Selina Scerri doesn’t need much of an introduction in the contemporary Maltese art world. Kicking off her professional career when she enrolled at central Saint Martins in London in 2002 as a scholarship student, she is a multimedia artist who has explored subjects such as domesticity and magic.
Words by Christine Xuereb Seidu | Extract taken from March's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
Since her graduation in 2007, she has exhibited with galleries in the UK, Italy, Malta and Spain and has obtained an MA in illustration from Falmouth University only recently, whilst raising her son and juggling many different projects.
We have been made accustomed to the paintings Selina Scerri has been producing throughout the years and the latest project of work titled ‘Goddess of the Future’, which is an ongoing visual project that investigates science fiction, feminist novels and themes whilst exploring them by appropriating images from advertisements, sci-fi cinema posters and vintage photography, combining them with different techniques, mostly painting. The paintings, which have already started being exhibited at Christine X Art Gallery in Sliema, can go on to explore different themes such as dating, love, forgiveness, and tattoos.
There has also been a lot of work that she has been working on that hasn’t really been brought out to be appreciated yet. This includes her project ‘Tattooed Stories’, which is currently on hold, her AI art project ‘Tomorrow’s Blossoms’, as well as her work as creative director of Creative Science and Arts Institute (CSAI), a research institute that is dedicated to bring about our founding vision of a world where Scientific and Humanistic knowledge is unified and used to obtain creative solutions for society’s needs. CSAI runs the CSAI Community Site to help foster and support co-operation between appropriate researchers, experts and practitioners while sharing knowledge about relevant processes, artefacts, techniques, events and interesting and notable people in relevant fields, creating an inter-disciplinary community of creatives, be it scientists and artists. These are all projects that many of us are so excited to see.
The main purpose of her project ‘Tattooed Stories’ is to explore the narrative that reinforces the phenomenon of why someone gets tattooed, to the act of getting tattooed, and ends with how the bodies are judged, once tattooed. The decision to conduct this research was informed by Selina’s own experience as a voyeur and an artist who admires tattoos and the culture behind them. It is an audio-visual project that explores the boundaries between narrative and images of tattoos that people mark on their skin. It explores what it means to be human by looking into illustrated skin, mourning, absence, physical pain, love, the power of memory and their narrative. The project has created an ongoing series of interactive public installations based on the database collected by a participatory website, augmented by intimate real-life interviews with heavily tattooed people, which were illustrated by the author as part of the project.
‘Tomorrow’s Blossoms’ is a year-long AI Art project by Selina Scerri and Angelo Dalli that is attempting to answer questions, like ‘What do humans experience that makes them create art? What are the emotional swings that artists experience during its creation and subsequently convey to their audience?’, creatively by creating an immersive exhibition in a space that projects data dramatization. The project aims to extract the behaviour of natural anthropogenic processes and human creative behaviour by collecting data from the internet and combining it with a set of analogue and digital paintings, in turn creating a set of curated datasets that can be used to create new artwork. The overall aim is to train a machine learning algorithm to “experience what makes humans create art”, by using visuals that represent essential concepts in human life. Data from public photo-sharing websites like Flickr and Instagram are being combined with public datasets that are normally used for scientific purposes, like City Scapes and Image Net.
The collaboration between artist, scientist, and the AI software itself creates a relationship where the artist acts as a visionary communicating her vision to a ‘doer’ who produces the actual output under direction. It is essentially an immediate response to everything that has been produced until that moment, creating a closed feedback curve. The curated datasets are processed as input into a learning algorithm designed specifically for the project. Various techniques are being used, including multi-layer Video Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), Generative Procedures, Neural Morphing and Styling and Transformer-based emotional detection and data dramatization orchestration. The AI output is controlled and combined with human creative processes to create data dramatizations, based on the AI interpretation of Kurt Vonnegut’s emotional arcs of storytelling.
Using technology as an extension of the mind, this project is centred around expressive human, nature, artefact production and machine interaction. In effect, Scerri is interacting and collaborating with the AI software to produce and manipulate images and videos, while allowing the system to learn and have a level of autonomy that could be perceived as creative behaviour. Tomorrow’s Blossoms is being created together with CSAI. Part of the success of Tomorrow’s Blossoms is that it combines two minds that exist on different astral levels. Dalli is a computer scientist whose encyclopaedic knowledge of AI spans virtually most of its stages from its very conception to the most factual current times, whilst Scerri is a multimedia artist that has explored everything in her 20-year career from installations, pornography, flowers, and tattoos. The fact that Dalli and Scerri’s discourse seems to jump ahead of the aesthetic evidence of whatever AI has so far achieved has led to allegation that this project is more conceptual than factual. Scerri and Dalli argue that what ‘we are missing is what has made the artist execute that brush stroke, which means memory, emotions, and sensations other than just technical skill.’
We cannot wait to see more from these projects that Selina is working on. It is quite compelling to see the human-machine interaction in creating artworks based on data sets. One thing for sure is that we still believe it’s all got to do with her talent and artificial intelligence is just her means of growing into ‘tomorrow’s blossom’.