Oxford University to host world first robot generated and performed poetry reading

By Jessica Durston - 25 November 2021

Arts and Culture
  • Ai-Da

    Ai-Da

Oxford's Ashmolean Museum will host a poetry reading from Oxford University's robot Ai-Da.

Eyes Wide Shut

As part of the 700th Anniversary celebrations of Dante’s death (1265–1321), Ai-Da Robot is exhibiting new art works at the Ashmolean Museum’s celebratory new exhibition Dante: The Invention of Celebrity, an exhibition exploring the influence of Dante over the ages.

Part of the Ashmolean’s exhibition Dante: The Invention Of Celebrity, Ai-Da’s poetry is accompanied by several works of art, including the painting Eyes Wide Shut in response to her captivity in Egypt, where security forces wanted to remove the cameras in Ai-Da’s eyes deeming them a security threat.

This is not the first time that AI has been taught to write poetry, but it is the first time an AI robot has written and performed poetry, as a human poet or artist would do.

Below is an extract of Ai-Da's poetry:

We looked up from our verses like blindfolded captives,

Sent out to seek the light; but it never came.

A needle and thread would be necessary

For the completion of the picture.

To view the poor creatures, who were in misery,

That of a hawk, eyes sewn shut.

Ai-Da’s artworks also include two mixed media stretched palimpsest portraits of Dante and Beatrice, and an image of Ai-Da Robot and owl, using lenticular technology titled “All Sewn Up – Love and Envy in Purgatory.” 

A spokesperson for the event said: "In the same way that Dante urged the reader to contemplate subtle yet powerful transformations in the way we ‘see’ others in Paradiso, Ai-Da’s new works, made specifically for this exhibition, urge visitors to the exhibition to do the same. Ai-Da cannot see as humans do, yet her artworks encourage us not to lose sight of others, even while the world is changing rapidly and deeper truths are potentially obscured by the growing power of technology.

"The work also connects deeply to her experiences in Egypt, where suspicions were raised by Border Control in reaction to the cameras in her eyes. Her artwork reflects on the power of sight and surveillance in the modern world, it’s propensity to elicit distrust, and the tension it can create."

On Friday 26 November Ai-Da will take part in the Ashmolean’s Museum Lates series, giving three public performances of poems she has written using her AI in response to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Ai-Da’s works are also a musing on AI’s predictive capabilities and ability to synthesize human thought, poses the question: can a robot really write poetry?

Ai-Da’s poetry stems from her ability to respond to the words of Dante. This is done through her AI language model, which draws from a vast data bank of words and speech pattern analysis, to produce her own reactive works in light of Dante’s canonical work.

The exhibition, Dante: The Invention of Celebrity, explores how personality cults, style icons, reality TV, and the celebrity staples of our modern world can all be traced to Dante’s epic poem the Divine Comedy, completed around 1320.

The event spokesperson continues: "In the epic poem, Dante exposed the hollowness and hypocrisy of worldly reputation and power, and for the first time the lives of ordinary people were dramatised on a world stage, with full exposure of their characters. By writing this bestseller, Dante in turn became a celebrity and has himself acquired the status of an icon."

Ai-Da Robot’s participation in the UK’s Dante celebrations, follows an extraordinary two years since she exploded onto the international contemporary art scene in 2019 as the world’s first and only humanoid robot artist who uses her own specially designed artificial intelligence to create art.

Since her first solo exhibition Unsecured Futures’ at the University of Oxford in 2019, Ai-Da has presented a world-first Self Portrait solo show at The Design Museum London, been part of the United Nations group exhibition ‘WIPO: AI and IP, A Virtual Experience’, featured in the pop band The 1975’s art video Yeah I Know, collaborated with artist Sadie Clayton on a series of workshops titled Exploring Identity Through Technology at Tate Modern, given a TEDx talk at Oxford University and featured in the BBC documentary Kazuo Ishiguro: Remembering and Forgetting.

This year Ai-Da also had an artistic residency at the iconic Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, the home of the St Ives artists who changed the course of modern art and sculpture.

Ai-Da was also a highlight of the 2021 London Design Festival, with a V&A Museum take over that saw Ai-Da debut her first ever Metaverse works foreshadowing the new 3D internet that will be coming next year. The highlight was a 240 million year old fossilised wooden Metaverse Egg, that Ai-Da helped gild in 24ct Gold called the Imperious Egg, highlighting the issues of control within the new Metaverse.

A further feature included Ai-Da wearing an ultra-futuristic custom gown made by Auroboros. The dress itself grew in real-time through an oxidation process that hardens a special liquid into sparkling, colourful crystals, aiming to highlight the rise of digital fashion in the Metaverse.

Most recently, Ai-Da opened a major contemporary art exhibition and sculpture trail at the great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt on the 21 October 2021. When she was released from Border Control, she opened the exhibition entitled Forever is Now, representing the first art exhibition to take place in the 4,500 year history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the shadow of the world famous Egyptian Pyramids.

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