Project HIAI cover

Project: HI > AI

May 1, 2023

In the guise of a booth show­cas­ing the company’s dig­i­tal­ly print­ed wall­cov­er­ings on PVC-free sub­strates, Project: HI > AI”, cur­rent­ly on dis­play in Las Vegas at the HD Expo tradeshow, goes deep: sev­en dis­tin­guished artists cre­at­ed orig­i­nal pat­terns that explored such diverse themes as the process of mak­ing, the unique­ness of human-gen­er­at­ed art, and anx­i­ety over imping­ing tech­nol­o­gy, sur­veil­lance, and con­trol in our lives. 


With the artists’ orig­i­nal works in hand, Wolf-Gor­don Design Stu­dio (WGDS) extract­ed ver­bal prompts from the pat­terns that were input into AI imag­ing soft­ware with the aim of cre­at­ing out­puts that were as close as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nals. Although the AI soft­ware could not match the humans’ cre­ations, the results were remark­able for their range of inter­pre­ta­tion and, in some instances, out­puts that delight­ed for their oth­er­world­ly takes on organ­ic and tra­di­tion­al motifs, hand-drawn and ‑paint­ed com­po­si­tions, and mul­ti-step art mak­ing processes.

To ensure a var­ied and live­ly set of works, cura­tor Mary­beth Shaw, chief cre­ative offi­cer at Wolf-Gor­don, invit­ed artists work­ing in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent media, from con­cep­tu­al art and print­mak­ing to art jew­el­ry, cal­lig­ra­phy, tex­tiles, and inte­ri­or design. Shaw launched the project with a song, Human Behav­ior, by Bjork (1993), writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of an ani­mal observ­ing humans. She sug­gest­ed that for Project: HI > AI,” we might replace the ani­mal with a machine. How would AI inter­pret a 48″ x 48″ pat­tern designed by a human?

Large Square

Based on the results exhib­it­ed in Las Vegas, the artists delight­ed in devis­ing dif­fer­ent ways to fool the AI and made repli­cat­ing their pat­terns as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble. Chris­tine Tarkows­ki, artist and pro­fes­sor at the School of the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go, gen­er­at­ed her pat­tern, Large Square (above, left), by fold­ing water-soaked butch­er paper over and over into a square and then driz­zling 2000ºF molten glass onto the fold­ed paper. The glass burned through sev­er­al lay­ers, reveal­ing a pat­tern when extin­guished and unfold­ed. While Tarkowski’s jux­ta­po­si­tion of geom­e­try to entrop­ic action — a per­sis­tent theme in her work — was impos­si­ble for the AI to match pre­cise­ly, through sev­er­al dif­fer­ent sets of ver­bal prompts, the image of fold­ed paper aflame in the AI ver­sion is relatable.

Cal­lig­ra­ph­er and sign painter Jen Mus­sari explored the foun­da­tion­al shapes of her art in Pat­tern 2 (below, left). She writes, My pat­tern is made of sim­ple typo­graph­ic build­ing blocks. Trained human hands have made words for com­mu­ni­ca­tion from these shapes for cen­turies, but what would a machine do with some­thing seem­ing­ly so sim­ple?” When Wolf-Gor­don Design Stu­dio input Mussari’s prompt — a lin­ear pat­tern of cal­lig­ra­phy brush­strokes rem­i­nis­cent of the build­ing blocks of hand-drawn typo­graph­ic forms’ — the super­graph­ic out­put from the AI soft­ware was so com­pelling that they kept it as a large non-repeat­ing mural.

Pattern 2

The work under­tak­en with Mid­jour­ney and DALL‑E by WGDS quick­ly revealed the impor­tance of lan­guage in Project: HI > AI.” In most cas­es, design direc­tor Michael Lough­lin had to manip­u­late the artists’ orig­i­nal prompts to get out­puts that approx­i­mat­ed the art. In oth­er instances, the end goal shift­ed to enable the AI to express a strange new vari­a­tion on the orig­i­nal art that the Stu­dio found com­pelling. Because no AI is cur­rent­ly able to repli­cate the orig­i­nal art close­ly enough, WGDS acknowl­edges the essen­tial pres­ence of the human soft­ware oper­a­tor to influ­ence outcomes.

