Astronauts, robots, and broken statues: A talk with Giuseppe Lo Schiavo
Giuseppe Lo Schiavo is an award-winning visual artist based between London and Milan who is currently conducting research that aims to create a bridge between art and science. Using AI and machine learning, virtual reality, infrared systems, or microorganisms in the lab, the artist’s research often focuses on opposing elements: creation-destruction, past-future, analog-digital, real-virtual.
“Onirica” comes from the Greek word “ὄνειρος” (óneiros) that means “dreamlike.” What was your thought process behind the concept of your new NFT drop?
I describe Onirica as a trip inside the mind. I was inspired by recent developments in a new scientific field called functional neuroimaging where scientists discovered new ways to recreate an image a person sees or dreams by looking at the person’s brain activity. These procedures are made by analysing the brain waves from monitoring devices such as fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG (electroencephalogram) or by implanted electrodes such as those from the company Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk.
Working with scientists is not new for my practice, and for this specific project I had the chance to meet with Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani from Kyoto University who shared his views regarding developments with neuroimaging.
Deep image reconstruction from human brain activity. Guohua Shen, Tomoyasu Horikawa, Kei Majima, Yukiyasu Kamitani, Kyoto University.
We are still at a very primitive stage of this technology but we can already reconstruct visual imagery without any stimulation from a brain scan, even with the person sleeping. The quality of the extrapolated visual content will be improved by new algorithms in the future and new brain measurement methods. We are now trying to use implanted electrodes in neurosurgical patients to give them real-time feedback of reconstructed images online.
— YUKIYASU KAMITANI
Can you explain how you use AI to create the music and the lyrics of the video?
I used an Artificial Intelligence model “Image to text” to create an audio caption of the video scenes.
The AI struggles to identify complex and artistic compositions, but using the generated caption—even if it’s not accurate—as the audio description of the scene introduces a new layer of creativity to the artwork and underlines the limitations of the current stage of the technology.
For the creation of the music, I have experimented with Magenta Studio, an open-source software developed by Google that uses cutting-edge machine learning techniques for music generation. In my opinion, the future of music composition might reside there.
On your website, you say that you aim to create a bridge between the digital and the physical world; what should a collector expect with this NFT?
I really like to challenge the idea of what is considered real and what is considered virtual; at the same time through my work I want to try to link these two worlds. I have prepared a set of unique prints and sculpture designs taken from the scenes of Onirica. I am planning to let the collector of the NFT pick one of these pieces that I will then produce physically. Doing so, I want to create a participative project where the collector is involved in the creation of the piece.
Apart from your physical artworks, are you also planning to exhibit your digital work?
Yes, actually. Onirica, will be exhibited for the first time at How Art Museum in China in a new exhibition called Disembedding curated by Gu ZhengQing. The exhibition will open on August 6th and will run until October 30th 2021. Thanks to the opportunities that NFT platforms like SuperRare are creating, even museums are now giving more space and attention to the digital art medium, something that has never been seen before. And this is really incredible!
Onirica is characterised by lots of symbolism in most of the scenes. For example, the plastic bottles, the mountain fog, or the submissive robots. Could you give more details on these symbols?
I play a lot with symbolism in my work. For example, the scene with the scattered plastic bottles on the table is a metaphor for the challenges that the previous generation passed to the next one. The astronauts pointing their heads toward the camera is suggesting that we all need to act and to make the right choices for a better future. The submissive robots represent the controversial relationship our society has with technology. We are building human-machine devices that have the scope to enhance societies, as opposed to the view that robotics have the objective of replacing humans.
I could go on and on exploring the symbolism of the various scenes, but I think it is more interesting to see how the viewer decodes the visual inputs with his or her own personal interpretation. Art is a virtual concept, a byproduct of socialization that expands or condenses in the mind of the viewer.
Do you think Onirica presents an optimistic or pessimistic view of our future?
I always use technology with an optimistic approach. Our planet was here before humans and will probably be here way longer than us. In this short period of time, we need to focus on how to improve the conditions that help maintain life on this planet and in the meantime…create NFTs!
As one of my mentors Richard Dawkins would say: Life is entertainment.
There are lots of elements of destruction in Onirika (statue demolition, scene distortion). Is it a recurring theme in your work? What do you want to convey with these elements?
The scene’s distortions at the end of the video are inspired by what is happening in the brain during a hallucination; a mismatched electrical input from neurons.
Another recurring theme in my NFTs is the destruction of ancient art. This was, for example, the central concept of my first NFT “Metafisica.” The destruction of the statue represents the challenges of breaking traditions. I am really passionate about ancient art and sculpture, and so breaking the statue into pieces is a liberating act. The diatribe between traditional art and crypto art has staged a new conversation on what actually constitutes a work of art.
I am not surprised that there are people who still don’t value digital and intangible art as much as traditional art. From an evolutionary point of view, humans are always quite cautious with the unknown and unfamiliar, it’s in our DNA. However, with the exposure and success that digital art has been getting recently, I am very excited to see that the tables are finally turning and digital art is getting the recognition it merits, and hopefully it will become a new chapter in the history of art.
Arseny Vesnin (Twitter: @designercollector), founder of Designcollector Network (2003) and curator of the Digital Decade initiatives, exhibitions and online collaborations. Interdisciplinary mediator guiding artists and communicating the future of art. Based in St.Petersburg, Russia.
SuperRare editor Oli Scialdone considers the social experience of provenance and its relationship with community in the Web3 space.