Vibrant butterfly

Another great find from the Futility Closet — an incredible book, hiding within an ordinary one.

Subtext
To create his 1970 novel A Humument, British artist Tom Phillips began with W.H. Mallock’s forgotten 1892 novel A Human Document and drew, painted, and collaged over the pages, leaving a few words showing to tell a new, hitherto unrevealed story. For instance, the title arises from Phillips’ deletion of two central syllables in Mallock’s title, and the protagonist, Bill Toge, can appear only when the word “together” or “altogether” arises in Mallock’s original text.

The article points us to this amazing gallery of pages from the book. All I knew of Tom Phillips before reading this was that he collaborated with Peter Greenaway on A TV Dante, but you can certainly see some of that shared aesthetic here.

vibrant-butterfly-2

We’re also pointed to this review from the London Review of Books, for a more in-depth look at the ‘author’ and his ‘book’.

Double Act: Adam Smyth reviews ‘A Humument’ by Tom Phillips
He treats each page of Mallock’s novel in this way, effacing most of the text, generally by painting, occasionally by cutting, slicing, or even in one instance burning the page, to leave an alternative narrative. Phillips’s revealed story was in one sense always there in Mallock, just lost amid the torrent of other text. This is authorship as pruning, a process of erasure or cutting away that finds in the buttoned-up A Human Document a teeming world of humour, sex, sadness and art that would have baffled and shocked the conservative Mallock.

[…]

Phillips is a lover of games and chance and rules. With Brian Eno – his pupil at Ipswich Art School in the early 1960s – he invented ‘sound tennis’, striking a ball against five pianos with their workings exposed, and scoring according to the sounds produced. In A Humument, Phillips deploys what he calls ‘invited accident’: in the 1987 edition, coin tosses dictated which words should be struck out on page 99 of Mallock, until there were only two left standing: ‘something already’.

[…]

The reeling comic voice that Phillips finds buried inside Mallock – ‘on the philosophy mattress to-night My sister is going to attempt to join the morning after and Aristotle’s Ethics’ – frequently recalls other masters of strange, urgent sentences: Monty Python; Samuel Beckett; Chris Morris in Blue Jam; and perhaps most vividly of all, Vivian Stanshall in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. In fact, A Humument is a novel of quotation: not only in the sense that all of its words were written first by Mallock (although not, as Eric Morecambe said of the notes in his piano playing, necessarily in the right order); but also because Phillips pieces together Mallock’s words to produce other writers’ lines. So there is Donne and Shakespeare, but also lines from books that in 1892 had not yet been written. Versions of E.M. Forster’s ‘only connect’ (Howards End, 1910) pop up throughout: ‘merely connect’; ‘closely connect’; ‘oddly connect’; ‘My little muse was connect connect.’ Molly Bloom’s closing words in Ulysses (1922) fill A Humument’s penultimate page (‘And I said yes – yes, I will yes’); and Ezra Pound’s Make It New (1935) is in there too. Beckett is a constant near presence, including a version of the most famous lines from Worstward Ho (1983): ‘as years went on, you began to fail better.’ The temporality of the quotation is complex: Mallock (1892) is being made to quote Beckett (1983) by Phillips (in a 2012 edition of a book he began in 1966).

OK I’m getting dizzy now.

Can we call what Phillips is doing ‘writing’, or would some other term be better? What version of authorship or creativity is at work here? A Humument is a reminder that books are inevitably intertextual – they grow out of older texts – and that all writing involves selecting words from a finite pool: what appears to be a constraint, having to work within the walls of an existing novel, in fact dramatises a condition of literature.

Art and AI #2

More about computer science’s latest foray into the art world.

The first piece of AI-generated art to come to auction
As part of the ongoing dialogue over AI and art, Christie’s will become the first auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm.

art-and-ai-2-2

The portrait in its gilt frame depicts a portly gentleman, possibly French and — to judge by his dark frockcoat and plain white collar — a man of the church. The work appears unfinished: the facial features are somewhat indistinct and there are blank areas of canvas. Oddly, the whole composition is displaced slightly to the north-west. A label on the wall states that the sitter is a man named Edmond Belamy, but the giveaway clue as to the origins of the work is the artist’s signature at the bottom right. In cursive Gallic script it reads:

art-and-ai-2-3

This portrait, however, is not the product of a human mind. It was created by an artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by that algebraic formula with its many parentheses.