In sev­er­al cas­es, the lan­guage need­ed to be ren­dered sim­pler and more straight­for­ward. For design­er Frank Tjepkema’s exquis­ite flo­ral, Famossa (above, left — with head­line), which he cre­at­ed on CAD soft­ware, a lengthy list of words yield­ed a bet­ter result when edit­ed down. Mag­net­ic field, organ­ic, para­met­ric,” as inter­pret­ed by Mid­jour­ney, out­put a fan­tas­ti­cal, alien flower that one might encounter on Queen Amidala’s plan­et, Naboo.

In anoth­er case, that of tex­tile artist Ray­lene Marasco’s hand-paint­ed Fur­rows, the trick of the lan­guage was to rearrange the orig­i­nal prompt and add a few cues like brick-like lay­out” and soft grey col­or.” While less nuanced than Marasco’s paint­ing, which she exe­cut­ed by drag­ging pig­ment down an uneven­ly hand-dyed fab­ric with a vin­tage met­al grain­ing comb, DALL‑E out­put a com­plex light-infused pat­tern that resem­bles a high-tech ikat.

Thunder & Lightning

Native Amer­i­can met­al­smith Pat Pruitt’s Thun­der & Light­ning pat­tern (above, left) also proved too geo­met­ri­cal­ly abstract for the AI soft­ware to repli­cate. In Pueblo art, light­ning sym­bol­izes the water ser­pent, Avanyu, and the impor­tance of rain­fall to desert agri­cul­ture. Pruitt’s par­tic­u­lar pat­tern for light­ning, also seen on his much-cov­et­ed wrist cuffs, was inter­pret­ed by DALL‑E as a more car­toon-like zig zag.

Print media artist Hilary Lorenz’s Migra­tion (above, left — at begin­ning of arti­cle) is the ulti­mate demon­stra­tion of the unique­ness of each liv­ing being and of each work of art. Lorenz has cre­at­ed awe-inspir­ing instal­la­tions of indi­vid­u­al­ly print­ed and cutout hawk moths, most recent­ly at the Den­ver Botan­ic Gar­den, which cel­e­brate these winged insects as pol­li­na­tors and metaphors for the exchange of ideas. Mid­jour­ney gen­er­at­ed a pat­tern of the moths in flight that could be said to be a dis­tant cousin of Lorenz’s con­cept, at a sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er degree of res­o­lu­tion and, notably, in a very cloned, seri­al­ized repeat.

Playful Toile

Per­haps most direct­ly answer­ing the ques­tion posed in the pro­gram — What makes human-designed work unique­ly human?” — is Play­ful Toile by Ghis­laine Viñas (above, left). In her own words, she answers, What is so inher­ent­ly, indis­putably human? Tak­ing some­thing good’ and turn­ing it on its head. This is our tableau of human-inflict­ed adver­si­ties exist­ing in a devel­op­ing or, con­tro­ver­sial­ly, col­laps­ing world: sur­veil­lance, tech­nol­o­gy run amok, and domes­ti­ca­tion. It’s a mash-up of mis­for­tunes under the guise of a per­fect­ly pleas­ing pat­tern, all penned by the very same human hand.” Mid­jour­ney out­put a tra­di­tion­al wall­pa­per pat­tern but couldn’t match the degree of threat designed by Viñas.

Project: HI > AI” is a time­ly snap­shot of the meet­ing of human intel­li­gence and AI. Inter­est­ing­ly, the tech­nol­o­gy is evolv­ing so quick­ly that AI pat­terns print­ed in April 2023 could already be ren­dered in high­er res­o­lu­tion in May. Beyond the pos­si­bil­i­ty of uti­liz­ing AI imag­ing soft­ware in com­mer­cial pat­tern design and the cru­cial role of lan­guage in the trans­la­tion of imagery, this exhi­bi­tion high­lights what Shaw refers to as the cog­ni­tive rup­ture in view­ing AI-gen­er­at­ed art. She posits, Visu­al ele­ments in sev­er­al of the pat­terns in the exhi­bi­tion intro­duce some­thing dis­tinc­tive­ly new. These inven­tions will undoubt­ed­ly influ­ence human artists. Ele­ments of AI imagery will make their way into human-gen­er­at­ed works, thus set­ting up a poten­tial­ly ben­e­fi­cial, or at least benign, sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship between human and machine in writ­ing, art, and design.”

Project: HI > AI” will be on dis­play in Wolf-Gordon’s Head­quar­ters, 333 Sev­enth Avenue, New York, NY begin­ning May 23, 2023, and con­tin­u­ing through the end of December.

View Exhibition Catalog