“The world has to be changed by humans, and art is uniquely situated to interface with people’s minds, inspire, align and promote unity through a common set of goals that positively affect our reality. Our technological tools provide us with the aptitude to solve complex problems, and art helps us do it with
humanity” – Ben Heim
In the expressive sense of the word, Artificial Intelligence’s more authentic meaning is creative information. As an art form, it gives us a deeper perspective about ourselves and the world around us -exposing and uncovering the most important qualities of our vulnerabilities to seek and overcome obstacles that provide solutions permitting deeper and genuine connections. Coding is an integral counterculture of this technology as humans become the behavioral narrators of its programs and operating systems. The symbiotic relationship between man and machine enables people to foster ideas toward more sustainable communities and a healthier planet, as AI has the infrastructure to take our world issues and recast them beyond the limitations of our capacities. The question isn’t whether technology can prevail; the question is, are we humane enough to weigh the brevity of our choices and the culpability they have and will continue to have on our society if we’re not equitable with our programming decisions? Generative designers and artists believe art is a treasure trove of hope to shift a new paradigm for compatibility.
VENÜ welcomes composer and Audiovisual Artist Ben Heim and Founder of guardDog.ai, Peter Bookman, to discuss the genesis of AI, overcoming adversity and the motivator that art and music have on our human existence.
VENÜ: Can code help to create a more empathetic universe?
Ben Heim: I have great faith in the ability of code to usher in a new and brighter future. Through automation and trustless transactions, the dual technologies of blockchain and neural networks have incredible power to eliminate bureaucracy, where much corruption occurs, and free people to engage with each other directly. I believe the more direct communication between people we can foster, the better, allowing natural human empathy to take over. I can imagine a world where our institutions and systems are entirely transparent, and we are no longer worried about whether someone is trying to scam them or lie to them under the shroud of an obsolete system. This trust between people, institutions, and the technology that powers them is vital for fostering empathy and creating a more harmonious society. Code is, of course, still merely a tool that we can use to shape humanity, so we must be sure it’s applied by positive actors to promote good rather than evil.
VENÜ: What projects are on the horizon for you?
BH: I am very excited by the current climate and what it means for my work. The initial NFT hype has receded, leaving digital artists a new and incredible technology to sell digital assets and the time to develop and position ourselves before NFTs become fully mainstream. My upcoming projects focus on combining digital and physical worlds into synergistic experiences. These projects are rooted in real-time interactive artworks which combine sound, design, and generative visual systems into fully immersive experiences where the audience can fully participate and engage with my artistic vision. On top of this real-world manifestation of layered digital integrations, people can generate NFTs in real-time and own them forever on blockchain as keepsakes or mementos and automated documentation of the art event itself and my process. I can’t reveal too much about many of these projects. Still, in December, you can catch my work in an all-new audiovisual installation during ART BASEL week in Miami.
Peter Bookman: In your opinion, what is the correlation between commerce, the climate crisis, food shortages, and communication breakdown? As an artist who works with generative code, how do you plan to impact the world positively?
BH: As an artist, my work is about creative, generative systems where many forces and rules interact to create a final audiovisual experience. The world’s systems are similar to these designs on a larger and infinitely more complex scale. I believe commerce, the climate crisis, and food shortages are all interlinked, linked to our institutions, and ultimately networked down to each human mind and our shared unconscious. It is clear that change is needed in many areas of our society and institutions to combat these crises, and I believe the root of that change must come from within each human mind. While it may seem trivial to some, I believe beauty to be a potent tool to motivate, educate and foster empathy in people. I hope my artworks might give people glimpses of how all of humanity is interconnected, the incredible beauty of a complex system that works in synergism to create impactful art, and the possibility that we could leave our infighting and negativity behind and work together to produce incredible things.
VENÜ: We care about the most wasted human endeavor on earth – Energy and Climate Change. Data breaches and cybercrimes are not only the result of the loss of critical equipment failures but are at their highest potential of harm to our human health and a deepening caustic environment from energy waste discharges, air emissions, and catastrophic spills. What proactive measures are in place to help delineate an entirely new set of challenges arising from more data to effectively secure the unique landscape of robotics and the metaverse to reduce the plight of financial and economic impact due to global warming?
BH: That is a vast topic, and I’m not sure I’m the one to comment on it. I do hope that we can build an ethical framework for the use of AI because it is such a powerful tool if harnessed correctly. Ultimately, I think this is more a human problem than a technological one. We already have so much power to do good and evil, and AI further enhances our capabilities in both domains. We must have a universal conversation about ethics, morality, and how technology is harnessed to impact the world positively. Still, this is a conversation we’ve already been having since the beginning.
