AI Art with Betamax Plus

Betamax Plus is one of the weirdest collections of weird and uncanny entities you’ll encounter online (until these creatures escape the screen). Feeding AI with old movie aesthetics, Betamax Plus is expanding its own cinematic universe where there’s no clear distinction between humans, objects and animals.

Looking at your images what immediately strikes me is the exaggeration and proliferation of different body features (from eyes to limbs). When it comes to the body, every form of realism is irrelevant: it constantly overreaches and expands, its tensions always point outwards. What is the role of AI in this process? To reorient this movement or to simply accompany it?

This level of hyper-realistic surrealism is entirely due to the AI in my opinion. To get this level of realism prior to these programs required an enormous amount of time and skill that would have to be applied with a Photoshop program or something similar, or a team of artists, if it was even possible at all for someone who couldn’t dedicate their entire life to it. Really I think the only people who were achieving this or something similar were people making larger budget movies, going back to the practical effects of 80’s horror (I’m thinking John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for example) and then 90’s CGI, which required large teams of people working on it.
And in the proper art world I suppose I’d be remiss to not mention the Chapman brothers, whom I never even imagined being able to create something as visually real. Granted, they’re making physically tangible pieces so you could say there’s a world of difference and you’d probably be right but in the current social arrangement of these times I’m not sure how much that even matters. I mean, I’ve never seen their work in person and that goes for nearly every artist whose work I’m familiar with.
Our relationship to art (and other people if we’re being honest) exists almost entirely mediated as digital images on a screen, sadly.

Your creative universe is populated by weird entities, an uncanny mix of human traits, animal figures and mutant objects. How did these come to life? Did they visit you in your dreams? Did you imagine them from scratch?

I’m not sure exactly, they’re really just the result of messing around with AI so much. I think I might both pity anyone who would find some of these abominations as regular visitors in their dreams lol. So no they don’t come to me in dreams but it’s interesting how many people associate AI art with dreams, a lot of people doing it even work the word into the title of their project or their online bio.
But the way the trajectory has gone, when I started out I was trying for specific images (and that’s largely what I do now) but for a huge portion of the time I was simply trying to get the weirdest shit I could get the AI to spit out (and still am!) Which is to say, I’m mostly trying to confuse the AI. I don’t know if “confusion” is a useful word when it comes to computers and robotics but it’s the best I can think of. I’m pretty sure you can’t confuse lines of code. It’s a minority of the times that I think I want an exact image which is nearly impossible anyway, though not completely.

Your first published image shows a woman establishing contact with a creepy being resembling a bowling pin. I feel that somehow this is an accurate description of our first encounter with AI. I’m just not sure which one is AI: the most obvious answers would be the huge and unsettling object being approached by a hesitant human, but it may also be the other way around and we might be the unknown creature AI has to be acquainted with.

That’s interesting you would mention that image. I’m flattered (and impressed frankly) you would draw that kind of metaphor out of it but I think to assume AI is encountering us on any level isn’t a thing that’s happening at all, no offense lol. Going back to what I was saying, it’s really just lines of code electronically processed by metal, plastic, minerals and whatever else, right? I don’t even know that much about how all this shit works lol. But there’s no consciousness there experiencing anything. We don’t even know that much about the human brain and to liken it to a computer isn’t very accurate in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of people anthropomorphizing computers and robots, even going back to the early/mid 20th century, and I honestly don’t believe they are aware of anything.
But in this nascent period of using AI in the name of art it somewhat feels like there’s a whole world of visually creative opportunities that have yet to be explored. I could be wrong though and this is just how it will be with the current AI programs. I don’t see too much variety right now to be honest and that could be due to the limitations of the current programs. Many have likened their use as having “Godlike powers” which is really weird and goofy to me, they still seem very limiting to me.
How did you first encounter AI? Was it after its break-in in the social sphere or were you working on it before that moment?

