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Born in 1984, Scerbo is an Italian multidisciplinary artist who delves into the convergence of photography, AI, and digital painting, particularly emphasizing non-generative glitch art. His most recent collection, UNREALIZED PROJECT, comprises 69 artworks produced with AI, showcasing the significance of concepts and ideas. This series originated from the artist's desire to preserve concepts for installations and performances that are unfeasible in reality.

In conversation with Anika Meier, Scerbo discusses AI as a tool to create art and the value of ideas, unrealized projects and an imaginary museum.

AM: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Scerbo: Every time I consciously decided to think of myself as an artist, I created bad pieces. Every time I convinced myself that I wasn't an artist, the pieces resonated strongly.

Throughout my entire life, I have never pondered this question until now. However, on the rare occasions when I grant myself the liberty to contemplate such matters, I choose to identify as an artist.

AM: Did you get in touch with art as a child?

Scerbo: My grandfather would diligently chop wood with his hatchet in the courtyard every day at the end of August. At the age of six, I would observe his remarkable displays, characterized by sweat, the rhythmic strikes of the axe against the wood, and the peaceful intervals of silence.

In the evenings, my mother would craft paper with the eloquence of her typewriter, while my grandmother would often roast cheese rind on the brazier of her cherished white stove. I would be surrounded by the rich aroma it emitted as my sister crafted peculiar comics for magazines.

The rooms of our modest home were occasionally darkened by the stove's smoke, adorned with watercolors painted en plein air by my grandmother's brothers, as well as artworks by my uncle—a painter and a university professor of art history.

Among all these creations, I held a special fondness for the blackened walls and the cheese skewered with the red-hot iron hook.

Scerbo, Grandmother’s Staircase Selfie (Anti-Crash), glitch photography, 2023. © Scerbo

AM: Do you remember your first museum visit?

Scerbo: Honestly, I don't remember my first time at a museum. I'd be dishonest to say yes, probably because I was too young. According to my mother, when I was four and entered the Egyptian Museum, I was captivated by the postures of the pharaohs and deities in the papyri of the Book of the Dead and the statues in the museum. She says I imitated the strange positions of the deities' bodies, as if that were the main part of my interest. Evidently, even as a child, I had an instinctive fascination with body language and its ability to stimulate the brain to recall hidden memories or similar phenomena.

Scerbo, Lettura inchiodata, philosophy book, nails, 2019. © Scerbo

AM: Through the UNREALIZED PROJECT, you conceptualized a virtual museum. The 69 AI-generated artworks depict pieces, performances, and installations that are either impossible to bring into existence in reality or exceedingly challenging to materialize. What inspired this concept?

Scerbo: Most artists rarely find concrete opportunities to physically realize the grand ideas they envision. Usually, 80–90% of imagined projects are born and die in the artist's mind due to various practical, economic, personal, psychological, motivational, relational, and other impossibilities.

These imagined projects and works often turn into formless energy, and the disparity between imagined and realized works creates an unbridgeable gap in a creative mind's life. It is within this gap that the intuition for the UNREALIZED PROJECT was born.

The energy accumulated over years of unrealized ideas reached an unbearable peak in my mind, leading me to conceive of the museum as a place that pre-exists only in this gap. I thought, "Wait, what separates a project from an artwork today? The unfeasibility of its aesthetics? Certainly not." Only the loss of control over the material can sculpt its denied existence in space.

Imagine entering an "art burn address" on Ethereum: in that place lies the best of emotions, dreams, frustrations, thoughts, theoretically failed or lost pieces, missed or realized strategies, data unreachable by anyone, and probably even by technology itself. Imagine being able to regenerate art from that ethereal space. Where would you place it?

I would certainly let it float without an answer.

Imagination is, after all, an electric wave, an unknown ghost claiming its will to become a piece.

AM: How did you approach working on the UNREALIZED PROJECT?

Scerbo: I began working on AI-generated museum spaces at the end of 2022. I wasn't creating artworks, just museum spaces with screens where I played my glitch videos from the ANTI-CHRASH series, merging the outputs in video editing. Gradually, I realized that designing these museum environments was becoming more creatively important, leading me to experiment and liberate the outputs from their functional and environmental nature. 

During this period, I was also working on the ANTI-CRASH series, and in the winter of 2023, I started creating the AI 100x100 VOID series, producing mutated outputs mainly of a photographic nature based on ANTI-CRASH jpg models. The merging of these experiments influenced my initial approaches to the UNREALIZED PROJECT, driving me to push these phases towards a synthesis beyond mere "research." I began to delve into direct prompt experiences, expanding experimentation with text quality and prompt refinement while always trying to glitch the text with meaning alteration disturbances. 

