‘Layers Upon Layers of Fiction’: Filmmaker Bennett Miller’s A.I.-Generated Photos at Gagosian Urge Viewers to Imagine Our Technological Future
His new series of works is on view at Gagosian through April 22.
“It’s magical. Liberating. It’s a superpower.” This is how Bennett Miller sees the art-making potential of A.I. The filmmaker has just opened his first exhibition at Gagosian, showcasing his new black-and-white pigment prints—except they’re images that have been algorithmically generated. Miller’s aim here isn’t just to spotlight A.I.’s growing suite of capabilities, but rather, how the technology is “presenting a change in kind, not just degree.”
Miller is no A.I. evangelist. In fact, he has spent the past five years developing a documentary on how technology has altered our realities in ways we know and more terrifyingly, don’t yet know. For all its promises, A.I., in Miller’s view, requires us to exercise “real awareness and consideration.”
“The emergence of A.I. has brought us to the precipice of imagination-defying transformations and there do not seem to be any adults in the room,” he told Artnet News. “The documentary was meant to be a means to hit pause and reflect on this extraordinary moment.”
One of the people Miller interviewed for the project was Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which led the director to experiment with one of the company’s leading products, the text-to-image generator DALL-E. What began as a “guessing game type search” would end up becoming a dynamic, almost collaborative process, he said, “whereby you can manipulate an imagination and endlessly manipulate its outputs.”
The software does have its limitations: Miller points out gaps in its knowledge and its failure to properly render hands and faces. But, he added, “if you’re open to finding different means by which it can realize what you’re working for, you might be surprised with what it can do.”
The group of images Miller produced with DALL-E, now displayed at Gagosian, range from serene landscapes to haunting portraits to foreboding abstractions. In their sepia tones and grainy textures, they evoke an earlier era of tintype photography—a nostalgia conjured and a lost technology reawakened by neural networks. All of it, needless to say, is fiction.
And Miller, in his day job, understands the malleable bounds of fiction. As a director, he has helmed such award-winning films as Foxcatcher, Moneyball, and Capote—all, notably, adapted from real-life events. Just as cinema can rewrite reality, far more advanced technologies could very well collapse it.
Miller recalled that when he started working with DALL-E, the software was simply drawing from real images. But the more he used it, DALL-E began pulling from existing images as much as “non-real images” that it had previously generated.
“It’s just layers upon layers of fiction,” he said. “It’s going to become increasingly difficult to distinguish or know with any type of certainty that anything you see is authentic.”
Which goes to the heart of the exhibition and Miller’s inquiry into this tech-driven shift in perception. If human memory is already shaky and media can be skewed, what more impact can A.I. have on our collective reality? Does the pope own a white puffer coat?
“I hope viewers will feel stirred to consider the significance of how these works were created,” said Miller about the exhibition. “I hope there will be an appreciation for how the works themselves are a product not only of A.I. but of those very concerns.”
See more images of the exhibition below.
“Bennett Miller” is on view at Gagosian, 976 Madison Avenue, New York, through April 22.
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