After a year of sporadic lockdowns culture lovers are eager to experience real artworks again, but what really constitutes ‘real’ art? London’s Design Museum poses this very question with its new free exhibition about Ai-Da, the ultra-realistic android painter.
“Over the last year we’ve all had such an intimate relationship with technology, so it is a really good time to reflect on that and critically ask questions of it,” said Priya Khanchandani, the head of curatorial at the Design Museum.
Dubbed the world’s first robot artist, Ai-Da was designed using AI algorithms by the researcher Lucy Seal at Engineered Arts Ltd and students from the University of Oxford. Her terminator-like robotic arms were developed by AI engineers at the University of Leeds. The exhibition displays several huge self-portraits of the artist, which were commissioned by contemporary art specialist Aidan Meller in 2019.
During an interview with the BBC’s media and arts correspondent David Sillito, Ai-Da herself said “I love to be creative. I enjoy being someone who makes people think. I think that art needs more than just the drawing of something, it means communicating something in a way that is relatable.”
Ai-Da was named after the computing pioneer Ada Lovelace and draws her inspiration from a wide range of artists and writers. Her biggest inspirations include Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Yoko Ono, and Doris Salcedo.
“These images are meant to unsettle,” revealed Meller. “They are meant to raise questions about where are we going? What is our human role if so much can be replicated through technology? It is not just a jobs question, it is bigger. The goal is to encourage a public discussion about these topics rather than just allow the money-makers to capitalise on all the different technologies.”
At the end of May 2021, Ai-Da will become artist in resident at the Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, where she will produce new sculptural work inspired by Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). The robot’s researcher, Seal, added “if Ai-Da does just one important thing, it would be to get us considering the confusion in human/machine relations.”
‘Ai-Da: Portrait of the Robot’ will run from 18 May-31 August 2021.