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The Technological Bio-art Of Sofía Crespo

Tuesday, March 26th 2024

by raxo

With the rise of AI tools in the past years, many artists have raised their voices against them, saying that you can’t replace human work and creativity with machines and algorithms. And while this is true, others decided to use AI as a tool instead of a replacement, and that’s the case for Sofía Crespo, a Berlin-based artist with a huge interest in biology-inspired technologies. According to her own website, “one of her main focuses is the way organic life uses artificial mechanisms to simulate itself and evolve, this implying the idea that technologies are a biased product of the organic life that created them and not a completely separated object. Crespo looks at the similarities between techniques of AI image formation, and the way that humans express themselves creatively and cognitively recognize their world. Her work brings into question the potential of AI in artistic practice and its ability to reshape our understanding of creativity. On the side, she is also hugely concerned with the dynamic change in the role of the artists working with machine learning techniques”.

Her main focus is the way organic life uses artificial mechanism to simulate itself and evolve

"Her main focus is the way organic life uses artificial mechanism to simulate itself and evolve"

The images created by Crespo using both neural networks and AI tools are described by Crespo herself as the “natural history book that never was”. At first glance, her illustrations resemble classic Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. If you take a closer look, things start to get freaky, like those AI portraits where the hands are all weird; quoting Colossal for some examples, the colorful renderings show, for those who take a closer look, “two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies”. These images are part of Crespo’s ‘Artificial Natural History’ project, which merges the desire to categorize organisms with the very renaissance project of humanism. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she says.

Another of Crespo’s projects, ‘Neural Zoo’, combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. So basically, our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but at the same time, our brain is aware that the elements being shown don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to. Explained in depth by Sofía: “Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?”.

Crespo argues that in the era of the digital, with data analysis and data manipulation, AI, AR & VR, it is hardly likely that someone will discover anything that is 100% new and original, but it is possible to “look at things in a new way”. In the same way the brain can recompute and combine all the information it has, a data set can go through the same projects and create something completely new and different by connecting the dots in a renovated way. Sofía’s projects revolve around nature (‘speculative nature’, as she calls it) and the usage of technology to create stunning images that make the brain go “there’s something off with that”, which automatically makes the viewer invested as they try to figure the images out. Just like in nature, the images start a certain way and they keep evolving to get to the final stage: “It starts from a place of pure noise, and then gradually, through each convolution, it begins to grow. It adds more detail and more texture”. And that’s how you use AI properly.