system | image | text | data | code | app | book

Cyprus as AI Saw it: Reinventing the Colonial Gaze

By: Alexia Achilleos, Marinos Koutsomichalis
The project pivots on a hybrid AI system, trained on text from colonial handbooks of Cyprus (originally published when Cyprus was still part of the British Empire) and employing a custom image dataset meant to reflect this colonial view of the island. AI then generates new colonial 'gazes' of Cyprus upon demand. Output text and imagery is used in a number of physical and digital artefacts and events.
system | image | text | data | code | app | book

Cyprus as AI Saw it: Reinventing the Colonial Gaze

The project pivots on a hybrid AI system, trained on text from colonial handbooks of Cyprus (originally published when Cyprus was still part of the British Empire) and employing a custom image dataset meant to reflect this colonial view of the island. AI then generates new colonial ‘gazes’ of Cyprus upon demand. Output text and imagery is used in a number of physical and digital artefacts and events.

By: Alexia Achilleos, Marinos Koutsomichalis

Materials:
Code, AI models, thermal printed photos, books, digital printouts, kraft envelopes, Andoid/iOS app

Dimensions (installation):
Variable, ~ 3m x 1m x 2m

Dimensions/Extent (book):
~ 16cm x 22cm x 4cm, 57 pages

Commissioned by:
Nuart Organisation, Lviv UA

Produced by:
Media Arts & Design Research Lab, Limassol CY

Produced at:
Media Arts & Design Research Lab, Limassol CY
Studio K, Heraklion GR

Produced in:
2021

Documented by:
Marinos Koutsomichalis, Alexia Achileos

‘Cyprus as AI Saw it: Reinventing the Colonial Gaze’ is part of ‘Cyprus as AI Saw it’, a wider artistic project thematic concerned with decolonial re-interpretations of the island’s history. The endeavour employs an AttnGAN text-to-image generation model and a RNN text generator. The latter is trained on text from colonial handbooks of Cyprus, originally published when Cyprus was still part of the British Empire and reflecting an overly orientalist gaze of the (then) newly annexed British colony. Cyprus is presented therein as a degenerate country whose people are in urgent need of salvation. Trained on such a corpus, the model may then generate new colonial descriptions of Cyprus. These then become the input of a GAN-driven text-to-image pipeline. This subsystem relies on a bespoke dataset that is meant to reflect the local reality since, not surprisingly, the readily available image databases largely fail to account for Eastern Mediterranean landscapes/culture (they generally produce images that are more reminiscent of the Western cities that host the big tech companies that distribute them).

The resulting AI hybrid is then left iterate, generating original colonial views of Cyprus upon demand. The output text and imagery are used in a number of related artistic outputs, exhibitions, events and artefacts. Employing a variety of physical, digital and hybrid media, audiences are encouraged to interact with the system, producing unique (and often individualised) (de-)colonial views of Cyprus. In this fashion, the project re-examines the historical relationship between coloniser and colonised, touches affairs of (digital) colonialism, and brings forth an alternative (de-)colonial narrative as a tactic to regain agency from a local perspective.

"the Cypriote has a gun, and was disappointed"

The Cyprus as AI Saw it: Reinventing the Colonial Gaze book comprises AI-generated text and imagery. The model is trained upon 19th century corpora, so that the book interrogates how the dominant colonial views of Cyprus resonate contemporary AI-driven techno-scientific culture to produce contemporary (de-)colonial narratives. The book comprises 57 A5-sized pages inside a hardcover case. The pages can be shuffled in arbitrary fashions so that audiences may intuitively explore the material and the different kinds of (de-)colonial narratives it may set out.

Having surveyed a ‘Cyprus as AI Saw it: Reinventing the Colonial Gaze’ art installation, audiences are encouraged to take a few pieces of (de-)colonial text or image with them as mementos. Craft envelopes, spare photos and text printouts are available so that each individual may assemble in situ their own tiny (de-)colonial narrative.

The mobile app version of the project serve users with new colonial text/image upon demand. On touching the screen they are presented a new AI-generated image alongside its generating text or just a piece of AI-generated text. The app can be accessed through the QR codes below.

Google Play Store:

App Store:

Events
  • Talk, New Materialist Informatics 2021: Computing and Worldmaking. Kassel, DE & Online. (2021)
  • Publication, In Proceedings of the 9th Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X (xCoAx 21). Graz AT & Online. (2021)
  • Other, Mobile app (Android/iOS). Limassol, CY and Heraklion, GR. (2021)
  • Exhibition, Фестиваль аудіовізуального мистецтва ТЕТРАМАТИКА: Технології та Чуттєве; Cтанції Станіслава Лема. Lviv, UA. (2021)