Interviews

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“I Think Everything is the Director’s Fault”: Steven Soderbergh on The Laundromat, LLCs and Systemic Corruption

Ever the productive workhorse, Steven Soderbergh has released two movies on Netflix this year. The first: High Flying Bird, a sharply scripted drama set behind the scenes at the NBA that follows a canny sport agent whose end game is to shift the financial power from white owners to black players, i.e. to seize the means (or balls) of production. The second: The Laundromat, a Big Short-style anthology film about the Panama Papers leak that explains the proliferation of offshore bank accounts and tax havens, specifically those provided by the firm Mossack Fonseca, and follows the victims of these global […]

“It’s Not That Strange, and It’s Not That Weird!” Pablo Larraín and Mariana Di Girolamo on Ema

With Ema, Chilean director Pablo Larraín moves away from the biopic (Jackie, Neruda) and the past history of his country (Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No) to turn towards its future. The film centers on Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), a young reggaeton dancer who sees her marriage with celebrated choreographer Gastón (Gael García Bernal) crumble after their “failed” adoption. A simple enough story, but already in the film’s earliest scene, the surprising behaviors and reactions of the characters hint at their extremely modern identities. Ema and Gaston are unspeakably cruel to each other, but in their own way, they are incredibly […]

Art and Generative Systems

Gene Kogan: Neural Synthesis, 2017

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Gene Kogan: I studied applied mathematics in university and became interested in machine learning through its application to music technology, especially the idea of music recommendation systems. That got me thinking more about creative and artistic uses of machine learning, which led me indirectly to discover media arts and art technology more broadly. Since then, I’ve become interested in computer science more generally in how it can be applied to emerging tech art.

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

GK: A lot of the things that influence my art practice come from outside the art world. I don’t have a proper art background and don’t participate very much in the residency or gallery scene, with fairly rare exceptions, and I think this keeps my work a bit less influenced by art trends. I am very curiosity-driven and spend most of my time looking at scientific literature more so than artistic. That said, there have been many artists that have influenced me over the years, and I am especially grateful to arts-technology communities like OpenFrameworks and Processing, out of which I’ve made many friends, and gotten many ideas and help on projects. Community is very important in arts technology, otherwise we’re all just sitting alone in front of computers.

RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

GK: I guess the underlying theme is emerging technology for creative practice and generative art. More recently, I’ve become interested in systems that facilitate mass collaboration among people, and creating generative systems built on collective intelligence.

RB: Can you say something about ml4a, the collection of free educational resources devoted to machine learning for artists?

GK: I started ml4a as a resource for a class I was teaching at NYU called “machine learning for artists” and slowly the scope of it grew to encompass most of the educational materials I was putting out, including outside of the university. I generally neither work as a creative technologist nor as a professional artist (selling my work) and so my educational output turns out to be the most stable part of my professional work, and it’s been really fun for me to keep a consistent workshop practice over the last few years, and ml4a has been a big part of that. These days, I’m thinking a lot about how to evolve ml4a, as some of the problems that it seeks to solve are becoming less relevant, now that there are so many more resources besides ml4a directed at artists and creatives. I’m thinking about how to make it more goal-driven and community-oriented.

Neural synthesis [2017]. Some recent experiments with neural channel synthesis. The video was created for the creativity exhibition at NIPS conference in 2017.

RB: A lot of the processes behind creative thinking are still unknown. Can AI-powered creativity and neural networks play a role in helping the understanding about our own creative methodology and imagination?

GK: Yeah, I think it can help us discover a lot of things by creating interesting interactions between us and our tools. When you work with systems that have flexible automation, it forces you to confront what the essence of creativity really is. Is it in the performance, or the composition, or the ideation? It’s all very subjective though, so I tend not to take the question too seriously.

RB: Can you say something about your project Abraham?

GK: I’ve been thinking about Abraham for a couple of years, and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s gradually becoming my main focus. In many ways, it’s a continuation of ml4a but a bit more goal-driven, with a tangible project as an end goal, and an expanded scope to include emerging topics besides machine learning, including decentralization technology, cryptography, economics, game theory, and even some philosophy. I’m trying to make the case now for why it’s an interesting construction, this idea of an autonomous artificial artist, and it’s been a learning process for me, trying to understand and articulate why I find it so meaningful. Hopefully, we start working towards a prototype later this year, and I expect 2020 for it to be my main focus.

