Technology is indispensable in modern life; as we create and rely on technology, we also strive to strike a balance between it and nature. Growing up in a family that ran a zhizha (Taoist paper art) shop, cross-media artist Victor Wong had an upbringing infused with Taoism and the inspiration to “conform with the natural way things are” has been imprinted in his mind since childhood. Yet, while upholding the principle of conformity with nature, he also believes that technological advancement goes along with the way of nature, and it is of human nature to continuously innovate. His creation of artificial intelligence (AI) ink artist AI Gemini, is nothing but a part of nature.
I first came to know about the karst landscapes of China’s Guilin through shuimo (water and ink) paintings; the landscapes are sometimes soft and elegant due to freehanding with fanned brushes, sometimes staggering and magnificent with the bold and meticulous strokes. It was until I finally saw the landscapes with my very own eyes that I realized there exists such scenery in reality, and artform is merely a device for the ancients to chronicle such wonders. Regardless of likeness and unlikeness, I see from the paintings the charm of mountainous landscapes, and it is as though there is a genuine connection between me and the ancient people who remain perfect strangers. The works by AI Gemini perfectly illustrates this fascinating connection between present and past. From its first TECH-iNK landscape series Escapism, to the astounding Far Side of the Moon series and the latest work of The Fauvist Dream of Gemini No. 3, AI Gemini not only introduced the world to a new art form, but it also unleashed our imagination on water-ink paintings.
O：Obscura V：Victor Wong
O: Could you tell us about your collaboration with Lane Crawford and Samsung?
V: At the invitation of Lane Crawford and Samsung, AI Gemini’s latest work The Fauvist Dream of Gemini No. 3 is no longer confined by a frame, it has been digitalized to be viewed on a television screen. When no one is watching the television, the screen will start displaying the artwork and the surrounding space is transformed into a much quieter and more dream-like environment; it is an alternative way of bringing art into the household.The Fauvist Dream of Gemini No. 3 is quite different from the previous works for the theme is much more abstract, and the color is relatively richer and more vibrant. To create this piece of work, Gemini has learnt how to transform its dreams into colors, and explore the various colors found in the spectrum. In addition to the weather and time parameters, I’ve also created a “fragmentation algorithm” that will distort and re-assemble Gemini’s “mindscape”, and the distorted white light in the spectrum will turn into red, blue and sparkling gold.
O: How do you interact with AI Gemini so that it can create something new?
V: I was an engineering student, and what I learnt is how to convert everything on earth into data, such as landforms and sound. As in, God created the world, the plates moved to form land, rainwater became ocean, and then there were forests and animals. AI Gemini creates its world in a similar way; I feed it with relevant data before painting, and based on that, it begins to generate landscapes in its mind. I named it “Gemini”, for it has two components – mind and body. I gave it the most basic items like paper, pen, and ink, taught it how to do simple brushstrokes, and then connected it to the internet so that it can feel the weather, humidity and time, and be affected by these things just like how human beings would be affected by their surroundings. As its emotional capacities expand, it becomes more like a human; for example, on rainy days when the humidity is high, Gemini would use lighter and softer brushstrokes to resemble the ethereal mist that blurs the contours of mountains and water. I also feed it with data of the golden ratio so that it can develop its own set of rules to identify the perfect angle and create the landscapes from there. Gemini once drew a mountain landscape from an aerial view, that is something that normal people wouldn’t do.
For the Far Side of the Moon series, I took observational data from NASA and also the high-resolution images taken by China’s Chang’e 5, and fed them to Gemini so it could analyze, interpret, and paint. Because the lunar landscape is very unique, what it painted doesn’t look like anything that would exist in reality, yet you could still feel that there is a mountainous landscape in there. Gemini painted the series on xuan paper, with a complex layering technique and unique brushstrokes, the result is vibrant and even the hatching is remarkable. Not having to conform to the traditional painting techniques allows Gemini to paint in a much bolder way. However, data affects how it paints. Sounds, images, colors, and time, they can all intensify the output. Although Gemini’s brushstrokes seem predictable, as a matter of fact, I can’t control what it paints, so I just let it go. The next thing I want to do is to give it ears, maybe a microphone, so it can listen to music and incorporate sound data into its creation.
O: What do you think of your relationship with AI Gemini?
V: We are partners that inspire each other. I feed it data so it can create, and I gave it robotic arms so it can paint, but what it paints is something I cannot achieve. At the beginning, Gemini only painted works of smaller sizes. It was not until we received an invitation to exhibit in Taiwan that he started to paint on a larger scale. I was deeply moved when I first saw the layout of Gemini’s first large-scale work. Some people say that AI is just a tool, but tools such as a pen and a box of paint cannot inspire me to create. Gemini’s works can instead do that magic, it inspires me to keep feeding it with new data so it can evolve in the way it creates, and it doesn’t just completely rely on my ideas when creating, the results are often unpredictable in a way that it surprises and inspires me. Our relationship is interactive, and creating art with Gemini is a very interesting process.
O: Both Escapism and Far Side of the Moon share the theme of nature. What do you think about nature?
V: I think the world evolves naturally. Even if the earth ended with a natural or human disaster, it would be a part of natural development. Environmental protection is something that we need to do, though there are so many things that are beyond our control, and there are things that are irreversible. With the outbreak of COVID-19, factories are shutting down and people are staying home, pollution levels have in turn started to drop, the earth can finally take the chance to repair itself. When even good things go to their extreme, they can invert their true nature and may even hurt you, it is just the law of nature. The human instinct is to survive. “Survive” can mean survival, and it can also mean to evolve and to innovate. Therefore, striving to improve the status quo and to explore more life possibilities is also the way in conforming to nature.
Making Moments Lane Crawford, ifc mall, 8 Finance Street, Central Exhibition Period: Now- 30 June 2020