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September 8, 2023

What is the Future of Generative Media?

Maya Man, Luke Shannon, and Claire Silver discuss the fusion of AI, digital art, and fashion
Credit: Claire Silver, (still from) style moderne, 2023. Courtesy of the artist
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What is the Future of Generative Media?

Earlier this summer, Christie’s and Gucci presented “Future Frequencies: Explorations in Generative Art and Fashion,” a collaborative auction showcasing a number of today’s leading talents in the digital art space with a focus on generative systems and artificial intelligence. In practice, the show was a test bed for hybrid forms of creativity at the intersection of fashion, art, and technology with profound implications for the future of multiple industries. 

Interplaying autonomous systems, machine learning, and the digital arts, the project was a fusion of disparate ecosystems, overlaying fashion — an industry concerned with garment design and production — onto worlds that employ algorithms, modeling, and data to simulate human-like intelligence and generate art. It was an invitation to avant-garde thinking with the motivation to propel radical new ideas and imagine new realities for fashion and beyond. Here, the project’s curator Sebastian Sanchez hosts three of the participating creators in a conversation about the future of generative media.

Installation view of “Future Frequencies: Explorations in Generative Art and Fashion” at Christie’s New York with work: Claire Silver, style moderne (2023). © 2023 Christie’s Images Limited

Sebastian Sanchez: You all participated in “Future Frequencies,” which was an auction and exhibition in collaboration with Gucci that explored the intersection of art, fashion, and technology through the lens of generative systems and artificial intelligence. I want to get everyone’s thoughts on generative systems beyond the world of digital art, specifically in relation to media, fashion, and design. Where are we now and where are we going? 

Luke Shannon: I regard generative systems, especially the one-of-one-of-x model, as having the potential to change a lot of fashion and design. There’s a moment when you’re wearing the same shirt as someone else, which is really cool because you both have the same style but also a bit awkward because you want to express your individuality. 

The one-of-one of x allows two people to wear pieces from the same algorithmic collection, where you both share the same taste and support the same artists, but nevertheless whatever is designed is uniquely yours. That allows you to have a different kind of relationship with the design, closer to a co-creation than a purchase.

I also have somewhat lofty aspirations about owning the instructions for the things that one owns, which lends itself to upcycling and mending existing things. For example, embroidery patterns might be added to existing clothing and garments produced locally on demand. Some element of sustainability is feasible here.

Luke Shannon, pattern.dst, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Maya Man: Fashion and generative art exist in parallel because of their constant desire for novelty and uniqueness. In fashion, every season there are new shows and new collections — the pace is extremely fast and the cycle of trends has only gotten faster with the internet. When you introduce a level of generativity into art, you have the ability to produce a wide range of unique outputs from a single algorithm at a pace that is quicker than any individual could produce it. I’m curious to see how these generative algorithms and AI systems will influence fashion production. 

As an artist, what I love about working with a generative system is that it introduces a level of randomness. I can take the algorithm so far, but it still continues to turn out something that I could never have come up with independently. That’s very exciting, but I also feel a sense of caution at the fast pace of the fashion industry and what it might look like to introduce generative systems into that cycle, which is already so intense.

Claire Silver: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve been working with AI and 3D. I’ve come across a program that allows you to create 3D fashion and export sewing patterns straight to a garment factory or seamstress, so you can have these custom-made clothes. I’ve been using AI in conjunction with that to create patterns and iterate silhouettes. It’s fascinating because it drives you back to learning your own taste. I’m not too worried about fashion being impacted negatively. I see the implications being more about customization — there’s going to be a lot less “off the rack,” so to speak. 

When you’ve made something, it’s yours in a way that gives you a sentimental attachment. I hope that we get a sense of ownership in a different way. 
Installation view of “Future Frequencies: Explorations in Generative Art and Fashion” at Christie’s New York with works by Zachary Lieberman, Minne Atairu, DRAUP, Botto, Robbie Barrat, and Helena Sarin. © 2023 Christie’s Images Limited

SS: Many people ask me: “where do you think AI and design AI will be most disruptive?” Will it affect every part of a production cycle? 

