When the stars of the contemporary art world descend on Venice later this month for the hotly anticipated Venice Biennale, among them will be Ai-Da Robot, the art world’s most famous (and only) ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist, as she has been described by her creators.
Titled “Leaping into the Metaverse,” Ai-Da’s Venice solo show is technically a collateral event for the biennale, organized by the Concilio Europeo dell’Arte, but it’s about as close as you can get to the main event without being on stage. Ai-Da is taking over the InParadiso Gallery, inside the restaurant at the entrance to the Giardini, home to many of the biennale’s national pavilions.
Ai-Da, whose name is a tribute to pioneering mathematician Ada Lovelace, makes drawings, paintings, and sculptures, and is also something of a performance artist, interacting with viewers. Her creator, gallerist Aidan Meller, considers her both an artist in her own right, and a work of conceptual art. (Meller, and his robot, also have a fair share of critics.)
This isn’t the artist’s first high-profile exhibition. She’s shown work at the Design Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and last fall was part of “Forever Is Now,” the first contemporary art show ever staged at the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The latter engagement hit a snag when Egyptian customs officials detained her at the border on suspicion of espionage. (There was talk of removing her eyes, which are cameras, but Ai-Da was ultimately allowed to enter the country intact.)
In a world increasingly infiltrated by artificial intelligence, Ai-Da’s Venice exhibition will look to the future, and how humanity will interact with AI technology, especially with the expected rise of the Metaverse.
But the show’s theme, inspired by Dante’s , also points to the potential dark side of AI’s growing influence on our daily lives, comparing the Metaverse to Purgatory, a place halfway between reality and fiction where no one wants to be stuck for too long.
“The greatest artists in history grappled with their period of time, and both celebrated and questioned society’s shifts. Ai-Da Robot, as technology, is the perfect artist today to discuss the current obsession with technology and its unfolding legacy,” Meller said in a statement. “Is the so-called ‘progress’ in technology something we really want, and if so, how should it manifest?”
But the exhibition also highlights Ai-Da’s growing talents as an artist.
She made her first drawings at Oxford Unversity in 2019, holding a pencil in her robotic hand and sketching based on what she could see with her camera eyes, with input from AI algorithms. Her first self-portrait followed in 2021, and Venice will mark the debut of her first paintings, made using a real artist’s palette, just like her human counterparts, and a new cutting-edge painting arm.
The highlight of the exhibition will be Ai-Da painting live, creating four portraits during the vernissage week. There is also a series of new self-portraits that depict the robot artist with her eyes shown shut. The eight-foot-tall canvases are meant to remind the audience that technology is blind and can be dangerous if employed without regard for its consequences, and reflect the imagery of Dante comforting blind men in the second circle of Hell.
Other works on view will include , which has transformed Ai-Da’s AI algorithm-generated sketches into 3-D printed flowers. The installation is meant to recall the flower-strewn banks of the river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, in the , and is inspired by Alan Turing’s early work on artificial intelligence, which he expected would be “something like the unpleasant quality of artificial flowers” but would also “help us greatly in finding out how we think ourselves.”
If you missed Ai-Da’s previous outings, she’s bringing her glass “Leaping into the Metaverse” artworks from the V&A to Venice, along with , her Giza sculpture of herself with three legs, which draws a comparison between the ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife with contemporary efforts to use biotechnology to artificially extend our lifespans.