PSR Budapest: Valencia James: AI_am here
organized and implemented by Workshop Foundation: 02.11.2016 – 30.06.2017
The PSR subprogramme allows the creation of exceptional, long-term activities, ideas, researches and collaborations for that are otherwise very difficult to find sources. Many times it is difficult to formulate the starting points of a PSR project, yet, or for this reason, LLB has been one of the most successful, professionally most interesting subprogrammes of it ever. Valencia James - who has been living and working for more than 8 years in Hungary - has long been interested in combining artificial intelligence and performing arts with each other. During the research programme, Valencia came from the simple tooling (from the AI interactive stage view) to researching and staging relationship to technical tools that make and change our daily life. The AI avatars after a while mirrored Valencia's personality. We managed to get to the point where not the technology, but the human aspects were important. The work continued after 30th of June 2017 and manifested in a performance in 10th of October 2017 at Trafó House of Contemporary Arts (in the frame of Café Budapest Program), which was followed by a TED-X presentation and 3 performance in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Report by Valencia James
Can machines be creative? Can they inspire us to explore new artistic pathways? These are the main questions of the international collaboration AI_am. The project brings together experts from the fields of dance, cognitive science, graphics and coding. Founded in 2013, AI_am investigates the potential of the artistic interaction between human and machine through contemporary dance, and raises questions about artificial intelligence (AI), performing arts and their place in our modern society. The founding team include Valencia James, Botond Bognár, Alexander Berman, Gábor Papp and Gáspár Hajdu.
The activities of AI_am include art-science experiments, public presentations, workshops and interactive art installations. AI_am has been presented at TEDxDanubia, in Budapest, Hungary and TEDxGöteborg, in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2015 and at Brain Bar Budapest in 2016. The team has published and presented research papers in several international conferences including the 2014 & 2015 International Movement and Computing Workshop, the 24th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-15) and the 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2015).
The most recent activity of AI_am has been the development and creation of the full-length evening work, AI am here, which premiered in October 2017 in Budapest and Gothenburg. For this an extensive artistic research process was carried out between November 2016 and June 2017. At this time the production’s working title was “if self = other”. This period included two residencies at scene44, Marseille (two weeks) and Workshop Foundation, Budapest (one week), respectively. On both occasions members of the public were invited participate in a work in progress presentation which culminated the residencies. There were also audition workshops for potential performers held at 3:e Vaningen, Gothenburg and at Workshop Foundation.
Goals of the project
As a complex multi-disciplinary project there were a number of overarching goals in this period of the project:
• Bringing together collaborators in the project to brainstorm collectively in the same physical space.
AI_am has largely taken form as a remote collaboration among independent artists based in Budapest and Gothenburg. The two residencies therefore provided a rare and valuable forum in which we could take advantage of sharing the same physical space. One significant benefit was the faster workflow from ideation to testing. Artists involved included Valencia James (performer and researcher), Alexander Berman (AI researcher and software developer), Gaspar Hajdu
(creative coder and architect), Gabor Papp (creative coder and software developer), Nina Kov (choreographer and consultant), Petra Ardai (dramaturg), Linnea Bagander (set and costume designer), Boglarka Lakatos-Varga (performer) and Scott Cazan (composer). Scott, who was based in Los Angeles, was the only one still working remotely with us in March.
• Exploring new synergies between the disciplines of the production
Following the interdisciplinary collaboration of machine learning, dance, motion capture and 3D model rendering, the new production introduced new possibilities of interaction among more disciplines. The residences were used to explore the possibilities of combining set design with new media, as well as real-time sound interaction and movement.
• Exploring alternate representations of AI
The new production presented the possibility of zooming out of our focus on interaction between a virtual and human dancer and think about artificial intelligence as societal and cultural themes and reflect on its relation to the body and humanity. There was also a strong impulse to explore how AI might transcend typical visual-based representations and heavy reliance on a projected 2D surface. Some questions addressed in the residencies include:
- What could AI sound like?
- What is empathy and how do humans empathize with other humans? How do they empathize with machines?
- Could a machine empathize? How would it express empathy?
- What is human communication and how would a machine learn and interpret human communication?
- What would the mind of AI look like?
- How can we free ourselves from the screen?
• Testing audience interaction
Another goal of the project was to find ways to bring the theme of AI to a wider audience that went beyond typical utopian and dystopian narratives used in mass media. One way we explored was to develop a participatory experience in a performative installation space. Both residencies culminated in a work in progress presentation in which the audience was actively involved both during the performance and in the discussion afterwards. In the Marseille work-in-progress we had the chance to engage a group of teenagers, which was a key focus group in our research.
• Finding potential performers
The audition workshops held in Gothenburg and Budapest focused on the possible relationships among AI, empathy and the body. The material shared was based on that developed during the Marseille residency. This forum allowed interested performers to engage with our research as well as for us to meet potential performers for the production who were genuinely interested in the subject matter.
Outcomes and Impacts
The research and findings carried out have been an invaluable basis on which the subsequent creation period (July-October 2017) of production could develop.
- Sharing of interdisciplinary thinking with dance practitioners and people of different backgrounds and age groups
- Gaining valuable insight from participant feedback
- Evaluation and fine-tuning of ideas and new artistic directions for the creation period of the production which took place in July and September 2017.
- Establishing artistic working relationships with new collaborators and gaining insight into what motivates each other creatively.
- Participants in the work in progress presentations were able to engage with the topic of AI from an alternate point of views and were able to experience their relationship to the topic via an immersive multi-sensorial route.
02.11.16 - 30.06.17