CS: It’s going to have an impact across the board. Obviously, it’s digging in deep on the creative side of things, and I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t implement it into every step of the process. The element of surprise that it gives you is something that humans have a really hard time bringing to the table. It solves problems that we’ve had trouble solving; so I see it everywhere.

LS: From an art perspective, algorithms have already revolutionized a lot of what we do behind the scenes on the internet. It’s interesting to be working in that medium from this other perspective. We’ll see how what’s being pursued in interactive art or AI art will come back and alter some of the existing revolutions. 

MM: I’m curious about the relationship between algorithms and desire, and how taste is affected by algorithms. I think a lot about social media in my work, and compared to 15 years ago, what we see on the internet is really driving people’s sense of style and what they want to buy. I’m interested to see how that will continue to shape the fashion industry and the way that people engage with fashion. 

Right now, I’m thinking about systems like Rent the Runway. In the past, clothing was about ownership, but now we have this awkward relationship with clothes that Claire touched upon where uniqueness reigns. New systems are being built that accommodate the fast-paced trend cycle in the age of the internet. 

Algorithms play a major role in facilitating a culture of constant newness.
Maya Man, Dress Code, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

SS: Luke, you collaborated the most with Gucci for “Future Frequencies,” working from the silhouette of their coat. They were also excited by the combination of generative art and fashion. Based on that experience, where do you see generative fashion going?

LS: My idea was to try to expose some of the generative systems that they were already using, and the constraints that they’re already designing within. I was really interested in the bidirectional relationship of art as instructions and instructions as art.

Pattern making relies on instructions that initiate a whole creative process of interpretation. For me, it therefore parallels a lot of algorithmic art. 

“Future Frequencies” was an interesting opportunity for me to put coded algorithmic art in conversation with pattern making and to work with a piece of IP that’s normally highly protected. By putting it out as an NFT, anyone who can see it can download the SVG files. Theoretically, anyone can use that pattern — it’s open source now and they can’t put that back in the bottle. I was clear about what would happen when I proposed the project to them, and I think it’s interesting and exciting that they would agree to something like that.

SS: All the creative industries are facing new hurdles right now, especially with the potential for an infinite number of new designs. Do you see this auction and the visibility around it as moving the needle for generative design in mainstream culture? 

CS: I think that most people are not exposed to this line of thinking in general. People who are naturally curious about art and fashion and those who might have visited the exhibition are probably being introduced to the concept for the first time. It’s very powerful in that way. Not too long ago, I was talking to someone from a major fashion magazine who hadn’t heard or thought about the potential of AI or generative art at all. That was really shocking to me because it’s so obvious where things are going that it was reassuring thinking about all the fun that’s going to come. I think it helped a lot.

Installation view of “Future Frequencies: Explorations in Generative Art and Fashion” at Christie’s New York with works by Emily Xie, Maya Man, and Tyler Hobbs. © 2023 Christie’s Images Limited

SS: I’m wondering about how generative systems can be made accessible to their audiences. Is there a user-friendly interface to make generative art with code? 

CS: I don’t know how to code. But I’ve been using Open Processing and p5.js with ChatGPT. That’s been working really well and has taught me a great deal.

MM: With any medium, there are different levels of engagement. There are many types of software that require higher levels of literacy than others, but all are valid ways of making art. It’s exciting to hear about people working with p5.js, which from the beginning has prioritized access and inclusion in order to encourage people from all backgrounds to work with code as a medium. I always recommend p5 as a place to start for people who are interested in learning more about coding as an artistic medium.

LS: I see node-based programming as a way for visual thinkers to create. Some people work better that way.

SS: It’s an interesting question: whether using “easier” programs discredits the art. For me, the answer is absolutely not. One of the photographers I collect takes pictures on her iPhone, but that doesn’t lessen its impact. She’s represented by amazing galleries all over the world. In my view, it’s about the context in which the work is framed. 

