Artificial and Emotional Intelligence

For Anna Condo, an artistic path was almost predetermined. Coming from a family of artists, she explored various approaches for her own path: acting, filmmaking, photography, painting, and NFTs. In July 2022, Condo discovered the tools of AI and has been inspired by them ever since. Staying true to her visual language and the flower as her ultimate muse, the artist explores beauty in subtle ways. In conversation with Anika Meier and Margaret Murphy, she looks back on the art world of the 1980s, speaks about her artistic influences, and discusses the promises of AI.

Anna Condo photographed by ioulex.

Margaret Murphy: Anna, you are an accomplished photographer and filmmaker. What inspired you to become an artist?

Anna Condo: I grew up in a family of artists: a composer, an opera singer, and a painter. Books and vinyl were everywhere at home. Early on, I went to music school, art school, dance school, and theater school. Reading and making art were always more interesting than anything else around. Painting from time to time. So that’s where my path took me.

First, the drama conservatory; then, acting in films and TV; then, behind the camera as a director. Eventually, my obsession with detail, composition, light, and colour landed me in a deeper and more intimate relationship with photography. In July 2022, I discovered the tools of AI. Who knows what next?

MM: As a teenager, you took art classes at the École des Arts Appliqués in Paris. Upon graduation, you enrolled at the Université Paris Nanterre for Art History and Archeology. What have you learned while studying art and its history that was helpful for you to become an artist?

AC: Innovate, rebel, and speak your truth through your medium. There’s only one of you, and that’s what’s got to be shared. I don’t love trends or being boxed in. Knowledge is wonderful, but it’s even more invaluable when you dive in. Painting and all the arts really are an ingrained part of my psyche, folders in my brain and heart, but my work is to again remain authentic and share myself through my creations.

Vision de Holly (Portrait of Holly Herndon), 2021.

Anika Meier: Your career as an artist got, let’s say, a bit distracted when you landed a TV role while you were studying art history. You are known as a filmmaker and photographer. Is your approach to making a film different from creating artwork?

AC: I am very consistent, no matter which medium I use, and very true to myself; that’s the only way I can be, or else I would not do any of it. Mediums can change, but the vision is ongoing. And as much as I can, I wish to keep creating and learning about life from others and myself. Art is only a branch of a bigger tree, and it’s the branch I am sitting on.

AM: I guess your surname sounds familiar to a lot of people. You were married to George Condo, the American painter known for his unique figurative paintings. I sometimes see you sharing memories and learnings from the New York art and film scene back in the days. What are some of your fondest memories?

AC: #1 are my two amazing daughters. The rest is best described by saying that I have lived quite a full life, with the good and the bad. Maybe someday I will ask ChatGPT to come on board and help write my autobiography. Until then, I will focus on now because time flies. Everything that has ever happened got me here today, so I keep going, one step at a time, feeling grateful.

Sorry, no juicy replies.

À Propos des Fleurs, 2022.

AM: These days, artists, curators, and collectors are constantly in touch on Twitter. How does this feel to you compared to life in the 1980s and 1990s?

AC: Oh, again, looking back is counterproductive. The traditional art world has changed so much since I began swimming in it. For my taste, not in the best way. Things in life have gotten a bit tacky, trendy, and not as inspiring. That’s my perception. That said, I have such a strong belief that time is the ultimate decider, so the echo will be heard decades from now. My job is to do my thing, regardless of any of it. And frankly, that part was also true in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a whole world inside each and every one of us. Exploring it thoroughly can only benefit the bigger picture, be it the art world or, more importantly, humanity.

MM: You’ve been involved in the NFT community for three years now as both an artist and a collector. What has had the greatest impact on you during your time thus far?

AC: It pushes me to create in new ways, and as long as it does, I stick around.

MM: In 2013, you reconnected with your love of photography, using the flower as your muse. What is it about flowers that sparked this passion again?

