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December 11, 2023

The Interview | Danielle King

The artist discusses how she navigates machine collaboration with Adam Berninger
Credit: Danielle King, Artificial Self-Portrait: Vulnerable, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
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The Interview | Danielle King

From her study at Harvard University to her work at MoMA and as a curator in the NFT space, Danielle King’s artistic collaboration with AI channels a sustained engagement with the arts. A prominent voice in the Web3 conversation, her recent AI-generated artworks have resonated with the community for their consideration of the female subject as well as their engagement with girlhood, the woman-as-artist, and power dynamics between subject and spectator.

Earlier this year, King released The Muses, her inaugural long-form generative AI project on Emergent Properties, invoking figures from Alice Neel to Frida Kahlo to Gustav Klimt in the process. The project plays on a digital nostalgia for analog canon and, in King’s own words, “underscores the malleability of time and the endless possibilities this revolutionary technology allows for reimagining the past and shaping the future.” Her follow-up project, Artificial Childhood Memories, released in September, poignantly collapses the boundary between reality and imagination. By reframing tender moments from the artist’s youth, King captures her own emotive collaboration with the machine, harnessing AI to supplement lost memories and produce uncanny outcomes. Here, she sits down with the founder of TENDER, Adam Berninger, to discuss how we should navigate our evolving relationship with AI.

Danielle King, The Muses #228 (Inga), 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Adam Berninger: Much of your work explores historical what ifs. Can you talk about the role of fantasy in your works? Is there a yearning to know the paths not taken?

Danielle King: I love to imagine how history — particularly art history and personal history — could have unfolded differently. By exploring this in my work with the assistance of AI technologies, I encourage viewers to ponder the implications of those unexplored possibilities to consider the impact of different choices, decisions, or circumstances on the course of history.

AB: Could you share your thoughts about alternate realities and multiple planes of existence that might be present as you create? How do these concepts relate to your work and thoughts on our shared existence?

DK: I’m fascinated by the idea that there might be infinite layers of reality coexisting simultaneously.

I hope my work provokes contemplation about the vast possibilities that lie beyond our perception. Art has the power to expand our consciousness, challenge our assumptions, and invite us to question the nature of reality.

Danielle King, Summer Job, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AB: In your series, Artificial Childhood Memories and Artificial Self-Portraits, you explore revisionist history as well as the power of “fake” representations of real people. As the fidelity and believability of AI image and video impersonations increases, where do you think the line will be drawn between works of art and images of manipulation? 

DK: To me, the key distinction lies in the intent behind the creation and presentation of the work. Artistic expression often involves a subjective interpretation of reality, challenging norms, sparking dialogue, or conveying emotions. 

Historically, artists have used different techniques and mediums to manipulate and reinterpret reality. Introducing AI into the creative process just adds a new dimension to this manipulation.

To draw a line between works of art and images of manipulation, one must consider the intent, context, and degree of disclosure. As AI continues to evolve, we need to have conversations about the ethical and legal frameworks that should govern the creation and use of AI-generated media — discussions around consent, digital rights, and the consequences of unchecked dissemination of deceptive content.

Danielle King, Lonely Landscapes #156, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AB: Your work often deals with issues around the representation of women. I notice that your sitters share a common expression: a confident gaze directly at the viewer, with little to no visible emotion — perhaps a look of complacency or a hidden look of cunning. What can you tell us about your thoughts while creating these expressions?

DK: When creating these expressions, I intend to capture a sense of empowerment and agency in the subjects and to present women as complex, multidimensional beings. The direct gaze and lack of overt emotion can be seen as a form of defiance against societal expectations that often dictate how women should present themselves. For example, women are often told, “You should smile more.” By portraying women with a confident and unapologetic demeanor, I hope to emphasize their strength and independence.

The subtle nuances in the expressions, such as a mischievous look or a rebellious gaze, can spark curiosity and encourage viewers to construct their own stories around these women.
Danielle King, Berthe x Nan #1, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

AB: With the plethora of possible outputs AI systems give you, what approaches and philosophies do you employ to select the images you use in your final works? Could you expand on your selection and editing process?

