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Garden of Oz

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Date Minted: January 17, 2020

Artist Description: This reimagining uses machine learning to mashup Hieronymus Bosch “Garden of Earthly Delights” (1503–1515) and a film still from Victor Fleming’s 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fantasy novel “The Wizard of Oz” using neural style transfer and inpainting techniques.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Garden of Oz is a piece to get lost in. Not just because of its hypnotizing color or seemingly-massive scope, but because of the expansive universes of meaning and association it leverages and captures. This piece, a technicolor mashup of  Hieronymus Bosch’s enormous opus Garden of Earthly Delights and a film still from the 1939 film, Wizard of Oz, is a conversation across centuries, sensibilities, and vibes. It’s a clash between ultimate innocence and ultimate sin, and art forms with four-hundred years of evolutionary force between them. To fuse The Wizard of Oz with Garden of Earthly Delights is to open up channels not only to the works themselves but to everything these pieces have come to represent, all the religious and/or commercialist information communicated in the centuries or decades since their creation. I’ll be honest, I did not know Artnome as an artist before this piece, but as a thinker, and a brilliant thinker at that. Generative art is oftentimes only as powerful as its creator can be, though it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Artnome’s words or works that Garden of Oz is powerful enough to knock your socks clean off. Rare is the equally-inviting artwork. Rare is the equally-auspicious artwork. Rare is any artwork anything like this one at all.

And it is, in a single apt word, delightful. Bosch himself, perhaps owing to the sheer eccentricity of his work (and at a time when such eccentricity was frowned upon in favor of more traditional representations of the human form; one can see Bosch’s influence on all manner of crypto artistry)  has manifested his cultural status as a mythologized artist throughout the latter half of the 2nd millennium, and in the 21st-century, his creepypasta pieces remain bizarrely charming and intensely interesting. Try to spot all the strange figures in strange positions doing strange things. Arms emerging from unknown spots. As do tentacles. Devilish things, card games, unreal creatures stalking about. When multiplied via AI generation, this overwhelming effect is exaggerated, perhaps even maximized. Simple building materials now appear to be constructed from blended bodies. At a glance, the sky appears to be made of interlocking fish. Or maybe those are just clouds? It’s impossible to tell. People might well be more than people, but on further inspection, they might be only people after all. Or are they? The helter-skelter stimuli is enough to deaden the senses after a time, and one can feel their brain having difficulty taking it all in. The effect of this overstimulation is a constant movement, a constant sense of being unsettled, and a sense of metamorphosis pervasive throughout the otherwise static. Garden of Oz seems to whirr and change before one’s eyes, an illusion of movement wrought by the deluge of information conveyed. 

Wizard of Oz’s heroine, Dorothy, with her back to us, skips down an unmistakable Yellow Brick Road, while on all sides of her the landscape crackles into chasms, into horse-mounted armies, into enormous creature  and men with whips and flowers with petals like bike spokes, while an army of mishmashed uniforms marches behind her. The background, however, is more characteristically Bosch. This is the engine of the piece, and the many multifarious forms we find there force us to bring our eyes close so as to parse out and identify exactly what we’re seeing. It’s impossible to notice everything. Elongated Mermaids. Men with slug bodies. A large cracked egg spilling something red and gutsy into a blue pool. Don’t try to understand it. Don’t try to make sense of it. Bosch himself sought to use size and scale and surrealism to transcend mere corporeal meaning. There were highly-religious undertones to that intention. Artnome does not lose sight of this, and does not let his AI take Bosch’s essence out of this work. If anything, Bosch is accentuated, and the AI manifests color sequences and repetitions that a human brain may simply be too advanced and visionary to capture itself. Garden of Oz is Bosch dipped in acid. Hell this might be Bosch on acid. Or at least, it’s the closest we’ll come to seeing what that’d be like. Who knows. Bosch seemed like a crazy dude. And those early 1500’s were lawless. 

There’s a real social significance to the juxtaposition of ideas here. Bosch’s original Garden of Earthly Delights is hyper-exaggerated sinfulness, whereas Dorothy (lacking her little dog, too) quintessentially embodies innocence, from the way Judy Garland speaks to the Golden-Era-of-Hollywood romanticization of traditional values, to her Kansan upbringing. Dorothy exists in a world of songs and munchkin men. Bosch most certainly does not. And yet, there’s a natural synergy between the visual ideas present in both. 

I can’t shake the sense of religious iconography being explored. If Dorothy is the paragon of innocence, then that naturally asks us to equate her with Christ, so what we’re seeing here is Dorothy-Christ skipping haphazardly towards the World of Sin come alive. I suppose that brings about a series of secondary questions: Is she approaching in order to join it, ultimately ignorant of the dangers it presents? Or has she come to save the world before her, just as she has saved those behind her (meaning the figures behind her are fuzzy and unspecific; they are not engaged in the war and sex and smut of the background Sinners)? Is this a holy war before it’s beginning? Or is this simply the way of the world, where there is no escape from sin for even the most righteous, and the most innocent are surrounded on all sides by temptation, anguish, and debauchery, ultimately falling prey to it. Who wouldn’t? Who could resist?