Digital Pastiche Studies

Digital images, painting. 2017

Artistic Research on Style Transfer

For a short while around 2015/2016, Neural Style Transfer algorithms were one striking example of how “AI” in the form of artificial neural networks could produce seemingly creative images. These programs can apply the visual style of one image to the content of another, essentially rendering any photograph as a “Van Gogh”, a “Picasso” or any other kind of pastiche. Not surprisingly, this technique was used almost exclusively to create “paintings” in the style of famous artists from Selfies.

My initial question was whether it would also be possible to create new contexts of meaning with this tool. I started experimenting with input materials that seemed interesting in different ways. Most of them were pictures whose relationships to each other could be interpreted in several ways, whose contents showed certain contrasts, but also (weird) relationships.

A Digital Arcimboldo

The above results do not use styles of artistic rendition but mostly photographs of other objects. This reminds of Renaissance painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo and his symbolical compositions of fruits, animals, landscapes, or inanimate objects arranged into human forms. So a further step was to actually treat one of the results as a painting - an ironic recourse to the popular use case mentioned above. One of the main reasons was a certain visual quality often found in such generated images: they have a certain kind of blurriness in many places which are somehow painterly. Another thought was that I myself am not a good painter and would try to “learn” to paint this model in the process. (In fact, the resulting painting is the second attempt with which I painted over the first one.) The result is shown below. Is it a human trying to imitate a machine, which, in its popular reception, is supposed to imitate humans?

Final Painting
Inputs: Bonsai, litter.

Taking it Personal

I wondered if I could use this technology, apart from these rather distant experiments, as a tool for personal, emotional expression. As a subject I chose a matter that has accompanied my biography for many years: the mental illness of a close confidante who has been living in a psychiatric institution for several years. For a long time, one of the pillars of her daily routine was the painting of mandalas and similar images in occupational therapy. After my visits she often gave me some of the results, which I combine here with pictures from her past.

1970, age 18
With her daughter
Both kids are in school now
Second wedding
In the garden, before the breakdown