How to build an artificial garden

Nearly a year since generative models of Artificial Intelligence (AI) became popular, there remain more questions than answers about their risks and benefits.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
16 September 2023 Saturday 10:24
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How to build an artificial garden

Nearly a year since generative models of Artificial Intelligence (AI) became popular, there remain more questions than answers about their risks and benefits. But one thing is becoming clear: the key to taking advantage of the advantages that this technological revolution brings is, precisely, the ability to ask well.

It is not just any quality. Asking the right question has always been one of the foundations of science or philosophy, areas in which there is rarely a definitive answer.

The question and, more importantly, the well-formulated question, allow us to obtain the maximum benefit from tools that are conceived as an extension of our own neural network. Anyone who has interacted with ChatGPT or other similar models has verified this.

The machine is not intelligent, but rather it has an enormous capacity to take our natural intelligence beyond unsuspected limits.

The basic question gets very apparent, but simple answers. The sophisticated question, on the other hand, fosters dialogues that expand our capabilities to levels that until recently were unimaginable.

This reasoning also applies to tools that generate images from questions. Anyone with a little ingenuity can get very colorful responses from them, post them on Instagram and get plenty of likes. The creators of the pile will achieve equally trivial results, although much more apparent. But only the artist with dedication, talent, training and critical spirit who already explores his limits in analog contexts can develop the potential of this expanded intelligence.

These are some reflections raised by Jardins de pols, the work that Joan Fontcuberta is showing until November 4 at Àngels Barcelona, ​​an exhibition integrated into the Barcelona Gallery Weekend that ends today. There is a first part (Dust Cultivation) in which Fontcuberta places a microscopic focus on the fungi that devour photographs of Alpine landscapes taken by an Italian prince more than a century ago.

And a second part, De Rerum Natura, in which all the author's background as an observer of nature, channeled through the AI ​​tool Stable Difussion, gives rise to a hypnotic succession of portraits of plants and flowers never before seen in The real world.

It can be stated, without being untrue, that an amazing artificial garden has sprung up in the heart of Raval these days. A garden made up of wandering plants, a concept that the gardener and essayist Gilles Clément has theorized about, with work translated by Editorial GG. Joan Fontcuberta's plant specimens, without land in which to take root, are called to wander along the neural highways of AI.

The artist thus encourages botanical mixing, in the manner of Clément. He spoke to us about the gardener as a “passenger of the Earth, a privileged mediator of unexpected pairings, a direct and indirect actor in wandering, a wanderer himself.”

In line with other works by Fontcuberta, his flowers and plants are located on the diffuse border between the real and the apocryphal. From one meter away, what we see in the exhibition photos are rare botanical specimens of luminous beauty. But a more careful look allows us to see the plots, the unnatural features that reveal the deception. As usual, Fontcuberta leaves clues so that the curious viewer can discover the ruse and join the game.

This marriage between the natural and the artificial, played in the field of AI, arises from the questions, the suggestions, the requests that the artist has made to the machine. Some questions that Fontcuberta has been asking since its inception and that now find, in this festival of algorithms that is AI, new answers.

The proof that the author is not playing with a gift he has just received, but rather using a new technology to reformulate a discourse he has been holding for decades, is in the same exhibition. In a display case is his book Herbarium, which dates back to 1982. There appears a Fontcuberta who assembled real plants with scrap metal that he found wandering through Barcelona neighborhoods, such as the Zona Franca, giving rise to impressive species of artificial nature, such as the so-called dentritavictoriosa by be topped by two V-shaped stems.

This is what we talk about when we talk about the potential that AI has to expand the boundaries of art.