Becoming the Machine (Part3)
In this essay I shall examine the role of women in science and art through history, investigating technofeminism and the possibilities of digital space and suggesting that the future of intelligent computers lies in transforming our computers from passive tools into active co-creators. I shall be using interviews conducted with experts working in STEM (science, technology, maths and engineering) industries and my final sculptural works entitled “Fibonacci spiral” and “Blueprint” as the reference points for this investigation.
When choosing the women to be represented by the sculptures of this project I was impressed not only by their extraordinary achievements, but also that working in traditionally male dominated fields the odds were stacked higher against their success than perhaps would have been for their male colleagues. I wondered what might inspire a woman to study these subjects, and how factors outside their own particular talents might affect these career decisions. I decided to interview various women working in STEM to learn what had contributed to their own early subject interest and subsequent career developments.
Gendered ideals of a man of reason, bold, scientific, investigatory and full of action versus a soft, tender, charming woman of taste and domesticity are ingrained into both the history of art and that of science. Notions that science is a difficult male domain and the humanities an easier ladylike occupation is obviously ridiculous given the admiration for Shakespeare and Van Gogh. Why should the gender of the creator of great work matter at all? But as Harraway (1991) states, gender, race and class consciousness are achievements forced on us by historical experience of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism.
When releasing her first novel J.K. Rowling was asked by her publishers to use two initials rather than her full name as they believed the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman (Always JK Rowling 2014), so it is by no means just in the field of STEM (science technology engineering and maths) that gender still matters. However, when talking to my interviewees, one thing that seemed to overcome societal expectations; mentorship and encouragement were among the most important factors cited as influencers on subject choices and career success. Whether being taken to museums of science and industry and having concepts talked about from an early age or experiencing academic career support through the Athena Swann Initiative which recognises “advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success for all” (Equality Challenge Unit 2018), having a framework of additional support, beyond natural talent, both personal and professional seemed to be key to an early interest in the subject and also later success.
Responding to this, one of the reasons I chose the four particular women for study and inspiration of my final works, was the roles they played in mentoring or supporting others, especially women, as well as accepting and using wisely any professional assistance offered in their own careers.
In choosing Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright (1900-1998) as one of my inspirations, I am also acknowledging the part her long-time collaborator JE Littlewood played in her professional success. Meeting initially as examiner for her PHD thesis, Littlewood was first a mentor then a research partner for over 20 years, as they made the first discoveries of equations that form the principles of Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect. It is these theories that formed the inspiration for the huge “butterfly” sleeves created from a vortex in my sculptural work “Fibonacci Spiral”. Mary had also benefitted from encouragement in Mathematics at school, then the advice of a fellow student at Oxford, mathematician V.C. Morton who suggested she attend lectures by professor G.H. Hardy, who in turn became her thesis supervisor as well as being another collaborator of Littlewoods. Cartwright also paid this support forward as Mistress of Girton from 1948-68 (School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland 2003) which was at that time a womens college (Hertha Ayrton, another of my four inspirations, attended Girton many decades before, supported by its co-founder Barbara Bodichon (CWP 2003) ). It is easy with hindsight to look back and see these spiralling connections forming an integral and evolving support structure; like the Fibonacci mathematical sequence spiral of a seashell.
History demonstrates the ability of the artist’s workshop to swallow the historic achievements of many female artists in collaborative anonymity, absorbing all contributors work into a glorification myth of the solo heroic male artist (Chadwick 1992). Traditional methods of collaboration rarely favoured presenting a woman as the author of a work due to Value considerations (as discussed in my essay on Creativity). In fashion the lauding of the male couturier as somehow more special or talented is examined by Stokes (2015) through the disparate amounts of acclaim and attention given.
So, is it because it seems unusual for a male collaborator of this era to give full credit and assistance in furthering a woman’s career that I find myself feeling kindly disposed towards Littlewood? Surely acknowledgement of another’s contribution should be a given. But acknowledgement of another is often difficult for humans in general, even in acknowledgement of the impact of interdisciplinary work upon a different field.
My decision to work in half scale came about for a variety of reasons, including “economy, efficiency and environmental sustainability” Hewitt (2018). As well as technical concerns it seemed appropriate in the historical context of viewing women and their achievements as somehow smaller than those of their male counterparts, as discussed on my essay on creativity. Harraway (1991) however provides a new reading of scale stating that “miniaturization has changed our experience of mechanism…… miniaturization has turned out to be about power; small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous”. The importance of the movement and dissemination of ideas is linked directly to the portability of devices, essential political devices able to record and upload and view from nearly any place on earth (or above it). I decided to embrace this notion of small as potentially dangerous in revolutionary feminist terms, the self-contained half scale mannequins can easily infiltrate all manner of spaces, creating dialogue and conversations.
