By the end of the last century, I came across the ant algorithm proposed by Marco Dorigo in his 1992’s Ph.D. 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 the 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 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 accepted. 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 assembles the machines and starts the process. Actually
I am also the one that shows and occasionally sells the artworks. But this argument misses the point. Such emergent processes cannot be controlled by the person that triggers them. 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 defines 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 here).
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.