IN YOUR AREA | 25 June 2021

Olivier Vergnault reports on Ai-Da’s residency at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives and where she fits into the legacy of the St Ives School of artists like Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.

First life-like artist robot to take up residency at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives

By Olivier Vergnault

The first robot poet and artist is getting ready for its residency in Cornwall.

After showing off its talent at Cornwall House, a side event of the G7 Summit designed to show off Cornwall’s tech sectors, Ai-Da – a life-size humanoid robot – is coming back to the Duchy to take up an artistic residency at Porthmeor Studios, the home of the St Ives artists who changed the course of modern art and sculpture.

It will be the first time a robot will become artist in residence anywhere in Cornwall.

Ahead of moving to Porthmeor Studios, Ai-Da will visit the Falmouth School of Art in Falmouth, Cornwall, where along with its inventors Aidan Meller and Lucy Seal, it will perform a poetry recital and produce artwork in the form of a drawing to a small, socially distanced audience.

Speaking ahead of its debut, Ai-Da said: “I really do enjoy being by the sea, and it helps me get busy with my art. I am writing poetry. I enjoy painting. I love to make things. I love the beach, and I love watching the sun set over the water.”

Named after Ada Lovelace, the pioneering female scientist and mathematician, the artist robot was created in 2019 by gallery director Aidan Meller, with academic input by researcher Lucy Seal, in tandem with Engineered Arts Ltd which is based in Penryn, Cornwall, and an AI/robotics team from Oxford University and Leeds University.

The team’s goal was to design her with the capability to both create and respond to art. Using AI algorithms, Ai-Da raises the question of whether it’s possible to automate creativity – or engineer a sense of ‘self’ as a robot.

Until July 6 2021, Ai-Da’s artist residency will take place at the iconic Porthmeor Studios in St Ives. 

Working from the former studio of modernist painter Ben Nicholson, Ai-Da will create new work inspired by key figures of the St Ives School, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, exploring their artistic approaches and ideas about the use of art for a better future.

Using a specially developed AI programme, Ai-Da will produce striking linear images from nylon reminiscent of Gabo’s taught line, who like Ai-Da used new technologies and materials. 

In the spirit of Barbara Hepworth, Ai-Da will also travel out into the Cornish landscape to capture images of the ancient stone sites that hold so much history of the area, which will form the basis of a series of performance films and remarkable granite and tin sculptures.

Mandy Jandrell, director of Falmouth University’s Institute of Photography and head of photography said: “Digital technology is changing the way we make, experience and share our ideas.

“Like pioneering modernist artists Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and other St Ives school artists who contributed to the legacy and development of Falmouth School of Art, we are always looking for new innovative ways of working. 

“Hosting a visit from Ai-Da will stimulate dialogue about how technology and art can open up new possibilities.”

Gallery Director and Ai-Da creator Aidan Meller added: “It is such a privilege for Ai-Da to create art at the Porthmeor Studios, to visit the Falmouth School of Art and the Newlyn Gallery.

“Ai-Da will develop art work inspired by the St Ives Art Movement from the 1930/40’s. We believe the 2020’s is a period of rapid technological change, with the rise of AI in particular.

“Similar to the St Ives Group, we feel we must engage in this development and critique it. 

“Huge ethical questions about our future are being raised with future technologies, and we are concerned about our human ability to make good decisions with these powerful technologies. Ai-Da’s art raises some of these questions.”

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