The Real Office in Conversation with Valerie Wolf Gang
In Vanishing Act, the layers of what AI contributes and what you do are closely tied. How have your perception of the relationship between the physical features of the world and so-called ‘virtuality’ change since working on this project?
In the past, I have always considered the limits between reality (materiality) and virtuality (non-material world) to be very strongly defined. The rules were somehow simple and straightforward for me, but while I was researching deeper and producing the latest artworks, I realized that the delineation is not so simple. The virtual and material worlds are often intertwined, and their limits can be blurred. I often compare this with the mind and body connection – it has to be balanced for us to be complete and healthy human beings, for genuine psychophysical harmony. With the popularization of new media technologies and various digital elements we use in our daily lives, these spheres are even harder to distinguish. Still, I don't necessarily mean it's a good or a bad thing. We must raise these questions and be aware of our surroundings and the intense impact of media in our daily lives. By media, I mean all the tools we use in communication with ourselves, society, our work and life. We can live in a non-material world, but it is often difficult to avoid all the factors that influence contemporary society. I was surprised how my recent weight loss affected my identity and my personal life: family, friends, work, dreams, and desires. What I cherish the most at the moment is the element of time. For me, it's a value that money can't buy; it's the element that keeps on going no matter what, and it's the only factor that can move mountains and change the world. Time heals all wounds, and time lives in both worlds: in reality and virtuality.
In the description of your work, we learn how training AI – by reading texts about healthy lifestyle for your project FLUID – affected and changed your own body. But you also let another AI learn from your body scans and create new images. What was the idea behind this double alienation?
Through FLUID, I realized that while I was teaching the computer how to be creative on its own and, therefore, write poetry, I realized that the experience was also impacting me. In a way, I was “brainwashing” myself through the process because I constantly read about healthy lifestyles and filled the computer database with the information. In the process, my brain started to pick up the details and told me I have been making many mistakes in my life and that it could harm my health in the long term. I had been obese all my life, I didn’t pay too much attention to it because it was the way things had always been – I just accepted the fact and learned how to live that way. Through the art piece's production process, I have somehow realized that I need to assess my lifestyle choices. Later on, it made a significant impact on my body – physically and mentally.
Similarly, the process continues in Vanishing Act, where I continued my research on the body's physical changes and their impacts on mental states and the question of identity. In a way, the AI was a playground for me, as I used its processing power to be creative with different data on healthy lifestyles, but in another way, my body became a playground for the AI. And while my body was changing, I was documenting the details of my skin with various scanning processes, and later on, I processed the scans through neural networks and deep dream generators. So the scans of my bodily changes became a playground for the AI to reinterpret the data and show its creativity. AI was impacting my life, and my life was influencing AI. “Cyborg-influencer process.”
You compare your body changes with the descriptions from the Apollo astronauts. What is your interest in the astronaut’s experiences, and where do you see the intersections with your own personal experiences?
While I was at an artist residency in New York last year, I reached a point where I finally stopped with my body transformation – I had finally obtained my ideal weight and started focusing on maintenance and reassessing my future lifestyle adaptations. Actually, after all those months of losing weight, the most challenging part was to stop the process and finally find the right balance to continue my life healthily, without falling into the traps of anorexia or bulimia. I was not aware that this turning point is the most difficult, once you reach your desired weight. So, while I was at the residency, I finally stopped the process. In the apartment, there was a huge mirror in the bedroom. One night I woke up and went to the bathroom, and suddenly I looked in the mirror – still half asleep, I didn't recognize myself, and this scared me. I experienced a strange out-of-body experience, and it confused me. Later on, I read some studies of astronauts' experiences in space, and I realized that astronauts often experience similar emotions and feelings when they gaze down to Earth for the first time. It's a weird out-of-body experience that they can't explain. While I was reading the details of these experiences, I realized that there are many similarities between my mirror experience and that of astronauts in space for the first time. This interesting parallel inspired me to continue my research in this direction and focus on topics of body, space, and identity.