AC: Everything. Color, form, movement, all the emotions, resilience, grace, life, and death. It takes a lot of courage to grow from a seed into a beautiful flower. I see a reflection of humans in flowers. Lessons that I have learned: the joy to receive them and the sadness to let them go. Their presence goes straight through my heart and tells me everything I need and want to hear. "A world without flowers," said my dad one day, "would not be the world." I guess, thanks also to my parents, who love flowers and gardening, flowers are part of my DNA. And then there were all the amazing artists and photographers before us who also chose to work with such a seemingly simple (it is not) subject. Manet, Monet, the Dutch Golden Age, Mapplethorpe, the Lumiere Brothers, even the bouquets in Visconti films. How not to see the wealth of art where flowers reign?

Still Life, 2021.

MM: Your first NFT collection was a photography project in 2021 titled TULIP 1637, inspired by the 17th-century tulip mania market bubble. Do you believe we will see the same historical results with NFTs?

AC: I have no clue. In five years, I might be doing something else. We all might. But now is now, and as long as it inspires me, I keep on going. Everything changes; nothing ever stays the same, but I don’t see any of it as a doomsday scenario since art is being produced, and that’s all I care about.

AM: When it comes to AI and art in the NFT community, you are one of the most prominent women working with this tool. What inspired you to start working with AI?

AC: Curiosity came first and foremost, and then there was no stopping. It was like I had a brand new palette of colors to work with, as if new musical notes were being invented every day. That is quite stimulating and inspiring; you try, you fail, learning to relinquish control even more rather than always controlling when I was filming or taking photographs. I have loved being able to embrace the unknown. That’s almost a sort of spiritual experience, like all art making actually. A new set of muses.

Sofa Stories, 2023.
Tulip 1637, 2021.

AM: Has your photography and filmmaking background played a role in your use of AI?

AC: Naturally. All one and the same. I can only bring what and who I am to the table, regardless of the medium I use, so I gradually unfold. It is more of an evolution than a repetition of my film and photography work that I create these days with AI. That would bore me. Again, I love the unknown, myself included.

MM: The subject matter of your artwork ranges from portraiture to still lives. What would you say is the throughline that connects these different artworks?

AC: That I cannot answer completely because I feel the viewer should decide. Hopefully, my spirit runs through it all, and since I have so many diverse interests, I express that. I think there are artists and collectors who, even if they don’t know me, believe it is me behind the work, and they too have similar types of layers as humans and art lovers. I feel life is full of good stuff, and I am here to celebrate as much of it as I can via art. I am grateful I can, because it is the only way I can best communicate.

MM: Your latest project ANGELS is part of our exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI. When you and I spoke about an AI having created angels you emphasized that these are “not real teenage girls”. What inspired you to create this project? In our conversation, you mentioned abortion laws in the US.

AC: The treatment of women in the world remains horrendous. Why? Any injustice rubs me in a very wrong way. I remember being a teenager and wanting to be taken seriously and not as an object of desire. Same when I was an actor. I lived with a painter who would incessantly portray me or my likeness but often did not see me. I feel women give, give, give, and unfortunately, while so much is expected of us, we’re often still treated as the weaker sex. So absurd.

Back to the series: I love children. Their emotional intelligence goes straight to my heart, like flowers. The pure honesty, the curiosity, the excitement for the smallest things. When I stumbled by accident onto one of the ANGELS' outputs, I almost walked off, thinking they looked too real, too Teen Vogue. I was not going to expand. Then they wouldn’t leave my mind. It’s almost as if they were showing me that I too was afraid to look at them because they looked so real.

Abortion still being an issue today is primitive, disappointing, and infuriating. I can’t find the words. My heart goes out to all the young women and men, too, whose lives are manipulated as if they were mere puppets by self-serving hypocrites. I am sorry; I don’t want to be negative, but yes, ANGELS is my subtle way of saying I care about you and your future.

The Angels, 2023.

MM: You asked ChatGPT to write the text about the work for you. This is what ChatGPT gave you.

“As an AI language model, I do not have personal beliefs or opinions, as I am a machine designed to process and generate information based on data and algorithms. My responses are based on the information and data that I have been trained on, and I am programmed to provide factual and informative responses to the best of my ability. The concept of angels exists in various religious and spiritual traditions, and the belief in angels is a matter of personal faith and interpretation.” – ChatGPT, April 2023

What would you add yourself to the reply by the AI about angels in relation to your concept?

