By the end of last century I came across the ant algorithm
proposed by Marco Dorigo in his 1992’s PhD thesis. After setting some
parameters the program showed the evolution of artificial ants, in fact
dots in the screen, which from a random environment at start were
able to generate the characteristic trails of real ants. For my artistic
eye these artificial trails appear as remarkable drawings. But they did
more. They revealed that it was possible to take “the human out of the
loop” of a creative process.
It took me a while to learn the fundamental concepts of the process,
as emergence or stigmergy for example, and to be able to apply them
into art making. In 2001 I was finally able to link an ant algorithm to a
kind of robotic arm and produce what I have coined “swarm paintings”.
One of these first paintings made it to the cover of the MIT magazine
dedicated to Artificial Life.
The next logical step for me was robotics, as these machines
evolve in the real world. In 2003 I had a dozen of ant-like small
robots investing the canvas to produce abstract and colorful paintings.
Observing the process it was clear that, from a random start, clusters
would emerge simulating a composition, precisely as it happens with
real ants and other emergent natural behaviors.
From my point of view this was essentially a non-human art form
and “a new kind of art” could be announced.
For most people this vision is not easily accept. Art remains an
exclusive ability of humanity and skepticism prevails over facts. It is
frequently said that the art of my robots is still human in nature because
I am the one that assemble the machines and start the process. Actually
I am also the one that show and occasionally sell the art works. But
this argument misses the point. Such emergent processes cannot be
controlled by the person that triggers it. Additionally, as we talk about
autonomous robots equipped with mechanical parts and sensors, it
is impossible to predict the result. There are too many non-foreseen
factors in this game.
Anyway, the first texts produced in collaboration with Henrique
Garcia Pereira define this “new kind of art” as the result of a symbiotic
relationship between man and machine. We recognize the crucial role
of the human in the process, but as a part and not the whole. On the
occasion we wrote the “Symbiotic Art Manifesto” (to be found at the
end of this book).
A decade later, given the state of the art in robotics and AI, we must
still speak of symbiosis. The full autonomy of robots is not achieved
yet, at least to the point that they can make “art” as the expression of
a will. Not to mention that robots may not be interested in art at all.
Actually, if they develop a culture, what is foreseeable, it will certainly
be very distinct of our own. But this reality does not change the fact
that machines can produce something that we humans call art. And
this is the central issue of my work. I am engaged in expanding, once
more, the concept and the practice of art.