Working in half scale in fact created a whole host of technical difficulties that needed to be overcome in order to complete the work, accuracy of cutting and stitching had to be increased and physical manipulation of tiny pattern pieces required a greater physical dexterity. It definitely felt more like light engineering than any other practice.
For the work “Blueprint” I was intrigued by the story of Canadian aeronautic legend Elsie MacGill, nicknamed “Queen of the Hurricanes” for her extraordinary achievements in designing a machine shop and establishing a factory space to produce the aircraft vital to Britain in WW2 (CBC/Radio Canada. 2001) She was rare woman in a male industry, crippled by Polio as a young woman, but she was not only working in engineering but in a position of authority and leadership. She continued to lead throughout her career, pioneering for womens rights and was named to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967. I took the blueprints of Hurricane aircraft as the original images for DeepArt to interpret alongside fashion sketches of the new shortened hemlines of the 1920’s.
But what or who encouraged and inspired this tenacious woman? Well, her mother was the first female judge in British Columbia and her grandmother was a prominent suffragist, so I’d suggest strong female role models definitely played a part. She seems to be mainly remembered for her later contributions to feminism, serving as a role model and mentor to new women students in engineering at the University of Toronto, starting a Bursary in her name to assist them financially, determined to increase the number of women in engineering and promote their full participation in the profession at every level (Sissons 2009). The amount of courage it must have taken to walk into a room full of male students and hold her own as the first Canadian woman to gain an electrical engineering degree cannot be underestimated.
Science and art often have different ways of looking at things. An artist, reading about an exhibition of the impressionists might wonder, “what would it feel like to be Monet and view the world as he did? How might he express a new landscape of towerblocks and trams?”. A scientist, viewing the Waterlilies might wonder, “Could I build an app that will make ordinary pictures of the world around us look like they were drawn by Monet?” Both approaches are equally valid and potentially creative and might even produce similar final artistic works, but they progress towards the core idea of Monet and his visual interpretation from fundamentally tangential methods and motivations.
In the Cyborg manifesto Harraway(1991) questions the earth mother concept of femininity “nature – a source of insight and promise of innocence” in favour of a new creation – the cyborg, part machine, part human organism, a “potent fusion and dangerous possibilities”. In our modern age, where avatars, (digital renditions of a humans alter-ego in digital space for platforms such as Second Life), are not restrained by physics of material form, we can be whomever we want to be. Does this make acknowledgement of another’s contribution to the work easier? How about acknowledgement of contribution by an intelligent machine? The ethics of authorship in new creative works with new autonomous technology is an area not yet fully mapped. The distinctions between organisms and machines are blurring “our machines are surprisingly lively, and we ourselves are frighteningly inert” Harraway (1991). We have new identities as physical beings merging with digital realities, giving opportunity for self-re-invention but also in offering up subjective truths.
DeepArt is a machine, it’s re-rendering of design sketches cannot be seen as masculinising or feminising the designs, we cannot be sure which gender the original sketches were drawn by, the subject of the designs is female, but the patterns themselves are neutral, the images chosen by me to be used as Style by DeepArt are schematic diagrams, unlikely to be determined as particularly masculine or feminine, (although that could be worthy of further study).
I decided to represent Deepart as a collaborator in this exhibition, as I believe that this emerging technology and ways of working are ready for a re-examination of creativity and artistic terms. If the nature of a material, for example a specific paint or fabric weight, informs the work, or the specific properties of a specific machine adds a particular defining finish, is this collaboration? I would suggest not, this is a limitation or an opportunity for an artist to use or overcome. I believe it is by the passing of an idea backwards and forwards, analysing and adjusting by both parties that the process becomes collaboration.
Now taking this into consideration, my process might be considered a collaboration, the evolution of the design was a progression during which both DeepArt and I made autonomous adjustments according to the input data of the other.
1. A Human chooses the source material - human made vintage patterns originally drawn by hand to fit human notions of that eras fashion and beauty and printed mechanically.
2. The source materials are digitally transferred to computational art tool “photoshop” and coloured by a human, using arbitrary colour choices defined by human aesthetic principles with neatness and skill parameters afforded by the digital tool.
3. A final coloured pattern graphic is input to DeepArt as “style” to be merged with the “content” the original fashion illustration of the pattern as seen in the magazine. Producing an original design by the A.I. in 2D.
4. This design is evaluated by the human, source elements are adjusted and resubmitted to DeepArt, which in turn adjusts its outputs according to its autonomous algorithm. This step can be repeated as often as necessary.
5. Working directly from the Digital print of the A.I. design, the human will drape the design on the stand using an additive and subtractive process of cutting.
6. The pattern created from the toile and garment is remade in 3D using human and mechanical techniques to produce a final work of art.
