Obvious and Agoria, the art and way of creating with AI

Can Dall-E and Midjourney turn everyone into an artist? To answer, just look at the course and the approach of the collective Obvious and Agoria.

The audience came in large numbers on this evening of December 3 to the Danysz Gallery, despite the cold and the sublime but disturbing statues of the American Mark Jenkins, for some arranged on the facade and at the entrance, at the risk of frightening passers-by. The place, founded in the heart of the Marais by the art dealer Magda Danysz at the end of the twentieth century, hosts “7.1”, the new exhibition of the French collective, Obvious. It is a question, among other things, ofartificial intelligence in the service of art, a concept still vague for many mortals.

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Scanning this work (“Lighthouse of Alexandria 1.2”) leads to an augmented version minted in NFT. © JDN

When presenting their work to the assembly, a colleague tells them that she has tried to generate images via artificial intelligence; in fact, she too can claim to be an artist. Hardly embarrassed by this reply suggesting that a brush in hand is enough to paint a masterpiece, the collective responds patiently. A priesthood. “Current photographers do not have to explain how their cameras work; soon, this will also happen with AI. A good part of our speech is intended to be educational and explanatory, especially on the place always important in the creative process. When this is assimilated, we will be able to get to the heart of the subject we are dealing with”, confided to us a little later Gauthier Vernier, one of the members of the trio.

Since the formation of the collective, the three protagonists of Obvious deal with incomprehension, even mistrust. Their fame, soon documented in a documentary on Canal+, was made almost by chance, in 2018, during an auction at Christie’s in New York of one of their paintings with features from an intelligence program. artificial. Sold at more than 430,000 dollars, the work entitled “Edmond de Bellamy” hit the headlines, arousing astonishment, if not jibes. “We were completely overwhelmed by the scale of the events,” recalls one of the co-founders, Pierre Fautrel. To the point of leaving New York and the boiling to rally Paris the same night.

AI to rethink African masks and Japanese prints

Always associated with this moment, Obvious has never stopped producing, always relying on the same approach: feeding algorithms by Hugo Caselles-Dupré, last member of the trio, of an organic, human inspiration. The “7.1” exhibition presented at the Danysz Gallery until January 14 is made up of canvases representing the seven wonders of the world, all of which have now disappeared, except for what remains of the Pyramid of Giza. To materialize them, the collective relied on a collection of ancient texts, grouped together with the help of a historian, to feed an algorithm, which then submitted visual reinterpretations of these descriptions. Coated on canvas by a studio of painters chosen by the collective, the works also subsist virtually through augmented twins, emitted in NFT and visible once they are scanned on the Artivive application.

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From left to right, Gauthier Vernier, Hugo Caselles-Dupré and Pierre Fautrel, co-founders of the Obvious collective. © Emma-Jane Browne

With “Facets of AGI” in 2020, Obvious offered a series of African wooden masks, with features taken from the code and made by a Ghanaian artist. A few months earlier, the collective asked artificial intelligence to design eleven scenes from the Japanese Edo era, reproduced in prints. With Ile-de-France residents, History always provides the basis for the method. “Our message wants to put an end to the binarity of speeches, whether it is the projections on the replacement of machines on humans or the exacerbated enthusiasm on technology. Art and science are linked, it is a constant evolution and we show that it’s a new tool for artists, a new mode of creation and our collections provide occasional analyzes linked to new technologies. It’s never black or white”, continues Pierre Fautrel.

A few days after this interview, a good acquaintance of the collective, Sébastien Devaud, also known under the pseudonym of Agoria approves of these remarks. He welcomes us to a café on the left bank, all smiles, after a very auspicious but secret meeting for his year 2023. The co-founder of the Nuits Sonores de Lyon has just come out of a long evening at the Transmusicales in Rennes , during which he offered the 2,500 people in the hangar the possibility of minting in NFT a snapshot of the visual creation and the music produced during the evening. A first. “I wanted to involve an audience that is not necessarily pro-Web3which is alternative”, tells us the producer. “It’s Jean-Louis Brossard (creator of Transmusicales de Rennes, editor’s note), very curious, very open, who commissioned this creation from us. It was good to offer them, we don’t want a mercantile relationship in this context. It’s a memory, in the blockchainfor all time.”

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Sébastien Devaud aka Agoria. © Charlotte Abramow

As ambitious as it was, this experience in NFT was far from being the first for Agoria: accompanied by his coder friend Johan Lescure, he has been experimenting with NFT support and algorithms for several years, particularly “since the pandemic”. Like Obvious, with whom he collaborated last year, he too is impregnated with organic matter, digested by machines. In 2021, the work Phytocene, composed with Nicolas Desprat and Nicolas Becker, replicated in music and images the data collected by probes of a symbiosis between a plant and its bacteria. In April, he collaborated with biologist Alice Meunier to a series of NFTs showing on video the moment when the human brain makes a decision.

Only, Sébastien Devaud refuses to use the expression artificial intelligence. “Nobody wants to confront something artificial, apart from a few paradises perhaps”, he justifies. “I prefer to talk about augmented intelligence or algorithmic intelligence.” Like his Obvious comrades, he considers this technology to be “a boon for the imagination.” He says he contemplates every morning the fruit of the expression of the neural networks. “There are endless possibilities resulting from requests made to the algorithm. And every day, you can rewrite it. It’s dizzying.”

“What questions a tool like Dall-E is the lack of work”

When told the anecdote of the Obvious collective questioned by our colleague mentioned above, Agoria smiles again. “She’s right,” he retorts, not without irony. “I think that AIs are there as a tool and that they question above all the place of the artist, always put on a pedestal. With AI, it is essential for the artist to create his own databases: if we start from existing data, like what Slab, the approach becomes simplistic, you have to be careful with that. People won’t be fooled. The question is not whether what we produce can be produced easily, but whether it makes sense. There must be a job. At the end of the day, what a tool like Dall-E questions is the lack of work.”

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Fragment Comp-nd #4791 of the composite work created for the drop Ledger. © Agoria

However, more than five years after the beginnings of Obvious, is this art still relevant at a time of popularization of the algorithm? Back at the Danysz Gallery, Pierre Fautrel, Hugo Caselles-Dupré and Gauthier Vernier say nothing other than Agoria, they who produce thousands of tests per work before agreeing on a final result. “This evolution is not something we feared, we were the advocates of this creative revolution and it is taking place today”, answers the first. “In fact, we’re glad we didn’t miss the mark. Our art form has always been conceptual, driven by a message, and the fact that technology has taken five years to democratize is very good. Now for good ideas and creative people. Everyone can buy a brush, a canvas and paint, and yet not everyone is an artist. We still have things to say.”

From next year, the trio will set about opening a research laboratory, a wish that will materialize thanks to the substantive work carried out by Hugo Caselles-Dupré, himself a doctoral student in machine learning at the Sorbonne. “Today, we use technology but we now want to participate in its development”, explains Gauthier Vernier. For its part, Agoria is already working on multiple projects, such as the follow-up to its latest drop NFT produced in partnership with Ledger and the Renaissance agency or other achievements linking algorithm and bioscience.

Consequently, if the year to come already promises to be fruitful, as illustrated by their respective presence at the February NFT Betting, how do they see the medium-term future? If they mention text-to-video “for next year, well before the end of five years”, and the interpretation of brain waves, they do not risk prophecies. “It will have a considerable impact on many professions, especially creative ones, but it is very complicated to project yourself. It is a mental exercise that we do very often, however”, confides Gauthier Vernel. “We have a 100% chance of screwing up with this answer!”

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Obvious and Agoria, the art and way of creating with AI

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