It’s certainly a very interesting image — it reminds me a little of Francis Bacon’s popes — but the pedant in me would rather they stick with “created by an algorithm”, rather than generated by an artificial intelligence. We’re not there yet. It was the “product of a human mind”, albeit indirectly. Take that signature, for example. I refuse to believe that this artificial intelligence decided for itself to sign its work that way. Declaring the AI to be the artist, as opposed to the medium, is like saying Excel is the artist in this case:

Tatsuo Horiuchi, the 73-year old Excel spreadsheet artist
“I never used Excel at work but I saw other people making pretty graphs and thought, ‘I could probably draw with that,’” says 73-year old Tatsuo Horiuchi. About 13 years ago, shortly before retiring, Horiuchi decide he needed a new challenge in his life. So he bought a computer and began experimenting with Excel. “Graphics software is expensive but Excel comes pre-installed in most computers,” explained Horiuchi. “And it has more functions and is easier to use than [Microsoft] Paint.”

Those are amazing paintings, by the way. Colossal has more, as well as a link to an interview with Tatsuo. But anyway, here’s some more AI art.

This AI is bad at drawing but will try anyways
This bird is less, um, recognizable. When the GAN has to draw *anything* I ask for, there’s just too much to keep track of – the problem’s too broad, and the algorithm spreads itself too thin. It doesn’t just have trouble with birds. A GAN that’s been trained just on celebrity faces will tend to produce photorealistic portraits. But this one, however…

art-and-ai-2-4

In fact, it does a horrifying job with humans because it can never quite seem to get the number of orifices correct.

But it seems the human artists can still surprise us, so all’s well.

Holed up: man falls into art installation of 8ft hole painted black
If there were any doubt at all that Anish Kapoor’s work Descent into Limbo is a big hole with a 2.5-metre drop, and not a black circle painted on the floor, then it has been settled. An unnamed Italian man has discovered to his cost that the work is definitely a hole after apparently falling in it.

Nigel Farage’s £25,000 portrait failed to attract a single bid at prestigious art show
The former Ukip leader has been a dealt a blow after the work, by painter David Griffiths, raised no interest at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition in London.

Back to school

If you work in schools I’m sure it feels like September comes round quicker every year. We were just starting to finally relax and unwind and before you know it we’re back, reading things like this.

Dozens of secondary schools exclude at least 20% of pupils
A spokesman for the trust said it had taken over “some of the toughest schools in England” and repeatedly turned around their performance. He said that in many cases, the schools it had taken over had previously been excluding high numbers of children informally, meaning the increase in the number of official exclusions was misleading.

The Guardian view on education: some things money should not buy
These figures point up a general hollowing out of trust in the state system, which the introduction of competition both reflected and greatly exacerbated. Catchment areas operate as a kind of pre-exclusion mechanism, which keeps poorer children out of good schools just as surely as later exclusions can expel them. In all this, both schools and parents are responding to the logic, and the incentives, of a system predicated on competition as a zero-sum game. We are all poorer as a result.

But cheer up, we’re not the only ones feeling this way. Some of the great artists have identified the same issues.

An art history of back to school
Ever since I published ‘An art history of school inspections’ a few years ago, studying the way that art has portrayed schools has been somewhat of a hobby of mine. In this post, I’ll take you through the ways that artists throughout time have interpreted that key moment in a teacher’s year: going back to school.

back-to-school-2

The first day back has finally arrived in Benjamin West’s ‘These Are the New Guys’ (1776), which depicts the moment when the school’s new staff members are introduced in the first staff meeting, and the entire faculty stare back at them. The new staff members hang their heads and blush as every current member of staff looks at them, some with a sense of envy at their youth, and some with a sense of pity at what these new guys have let themselves in for.

So how do you combat the end of holiday blues and keep that vibe of novelty and freedom going? Suggestions here include joining a club, starting a new hobby, changing your commute. I liked number 7.

