19thCentury mathematician and pioneer of computer programming – Ai-Da, a RoboThespian is described as ‘the first ultra realistic drawing robot artist’ amongst a world where new technologies are advancing at an unprecedented pace, similar to the industrial revolution or printing press. Using a camera in the eye and algorithms, Ai-Da should be able to imitate the subject or object of art using pencil or ink, with later hopes to include paint, in her bionic hand. Not only does Ai-Da create art, but she is also deemed a performance artist, and this is where the link to Ono comes in; she will pay homage to ‘Cut Piece’ by oppositely allowing people to put clothes on her until she can no longer be seen, to signify our close relationship between humanity and technology and to make us question the use and ethics of AI today. Aidan Meller, a Gallery Director and Art Dealer is the legacy behind Ai-Da, noting that he has always been involved in the art world, but never involved in the creation of art. He has funded the project with his own money, and by pre-selling art created by Ai-Da. As I read that there has already been over one million pounds worth of art sold already, it makes me question the ethics of such a project and how it undermines human artists today. Especially in a competitive economic climate where the struggle for recognition is ripe, and artists struggle to be paid for their work. Not only this, but the gender dynamics behind her creation; men digitally constructing a woman. Meller has stated that her favourite artist would be Ono because of her acclaimed ‘feminist angle’, but a male dictating this choice is unsettling. Dazed magazine rightly argues: ‘In an art world where women artists are still the minority in major institutions globally, could male-constructed female humanoids damage the progression of female artists?’ Can Ai-Da really be an artist in her own right?


Ai-Da’s inaugural exhibition “Unsecured Futures” showcasing her drawings and performance art launces on the 9thMay – 31stMay 2019 at Lady Margaret Hall and St John’s College, University of Oxford and the eponymously titled Aidan Meller Gallery, Turl St, Oxford.

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