Artist Albena Baeva: I have trust in AI and autonomous machines

Art has always been part of technology development and technology has always been part of art

Photo: Rene Beekman

Today, we are witnessing a big erosion of trust in various long-established authorities, such as traditional media and governments. In practice, people are now more likely to trust content offered to them by an algorithm than such offered by a health professional, for example, says the artist Albena Baeva in an interview to EUROPOST.



Your exhibition Trust Territories is very different. How does the audience accept your works?

The audience reacted very positively to my exhibition. The first thing that impresses visitors is that it is bright and airy. Then comes the observation of the many levels and layers in it, as well as the contemplation. That was my main goal and I am glad that it worked out. In some of my artworks, I used classical techniques in order to execute the instructions of the algorithm. I mean the techniques that are not part of the digital domain, such as drawings and frescoes. At the centre of the exhibition, however, there are three three-dimensional sculptures, which are placed within the space by means of augmented reality. Drawings and sculptures connect with historical artworks-instructions, while the augmented reality builds a spiral line that immerses the visitors in the digital space. Trust Territories is a bigger project that I develop together with the Russian curator Natalia Fuchs. We worked closely on the concept and the research that led to the training of the algorithm that generated the instructions. The exhibition in Sofia is just one version of many possible exhibitions that we want to create together with Natalia.

The exhibition Trust Territories was recently opened at the Goethe-Institut in Sofia. It will run until 2 July, after which a tour of the exhibition and Albena will be organised. Afterwards, the artists Daniel Szalai (Hungary) and Tobias Zimmer (Germany) will present their work and also how they handle machine self-learning and algorithms. Both are residents of the Generation A=Algorithm international residency, organised by the Goethe-Institut in 12 European countries. They spent a month in Sofia, researching and working on a new work of art together with the Artificial Intelligence and CAD Systems Laboratory at Sofia Tech Park. Their presentation will continue with a discussion about the intersection points between art, technology and science. (Editor's note)

What made you trust artificial intelligence and include it in the creation of your works? Did the coronavirus pandemic play a key role in this regard?

Artificial intelligence and autonomous machines have been a topic in my work long before the pandemic. I devote a lot of my creative process working with computers and new technologies, so I trust them. The inclusion of various algorithms as a theme and process in my work is a completely natural continuation of my previous creative pursuits in this direction. The topic of the pandemic is present in the project because it plays a key role in the topic of trust in general. Today, we are witnessing a big erosion of trust in various long-established authorities, such as traditional media and governments. This leads in turn to a new social crisis. The new technologies and various algorithms that filter content on social media enhance all these processes. In practice, people are now more likely to trust content offered to them by an algorithm than such offered by a health professional, for example.

Where is the intersection of art and machines?

Art has always been part of technology development and technology has always been part of art. It is no coincidence that Leonardo da Vinci invented various machines. For me personally, technology is interesting not only as means to achieve an effect, but mainly as a topic.

Robots already can draw just like the greatest masters. Can they completely replace traditional art, which is the product of an artist's inspiration, imagination and spiritual contradictions?

Robots cannot yet reach the level of the old masters. Many researchers share the opinion that we have no reason to think that there will ever be an independent creative machine, which will have the impulse to create art without human intervention. Others believe that it is only a matter of time. I do not think that the idea is to replace a period in art with imitations created by machines. The world is changing, and if an autonomous robot ever appeared to create art, I would imagine that it would create a new and different art, perhaps even such that is incomprehensible to humans. It would be art created by machines for machines.

What do you think about the new craze in the world of art - NFTs (non-fungible tokens), where artists earn hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars by selling not their own actual artworks but a certificate proving ownership over them?

The NFT fever is currently overexposed. There is speculation on this market, which aims to attract attention from investors and participants. A certificate has always been a part of an artwork, and it increases its value. In principle, in many countries such a certificate is normally issued by the gallery, which in turn takes a commission. The NFT certificate is quite secure, as it is very difficult to be changed, and it is created by the artist himself. I think this attracts many artists who are trying to go on the market on their own. Unfortunately, the truth is that most of the artists who work alone do not even get decent sales. Few of them are able to make the shocking figures mentioned above.

And what is your view on the exhibitions which are presented entirely in augmented reality? Such an exposition was recently presented at the Grand Palais in Paris.

It is quite normal for there to be more and more exhibitions employing augmented and virtual reality. This technology is not new in fact, but it has become much more accessible in recent years. Today, almost any mobile phone can be used with augmented or virtual reality, and moreover, you no longer need to download heavy applications, everything is web-based. Hence the much wider use of technology in the field of art.

Can we demand and expect ethics from artificial intelligence?

People are those who create both ethics and algorithms. Therefore, it is not only possible, but it is also mandatory. The truth is that today's technological development of algorithms poses serious threats to our society if we do not start regulating this type of technology. The good news is that this kind of regulation is already in the process of being discussed at various political levels.


Albena Baeva works at the intersection of art, technology and social science. In her interactive installations for urban spaces and galleries, she uses ML and AI, physical computing, creative coding and DIY practices. Albena has two MAs; in Restoration and in Digital Arts from the National Academy of Art in Sofia. She is a co-founder of the Runabout project, a platform for new performance instruments, the studio for interactive design Reaktiv and gallery Gallery. Her works have been shown in museums for contemporary art, galleries and festivals for video and performance in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA.



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