PB: Dropping titles, we are both creators and innovators of our crafts. guardDog.ai is based on the morals of ethical connectivity. In the industry, we refer to this as cyber wellness. Do you find that the artistic elements of working with code extend an outward reach that engages us to uplift each other, celebrate our differences, and see our strengths in a non-threatening or rewarding way? Is this the primary reason why you enjoy working with generated data?
BH: To me, generative systems are the artform that most closely mirrors reality itself, even now when we are really in the infancy of what we can create with them. Sunsets, human bodies, plants, and mountain ranges are all developed through a complex set of interlocking rules and generative processes. Code is a tool that empowers me to define my own rules and mechanisms to create the complex, evolving systems that are my artworks. Since this form of art mirrors reality so clearly, I believe it is an excellent vehicle to explore interpersonal relationships, our similarities, and differences through a medium that mimics reality but on a smaller, less complex, and, therefore, more manageable scale.
PB: When viewing your work, I see your configuration of code sequences composed in the same way the divine universe creates a piece of quartz. These “MODERN JEWELS” not only gesture materiality but also help shape a parallel universe. Do you consciously take a holistic approach in your syncopated process to promote unity, or does this happen fortuitously?
BH: I believe this unity is innate to generative systems, or at least the types I create. I often find myself employing processes that could be considered “fractal” in that they can shape another reality on many different levels. For example, feedback is a tool I often employ in my work, taking an image, making a minute change to it, then repeating that process many times per second to create an evolving, growing work. These processes remind me of how erosion shapes a valley, the movement of sand on a beach, or the physical laws that govern how clouds form. These progressions can be found at every level of my works, just as they can be found at every level of the universe, each microcosm containing the whole. While I sometimes don’t think about employing these techniques consciously, time and again, they become the tools I innately gravitate towards to achieve my artistic goals.
PB: Coding is a language that I tend to correlate closely with the universal language of music. To get into an easy headspace when coding, I often enjoy groovin’ to music and strumming my guitar to one of my favorites – Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer’s cover of Redemption Song by Bob Marley. The sound resonates deeply into our minds and bodies. What is your process of selecting music, knowing you must curate the projects carefully?
BH: I have no formal training in visual art, code, or technology, as I’m entirely self-taught in these areas; however, I stem from a background in music. I’ve studied music since I was a child, so it forms an integral part of everything I do. One of my key goals as an artist is to effectively marry the audio and the visual so that neither the musical composition nor the optical component is compromised. Sometimes this is through creating a generative system that reacts to live performances in real-time, translating harmony to color and dynamics and articulation to form and motion. Other times I have made purely visual systems, then sought for ways I can pull data about its motion and progression to drive auditory systems, perhaps tying a specific color scheme to a certain tonality or a brush stroke to generate a new musical note. I find that these connections between music and visuals greatly heighten the experience for audiences, which is the area I spend most of my time honing and perfecting.
PB: There’s a very narrow separation between disciplines. Typically, we ask industry experts who work with code- whether an artist who understands blockchain or NFTs, an “ethical actor,” or an IT expert to run penetration tests. These tests give us the training prowess to deter and eliminate a breach before it reaches impact. Have you ever created artwork from a penetration test?
BH: While I often create works derived from data sources, I can’t say I’ve made one from a penetration test. The idea appeals to me; not only would a penetration test generate a highly engaging set of data to work with, but I also enjoy the philosophical implications, a kind of “holy war” waged in the service of good.
PB: There are three significant roles in having positive cyberhealth that guardDog.ai addresses. In actuality, there are four – which is Complacency is the Mindset of Vulnerability. As an artist who works with code, what are the three policies you live by so that the powerful tools you work with continue to heal people and the nature between the physical and digital world doesn’t get blurred?
BH: My primary tenet in creating art and life is to understand my role as a human and primarily sow positive things for the common good into the future. – My reverence for inspiring and pioneering new technologies or generating impactful experiences allows people to examine themselves and how they relate to others. I believe that all we do, we do in the service of the human race. In a way, my second policy stems from the first: always maintaining humility. To me, pride gets in the way when we lose sight of working for the good of humanity and work for our self-aggrandizement. This is an essential rule for all creators, especially those working with generative systems. Finally, I try to seek beauty in all I do. I believe evolution has equipped us with powerful observational tools, informed by millions of years of development, intended to discern between what is good for humanity and what is bad for it. I believe trusting in my innate sense of what is a beautiful result will guide me toward the betterment of humankind. ☐
All images courtesy of Ben Heim