𝐖e, 𝐓h𝐞 𝐂r𝐞a𝐭o𝐫
Human-machine collaboration feat. Sougwen Chung
Creativity is never a zero-sum game.
Inspiration can be vague; craft and editing get messy, authorship becomes blurry.
The sources of our energy and work are rarely us alone. Even the most ego-driven creator knows how to thank.
But we tend to draw a line when it comes to the contribution of AI. We might think – its talents are stolen; mere photocopies of the human-created work it was trained on. Or, it’s an algorithmic dictionary, assembling patterns in a way that lacks the spark of true creativity.
But what if we saw it differently?
Sougwen Chung is one of the most fascinating fine artists experimenting with AI and robotics.
What began as simple trials with robotic arms a decade ago – trying to copy the movements of her drawing hand – have led to deeper and more profound realisations about the nature of mutual exchange.
“I hacked together the system where the robot would match my gestures and follow in real time… While in the simulation that happened onscreen it was pixel-perfect, in physical reality, it was a different story. It would slip and slide and punctuate and falter, and I would be forced to respond. Ther was nothing pristine about it. And yet, somehow, the mistakes made the work more interesting. The machine was interpreting my line but not perfectly. And I was forced to respond. We were adapting to each other in real time.”
We can see machines as tools, but it’s so much more interesting to see them as flawed collaborators. Co-creators who have skills and weaknesses, who even when doing their best to replicate the outcome we want, create mistakes that are avenues for more interesting work.
I encourage artists and practitioners to think of AI systems as creative catalysts; permeable and fallible, and rife for interrogation and reinvention, she says.
Where humans might need training and encouragement, nurturing, machines require an innate understanding of their processes and biases, and how they see the world differently to us.
Unseating yourself as the core contributor, the auteur – especially in a context where so much inherent to the technology is not defined by you directly – requires a suspension of ego and a redefinition of the idea of authorship.
Chung’s own machines are trained on 20 years of her own artistic work, a repository of living memory. But so much of the work they produce together is improvised and raw; a collision of human impulse and algorithmic response.
It was through the collaboration with her technology creation D.O.U.G. that Chung reinvented her drawing practice, from a solitary studio activity to durational live performances. Painting events that make the creative process itself a central tenet of appreciating the work. And inputs that are more than simple coded inputs, but a direct and felt responsiveness built on the physicality of body and movement.
Over time, Chung’s experiments have become grander and more sophisticated. The code is richer, the staging more elaborate. Omnia Per Omnia reimagined landscape painting in collaboration with a swarm of small mobile robots. Mutations of Presence used full-body scanning of her movement to input her robot partner with every dimension of her performance. Others still use projection, theatrical effects, and augmented reality.
But at the core is an agreement of mutual exchange.
The impulse to share the work.
That creation doesn’t belong to any of us, but all of us.
Chung is fascinating; one of my favourites so far.
Chung’s Ted Talk is a short and worthwhile watch.
I also enjoyed these interviews.