• Fri. Sep 17th, 2021

mccoy.ventures

All content has been processed with publicly available content spinners. Not for human consumption.

Is a self-portrait a self-portrait if the portraitist has no self?

New Scientist Default Image

Josie Ford

No selfie

As a philistine, Feedback is unsure whether AI art is a good or a bad thing, or better or worse than the alternative. All we can say is that it is a Thing, and one that some people are increasingly willing to pay good money for. And also bitcoin.

One possible disadvantage of algorithmic art – or advantage, if you are one of those tiresomely logical types who finds the descriptions in exhibition catalogues to be largely mystifying agglomerations of words – is the inability to glean from the artists themselves what their intentions were in creating the piece.

Step forward Ai-Da, the android artist whose self-portraits are currently featuring in an exhibition at the Design Museum in London, and who is now artist-in-residence at the Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, south-west England.

Advertisement

In interviews with the BBC and The Guardian, Ai-Da’s answers might be regarded as formulaic – they are an artist because they “like to be creative”, apparently – but at least they reveal a robust attitude to the agonies of the creative process. How long does a self-portrait take? “Between 45 minutes and one hour 15,” says Ai-Da.

What the meaning of a self-portrait is when the portraitist has no self is a question apparently no one has yet put to Ai-Da. The time to get really unnerved is when an AI comes up with a better answer to that than a human can.

Renaissance values

Moving to art in a different space and time, Renee Colwell writes from New York City with “a novel unit of measure for the true Renaissance man”, as she describes it.

Discussing the resting place of Queen Nefertari, first of the great royal wives of Ramses the Great (the Ancient Egyptians did titles as well as pyramids), in the Valley of the Queens near Luxor, an episode of the TV series Unearthed sped through a cultural wormhole to emerge at the pronouncement “her tomb is covered with over 5000 square feet of paintings and spells, equivalent to over 1000 Mona Lisas in area”.

Feedback likes this style, not least because it gives us a handle on another fun fact for free: the size of the Mona Lisa. As anyone who has battled the crowds in the Louvre (the one in Paris, best-beloved subeditors) can testify, this comes out as “smaller than you think”.

In fact, it is smaller even than you would think given that comparison. The Mona Lisa measures 21 by 30 inches according to our best information, so that second “over” is doing quite a bit of overtime by our calculation. Exactly how much we leave as an exercise in pre-revolutionary units for the reader.

Is it a… ?

Reports are coming in that the city of Harbin in China is testing a new autonomous train that doesn’t need traditional tracks, but runs on roads on a “virtual track”. Having viewed the video many times, Feedback comes to the conclusion that this is neither a train nor, given the lack of tracks, a tram – much though it superficially resembles one.

No, what we have here is a bus. A very long bus, to be sure – it resembles a still-further-extended version of the articulated sort that, when briefly introduced onto London’s roads, were famed for getting stuck going round corners – but a bus nonetheless.

Whether autonomous control makes its driving any less erratic we assume only testing will tell. The video shows some impressive lane wiggling. But judging by a brief but clear escapade up the wrong side of a multi-lane highway shown in another video, the answer to that is a no, too.

Bleak, very bleak

We are grateful, for some value of grateful, to Michael Zehse for drawing our attention to the music of Nænøĉÿbbœrğ VbëřřћōlöKäävsŧ. We discover, as the extensive use of röck döts was perhaps inviting us to conclude, that this is “an extremely underground band that plays a dank, bleak, light-void music commonly referred to as either ‘ambient cosmic extreme funeral drone doom metal’ or ‘post-noise’.”

Having begun listening to one track, 10^100 Gs of Artificial Gravity, from their album The Ultimate Fate of the Universe, we can’t confirm the accuracy of the first description, but the second seems pretty fair.

The “windy, staticy” tone was achieved by the two band members, researchers who describe themselves as having met while studying carnivorous Antarctic predators, loading a bass, an amp and a laptop onto a dog sled to sample at the precise geographic South Pole during a long winter. Whatever we think of the outcome, this is true dedication to art. Rëspëkt.

Birdbrained 2

Many of you write in bafflement at our recent story mentioning the intention of councillors in the town of Hungerford in southern England to transport their incontinent feral pigeons to Whitby, 400 kilometres north, and release them there (15 May).

A popular suggestion seems to be that the denizens of Whitby should respond in like manner by arranging the transport of their notoriously aggressive gulls southwards. That’s one way of giving them the bird, we suppose. But this represents a levelling-down agenda of the type most definitely not espoused by the UK government.

Got a story for Feedback?

You can send stories to Feedback by email at feedback@newscientist.com. Please include your home address. This week’s and past Feedbacks can be seen on our website.