The Portraits came out of a series of 2013 reports on the future of work, suggesting that 35% of UK jobs were liable to be fully automated over the next two decades. It got us wondering what the odds on the obsolescence of artists might be (reassuringly, the research only gave us a 4% chance of having been automated out of existence by the 2030s).
There have been periodical panics about technology ever since the industrial revolution, not least of painting being superseded by photography and film. In practice, mechanisation and innovation have widened the creative field and presented new opportunities, rather than threats, to art and culture. So we weren’t too worried, but we decided to explore how far current technology can be pushed, and what it could achieve.
We’ve collaborated with a team of cutting edge software programmers and visual effects specialists, to see how far and how fast algorithms and moving parts could progress towards realising recognisable and psychologically engaging portraits. Over months of iterations, we’ve worked with the programmers to layer the code so that the robot can paint both loosely and to a very high level of detail where necessary, executing the portraits to a consistent style envisioned by us.
We’ve called them Dark Factory Portraits as a nod to the slightly eerie reality of ‘lights out manufacturing’, where factories can function in the dark because robotic systems don’t need to ‘see’ what they’re doing.
The Dark Factory Portraits of celebrated artists such as Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono will be on display for the first time at Ben Brown Fine Arts in February 2020. Visitors to the gallery will be the able to watch KUKA’s famous robotic arm in action, painting a new generation of portraits to our instructions, yet entirely unmediated by the human mind and eye.
Please let us know if you’re interested in your own Dark Factory Portrait. The first collectors to place commissions will be given the opportunity to have their portrait painted during the exhibition. Get in touch for complete details: firstname.lastname@example.org.