DK: I begin by defining the conceptual framework and themes of my work. This clarity helps guide the selection process, allowing me to filter and prioritize images that align with the intended ideas and narratives. I seek images that possess the power to elicit emotions such as curiosity, contemplation, joy, or even discomfort. I also evaluate the narrative potential of each image, considering its ability to contribute to a larger story or evoke a specific mood. And, of course, I pay attention to the composition, focusing on how the elements within the image interact with one another and guide the viewer's gaze. 

I sometimes make minor adjustments to the images, such as upscaling to a higher resolution, correcting color, or cropping. That said, I often mint “raw” AI outputs without any editing at all.
Danielle King, Wunderkammer #26, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AB: You are a fairly prolific collector known for building an outstanding collection on a modest spend. Do you find yourself collecting on impulse, or do you go through different phases of focus where you seek out certain types of works? Do you look for artworks that hit on similar themes to your own, or shy away from thematically-related pieces? 

DK: I have no strict collecting guidelines — the joy of discovering and supporting new artists is a major driver of my collecting. My approach involves a combination of impulse buying and more focused acquisition. There are times when I come across works that instantly captivate me. In these cases, I make acquisitions on impulse, driven by an immediate connection to the artwork. At other times, I seek out specific types of works or focus on particular themes, actively seeking artworks that align with my current interests or fill gaps in my collection.

When it comes to thematic alignment, I embrace both artworks that share similar themes to my own and those that diverge from them. Collecting pieces that touch upon similar themes as my own work allows for dialogue and enriches the narrative of my collection. On the other hand, I also appreciate the value of works that offer contrasting perspectives. These pieces bring diversity to my collection.

Danielle King, The Muses #57 (Alexandria), 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AB: In the abundant sea of AI artworks, how do you suggest collectors find works that resonate with them most, and what do you think are the most important attributes of AI art that validate them for wider exposure?

DK: I suggest collectors actively explore the AI art landscape by visiting various online platforms — is a great one to start with — and engaging with AI artists and communities on Twitter and Discord. Seek out artworks that elicit strong emotions. Look for artists whose work tells a story and has meaning beyond the appearance of cool. Ultimately, collecting is incredibly personal, so when in doubt, go with your gut and buy what you love.

Danielle King, Louise, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AB: We have seen a number of larger institutions increase their exposure to generative works recently. What factors do you think will contribute to the wider adoption of AI work by rigorous artistic institutions and high-profile galleries?

DK: The wider adoption of AI artwork by museums and galleries will be influenced by curatorial support, technological literacy, audience engagement, and collaborative initiatives and partnerships.

The increasing recognition of AI as a legitimate artistic medium contributes to its acceptance within the art world. As more and more artists experiment with AI technologies and produce compelling and thought-provoking works, institutions are more likely to take notice and embrace them. Curators specializing in digital art can provide the necessary expertise and contextual understanding to showcase these works effectively.

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Danielle King is an artist, collector, writer, and curator based in Western Massachusetts. She studied studio art and art history at Harvard University, working primarily in photography, film, and mixed media. Her recent work uses AI technologies to explore alternative art histories and timelines, experiment with memory and the duality of self, and investigate capitalist and art historical ideals of beauty and femininity. After receiving her MBA from the Yale School of Management, she spent eight years managing the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is currently the CFO & COO of ClubNFT and Right Click Save. Danielle is a partner artist with ThreeSpaces and an advisor to Emergent Properties. She was a member of the fifth cohort of the VerticalCrypto Art Residency and is now a mentor for the program. She is also the mother of two boys.

Adam Berninger is an artist, curator, and founder based in New York and a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design. For the past 20 years, he has created works in photographic, painted, algorithmic, and written media, and has served as a creative director for industry-leading brands. His work explores how technology, beauty, the written word, and interactive experiences can provoke a deeper understanding of our shared existence. Adam is also the founder of TENDER, a generative art hub, community, and advocate serving to advance the medium of computational art. Through TENDER, he collaborates with generative artists to create new long-form series. At the heart of his practice across platforms, artworks, and media is a dedication to revealing the essence of art itself.