ANTI-CRASH is a collection of JPGs created from my photographic shots taken between 2018 and 2023, subjected to digital alterations and glitch fragmentations through a process I call "digital surgery on JPG." My photographs, layered on multiple alpha channels, are perforated and glitched using a digital brush with a tip randomly altered in the source code settings. The JPGs, glitched by my brush, are then harmonized and recomposed by myself with digital painting.

Scerbo, Uncodeskill (Unrealized Project), AI generation, 2024.

AM: How do you now feel about creating images as a visual artist using just text?

Scerbo: As an artist, I feel my fingers cry a bit. My mind twists within itself, begging for mercy and rest. But I don't listen too much to my body's whims, and I strive to move beyond the idea of an obsolete artist to connect with my future self.

When I generate prompts, I always try to find harmony between the ideas swirling in my mind and the sight of my hands moving across the keyboard like skittering insects. I aim to keep the relationship between my physicality and the entity that feeds on my energy, called AI, alive.

Sometimes, I wish for software that could translate the rhythms of my chisel strikes on basalt into text prompts, pushing the linguistic experience beyond the textual approach. As seen in UNREALIZED PROJECT, physical matter and the body are often materially connected to the hardware, living symbiotically with one another. But for now, writing prompts remains fundamental, and I try to approach it the same way I write this response—attempting to turn it into a piece of art.

Scerbo, Trapflow, digital photography, 2020. © Scerbo

AM: When were you initially introduced to the concept of AI? What were your initial impressions at that time?

Scerbo: In middle school, my math teacher told us that the calculator was a form of artificial intelligence. So, this was around 1998. I didn’t think much of it; I just used the calculator to do calculations, just as I now use AI to create artwork. 

When the beta of DALL-E 2 came out, I joined the waiting list to be approved as a creator, and the only thing I thought was, "Okay, let’s see if this stuff can be used to make powerful art or not."

AM: What was your response when you began collaborating with DALL-E 2? Did it have the capability to produce compelling art or not?

Scerbo: We are not there yet. Strong, but not strong enough yet. In fact, it took a year to have an AI-expanding body of work.

Scerbo, 100x100 Void, AI generation based on Anti-Crash JPG, 2024.

AM: Have your thoughts about AI changed once you have started creating art with it?

Scerbo: For a few years now, I have stopped conceptually analyzing the tools with which I make art. The analysis or mental reflection on the medium distances me from the instinctual alchemy that I establish with it, especially with the digital technological one.

I don't want to understand what my mind thinks about AI; I'm not interested in discovering myself in relation to the software or even in the idea I might have of the impact AI could have on my art.

One thing is almost certain: more than my thoughts on AI, my intuition regarding the familiarity we have with it has changed.

That feeling of still being in an embryonic artistic relationship is due to the fact that, for common thought, we still need to distinguish AI from non-AI to demonstrate to ourselves that we are still the masters of our language. When this division is healed, AI art will probably be just a raspberry with a great echo that resonates from a planet far from ours.

AM: Is it important for you, as an artist working with AI, to also integrate the evolution of these tools into your work? At first glance, UNREALIZED PROJECT might resemble photography.

Scerbo: I'm uncertain whether it's more important to integrate the evolution of AI tools into my photographic work or to evolve as an artist through the integration of these advanced AI tools. These are two very different approaches: the first focuses on the practical and cognitive scope of the tools, while the second focuses on the impact these evolved tools have on the artist's inner development.

Since I am not tied to the differentiation of the tools that define the photographic image, I am more affected by how AI tools have evolved my way of taking photographs in my mind. They allow my thoughts to process images without considering their factual occurrence and realization in empirical space and time.

The wave of light that propagates and strikes my camera is the same that hits my mental image and, consequently, also my prompt.

Scerbo, Wetbeat (Unrealized Project), AI generation, 2024.

AM: UNREALIZED PROJECT includes installations, performances, and sculptures. What were your inspirations for these museum pieces?

Scerbo: How would the ancient Maya, Egyptians, and Jōmon have photographed their deities if their cultures had been infused with robotics or computer technology as I have used in this project?

Water, whether dirty or clear, carries memories of the future and the past, enters organisms, and contaminates them with often indecipherable data that I can sense somewhere within me. Electricity and dives into golden ages where everything merges into abundant cosmic confusion break these imaginary and seemingly unknown ideograms.

No references to actual historical facts or cultures; no reasonable cause for my AI museums. These art spaces are 100% UNREALIZED PROJECTS and likely remain so even in their imaginative conception.