What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
Tiffany Calvert (TC): Currently I am working on a project I had begun researching early in the year; I am using artificial intelligence to create images through a StyleGAN (Generative Adversarial Network). Essentially, I have asked AI to create new, machine-invented still life paintings based on a data set of 1,007 historical still life images. The resulting images are strange; the AI seizes on visually similar objects such as flowers and halved lemons and generates a new thing that looks like neither; these images are the basis of my newest body of paintings. After printing the images large-scale, I mask off areas and paint onto them.
I was lucky enough to be able to transition to a home studio for the past 11 months. I do miss studio visits with local artist friends, colleagues and students; but conversely, I’ve been talking more with remote artist friends.
Josh Azzarella (JA): I’ve used the last year to do extensive research into artificial intelligence; specifically, audio event detection and image synthesis. In the first part of the year I made a new work that is self-contained and can be deployed beyond the studio and exhibition space. This work is always listening for the sound of a gunshot, and if the acoustic fingerprint matches, it immediately takes a photograph above where the unit is placed.
In recent months I have been chasing the creation of images and video using artificial intelligence. I’ve been fine tuning the GPT-2 language model on custom datasets to create visual descriptions of images. I’ve been feeding those descriptions into a neural network to create new images and video.
How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
TC: This is always a hard question for artists to answer in the moment; it’s easier to answer with 10 years of distance. However, I think these paintings speak to our exchange and translation of digital images. Right now, especially, we’re using multiple digital mediums—for teaching, school, seeing family and friends—to stand in for a physical presence. Aesthetics particular to these mediums are now part our everyday visual vocabulary. Imagery in the paintings reflects those vocabularies such as overlapping panes, changing resolution, strangely frozen videos, and shifting background masking.
There is also something about beauty and horror in the paintings that speaks to the current moment; biological diversity, biomorphism, viral mutations and the microscopic. At the time that many of the historical paintings I use in my work were made, the most beloved but elusive variant of Dutch tulips obsessed Dutch growers, and they struggled in vain to reproduce it without damaging the plants. More recent researchers have discovered the coveted scarlet striping is caused by TBV (Tulip Breaking Virus). One of the most interesting things I found while researching and using AI is that computer vision is presently being used by tulip-growers in the Netherlands to find and remove from growing fields the aberrant plants that contain this virus.
JA: Going back to the late 90’s my work has been in some capacity about isolation and loneliness. In many ways today’s landscapes are as empty as the images I’ve made for the last 20 years. I think those works speak, in part, to the fragility of society and our reliance on others. Early on during the infrequent times we left the house, it very much felt as if we were in a scene from The Quiet Earth—wandering without purpose looking for others that are living.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
TC: Figuring out how you best make your work, how you are most productive, is a continual part of studio practice. You can trust that this knowledge comes with time, and you can draw on it in moments like this. I spent years cobbling together an artistic life between adjunct teaching and part time jobs. I had to find ways to work. The two things that helped me then and that I have returned to now are: 1) You have to be making work you love, and it takes work and practice to cultivate a feeling that you can’t wait to get back in the studio, and 2) You have to practice making art in slivers of time. Having a child increased the urgency of this. I found if I had 30 minutes to paint before nap was over, I could make a painting in that time. The deadlines that children impose make studio time finite and consequential. I appreciate what motherhood has done to sharpen my studio practice.
JA: During times like these we can’t be too hard on ourselves, or anyone else, for not getting research done. We are all working to support and take care of those around us and ultimately that’s going to win out over the studio, as frustrating as it may be. However, when you find those sparse studio minutes between schooling your kid(s), working on house projects, working on a schedule so your partner can get in some studio time, or just taking a mental break, you have to be focused. This focus probably will not seem immediately productive but it builds over time and eventually work will begin to filter out.
Over the years, I have built a practice that allows me to set the computer off on a task – it may be anything from rendering a group of complex composited video sequences to training a custom data set on a language model…and walk away for a while. This way of working has helped me to feel like I’m getting research done while paying attention to and supporting those around me.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
TC: In certain ways I feel more connected to the larger art world than ever; as a Kentucky artist and parent of a small kid, I have been truly grateful for all the artist talks and symposiums that connect me to the larger art world via zoom. I am also in love with the many studio walkthroughs that artists have been generous enough to share during this time (Tamara Gonzales, Mark Dion, and Dorothea Rockburne to name a few). You gain so much insight into other artists’ work and practices this way.
