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Portrait 1535445063

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Source Link:

Date Minted: August 19, 2020

Artist Description: This work is part of a series of GAN-generated and transhanced portraits I made in 2018.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Boy oh boy, does artist Quasimondo (Mario Klingemann) do it all. Looking through this guy’s works, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer variety of different art styles, the generative work, the portraiture, the meme stuff, and everything therein taken in a dozen-or-more directions. It seems the mind of the artist is cluttered with influences and styles, showcasing the kind of eclecticism you only otherwise find in old antique stores, pawn shops, places where all manner of old junk comes to exist in the same spot. One thing that’s clear, however, is Klingemann has a demonstrable interest in faces. They populate so much of his work, either as accessories within larger pieces, or as the focus. Many of his works are AI generations, their effects played out upon faces, and we as the audience are asked to watch these faces evolve, dement, contort, or simply stare forlorn towards the surface of the screen. Enter Portrait 1535445063, part of a series of GAN-generated and transhanced portraits [Klingemann] made in 2018,” well before mainstream NFT interest honed in on generative art. Portrait 1535445063 doesn’t leave us with a human form that has been pulled past the point of recognition, nor does it distort that form too overtly. Portrait 1535445063 is a longing and melancholic piece, featuring an unmistakable human form awash in blackness. Can machines feel sorrow? That’s not for me to say. Perhaps they can feel sorrow when sorrow is taught to them. But if not, it’s nevertheless clear that machines can understand what sorrow looks like, for Portrait 1535445063 is an adept expression of such stringently-human emotion.

It’s hard to look at this piece and not feel a deep emotional resonance from within it. The blues and the blacks. The expression on the woman’s face. The starkness of the composition, and the emptiness of so much of it. Portrait 1535445063 is nothing more than a face staring out into nothingness (presumably, being that there’s nothing behind it). Somewhat nonbinary, the face’s plainest trait is that it’s been rendered in a startling shade of baby blue, its skin so smooth to be almost egg-like, and containing absolutely zero defining features other than the two dark eyes, swooping eyebrows, a pink-tipped nose, and blackish lips. There are certainly corpse-like aspects to the figure, whose haunting gaze is positioned slightly off-center. Even in a small detail like that, we’re made to feel off-put and slightly strange. Besides a silhouette of black around the figure’s head —which may be a representation of hair— , the piece is almost completely composed of abject blackness. There are a few falling, silver droplets on the left side of the figure’s face, droplets which might be tears but might be jewelry; hell, they may be technical glitches. We can make out the very outline of the figure’s form, their shoulders and torso, although this bust seems to be receding into the black background, and thus, it is the figure’s blue face which draws and holds our attention. Otherwise, the piece is characterized by a strange ochre-inflected black, almost as if a black background was place under a sepia film.

It might well be a disturbing piece if it weren’t so emotionally resonant. As is, the best way to describe it is haunting. The figure is so devoid of personal touch as to be a kind of ur-person, someone it’s easy to impose oneself or one’s loved ones atop. Their gaze is so empty and faraway. And the colors! Oh the colors! A masterful use of colors to express deep emotion. There’s so much sadness packed simply into the color composition of this piece, the blackness of the background, the blackness of the figure’s eyes and lips, the icy blue of their skin. A computer created this. A computer was shown how to create this, but this wholly mesmerizing representation of the human being as sorrow incarnate, that presumably came from within the deep recesses of the machine mind; somewhere in its code was the ability to create this. And perhaps I’m diving too enthusiastically into the philosophical here, but doesn’t that strike you as important?

Feeling an emotion is one thing. Some might say it is integral to being human, but I don’t think lacking emotion —for reasons of trauma or sociopathy— keeps one from that distinction. It is much more about recognizing emotion, being able to traverse the emotional world, not necessarily feeling them ourselves but understanding them, understanding their strange ineffability —where do they come from? How come we can’t describe what it means to feel mad, say?— and how it feels to have felt. The AI which designed this piece likely cannot feel in the traditional sense, but it clearly has some kind of comprehension —even if that comprehension had to be defined and supplied by Klingemann himself— about what creates emotionality. That is to say, this piece is too advanced to be accidental. It is so completely in control of its various elements: its colors, its use of negative space, all the drama contained in its little details. And though a name like Portrait 1535445063 may denote a randomness in the process of generating a piece like this (though I doubt the artist went through 1,535,445,063 pieces by hand before choosing this one), it still strikes me as both startling and impressive that a work with such clear emotional expression was borne from within a CPU and not from within a mind which might have had a more experiential impetus for it. The beauty, I see, of these generative AI pieces is not, as art has traditionally emphasized, in the individual choices within the art, but rather in the comprehensive sensations created when the human motivation meets the machine “imagination.” 

Portrait 1535445063 will haunt me. I will see this face when I close my eyes. I will see this face in dark corners. When tragedy strikes me, I will feel the feeling that spawned this piece. Somewhere, in the binary behind this piece, is the compositional code to emotion. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. Portrait 1535445063 is radiant with that energy. 

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