Using Algorithms in Art
Breaking down the Italian design research center Fabrica’s digital project, “Recognition,” which is bringing technology to the art and design world.
This article was originally published by AIGA Eye on Design.
Over the years we’ve seen art enhanced by feeding viewers chocolate, robots unveiling what a huge public gallery looks like at night, and most recently, news about the migrant crisis in Lesbos compared to an Anthony Caro sculpture. These unusual moves to make art more accessible and relatable are the products of the Tate’s annual IK Prize, which unites technology, design, and art to dig deeper in the collections of the Tate Britain. This year’s prize was awarded to a team from Italian design research center Fabrica for “Recognition,” a digital project that takes images from news reels and uses an algorithm to match them with historical artwork.
“Recognition” aims to investigate how artificial intelligence can offer new ways of viewing and understanding art, using technology that analyses Reuters imagery through object recognition, facial recognition, color and composition analysis, and natural language processing of text associated with images. This means that as well as instantly producing accompanying images, the program also creates written descriptions of the comparisons. We spoke to the team at Fabrica to find out more about the project, and how design thinking can help us better appreciate art.
Why did you decide to create a tool that’s online, rather than in a gallery like some previous IK Prize projects?
We wanted to give the public an opportunity to discover the Tate Britain collection, regardless of borders, accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Inside the Tate Britain museum, our in-gallery installation gives visitors a glimpse into the project. They will see the searching process for matching, as well as a gallery of the last matches with detailed data view. The visitors are also invited to submit their own matches through an interactive screen; at the end of the three-month project, the data collected will be used to run the algorithm, as a comparative experience to see whether human sensibility could influence the algorithm.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the project?
We hope that this project will give them a wider view on the correlations between art and daily life. Using AI as a tool to reveal those links, we also want to reveal the process of the algorithm—the data view offers the audience the potential to get a better understanding of how technology works. We are interested by the fact that machine learning algorithms are already part of our daily lives. This usually hidden process is made visible here, providing explanations for matches that could seem inaccurate from a human perspective. From a process point of view, we hope that the public will enjoy understanding the mistakes as much as admiring the similarities.
What are its intentions?
We wanted to bring a new point of view onto the Tate Britain collection, and engage a wider audience in discovering the artworks by linking it to the current news, unveiling similarities in how the world has been represented today and in the past. It’s meant to spark interest, generate curiosity and invite viewers to read in between the lines.
Working at the intersection of art, technology, and news, we want those different fields to inform each other, creating new meanings and new points of view for the viewers.
Do you feel people can interact with art through digital platforms as well as seeing work in real life?
Digital platforms offer new potential to interact with art and create different experiences. It doesn’t replace the experience of seeing an artwork in the flesh, but rather encourages it. It also aims to reach people that don’t go to art exhibitions.
How do you think Fabrica has informed the way you approach design and your thinking more widely?
Fabrica is a place that values diversity, through being multidisciplinary and multicultural. In that sense it encourages curiosity, in discovering different perspectives and processes within a creative work.
Do you see a separation between art and design?
Design is grounded in reality, with the aim of solving problems. Art, on the other hand, is more wired into raising questions and provoking interest. More than looking at what separates those two fields, we are interested in understanding what brings them together. “Recognition” is a tool built following a design process, with an artistic purpose.
Why do you think both sides get so anxious about the definitions?
There are different processes and purposes involved in both fields. Although, both can happen to blend; the anxiety probably comes from the boundaries and potential limitations accompanying the definitions.
The Fabrica team, comprising of Coralie Gourguechon, Monica Lanaro, Angelo Semeraro, and Isaac Joseph Vellentin, worked with the web developers at Jolibrain (Emmanuel Benazera and Alexandre Girard) with support from Microsoft to realize the project, which lives online and in the Tate Britain, where it will be on view for three months.