The Louisville community can support artists by realizing what it has felt like to test their absence. Louisville has great arts resources, but they can and will disappear without support: donate money, buy virtual performance tickets, buy art from our local galleries, take virtual art or music lessons, and advocate for arts funding for schools and nonprofits through our representatives. You can also follow local and regional artists via social media; during COVID, quite a few artists have been selling art through these platforms as fundraisers and it’s a great way to achieve two aims at once.
JA: This has been the hardest part. As Tiffany noted, there have been an amazing number of zoom talks and events. However, I spend my days staring at a screen so I tend to back away when I can. Honestly, I’m looking forward to collaborating again; I am working on a grant with a collaborator friend for a future project.
Regarding the community support, I think of this as artist to artist; checking in on each other is always helpful, as well as getting exhibitions and talks lined up for our eventual return can add some normalcy back into our lives.
About the artists:
Tiffany Calvert has exhibited her work in the US and abroad including Lawrimore Project in Seattle, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, Cadogan Contemporary in London, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Her most recent solo exhibition, S/AMPLE DATA, was shown at Tinney Contemporary in Nashville. Residencies include the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, I-Park, and ArtOmi International Arts Center where she received a Geraldine R. Dodge Fellowship. Calvert has received grants from the Great Meadows Foundation and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Her work was recently profiled by critic John Yau in the online journal Hyperallergic. Her curatorial projects include “Some Abstraction Occurs” at 65GRAND Gallery in Chicago and “Magic” at Mercer College (featuring work by Chris Martin, Karla Knight, and Sarah Peters), which identified a trend in artists whose works address the otherworldly or magical. Calvert’s current paintings investigate the relationship between digital media and the reception and perception of images, and utilizes diverse technologies such as fresco, 3D modeling and artificial intelligence. She is currently Associate Professor of Art at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville.
Josh Azzarella (b. 1978, Ohio) creates videos, objects, and photographs that explore the power of context in the authorship of memory, oftentimes utilizing seminal moments in pop culture and news media to create accessible confrontations with historiography. By illuminating the individual encounter with communal experiences, Azzarella evaluates the perception of realness–which can ultimately be rooted in both the fantastic as much as the pragmatic.
Azzarella was the recipient of the 2006 Emerging Artist Award and related solo exhibition from The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (CT). He has previously shown at the California Museum of Photography (CA), University Art Museum, Long Beach (CA), Vancouver Art Gallery (Canada), Kavi Gupta Gallery (IL), Academie der Kunste (Berlin), Sean Kelly Gallery (NY), Catharine Clark Gallery (CA), Mississippi State University (MS), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (CA) and DCKT Gallery (NY). His work is included in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PA), the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (TX), the San Diego Museum of Modern Art (CA), the Margulies Collection (FL), Western Bridge (WA) and JP Morgan Chase (NY), and 21c. In 2019 Azzarella collaborated on projects with both the Louisville Symphony Orchestra and the Louisville Ballet. He lives and works in Louisville, KY.
Website and Instagram
The underlying image was created using artificial intelligence to generate a new still life from a data set of 1,007 historical still life images.
Oil on inkjet print on canvas, 55×68 inches, 2020
Using an artificial intelligence neural network trained on the Google AudioSet, this work detects the sound of a gunshot and instantly takes a photograph of the sky at that moment. Although the photographs will largely not capture any event, their index is a response to the instantaneousness of gun violence, which has characterized the past four decades.
This body of work collects pieces of film that have been screened in cinemas throughout the world which portray moments of transition. The film is scanned and enlarged (including their scratches, blemishes, and detritus gained from use) and reproduced at large scale. The images appear as they are fed into the projector – upside down and backwards. One image is leaving the frame (memory), and another is about to appear (anticipation); the black space in between is viewed for a moment (1/24th of a second) as the liminal space between these realities (time).
These sculptural works have been created by the sound of an iconic still from each of previously
modified films. The audio data has been mapped in 3D space to create a representation of what the still image sounds like. The light from the iconic image in the Soderbergh re-edit of Heaven’s Gate (1980) has been captured and converted into the equivalent audio tones. This audio was then mapped in 3d space and printed. The resulting object is a physical manifestation of how the image sounds.