Warning: this film features visual effects that could be unsuitable for photosensitive viewers.
Ghosts is part of an ongoing project in which the Istanbul-based media artist Vadim Epstein explores AI technology via animation. Epstein created the video’s trippy, shapeshifting visuals through a program called StarGAN v2, which uses a neural network to generate new images by pulling from a user-created dataset. The image-to-image technology is similar to what’s used to change one’s hair color or age à la Snapchat face filters, but anyone who has tried re-inputting a filtered image back into a feed multiple times, as Epstein does here, knows that the results can get pretty strange. For the piece, Epstein built a dataset consisting of celebrity faces, cats, paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, pencil drawings and other artworks, creating a feedback loop of abstract art and digital information that builds upon itself in uncanny, unexpected ways. With StarGAN v2 given almost full control over the process, the result is an ever-changing wave of obscure and expressive visuals that seem unbound from the world of human art and aesthetics. It’s hard to predict what neural networks like StarGAN v2 will produce as machine learning technologies continue to develop, but Ghosts cleverly shows how far the technology has come, and how weird the results can (already) get.