Pam Baergen & Rick Rogers
This collection of new works began as the continued exploration of “strangeness” in our previous
collaboration, Home, Home on the Brink (2020). Our intent for Conversations with the Artificial I was
to explore a new source of strangeness in the world: recent advancements in artificial intelligence.
That intention shifted a little as we progressed, inspired by new “collaborators” in our project, the text
to image AI services of Midjourney and DALL-E 2, leveraging both their strengths and their
In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented series of advancements in the practical use
of artificial intelligence (AI) in many industries and many areas of research and study. One of the
industries that is beginning to experience impacts is visual art and design. We believe visual artists of
all varieties will be impacted in some fashion by new text to image AI services, some in positive ways,
some negative. The ability of an AI service to take a prompt of a few words, e.g. “dramatic expressive
watercolour painting of a mountain scene”, and generate novel images like the following in a few
seconds can be quite astounding to artists:
While these images are impressive, there are many circumstances where obtaining a result from an
AI service to match one’s vision/intention is very difficult, time consuming, and frankly, sometimes
impossible. But what will these systems be capable of in five or ten years? Or even next year?
In early research and discussions about this project we determined that there were some very
important ethical considerations for the use of AI. We chose to depart from our previous figurative
subject matter and instead focus on traces of humanity in constructed environments. This decision
was partly due to the possibility that an AI might generate a likeness that could infringe on the rights
of other artists. We also had concerns because AI services are known to provide biased results
based on the images on which they have been trained – sometimes providing very idealized faces
and figures as well as a majority of European heritage features and complexions.
Another key consideration when generating images that we intended to use as composition
inspiration was whether the composition might be substantially a derivative of existing images on
which the AI had been trained. There is currently no way to trace generated images, like the four
shown above, back to the training images that may have inspired portions of their compositions. We
doubt that there will ever be that kind of traceability. So for generated images from which we decided
to use portions, we performed internet searches using the same words as in the generation process,
to try to ensure that our image was not a direct derivative of an image that could be found online.
As we continued the project, we recognized that there was some humour and composition value in
the interesting anomalous artifacts that show up in AI generated images. The doors, stairways and
windows that we began generating to potentially collage into landscape environments were often
impossible, unsafe, or confusing from an architectural, engineering, or usability perspective. This
inspired a major departure for us, and we began to take advantage of the surreality of the details
generated by the AIs, eventually taking the same approach to images ourselves. The resulting
images are all composed by the artists, with only inspiration and some collage elements from AI
generated images. Are We There Yet? is the work with the most direct relationship to an AI-generated
image, and is one of the strangest interior environments.
In our consideration of each image during our critique and brainstorming sessions, we discussed
whether the image would initially be convincing as a landscape or interior, yet not stand up to deeper
scrutiny. As we continued, it became an enjoyable challenge to include discrepancies while still
retaining a relationship to reality. We hope to ensure that the viewer can connect with the image,
making some sense of it however strange it has become.
We each enjoyed a renewed experience of incorporating visual perspective into these new works.
They are all mixed media works comprising acrylic media and collaged paper, with some including
graphite, coloured pencil, image transfers, acrylic skins, and photography.
Two of our previous works are also included in this exhibition, Homo Ex Machina, and One Mind At A
Time. The former has been revised and retitled; the latter features our own photographs of figures
that we digitally compiled and hand-cut. These works from 2020 were inspired by the strange
experience of a world caught up in a global pandemic. The sudden recognition of alien experience, as
well as a loss (or lack) of control that informed these pieces resonates with our current relationship
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