The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is currently showcasing a unique drag cabaret experience called The Zizi Show. Created by artist Jake Elwes, this installation features AI-generated drag performers who dance and lip-sync to popular songs. What sets this display apart is that the performers undergo a transformation between each song, melting into pixels and then re-forming with new faces and figures. The Zizi Show is part of the museum’s new photography galleries and highlights the growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on various aspects of society.
AI technology has advanced to a point where it can produce not only drag cabarets but also award-winning photographs, film scripts, and even pass a legal bar exam. This has led to both excitement and apprehension among experts. While some embrace the possibilities AI offers in fields like medical diagnostics and the automotive industry, others express concerns about disinformation, privacy, and the potential replacement of human workers by machines.
In response to these concerns, artists have begun using AI in critical ways that challenge the mainstream narrative. Rather than accepting AI as a black box technology with unknowable internal operations, these artists, often acting as DIY programmers, create works that explore the limits and implications of AI. The Science Gallery in London, for example, hosts an exhibition called AI: Who’s Looking After Me? that examines how AI affects our lives beyond the hype surrounding it. The exhibition features projects like “Looking for Love (2023)” by Fast Familiar, which prompts users to consider whether a machine can truly understand the concept of love. Another project, “Cat Royale (2023)” by Blast Theory, involves observing the interactions between cats and a robotic arm, raising questions about the trustworthiness of AI systems.
One of the key concerns surrounding AI is its potential for bias. The documentary “Coded Bias” explores how facial recognition algorithms used by law enforcement agencies often fail to accurately identify darker-skinned faces. This is due to the limited range of skin tones and face structures in the data used to train these algorithms. As a result, people of color are at a higher risk of being misidentified as criminals. Artists like Joy Buolamwini, featured in the documentary, are shedding light on these biases and advocating for more equitable AI systems.
While some tech companies encourage artists to explore AI tools, there is a growing movement to wrest AI from corporate control and develop more inclusive and fair systems. Jake Elwes, the artist behind The Zizi Show, embarked on their project to address the lack of recognition for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals in AI systems. By staging photoshoots with drag kings and queens, Elwes aims to reclaim AI as a tool for uplifting and celebrating the queer community.
As AI continues to advance, it is crucial to critically examine its implications and ensure that it serves the needs and values of all individuals. Artists play a vital role in this process, challenging the assumptions and biases embedded in AI systems and envisioning more inclusive futures. The intersection of AI and art offers a space for reflection and dialogue, reminding us of the power and responsibility we have in shaping the trajectory of technology.