Gene Kogan: Experiments with style transfer (2015). Mona Lisa restyled by Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Crab Nebula, and Google Maps.

RB: Can AI be taught how to create without guidance and develop its own sense of creativity?

GK: By definition, AI (or AGI) is all about creating agents that have all the same intellectual capabilities or even greater ones than human beings, and so in principle, if we believe a human can do that, then so could an AI eventually. How we achieve that in the future, and when or if that might ever actually happen is another question. I’m pretty optimistic in general and don’t see why we couldn’t accomplish this in principle, but it’s hard to predict.

RB: When does a neural network become an author of an artwork? And how can we form an understanding of the art that it makes?

GK: This question comes up a lot but I think it’s actually not well-defined. Authorship is a concept that very much predates AI and has not yet caught up. We are seeing now how limiting it is to try to assign one person or entity as the sole author to something, when AI brings in so many influences, and so many people, and so many data points. It very much fragments the notion of authorship, and certainly downstream ideas about intellectual property, copyright, and so on. No one ever asked “when does a paintbrush become an author of an artwork” even though it’s a tool just the same. But the more of the creative process AI takes on, much more so than the paintbrush itself, the more obsolete the authorship idea becomes, since AI is not really a singular being like a human. We may have to invent new words to really make this clear.

Gene Kogan: pix2pix webcam (meat puppet), 2017

RB: Emotions are essential for creativity and is a subject being explored in a relatively new area of AI, Affective Computing, which seeks to place a machine in the world such that it recognizes, interprets, processes, and simulates human affects. In order to be truly creative, will AI need to develop emotions and consciousness?

GK: Like with authorship, I think some of these terms are not well defined. Have to pass on the question, it’s a bit too abstract!

RB: Pushing the boundaries of the medium is a natural part of the art making process because, in some ways, the artist is exploring the medium itself. What boundaries do you wish to push with the medium that you use?

GK: I’ve been really inspired by the world of decentralization and peer-to-peer networks, in how they are trying to increase our ability to coordinate en masse with many people towards shared goals. Abraham is very much influenced by this trend. I think there’s a lot of room to innovate here and a lot of low-hanging fruits. In the context of art, I’d like to see how it’s possible to make creative artifacts — artworks, music, even novels — through this kind of mode of mass collaboration.

RB: As well as mI4a and Abraham, what other projects are you currently working on or planning?

GK: I am helping some friends to organize a free retreat to make art in something of an intentional community in the desert. The website is brahman.ai . It is closely tied with some of my arts projects, but it’s much more anarchical, and some of my friends will be initiating interesting art projects and group activities there. It’s an experiment in sustainable learning and living, and I’m pretty excited to spend a few months focused on it next year. I’m also just generally researching AI and decentralization, and working occasionally on art projects and installations. For example, I just finished a big installation at a brand new museum in Germany called The Futurium.

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http://genekogan.com/

All images copyright and courtesy of Gene Kogan.

The post Art and Generative Systems appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

“If a Director Feels the Need to Move the Camera Simply to ‘Make It Interesting,’ It’s Likely an Indicator the Scene Itself Isn’t That Interesting”: DP Erik Messerschmidt on Mindhunter, Season Two

When David Fincher transitioned from music videos to feature films in the 1990s, the descriptors “glossy,” “slick” and “stylized” were frequently affixed to his work. Those adjectives were often aimed as pejoratives, categorizing Fincher as a technical virtuoso who created shiny but hollow thrillers. Watching the second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter—executive produced and partially directed by Fincher—the evolution of the filmmaker’s aesthetic is striking. As FBI profilers Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) interview America’s most notorious serial killers, the camera rarely moves. Instead, it unobtrusively observes.  What hasn’t changed over the years is Fincher’s unwavering exactitude, […]

“It Was a Daily Process of Making Sure She was Comfortable with our Presence”: Chase Whiteside and Erick Stoll on Their Doc about Family and Caregiving, América

It’s no secret that dedication and responsibility are both required when caring for the elderly. In Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside’s feature documentary América, those two traits are leaned upon heavily, as three adult grandchildren look after their 93-year-old grandmother, who gives the film its title. By resisting sentimentality, the film finds a new kind of emotional heft, burrowing into the daily grind of the specifics of looking after someone who’s always conscious but not always present. At times observational and at times detailed in its tracking of legal battles (the three men’s father is currently imprisoned for not looking […]