CS: For years now I’ve been hearing that AI is easy. But accessibility breeds innovation. Using ChatGPT with p5.js has allowed me to do some cool things that people from a traditional background might not have thought to do. 

That said, coders can [still] run circles around you. AI doesn’t replace skill in the way that I thought it did initially — it augments it. Whatever you’re good at, it lifts you ten levels higher. 
Luke Shannon, pattern.dst, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

SS: I want to pivot to the issue of skeuomorphism, whereby design elements and three-dimensional graphics mimic physical objects either for decoration or to assist the user interface. Examples might include LCD hands on a smartwatch or the sound of a shutter on a digital camera. Luke, the work that you produced for “Future Frequencies” is a representation of a physical object. But it’s not a 3D model of a coat — it is the coat. 

LS: [Skeuomorphism] is something that I think about a lot, especially as my focus is on producing physical outputs from generative algorithms. At the auction, a lot of people liked the fact that there were physical components to my work. That made it easier to grasp for people newer to the space, including those from a traditional art perspective.

We’re now at a stage when we are just as frequently using the internet to inform how we act in our lives and in the physical world. A fashion example might be JW Anderson’s show of pixelated clothing at Paris Fashion Week 2023. Those were digital skeuomorphs presented in a physical space, which is a reversal of how we normally think about skeuomorphism. That is especially interesting to me given how far fashion is tied up with notions of identity and autonomy. 

The reason I wanted to work with an embroidery machine and autonomous machines in general is because their digital and algorithmic biases are increasingly impacting our physical world and ideas of self. 

MM: The concept of skeuomorphism is so contentious in the design world. For me, this is born of an inherent fear that a lot of people have when releasing products or interfaces to the public. For me, the classic example of skeuomorphism is the trash can icon on your computer, where you drag the file to the trash and it makes a crunching sound. 

As an artist who works mostly on screen, I’m less concerned with mimicking the physical world. That said, my work does have a skeuomorphic quality to it, whether it’s taking some form of advertising or the classic Instagram graphic that you see online, and then mimicking it. I’m really curious about the role of mimicry in generative work. When generative artists talk about their process, they often speak of using code and software to reproduce sources of inspiration out in the world. 

Claire Silver and Emi Kusano, Shinjitai, 2023. Courtesy of the artists

SS: Claire, your pieces in the auction all have physical components — your work style moderne (2023) came with a physical hologram for the final winner while, for your collaboration with Emi Kusano, the winner received a roll of fabric mimicking the digital piece. It’s so interesting that for those of us working in digital spaces, a lot of the time we almost feel a need to translate the digital into the physical.  

CS: I’ve always felt like having both physical and digital components was a natural thing because, when I’m collaborating with AI, it feels like a friend of mine — it lives in the digital realm and I live in the physical realm, and we should work together and have a piece of each in both of our houses, so to speak. I also really like mixing physical mediums like acrylic paint skins, photographing them, bringing them into AI, and training data sets. Maybe it’s also my generation. I feel like millennials and some of the older Gen Zs have memories before the internet really took off, so there’s a bridge between that feels very natural to us. 

SS: What do you all think is the long-term potential of generative systems to renegotiate our identities across physical and digital realms?

CS: I feel like the way that you present yourself to the world — the way you look, the way you speak, your background — is all down to chance, whereas digital identity is a choice. That choice can change from day to day or week to week, but you’re in the driver’s seat. With AI, I’ve found a million aesthetics that I’d never thought of and wanted to adopt and bring into myself the same way you see a movie that you love, which becomes part of you. I’ve been able to mix them and create new aesthetics that I’d never seen before, but that experience is not unique to me — I think that everyone is going to experience it eventually. 