Undoubtedly everyone’s first encounter with AI was some covert and subtle process built into the consumption of our everyday lives but for me it was explicitly in those Dalle-mini images that were going around, I saw them on Twitter first. They were mostly corny and generally terrible looking. It would be like “Donald Trump playing golf with Kermit the Frog” or some dumb shit like that.
Then as always with Twitter it became the discourse for a little while, and I generally agreed with the class analysis of it. When I tried using Dalle-mini it was underwhelming and it just kind of faded away for me. It wasn’t until later (and it’s only been a few months ago now) when a strange little thumbnail caught my eye on the Instagram search page. I thought it was a drag queen but something was different. It turned out to be an image by Beth Frey and I looked at her AI project and my brain proceeded to melt out of my ears lol. I was so flabbergasted and excited I literally did not sleep that night and immediately resolved to start using AI. I was also insanely jealous to be honest lol. At that time I was in an artistic lull and looking to go in a different direction, my digital project had run its course. But Beth’s work was so smart and it seemed so obvious, I was ashamed that I had dismissed AI so quickly. She had taken that retro aesthetic reminiscent of Sid & Marty Kroft/public access television and added a surrealist twist. It was nostalgic but unmistakably new. It reminded me of the visual/sonic aesthetic of Tom Fec (of Black Moth Super Rainbow and Tobacco) or what Tim & Eric had been doing but it was distinctly feminine. A handful of us started trying to imitate her style which is still impossible. There remain images she’s made that boggle my mind and I still periodically go back and look at it all.
Actually I’ve been outright accused of being a copycat account of hers by various obnoxious white AI artists online, and she would agree with them. Beth openly entertained the notion of quitting her AI project because of the existence of mine and other projects who make art inspired by her. It saddens me she’s taken such a propertarian stance to her art, especially about a project that was itself so derivative. It’s kind of like saying that since you’ve invented jazz that you’re the only one who can play it. But fittingly, when I think of AI artists, the first word that comes to mind is “white.” I mean, it’s basically all white people doing it right now and with whiteness you get a lot of notions of entitlement, privilege and fragility. Also I think if you look at what I do and see it as simply ripping someone off, and not having its own different merit, I can’t even take what you say seriously lol.
That my work could be considered a simulacrum of a simulacrum of simulacrum fits this historical moment perfectly, where people are having a difficult time making sense of anything. It’s making this massive digital hallucination we’re experiencing all the more confusing.
But going back, these accusations are also so befitting of everything going on right now and I think it speaks to the online AI community as a whole which is not a community at all but rather a whole bunch of hyper-atomized individuals cranking out content in hopes of climbing up the social network hierarchy. And I’m not entirely removed from this social relationship, I just happen to be one of the people who are “winning”. But I don’t think most involved with AI even give a fuck about art at all. And if people are desperate enough to see it as some sort of opportunity to escape poverty (and many are) I understand that and it’s absolutely tragic.

Many of your images look like stills from lost movies. Does cinema play a big role in your artistic process?

Explicitly so. In fact you used one of the magic words that I put into every description lol.
But I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good movie, right? I almost always have a movie playing in the background, I put on DVDs like people used to put on records. In fact, for a brief time I believed cinema was the ultimate art form. It’s obviously ridiculous to place a hierarchy on art forms, each one does something different the other can’t, but movies really do utilize them all: theater, music, writing, photography, fashion etc etc and the list goes on. I don’t think still images of AI generated art will ever be able elicit the same emotional response as a well-crafted film, or as powerful, but it can do it to a degree and maybe it’s doing something a little different. And I’ve made movies, this is a lot easier lol.

Within your visual research everyday entities like clouds come to life and enter the social field. Might AI help us to imagine different subjectivities like the one belonging to “inanimate” objects?

That’s a beautiful sentiment. If AI can in a way help people give personhood, which is synonymous with importance in this context, to non-humans and objects found in nature then I’m all for it. I’m not sure it can but it’s a nice thought. To my understanding, this has already been done in various indigenous cultures where the different elements of their surroundings are considered living beings. I think we’d probably be in a lot better place right now if this was universally understood as the truth.

How do you see your work progress in the future?

The Betamax Plus project is still fairly new and I want to keep it fresh and not oversaturate viewers with images which would be easy to do with how prolific you can be with AI. This may have already happened or is in the process of happening right now, I’m not sure lol. But I’m in it for the long haul even though it seems there’s a waning interest in AI art as it stands, after the initial explosion. But it’s hard to see what I’m doing outside of myself and make observations on a macro scale.
I also love messing around with my retro anime project (@bebop.genesis on Instagram). There I use Midjourney instead of Dalle-2 and I do free commissions there, so I get to interact with a bunch of different people. It’s really fun when someone gives me an idea and in twenty minutes I give them some really nice images of what they requested. It often blows their minds and I love giving art to people for free. That’s the only time when it feels like AI has granted me some sort of artistic superpower, providing free art for people at a pace and quality that before was impossible. If you knew me personally you know that I give away my paintings and illustrations all the time and my prices are incredibly low on originals. With every fiber of my being I believe that art should be free and money shouldn’t be a barrier to someone having a nice piece of original art that they enjoy in their dwelling. I try to back this up by giving away art regularly.
Also I’m in the process of sculpting AI anime images out of ceramics and seeing how that works out. Dalle-2 is generally awful for anime but it’s made some really interesting forms that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. I just happened to enroll in a ceramics class when I was struggling artistically and then almost immediately found AI and my life took a whole other direction. So I figure why not try to incorporate the digital with the physical while I have the chance.
And speaking to these AI projects more broadly, if anything I hope to undermine a world built entirely on property relations, including intellectual property rights, which really doesn’t benefit the vast majority of us. It’s actually fucking us all up, it’s like the opposite of freedom lol. A lot of us were hoping the absolute debacle of the vaccine production would get more people to really start to question the validity of intellectual property rights, it didn’t really happen though.
What I’m really waiting for is for these AI programs to get better lol. Dalle-2 produces a lot of unusable images and I have to almost always fix hands and faces. Midjourney just adds things you never even put into it or ignores stuff and the hands are an issue too. If someone improves or makes an AI program that actually interprets what you are trying to convey accurately, that’s going to be really interesting.



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