Sad summer’s over? 18 ways to keep the health, humour and happiness of your holiday alive
7 Buy a carafe. No, seriously. The best €3 I ever spent went on a little glass carafe that says “quarto litro” at its neck, just like the ones in which the cheapest wine is served in my favourite holiday trattoria. Back home, it encourages restraint on the wine front, while adding ceremony.

back-to-school-3

Wet paint

Bringing Baroque painting into the twenty first century — but without the paint.

Baroque underwater photography by Christy Lee Rogers
Photographer Christy Lee Rogers produces luminous scenes of swirling figures swathed in colorful fabrics. She creates a painterly quality in her large-scale images not by using wet pigments, but rather by completely submerging her subjects in illuminated water and photographing them at night.

wet-paint-2

Some incredible imagery. This video gives you an idea of her process, and what her models have to go through.

Muses Underwater by Christy Lee Rogers

It reminded me of David Bickley’s Swim piece, though that’s more Impressionism than Baroque.

Brainy music

Music can affect us in different ways, but here are two I hadn’t considered before.

First, an article about Brain.fm and how it’s using AI to create music (or is it just sound?) designed to help you focus.

The science behind the ‘beats to study to’ craze
According to Woods, good focus music has no vocals, no strong melodies, ‘dark’ spectrum, dense texture, minimal salient events, heavy spatialization, a steady pulse, sub-30-200Hz modulation and above 10-20Hz modulation.

This is compared to an example of a more traditional approach to music that can help you work — the “lofi hip hop radio” playlist from YouTuber ChilledCow, described as “the type of tune you’d put on at a backyard barbecue: mellow beats with an analog flair.” When discussing Brain.fm, its ‘composer’ admits that:

All of his parameters for good focus music are understandably clinical. “These acoustic features I’ve been talking about, they’re things about sound, not things about music,” he admitted. “The world that musicians live in has key signatures, time signatures, major and minor keys. I haven’t been talking about that at all, but what this ‘lo-fi’ [channel] shows is those things can be enormously important.”

I think I know which I prefer, but it’s an interesting project nonetheless.

And for a completely different take on how music affects the brain, take a look at the artwork of Melissa McCracken. She has synesthesia and paints what she sees when she listens to music.

The artist who paints music
Basically, my brain is cross-wired. I experience the “wrong” sensation to certain stimuli. Each letter and number is colored and the days of the year circle around my body as if they had a set point in space. But the most wonderful “brain malfunction” of all is seeing the music I hear. It flows in a mixture of hues, textures, and movements, shifting as if it were a vital and intentional element of each song.

brainy-music-2

It’s all absolutely gorgeous, and the video Kottke links to really gets across her passion and talent.

The Artist Who Paints What She Hears

Monsters within

Studying the Middle Ages through its monsters
Artefacts such as illuminated manuscripts and tapestries are adorned with unicorns, dragons, antelopes with forked tails, blemmyes—humanoids with no heads, their faces instead on their chests—and more. These images inspire awe and a keen respect for medieval artists’ use of colour, but it is the undertones of racial and gendered prejudice that make the exhibition more than a spooky show and tell.

#artworldproblems

I would say staff at this museum dedicated to the Fauvist artist Étienne Terrus need to look into hiring a few skips, as they’ve got a lot of rubbish to get rid of.

‘Catastrophe’: French museum discovers half of its collection are fakes
Eric Forcada, the art historian who uncovered the counterfeits, said that he had seen straight away that most of the works were fake. 
“On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.”

Meanwhile, from works of art that shouldn’t be in galleries, to those which were but are no longer.

Bad week for art world as Jeff Koons piece is smashed and imitation Happy Meal thrown away
May evidently did too much of a good job, as a cleaning crew working at the Marco Polo HongKong Hotel which hosted the Harbour Art Fair, mistook it for the real thing and threw it away. “A lot of my pieces involve very small alterations to familiar items: changes that aren’t maybe obvious at first glance,” the artist explains, adding that “initially, I didn’t find it funny at all. But later I realised it meant my imitation had been a success.”

art-world-problems-2

Everything, all at once

Repeat viewing is obligatory with these videos.

1.000.000 Frames / Candice Drouet
“It’s funny how much memory, hidden, is instantly conjured up with just a few familiar flashes. I’ve been rebooted. Amazing piece.” “You’ve watched a lot of great films. Thanks for putting this together.” “You certainly deserve lots of credit for all the work you have put into your outstanding production.”