Were the adjustments a conscious evaluation by Deepart? Perhaps not, as the nature of consciousness in artificial intelligence continues to be debated. If sentience is a pre-requisite for collaboration, then it can be argued that Deepart is not sentient and therefore this work was not collaborative. This obviously avoids many issues such as accreditation, authorship and copyright.
However, if we accept that new terms and modes of working with “intelligent” but non-sentient machines are likely to be needed in the not too distant future, then perhaps a new definition of collaboration is also required? The key issue for me in this process, also suggested by Caterina Moruzi (2018), was that of autonomy. Unlike a digital “tool” program like adobe photoshop or illustrator, I did not have a clear idea of the image that Deepart would return to me each time I submitted my inspirational parameters to it. Unlike an evolution of design based purely on technical considerations – water colour paint versus oil for example, Deep art made autonomous choices, using its neural network algorithm to examine and interpret my data each time.
The limitations of what I believed to be possible were not necessarily what was actually possible, DeepArt enabled me to break through my own preconceived rules for design and making, through evaluating the creative actions of another.
Evaluation is an essential part of group creativity as examined by Gaut (2018) he described how creativity seems to be lost in group brainstorming activities and that contrary to expectations, an open forum where nothing is judged or discussed in fact leads to only half the good ideas usually produced by individuals, then citing Moshman and Geil (1998) he explained when groups debated and justified their ideas, they performed far better, suggesting that reasoning together is in part what made these ideas creative. It would appear that humans are better at evaluating others ideas than we are at assessing our own, therefore I would suggest that a human/machine collaboration is in fact an ideal partnership, with optimum idea generation plus optimum creative assessment.
Even though only the human maker and viewer will respond to the work generated at each stage emotionally, I would argue that in fact this process; the collection of inspiration by a human, interpretation of that by machine, analysis and resubmission of selected images by human, adjustment and new output from machine for a final image and the final creation of sculptural piece by a human; could be considered Collaborative in virtue of the iterative process and analysis of each other’s input working towards a final piece.
Always JK Rowling. (30 Aug 2014). Oprah Interviews J.K. Rowling (2010) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51s9WTix4XM
CBC/Radio Canada. (2001). Queen of the Hurricaines. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP14CH3PA2LE.html.
Chadwick, W. (1992). Women, Art, and Society (2nd ed.). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF 20TH CENTURY WOMEN TO PHYSICS. (2003). Hertha Ayrton. Retrieved from http://cwp.library.ucla.edu/articles/ayrton/ayrtonbio.html.
Equality Challenge Unit. (2018). Athena Swann Charter. Retrieved from https://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/.
Gaut, B. (2018, July). Group creativity”. Paper presented at the meeting of CFI Creativity in Art, Science and Mind, Cambridge
Harraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,. In D. Harraway (Ed.) Harraway, D. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. (pp. 149-181). New York: Routledge.
Hewitt, J. (2018), ‘Working in half-scale for economy, efficiency and environmental sustainability’, Clothing Cultures, 5:1, pp. 189–191, doi: 10.1386/ cc.5.1.189_1
Moruzzi, C. (2018, July). Robo-Bach:Can Artificial intelligence be Musically Creative?. Paper presented at the meeting of CFI Creativity in Art, Science and Mind, Cambridge.
Moshman, D. & Geil, M. (1998) Collaborative Reasoning: Evidence for Collective Rationality, Thinking & Reasoning, 4:3, 231-248, DOI: 10.1080/135467898394148
School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland. (2003). Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright. Retrieved from http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Cartwright.html .
Sissons, C. (2009). Elsie Gregory MacGill: Engineer, Feminist and Advocate for Social Change. Atlantis, 34 (1), 48-57. Retrieved from http://journals.msvu.ca/index.php/atlantis/article/viewFile/218/208.
Stokes, A. (2015). The Glass Runway.Sage Journals,29(2),. doi: 10.1177/0891243214563327.
Fig 1 Sketchbook Page 1920's fashion (J.Hewitt 2018)
Fig 2 Sketchbook page algorithms Butterfly effect fibonacci shells (J.hewitt 2018)
Fig 3 Design for Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright (deepArt 2018)
Fig 4 Final Exhibition with half scale mannequins (J.Hewitt 2018)
Fig 5 Blueprint (J.Hewitt 2018)
Fig 6 DeepArts original design for Elsie Macgill (DeepArt 2018)
Fig 7 Sketchbook Page - Physicality, consciousness and embodiment (J.hewitt 2018)
Fig 8 Sketchbook page Image Data and early test images for "Fibonacci spiral" (J.Hewitt 2018)
Figure 9 Sketchbook page early image data and trials for "Blueprint" (J.Hewitt 2018)
Fig 10 Sketchbook page Vortex sleeve (J.Hewitt 2018)
Fig 11 Sketchbook page - Blueprint Collaboration (J.Hewitt 2018)