Mica Levi Composes for the Music-less Commandos of Monos

Transcribing a verbal interview can calcify its fluidity. Congealed to text, the spontaneity of a subject’s ongoing efforts to articulate their process is reduced, encouraging readers to mistake the record as definitive. Some interviewees ponder the permanence of their words anxiously and fear fumbling, saying what they don’t mean, or what they might not in a month or a year. But composer Mica Levi’s (Marjorie Prime, Jackie, Under The Skin) oral replies retain their suppleness on the page. Her understanding of her score for Alejandro Landes’ Monos, about a group of teenage commandos flummoxing their military responsibilities atop a mountain […]

“The Privileged Life Can Also Come at a Price”: Eva Mulvad on her TIFF-Premiering Love Child

Having committed adultery and conceived a child out of wedlock, a couple is forced to choose between keeping secrets and family ties — or being true to love and residing in exile. Though that could be the plot of an old-fashioned romance novel (or modern-day soap opera), it’s actually the all-too-real situation the protagonists at the heart of Eva Mulvad’s documentary Love Child are forced to reckon with. Over the course of six years Mulvad (the Danish documentarian behind lighter dramatic fare such as the Grey Gardens-in-Portugal standout The Good Life, and more recently, A Cherry Tale and A Modern […]

“I am Interested in Multiple Uses of Power and the Different Forms of Violence and Abuse That Take Place in Close Relationships”: Five Questions for Disco Director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen

Religious extremism and its cult-like symptoms are of intense interest to filmmaker Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, her two feature films, Hoggeren (The Three Feller) and Disco offering ample evidence of this. The two films portray cultural manipulation from the top down, with the hierarchies of religious institutions providing the confinements for their leading characters. Premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Disco links professional shortcomings to a lack of belief in the holy spirit. Disco tells the story of 19-year-old Mirjam, a world champion freestyle disco dancer whose stepfather serves as pastor of the local church, Freedom. Once Mirjam’s success in […]

“A Movie is Not Something Where I Need to Convey a Message About How People Are Supposed to Live”: Director Kôji Fukada on A Girl Missing

Since his debut feature, Human Comedy in Tokyo, in 2008, Kôji Fukada has steadily become one of the most interesting filmmakers working out of Japan in the last decade plus. Many of his features can be characterised by a protagonist or family unit’s apparent stability being upended by one event, a plot development that illustrates how easily and turbulently lives can spiral out of control. In his sophomore feature, Hospitalité (2010), this was played for laughs. In that film, a family printing business is gradually taken over by a former associate who talks his way into a job, moves into […]

Five Questions for The Vigil Director Keith Thomas About His TIFF-Premiering Film’s Religious Horror

As a weighty, academic-like subgenre of the horror film, “religious horror” presents endless opportunities to explore both the occult and the minutiae of organized worship. Prepackaged with historical baggage and preconceived expectations, religious horror films play on our belief of the supernatural, however naively broad it may be; like any religion, most horror film films require some suspension of disbelief. While William Friedkin’s The Exorcist continues to stand as the most explicit cinematic example of clergy-meets-devil, other classics such as Rosemary’s Baby present a more subtle depiction of messianic workship: in an unexpected shock, the title character gives birth to […]

“My Zombi is Not Like Other Zombis… It is Someone Between Life and Death”: Bertrand Bonello Talks Haiti, Day for Night, and his New Zombi Child

A clear standout in Director’s Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Bertrand Bonello’s mystifying, euphonious headfuck Zombi Child finally drifts onto North American screens this week at TIFF. Among other pleasures and singularities, Bonello’s work has long employed a meticulously curated soundtrack to bridge internal gulfs in subject matter both historical and cultural. In his House of Tolerance, set in a brothel late in the Belle Époque, the (at the time, at least) scandalously anachronistic soundtrack featured rare soul and blues records that exemplified the spirit if not the letter of what was on-screen—namely, the pained, Henry Miller-like alternations […]

Frightening with Cosmic Consequences: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead on their TIFF-Premiering Synchronic