Classical Gas – 3000 Years of Art
CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

A jaunt through five millennia of art history in just one minute
This meticulously animated short by the Chinese new-media artist and educator Cao Shu traverses some five millennia of art in a single minute. As flickering images move chronologically, in flipbook fashion, through a parade of styles and artistic movements – from Ancient Egypt, to the Impressionist era, to the 20th century avant-garde – a gender-shifting character makes a series of simple movements, seemingly ambling through the history of art.

Art and AI

Subtitled ‘What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art’, this is a fascinating read on current thinking about art and AI. The author, Hideki Nakazawa, one of the curators of the Artificial Intelligence Art and Aesthetics exhibition in Japan, thinks that, whilst we’re not there yet, we’re not too far away.

Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt
True AI fine art will be both painfully boring and highly stimulating, and that will be represent progress. Beauty, after all, cannot be quantified, and the very act of questioning the definition of aesthetics moves all art forward—something we’ve seen over and over again in the history of human-made art. The realization of AI will bring new dimensions to these questions. It will also be a triumph of materialism, further eroding the specialness of the human species and unveiling a world that has neither mystery nor God in which humans are merely machines made of inanimate materials. If we are right, it will also bring a new generation of artists, and with them, new Eiffel towers beyond our wildest imagination.

The pieces within that exhibition are grouped into four categories: human-made art with human aesthetics, human-made art with machine aesthetics, machine-made art with human aesthetics, and finally machine-made art with machine aesthetics. It’s that last category we’re interested in, but frustratingly it contained “no machine-made art, because none exists that also reflects machine aesthetics. The category was a useful placeholder—and, as we’ll learn, it was not entirely empty.”

What a great way to clarify where all these artworks, projects and systems sit. All too often we find AI and other computer systems merely mimicking the creation of art: the final product may look like art, but without the autonomous intention — without the AI wanting to create for its own sake — the AI is just a tool of the artist-behind-the-curtain, the programmer. For example:

‘Way to Artist’, intelligent robots and a human artist sketch the same image alongside each other
In the very thought-inspiring short film “Way to Artist” by TeamVOID, an artificially intelligent robotic arm and a human artist sit alongside one another to sketch the same image at the same time although with different skills. Without a word spoken, film loudly questions the role that artificial intelligence has within the creative process by putting the robots to the test.

More interestingly, here’s a wonderful piece that would have been placed in the second group of Nakazawa’s exhibition, human-made art with machine aesthetics.

Sarah Meyohas combines virtual reality, 10,000 roses and artificial intelligence in Cloud of Petals
Lastly, visitors can engage with a VR component, an element that replicates Sarah’s initial dream of the petals. There are six different screens and headsets – in a room filled with a customised rose scent – which are all gaze-activated to manipulate the AI generated petals. For example, in one headset petals explode into pixels as soon as you set your eyes on them.

And perhaps category three for these, machine-made art with human aesthetics?

A ‘neurographer’ puts the art in artificial intelligence
Claude Monet used brushes, Jackson Pollock liked a trowel, and Cartier-Bresson toted a Leica. Mario Klingemann makes art using artificial neural networks.

Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep
“Google sets up feedback loop in its image recognition neural network – which looks for patterns in pictures – creating hallucinatory images of animals, buildings and landscapes which veer from beautiful to terrifying.”

Don’t know where to place this one, however — art as a symptom of an AI’s mental ill health?

This artificial intelligence is designed to be mentally unstable
“At one end, we see all the characteristic symptoms of mental illness, hallucinations, attention deficit and mania,” Thaler says. “At the other, we have reduced cognitive flow and depression.” This process is illustrated by DABUS’s artistic output, which combines and mutates images in a progressively more surreal stream of consciousness.

Emoji-nation

Emoji-nation by Nastya Nudnik
It became quite common to express our feelings with little Emoji’s, telling if we’re happy, sad, bored or hungry. Playing with this truth, Ukrainian artist Nastya Nudnik created the series ‘Emoji-nation’, putting computer elements which represent the modern life and historical fine arts in correlation.