Mary Flanagan at the NeMe Arts Centre (2019) from NeMe on Vimeo

[Grace:AI] – [frankenstein]

Dye Sublimation on Aluminum
20″ x 20″
50.8cm x 50.8cm

Why are we on a quest to make artificial systems emotive, intelligent — in other words, human-like? Perhaps Mary Shelley had it right in Frankenstein: even from her 19th century vantage point, Shelley critiqued the Promethean fantasy of the Anthropocene, demonstrating that the seduction of the possible, and the narcissistic act of humans defying natural limitations—life itself—has terrific consequence. “None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science,” Shelley presciently wrote. But after the monster awakens, Frankenstein admits, “I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”

[Grace:AI] employs a Deep Convolutional General Adversarial Network and is trained to “see” from a dataset I continue to create that contains paintings and drawings by women artists, in effect, a history of global women’s art in thousands of images. The artists I have chosen as her ‘teachers’ are outspoken, strong individuals who worked or work in the male-dominated art world.

[Grace:AI] is first producing images from her “origin story” of sorts by examining thousands of images of Mary Shelley’s monster, classic ‘Frankensteins’ gathered from online databases and image banks, rendering a series of original images of her “father figure” as archival giclee prints mounted on aluminum. In making artificial creatures – robots, golems, AIs—are we in fact making servants, slave races, monsters?  Shelley and the monster she created sparked the beginning of this critical conversation, one whose results we are still processing in our new millennium, an era that seems both more robust and more fragile than Shelley’s newly industrialized Europe.

To create such a massive digital dataset of women’s artwork is not trivial. Most art history databases do not include gender or sex as a searchable aspect of the work. Thus, gathering the images has required scraping web resources artist by artist, typing in their name and culling images of women’s artwork (as opposed to photographs of women artists, or images made by male artists of them). 

[Grace:AI] has also provoked a book, called Electric Philosophy, that accompanies the exhibition. The book is written from the perspective of [Grace:AI] as she delves into philosophical topics such as being and knowledge.

Collections of images were also generously given for the training data from the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Indiana University’s A Space of Their Own database as part of the Eskenazi Museum of Art. 

This project was initially supported by the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College.


“A Question of Intelligence,” The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, New York, Feb-April 2020

Children of Prometheus,” NeMe Arts Centre, Cyprus, Oct 2019