Rashaad Newsome’s AI artwork "BEING" Makes its Sundance Premiere
As technology and artificial intelligence continues to infiltrate just about everything, I have kept a cautious eye on what this means for artists. Although it's ultimately a tool, it feels a bit unnerving to hear about new ways of its utilization given how AI has currently creeped into the art world, putting creativity and ownership at risk. But if there is a way, an ingenious and decent and interesting way, to utilize AI in the future of artworks, artists are already asking–and finding answers–to these exact questions.
One of such is Rashaad Newsome, an artist whose practice spans about every kind of medium there is. From collage, sculpture, film and video, animation, performance and more. His latest creation has been a project called BEING, and is the first project of its kind to be premiered at the Sundance film festival this year. BEING is featured in the New Frontier section, which champions artists practicing at the crossroads of film, art, performance, and new media technology. This year New Frontier’s focus is specifically on the rise of AI and the role of artists to this rapidly changing landscape.
Newsome has been working with BEING for a few years now, (since 2019 to be exact,) and the piece takes the humanoid form of a nonbinary 30-foot tall, femme vogue Afro-futurist cyborg, who writes and reads poetry. It pulls inspiration from writings by radical theorists like bell hooks and Cornel West, and is a reimagining of The Griot, a West African cultural figure that acts as an archive. BEING looks like a robot, sounds like a robot, and mostly moves like one too–outside of the vogue dancing of course. Besides that, BEING is meant to be anything other than a cyborg. Newsome created BEING knowing that AI only reflects what we teach it, and therefore, what we teach it should be human-centered. “The goal of human-centered AI is not to develop AI that mirrors the entirety of humanity, but that reflects those aspects we most admire, like compassion and empathy,” shared Newsome.
At Sundance Being 2.0, which will lead a participatory experience that engages the audience in challenging discussions around history, oppression, labor, liberation, and more. Every interaction that BEING has provides an opportunity for its machine models to learn and advance, making it an art project that is ever ongoing and changing.
With BEING, Newsome makes the case that the future of AI doesn’t have to be scary, nor does it need to be the exclusive white-centered models that we often see that are at the heart of these new technologies. It’s an example of a future full of computer scientists and software engineers who are as inclusive and expansive as the people who use these systems. And ultimately, they make the case that while art is often changing the world, the world of art can continue to change and evolve too. A revolt against the status quo is always a good thing, even when it comes from a cyborg. …Right? –Shaquille Heath