May 29, 2019 — By Will Leivenberg

Listening to the dialogue between Stephen Clements, YML's CCO, and Damjanski is like overhearing two mischievous kids hatching their next scheme. It's whimsical, suspenseful, and kind of terrifying.

Only difference is it's happening over Zoom, and each of these guys are sporting a bit of gray hair.

The two have a storied past of creative endeavors and recently found their way back together about one year ago around an unexpected project. Damjanski had become fascinated with AI, to the point that he'd began considering if there was a way to actually collaborate with a program.

"Was there a way to integrate it into my thinking process?" said Damjanski about his original idea. "Could I create original work that demonstrated this concept, was ultimately the idea."

Stephen saw Damjanski's vision, and knew just the team to bring it to fruition — YML's Innovation Lab, the scrappy team of six based in YML's Bangalore office. What ensued was a plethora of emails, Zoom calls, sketches, math equations and countless cups of coffee over more than six months. Led by Innovation Labs Director Darshan Sonde and Kinar Ravishankar, YML helped not just conceptualize, but ultimately build the AI for Damjanski's project.

The final work would come to life as "Damjanski: Natural Selection," a collaboration between Damjanski, his longtime collaborator, Vasco, and YML that debuted May 1st at ONCANAL in New York City.

From left to right: Damjanski, Darshan Sonde, Kinar Ravishankar, Vasco.

As the exhibition website reads, Natural Selection "investigates ideas of collaboration with an AI and its integration into the artist’s practice."  Damjanski specifically wanted the AI to build around all the archived exhibition statements of the MoMA, in New York.

"The challenge was to create more lifelike speech for AI," said Darshan Sonde. "We had created lots of models, but in the end the model released by OpenAI worked the best. This wasn't the work we were used to doing, and it was especially different because this is for an art show, but that also gave us more liberty in what the text could generate."

The exhibition comprises a headset where people can interact with the AI to create new exhibition statements that will be delivered by a printer. Each statement is a new source of information that will inform the artist’s thinking process. Damjanski compares this process to the biological evolution of genes, which is driven by reproduction and survival in order to procreate or grow.

"The unique challenge was training the AI on data," Sonde said. "Data has to be large, so we had to write custom scripts to scrape the data from the MoMA website and cleanup and tweak it to generate good results."

"The YML team was an outstanding partner and I'm proud of the work," said Damjanski, who's work at the exhibition is live through the end of May, and open 7 days a week (11am–7pm) located at 322A Canal Street, New York City.

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Damjanski is an artist living in a browser. He is a co-founder and member of the incubation collective, Do Something Good, and also the co-founder of the MoMAR gallery within New York’s Museum of Modern Art. More info: http://damjanski.com

For more information contact 

@d.a.m.j.a.n.s.k.i                  #oncanal