AC: My bedside drawer is full of feathers collected from everywhere in the world. Each of them I keep to remind me that while I am here on earth, there are parallel universes that are not about organized religion or politics, a spiritual infinity. That’s where I try to live most of the time. That’s where I am happiest. The rest feels like ants working. Not my thing.

MM: When it comes to AI, you work prolifically and in a variety of styles. How does AI facilitate this kind of artistic practice for you?

AC: I love so many things. AI translates that for me.

Éloge de la Musique, 2022.

AM: In the early 1980s, Condo coined the term Artificial Realism. He said about this term:

“I created the term ‘artificial realism’ back in the late ’80s. That idea about representing reality, but reality being a construct of man-made appearances. I felt like artificial realism took over when Trump was elected, not as an artistic discussion but a political discussion. It was sort of like creating a formula for disaster. Then the fake-news concept came about and everything was about fakes, and my whole thing in the early ’80s was, “Oh I paint fake masterpieces,” so I didn’t have to think about whether they were or they weren’t. I could sort of objectify everything.”

How would you describe what is happening today with artificial intelligence? Do we see something similar to the concept of artificial realism?

AC: Come on, give me something else or interview him :))) Joke aside, Warhol said it best: “Art is anything you can get away with.”

Okay, here’s my POV. It all started in Paris in 1989. We were broke and would visit the banker so he could cut us some slack. He had his very own sense of humor and told us to stop buying expensive furniture and instead paint some chairs and hang them on the wall to create the feeling of an elegant living room. It's how it all began, with a guy telling us if you have no money, then live in an artificial reality, create your own world, paint it, paint some chairs... so it stuck and made for a good pitch moving forward.

All art is artificial. Even our perceptions are a construct; what we see and how we see it are both a construct, like a movie with infinite split screens running at the same time. Plus, the moment computers became household items, we had extra confirmation that all that is may or may not be true, and the opposite is also true: what we cannot see or comprehend may actually be our reality. As artists who artificially represent all that is around us, we seem to forget that the Louvre and the Met are full of unsigned artifacts. We don’t know who the maker was behind the work. With AI, we may again gather artificial and emotional intelligence in ways that we had not anticipated. A new intelligence and a new reality are born.

As long as it doesn’t become like that episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER … for now, especially in the Twitter community, it still feels a bit like plastic surgery meets Youtube meets American Idol. Again, like all art forms, with AI we’ll need more than just skills and tech, emotions, or even knowledge. The art should still carry the artist’s unique voice rather than being just a tool, a movement, or a trend. It will. I am excited to see where it all goes.
And as far as defining AI, I believe we humans, with our histories, beliefs, languages, and our bodies as such amazing machines, are a form of artificial intelligence, carved by others over time.

In short, AI is a man-made instrument, and I really love to play, so I’m in.

MM: In a previous conversation you and I had said that while an artist is young they should work as much and as diligently as they can. What other advice do you have for emerging young artists?

AC: Do whatever brings you joy. If it’s art, then do that. I know it sounds corny, but regardless of the outcome, be grateful for what you are creating. That’s the ultimate gift.

Anna Condo is an Armenian, French, and American artist, filmmaker and photographer living and working In New York.
Condo discloses beauty in the subtlest gradations of color and contrast, drama in the most delicate nuances of texture and tone, and wisdom in an ever-fluid interplay between fragility and strength. Her work is at once a revelation of and an invitation into a world of singular enchantment—a world the viewer will be unable to forget and most unwilling to leave.

Anna Condo is part of the exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI presented at the gallery in Berlin in collaboration with VerticalCrypto Art, 18-23 April, 2023.

UPCOMING NFT DROP: THE ANGELS (12 NFTs, 1 of 1s) by Anna Condo will be released as part of ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI on 19 APRIL at 6 PM CEST on verticalcrypto.art. Inquire about the work via email to nfts@expanded.art.