Sam Leach: Fully Automatic

Art, Paintings
Surreal Sam Leach AI-assisted oil painting 'Half Cat'
Photograph: Supplied, Sam Leach See surreal Sam Leach AI-assisted oil painting 'Half Cat' at Sullivan+Strumpf

Time Out says

Does the future of art belong to artificial intelligence? Find out in this exciting, surreal and slightly scary exhibition

In his seminal science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – filmed by Ridley Scott as game-changing movie Blade Runner – Philip K Dick questioned what it means to be human, and if that definition extended to artificial intelligence. A new exhibition by Melbourne artist Sam Leach, Sam Leach: Fully Automatic, opening at Zetland’s Sullivan+Strumpf gallery on Thursday, August 20, might as well pose the question: “Do androids dream of electric art?”

The process behind the show is mind-bending, with Leach having employed a somewhat unusual assistant. Clearly unfazed by Dick’s dystopia, or just how bad a turn the Terminator franchise took, he has embraced the mind of a super-smart machine to help guide his latest work (we hope the bionic brain gets a cut of the profits).

Inspired by research conducted at the Queensland Brain Institute, Leach worked with a computer coder. Together they developed an algorithm-fed artificial intelligence that would scan Leach's back catalogue, plus a whole host of historical imagery sourced from fellow artists, architects and scientists, and then tasked the machine with deciding what images Leach should paint next.

It’s sort of like reverse engineering of the approach of Andy Warhol, who came up with the idea then let his assistants do the heavy, mass-production lifting. Leach instead lets the robot brain pick the idea, but handles the actual painting himself (thereby robbing us of the very cool/uber-dorky image of R2-D2, Data and Arnie hanging out at home together getting squiffy over a virtual paint n sip class).

The results conjured up by our new machine overlord and discerning art connoisseur are pretty wild and not at all perturbing. Behold hawk-headed dark towers and surrealist hairless cats cut in half. Part sci-fi fan fiction, part Dali nightmare-scape, the works are also awash with dashes of Pop Art hot pink.

Leach isn’t the first art world figure to undertake a free-wheeling foray into this brave new world. As American Scientist magazine reports, with artificial intelligence now having in hand in everything from driving cars to writing itself, it was inevitable that artists would start to tinker with the capabilities of machine learning, too. Christie’s recently sold its first piece of AI-created art, the blurry ‘Portrait of Edmond Belamy’, for a staggering $432,500.

Is this the future? Is this just fantasy? You can make your own mind up when Sam Leach: Fully Automatic debuts at Sullivan+Strumf. But be careful, if it’s not for you, whisper it quietly. You never know if the machines are listening…

 Want more art by humans? Check out the best exhibition in Sydney this month

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