In a world where you’re able to create your clothes or your own 3D-printed housewares, whatever you like, identity is going to be expressed in a lot of different ways, all stemming from generative systems.
Maya Man, FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT #59, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

LS: Generative systems and randomness have increasingly informed our ideas about identity. Even something like the Spotify shuffle algorithm involves randomness in a way that has changed the way we listen to music. [...] There’s a very interesting relationship between collectors of generative art and the art itself. The way that it’s released today, the piece doesn’t exist unless it’s collected by somebody; it emerges from the act of viewing or collecting.

MM: I’m currently working on a collection that focuses on astrology, called I’m Feeling Lucky.

I’ve always been averse to the idea of a fixed self, that there is one true you that you have to discover. Especially online, the self is something that is constantly being reproduced and is morphing and shifting. 

We are constantly doing this exercise of looking at different images and videos, deciding what resonates with us and what we identify with. We’re shaping our identity around that saying, “I’m the kind of person who likes x, y, or z,” because I’ve seen it, I’ve internalized it, and now it’s become part of me. For me, that’s really beautiful. 

When I think about generative art, the way that people interface with a collection is often by looking at a specific output that they identify with that is nevertheless derived from a random seed. There’s a lot of hesitation about linking identity with randomness because of the romantic notion of a fixed self. But I actually think it’s really beautiful and exciting to release that because randomness can play a really useful role in identity formation.

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Maya Man is an artist focused on contemporary identity culture on the internet. Her websites, generative series, and installations examine dominant narratives around femininity, authenticity, and the performance of self online. She is the creator of the browser extension, Glance Back (2022), and the Art Blocks curated collection, FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT (2022). She has exhibited globally, including at bitforms, New York; SOOT Gallery, Tokyo; Vellum, Los Angeles; Power Station of Art, Shanghai; and online on Feral File. Maya holds BA degrees in Computer Science and Media Studies from Pomona College and an MFA in Media Art from UCLA. 

Luke Shannon is a generative artist and maker based in Princeton, New Jersey. Previous projects include The Opera (2021) with Art Blocks and Orchids with Bright Moments, which have been displayed in New York, London, Mexico City, and Art Basel Miami. He was a researcher and artist in residence for the Council on Science and Technology at Princeton University in 2022, and is currently an Art Blocks artist consultant and R&D contractor. Shannon specializes in producing physical generative art, including embroidery, plotting, CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machining, laser cutting, book production, and glass blowing. He is interested in ideas of performance, self, and creativity within constraints.

Claire Silver is an anonymous AI-collaborative artist who works with oil, acrylic, collage, photography, and different digital mediums. She often blends the classical style and mythos into her art, producing work that feels at once familiar and strange. Her practice is an ongoing visual conversation with AI, exploring themes of innocence, trauma, the hero’s journey, and how our view of them will change in an increasingly transhumanist future. Claire’s art is included in the permanent collection of LACMA and has been exhibited in galleries, museums, and festivals all over the world, as well as Sotheby’s London and Christie’s New York. She takes every opportunity to explore her unending fascination with AI, fight for visibility for the budding art movement, and wonder at the magnitude of this moment in history. She often feels like a caveman painting fire. Claire is vocal in her belief that with the rise of AI, for the first time, the barrier of skill is swept away. In this evolving era, taste is the new skill.

Sebastian Sanchez is Manager of Digital Art Sales at Christie’s. He has spearheaded partnerships with Beeple on the opening of Beeple Studios in Charleston and with Gucci for the exhibition, “Future Frequencies: Explorations in Generative Art and Fashion.” Prior to joining Christie’s, Sebastian led Web3 projects for brands such as Warner Brothers, HBO, and Discovery. In 2018, he co-founded the generative art platform, ARTXCODE, working with artists such as Tyler Hobbs and Dmitri Cherniak to cultivate the early generative art market and community. He has also directed collaborations with artists including Rashid Johnson, Cindy Sherman, and Barbara Kruger. Sebastian is a certified Full Stack Engineer with a degree from App Academy and holds a BBA in Design Management from Parsons School of Design at The New School.