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27. November 2020
Artist Interview

Artist Interview 2 - Bård Ionson

What are you passionate about?

My passion is communicating ideas in a sometimes obtuse way. I like that art can communicate an idea that is only perceived by those who are open to it. I enjoy putting many layers of meaning into some of my art. Sometimes they are paradoxical ideas. To juxtapose low and high art and the sacred and profane interests me.

I enjoy the flow state while I am creating something. The process of thinking and implementing that idea and then experimenting with new unique ways to tell the story. I also enjoy literature, poetry, philosophy and religious texts so story and myth heavily influences my pieces.

I have another hobby in writing fictional stories so I often use a continuing story to make art. Then I use the output of artificial intelligence models to inform the next chapter of the story. Sometimes I use machine learning text generators like GPT-2 to write some of it. You will see it in my series called The SAGE Anomaly. Of course it is a science fiction story about computers and artificial intelligence.

Why did you choose to create digital art?

I am a programmer and enjoy discovering new things about artificial intelligence. I really get into experimentation and play. Digital art is a natural extension of my work with computers.

Although some of my oscilloscope art might be considered analog art. Oscilloscopes work in an old pre digital sort of way using analog signals. The first computers created were analog devices.

How long does it take for you to create a new artwork?

It can take a few hours to a few years. I worked on a piece on elementum called Battledore for about two years constantly refining it. It is one of my first true artworks. I often remix outputs from old failed experiments. I have a hard drive full of failures and bad AI models. Sometimes I think of an idea to take the failures and mix them together to make something interesting. With this library of failed work, really it is just play. They are not really failures, just output from my play. So sometimes I can create something very quickly with all of these old files.

What are your favourite tools to work with?

My favorite tools are the ones that I have constructed. But some of them are difficult and time-consuming to use. They are typically devices that I am abusing their purpose. The main one you see in my work is the oscilloscope. I use a tool called OsciStudio mostly now.

By the way oscilloscopes were used as the first realtime output devices for computers in the 1950s. Even back then a few people used them to draw pictures as an art form. No matter the medium a human will find a way to make a picture. I think the concept of art is in every person.

Another tool is connecting two VCR or DVD players into one for glitch video art. A third tool is a broken scanner I removed the scan bar from, using it as a wand I move it over objects and faces. It has water damage so it automatically adds random glitches.

Recently my main tools are ones that are machine learning or generative. These include StyleGan, Pix2Pix, Runway, Google Colab where I use many open source code bases to mix different AI models together. I also generate my own images with an oscilloscope and train AI models with it.

Other tools I use to refine the pieces are AfterEffects, Photoshop, Blender. For input for the oscilloscope art I use Illustrator and Blender.

Can you walk us through the creation process behind one of your artworks?

Orange - This gets complicated but is indicative of my experimentation and play with technology. Orange originally started as about 7,000 images of crucifix I got from the internet. I used a GAN (generative adversarial network) which is a neural network to train an AI model. This can take from 4 hours to 8 hours. I can generate new random crucifixes from it. Using code the model is accessed to create an animation of moving through the images in the model. It creates a morphing animation.

Then I took this video and experimented with Pix2Pix next frame prediction. This machine learning AI code allows a computer to predict the next frames in a movie or animation. You train it with the entire animation and then it makes new animations based on what it learns. This process can run for 24 hours sometimes to get a good result. I take samples at intervals to see if there is anything interesting. It generates new animations every few hours. I ran it for 20 times about 20 hours but this piece Orange was generated on the third try.

Then I crop the work and enhance the contrast and color and enlarge it to a 4K size.

The work does not have any deep meaning. It is just a nice relaxing movement and contemplation of the color orange.

What shaped your path as an artist?

My path is largely influenced by the computer. I made digital art in 1984 but I was just playing with a computer. I programmed images on a TI/99 4a computer but back then there was not a market for it that I knew of. I have always enjoyed art at museums but never thought of myself as one.

I am influenced by Nam June Paik, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Cage, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jackson Pollock, Barbara Dixon, Salvador Dali, Jacques Ellul, Flannery O'Connor, Willa Cather, Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Reif Larsen, Bill Viola, Emily Dickenson and Zdzisław Beksiński

Then about eight years ago I experienced the work “Internet Dweller drjh.seven.hsdgpg” at a resort full of art. It is one of his works that is an installation piece of multiple televisions all playing a video he created on a custom unique video editing system. It was all based on using the new VCR technology.

This led me to study the work of Nam June Paik. His philosophy of art convinced me that I could be an artist. He was part of a movement called Fluxus that believed that anyone could make art. He also emphasized play. Art should be fun for the creator and the viewers. My best work is made when I am playing with it. He also espoused the idea of imperfection. Many of his works seem to still be in a process of construction. He often used the art is a performance sort of way.

Nam learned much from John Cage and often used randomness in his art. I have found some very surprising visualizations in using randomness as it is a central construct in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Is there someone you would like to thank for becoming the artist you are today?

Robbie Barrat and Jason Bailey and Margaret Atwood and Jennifer my partner for giving me encouragement and time to pursue art.

Why?

Robbie’s open source code Art-DCGAN and his artworks got me started with AI art. Jason Bailey’s blog introduced me to CryptoArt and selling art on the blockchain. The Handmaid’s Tale introduced me to a prayer machine called “Soul Scroll” which I made into an installation piece but I wanted to make it so people could buy a prayer electronically like in the book. This started my research into cryptocurrency.

Which digital artists do you collect, follow or like and why?

Robbie Barrat, Anne Spalter, Oficinas T K I enjoy the explorations of artificial intelligence art and compositions done by Robbie and Anne. I enjoy the work of Oficinas for its deep simplicity. He has reduced the visual language down to the minimum needed to communicate a story or idea.

What is the advantage of selling art online?

The main advantage if the art piece is purely digital is that there is no shipping involved. With the advent of cryptocurrency art markets there is also the added benefit of payment that is international and bankless. There is a blockchain system called Ethereum (think of it as a transaction ledger that can never be modified) that manages the transfer of money and sales of digital goods. It has revolutionized the sale and purchase of art. It allows digital art to have a unique key or code that will identify the history of collectors and the original artists. With this key and looking it up on the blockchain a collector can prove the work is owned by them.

With it automated contracts are created that allow a marketplace to set up rules that have been used to implement automatic royalties to artists when their work is resold.

What do you like about elementum?

The most important thing to me about elementum is the ability for the collector to display their art on televisions. It allows for 4K large format artwork to be displayed anywhere you have a screen. I also like that the work is issued onto a blockchain. This makes digital works verifiable and unique.

What will happen to your digital art in 20 years?

That is hard to say. It might end up forgotten or lost in a conversion of digital to quantum. Analog computer art and early digital computer art has been lost from the past because it was just considered play or experiments. It was just deleted. There are fragments of Nam June Paik’s works at Bell Labs that only have printouts on paper remaining. There is a chance that my art will be deleted and all that remains is a token address on a blockchain and a description of the art. Perhaps the token itself will have a large monetary value because of the lost art it represents. But if all goes well and my work is valued by many it will be copied and shared widely and implanted into many brains.

Find out more about Bård Ionson and start exploring his art on his elementum profile page.

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