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Escaping Horse

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: November 20th, 2020

Artist Description: A black horse races through an apocalyptic landscape. AI-generated composition with additional style GAN based on original drawings. Video overlays.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Escaping Horse, Anne Spalter’s half-GAN masterpiece, is an artwork that navigates a sequence of seemingly endless contradictions. There’s random movement here, and movement with a purpose there. Yes you’ll find splotches of color, but not enough to take away from the piece’s deadened, black-and-white aesthetic. Every few moments, across an apocalyptic landscape of rudderless lines and crooked buildings and amoebic pools of dark liquid, a pitch-black horse gallops gallantly from one end of the piece to the other; it is both the ideological center of the piece and also seemingly outside of it. As both thematic and artistic focal point of the work, it is given the most definition, the darkest color, the quickest movement, and a more substantial shape than what exists elsewhere. It is made more attention-grabbing than the 3D flames and explosions which conflagrate on-loop, and certainly more so than the slowly-rotating windmills and satellite dishes whirring silently in the background. Escaping Horse is about the horse —no surprises there— as it runs haphazardly through a warzone, appearing and disappearing, again and again, here and then here no longer, the only part of the piece which vanishes entirely, and yet the one which gives it its grounding. How’s that for a contradiction? 

Aesthetically, Escaping Horse refuses the color spectrum. The background is populated exclusively in shades of white and black and grey, with the only otherwise color coming from four scattered splotches of poorly-rendered, 3D fire placed haphazardly about. Interestingly, however, we find a few spots which possess a suggestion of blue —blue of sky, and blue of water— as if there might be a natural world hidden underneath the smog-covered dystopia we’re shown. It’s hard to otherwise tell. It’s hard to otherwise tell much at all about the world we’re shown, as this one is void of most clear detail, and all semblances of naturalism have been blurred out or brushed over, only the dregs of its color remaining. The city-scape in the background is warped, and the grassy ground in the foreground is really a collection of uneven lines blended abstractly together. This is a GAN-algorithm assembled piece, so the lack of clear detail isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is how close it comes to resembling something at all. So much GAN art peddles in associations, using an observer’s preconceptions to give shape to abstract lines and edges. Whatever GAN-algorithms Splater uses for Escaping Horse are advanced, and they skirt a very fine mimetic line. Every detail here seems to be what it is, and it’s not that our minds are being asked to construct meaning from disorder, its that our minds are being asked to realize the disorder which underlies all this apparent and outward meaning.

But this is what Spalter does. Her generative creations always seem to exist in a trippy world of shapes, colors, and hallucinatory effects that appear to be on the verge of collapsing into abstraction, not the other way around. Again, we’re not being asked to create order from chaos, we’re being asked to recognize the chaos which quivers under the surface of all this seeming order.

I do want to return to the actual horse here, and how interesting it is an artistic choice that atop all this GAN-generated imagery, she has placed a single decidedly human decision. It is as if Spalter wants to remind us that she is present in this piece, that it is not something strictly made by an algorithm but which she herself has assembled: the algorithm and artwork both. In comparison to the background, which one might find overwhelming due to the sheer amount of detail present in it, the horse is stark and acetic; because of its color, its movement, and its recognizability, it naturally catches our eye. It is as if Spalter is teaching us how we respond to disorder, demonstrating that as humans we seek out the familiar at all times. We’re drawn to it, and my suspicion is that we would be even if the title didn’t already reveal that the piece ideologically revolves around it. 

Escaping Horse is impressive as a GAN creation, but it’s even more impressive as a conversation between algorithm and artist, one the algorithm may not even know it’s having. It’s the GAN which makes the call and the artist which makes the response. I wonder, if the GAN’s contribution had turned out differently, was sparser or less defined, how Spalter would have responded then. She clearly wants us observers to understand the collaborative nature of her artwork. I wonder how she would have called out to us then. I wonder what method she would have had for shouting “I’m here!” and diverting our attention away from all the silently-spinning stuff which was created around her.