On 23rd April 2022, Ai-Da Robot, the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist, will open a major contemporary art exhibition in Venice’s famous Giardini during the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
While robot artworks have been exhibited during La Biennale di Venezia in previous years, 2022 will mark the first time an ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist presents a solo exhibition of artworks during La Biennale di Venezia as a human artist would.
Titled Leaping into the Metaverse, Ai-Da Robot’s exhibition will take place at the Concilio Europeo Dell’Arte venue, In Paradiso Gallery in the Giardini. Presented over five connected spaces, the exhibition will explore the interface between human experience and AI technology, from Alan Turing to the Metaverse, and will draw on Dante’s concepts of Purgatory and Hell to explore the future of humanity in a world where AI technology continues to encroach on everyday human life.
As a robot artist Ai-Da poses two questions: who are we, and what is art? We are in the midst of an AI explosion and AI is already deeply embedded in our way of life – when we shop, when we interact with companies and institutions and soon with the coming Metaverse. Ai-Da’s unsettling human resemblance challenges us to consider how far we are willing to accept AI in our lives.
“This is an important moment for AI art, Ai-Da’s works raise questions about whether robots can genuinely be creative,” Priya Khanchandani, Head of Curatorial at The Design Museum, London.
In 2019 Ai-Da Robot made history at Oxford University as the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot capable of drawing people from life using the cameras in her eyes, her AI algorithms, and a pencil in her robotic hand.
In 2021 Ai-Da Robot made history a second time at London’s The Design Museum as the first ultra-realistic humanoid robot to create a self-portrait. A robot with no-self creating a self-portrait challenges our understanding of what it means to be human and how AI is changing us.
In 2022 Ai-Da Robot’s latest ground-breaking development will be premiered during La Biennale di Venezia. Ai-Da will present a new cutting-edge painting arm that uses advanced AI algorithms and robotics, enabling Ai-DA to paint from life using a colour pallet as human artists have for centuries.
This astonishing new painting ability will be exclusively premiered by Ai-Da Robot during the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, painting four portraits throughout the vernissage week in front of a live audience. These works will go on to form part of the exhibition.
“Human characteristics could never be imitated by a machine…such attempts and their results would have something like the unpleasant quality of artificial flowers.” Alan Turing
Entering the exhibition visitors will be confronted by Flowers on the banks of the Lethe, an artwork made up of 3D printed flowers created from Ai-Da’s sketches using AI algorithms. This installation of artificial flowers replicates the flower strewn banks of the mythical river Lethe – the river of forgetfulness as described in Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio XXVIII-XXX). The artwork can be seen as a response to Alan Turing’s thoughts on artificial humanoids and encourages us to consider the role of artificiality in our lives and futures.
Alan Turing expressed both promise and disappointment in the act of creating artificial androids, comparing humanoid endeavours as ‘something like the unpleasant quality of artificial flowers’, while suggesting that a thinking machine ‘will help us greatly in finding out how we think ourselves.’
The exhibition continues with a series of glass artworks, first exhibited at the V&A Museum, that draw on the pioneering photographic studies made by Eadweard Muybridge. Titled Leaping into the Metaverse, each artwork is a scanned image of Ai-Da’s agile robotic form leaping into the Metaverse, a place which many people will enter with their own digital avatars and VR personas – but at what cost?
“Only photography has been able to divide human life into a series of moments, each of them has the value of a complete existence.” Eadweard Muybridge
Moving further into the exhibition, Ai-Da’s artworks use Dante’s Purgatorio to confront our fears about the Metaverse. In Purgatorio the Fortune Tellers and Diviners are the souls who, on Earth, tried to see too far ahead of them. With their heads fixed on backwards and their eyes full of tears, they are destined to spend eternity looking behind with blurred vision.
Parodying Dante’s Fortune Tellers and Diviners, Ai-Da robot appears as a hologram titled Magical Avatars: Ai-Da Goes Holographic with her head facing the opposite way to her torso. This new work reflects the darker side of both the digital world as well as Metaverse. Just as Purgatory is a halfway house between Heaven and Hell, the Metaverse is neither reality nor fiction – but a middle ground where the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred.
In the same way that Dante urges us to contemplate the subtle yet powerful transformations in the way we ‘see’ others in the Divine Comedy, Ai-Da’s Venice exhibition Leaping into the Metaverse, urges visitors to do the same. Ai-Da cannot see as humans do, yet her artworks encourage us not to lose sight of others, even while the world is changing rapidly and deeper truths are obscured by the growing power of technology.
A series of artworks titled Eyes Sewn Shut, including 8ft high canvases, feature Ai-Da’s response to Dante’s Circle of the Envious (Purgatorio XIII). Ai-Da has no life or sight: she embodies the blindness of technological advance if pursued at the expense of true regard for others. In these works, Ai-Da paints portraits of herself with her eyes sewn shut, influenced by Dante’s striking imagery for this Canto.
The exhibition includes several sculptural artworks, the largest of which is a work titled Immortal Riddle. Created collaboratively with her AI informed design, drawings and clay impressions, it plays on the ancient Egyptian considerations of the afterlife and our current obsession with using biotechnology to achieve immortality in the 21st century. At a time when biotechnological interventions are starting to act directly on the human body, Ai-Da appears in sculptural form with three robotic legs – a play on the riddle of Sophocles’ Sphinx. In this artwork, through her uncanny and awkwardly altered anatomy, Ai-Da encourages us to consider whether a world of such overt mechanical and biological intervention is something we really want.
When Immortal Riddle was first shown at the Great Pyramids in Egypt in 2022, it caused an international scandal. Ai-Da was seized by Egyptian boarder guards, suspected of holding spy technology. Ai-Da and her artworks were detained for 10 days before being allowed to take part in the exhibition. The actions of the Egyptian authorities clearly reflect wider international security concerns around technology.
TITLE: LEAPING INTO THE METAVERSE
CURATOR: AIDAN MELLER
EXHIBITOR: AI-DA ROBOT
VENUE: CONCILIO EUROPEO DELL’ARTE, GIARDINI VENICE
PRODUCER: Halime Özdemir