Working for the past several years as a directing tandem, filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return to the Toronto International Film Festival with Synchronic, a film described by TIFF programmer Michael Lerman as “both suspenseful and subversive.” Following two paramedics based in New Orleans as they uncover a series of odd, drug-related deaths, Synchronic represents the next step forward for the two genre-filmmakers. Complete with two franchise-leading stars (Anthony Mackie of Avengers fame and Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades of Grey), the film marks the directing duo’s return to TIFF after a five-year hiatus (when their gory foreign romance, […]

“It’s About Pursuing ‘Truth’ and How Each Journalist Interprets That Word for the Rest of Us”: Yung Chang on His TIFF-Debuting This Is Not a Movie

Long a thorn in the establishment’s side, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Fisk has spent the past four-decades-plus reporting “subjectively” from frontlines the world over, most notably in the Middle East. An Arabic speaker, who interviewed Osama bin Laden three times before 9/11, Fisk has forever served “on the side of the suffering,” political implications be damned. Unsurprisingly, this has caused the Beirut-based Brit to become a controversial, if highly respected, figure, labeled both human rights advocate and terrorist sympathizer alike. Now in his seventies and still dodging bullets, both literally and figuratively, Fisk continues to file columns for The Independent […]

“It Was an Era of Reinvention After a Terrible Trauma”: Five Questions for Ebs Burnough about His TIFF-Premiering Doc, The Capote Tapes

Dramatic feature films like Bennett Miller’s Capote have dramatized the life of the late Southern author by focusing on the time surrounding the writing and release of his classic piece of non-fiction storytelling In Cold Blood — a work that’s had astounding influence on today’s true-crime landscape. Now, another chapter of Truman Capote’s life is analyzed and evoked in the documentary debut of Ebs Burnough, The Capote Tapes. Although it covers Capote’s whole life, the doc, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday, focuses heavily on Capote’s final years, which include the writing of his unfinished novel, Answered […]

“I Tried to Take a Look at These Things from a Distant Future”: Thomas Heise on his TIFF-Premiering Berlin Doc, Heimat is a Space in Time

Winner of the Caligari Film Prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Heimat is a Space in Time is German documentarian Thomas Heise’s absorbing look at 20th-century history in his homeland via his own family’s artifacts — most notably astonishingly intimate letters that sweep us from the rise of Nazism, to the Cold War division of the country, to life on the Stasi-controlled side of the Berlin Wall. Three generations of firsthand accounts, read in unobtrusive voiceover, are gracefully interwoven with family photos and archival images to create a nearly three-and-a-half-hour cinematic epic — one that unfolds in digestible parts like a […]

“There Was Almost a Competition to See Who Could Spit on the Film More”: Ognjen Glavonić on The Load

A road trip movie where the destination is clear but the intent is hidden, Ognjen Glavonić’s The Load is something of a taut genre film with political subtext. Set in Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo War (that ultimately concluded with the catastrophic NATO bombing that went unapproved by the UN Security Council), The Load goes micro in its study of a truck driver who’s trying to make ends meet by driving unknown cargo from one destination to another. What he’s transporting, he doesn’t bother to ask and he certainly doesn’t want to know.  Drab and dreary, war-torn and ravaged, The […]

“We Decided Early On That There was Never Going to Be A Single Lock-off Shot”: DP Erik Wilson on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

The original Dark Crystal was released on December 17th, 1982 , four days before my fifth birthday. I don’t remember exactly when my mom took me to see it. I can only tell you that when she did, the movie–and its lizard-like villains, the Skeksis—scared the crap out of me. There is a generation of kids who were similarly terrified and enthralled by the film, which was much darker than unsuspecting parents anticipated from Jim Henson, the man behind The Muppets and Sesame Street.  Erik Wilson—the cinematographer of Netflix’s new 10-episode prequel The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance—was not among […]

“With Digital You Have to Spend a Lot of Money Before It Becomes Free”: Mark Jenkin on His Hand-Processed 16mm Bait

If you’ve heard much at all about Bait, the breakthrough feature of British filmmaker Mark Jenkin, it’s likely concerned the anachronistic means by which he’s constructed the experimental drama. Shot on a hand-cranked Bolex camera in black-and-white 16mm, then hand-processed by Jenkin himself with an assortment of unusual materials that lend scratchiness to the images, the film offsets potential accusations of gimmickry in making these aesthetic choices relevant to evoking something specific about where it’s set, an unnamed fishing village in the county of Cornwall in southwest England. As writer Ian Mantgani describes in his review for Sight & Sound, […]