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EFI launches The New Real with commission and exhibition of AI art and events

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Compelling artworks that showcase the extraordinary creative potential of AI, and enrich the conversation about AI in society – an online exhibition opens today.

EFI launches compelling artworks that showcase the extraordinary creative potential of AI, and enrich the conversation about AI in society – an online exhibition opens today.

Two captivating pieces by globally acclaimed artists, which explore the boundary between the physical and digital worlds, are being jointly presented by the ​University of Edinburgh​ with the Edinburgh International Festival​.

Artworks are open to the public on The New Real website, with live events with the artists on 11 and 18 March.

Digital first experiences

Online artworks presented by eminent AI artists ​Jake Elwes​, and ​Anna Ridler and Caroline Sinders are designed to delight and help keep the spirit of the festival city alive at a time when other much loved cultural highlights are unable to take place.

The New Real, curated by Dr Drew Hemment of the University’s ​Edinburgh Futures Institute, is the first creative output of a wider research programme that is supporting the recovery of the arts and creative industries in the wake of Covid-19.

Curators say the exhibition’s ingenuity not only resonates with Edinburgh’s reputation as a leading edge festival city, but also reflects its standing as a global hub of excellence in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Exploring machine learning and deep fakes

The research programme ​– also called The New Real – is a collaboration with The Alan Turing Institute that will help arts organisations harness the dizzying possibilities offered by AI to delight audiences in inventive ways.

The two commissions that launch the programme ​ask searching questions about how our lives and experience are being shaped by technology, particularly during a pandemic.

Mechanized Cacophonies ​by Anna Ridler and Caroline Sinders​ – both artists and machine learning experts – is an immersive and interactive online artwork. Inspired by lockdown, it explores how experiences of nature ​are mediated by technology.

The artists, working remotely, captured sounds from a variety of sources including natural and industrial environments. They then trained a machine learning neural network on the resulting dataset to generate eerie and uncanny soundscapes created by AI. The joy of the work comes in immersing oneself within it and bringing it to life across multiple devices through clicking and touching the screen. The music will build and change slowly in response.

Jake Elwes’ interactive online artwork explores queer culture and the algorithms, philosophy and ethics of AI. In The Zizi Show, made with a community of drag artists, Elwes constructs and then deconstructs a virtual cabaret show that pushes the limits of what can be imagined on a digital stage.

Elwes is a master of ​deep-fake​ technology, using a form of ​AI​ called deep learning to make images of fake bodies, which enables him to create Zizi – the drag act who hosts this playful and vivacious cabaret. Audiences are invited to switch between the different deep-fake identities that Zizi has learned and enjoy hit songs.

The artwork conjures up the Zizi character, and exposes the processes used in its construction, to reveal it is simply a technological artefact and dispel our obsession that machines are becoming more human.

New social realities

Both works are presented alongside a series of online discussions and explorations on the ways data systems and AI reflect and shape our social reality.

Dr Drew Hemment​, who conceived and led The New Real, says: “We are delighted to present two astonishing artworks in partnership with Edinburgh International Festival. The New Real shows that great art won’t be dimmed by lockdown. These artworks enrich the conversation about the ways our jobs, health and wellbeing, even our experiences of art and culture, are ever more bound up with new technologies and AI.”

The New Real programme at Edinburgh Futures Institute

Two other projects, ​Experience in The New Real​ and ​Resilience in The New Real​, have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Scottish Funding Council as part of this Edinburgh Futures Institute research programme. They will support festival and cultural organisations to research and commission new works to help strengthen their recovery post pandemic. These include a new online festival experience for the 2021 ​Edinburgh Science Festival​.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will develop further co-creation partnerships with Edinburgh’s festivals, to imagine and deliver novel artistic experiences, unlock creativity, shape new business models, and maintain and build new audiences.

The New Real is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland, and the Data-Driven Innovation programme of the South East Scotland City and Region Deal (DDI). ​

View the artworks and learn more about The New Real projects including webinars where you can meet the artists at: ​​.

Find details and registration links for ​Discussing The New Real: Two Free Online Events featuring live discussions with the artists

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