Artificial Intelligence Art

© Libby Heaney

Imagining Merkel and May taking part in the Eurovision song contest!
Inspired by Dada poetry, the art installation Euro(re)vision explores the relationships between artificial intelligence, politics and pop culture. Read about what inspired the artist to come up with such an art installation.

Merkel or May, who will win this year's Euro(re)vision?
This is one competition May actually won...
She is far more expressive and gives dancing a go (even if her dancing is a glorious failure). Merkel might be considered a better leader, but her almost regal facade stays in place during this song contest.

Tell us a bit more about your project. What is Euro(re)vision?
Euro(re)vision is a moving image artwork and installation where Theresa May and Angela Merkel perform dada poetry in a Euro(re)vision song contest setting. It uses deep learning faceswap algorithms to allow me to look like these politicians as I perform. The dada poetry was composed by three machine learning algorithms that were able to reimagine language at the level of characters and symbols and were trained 'wrongly' on political debates from the House of Commons and the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament).

How did you come up with the idea to have Merkel and May compete in a dadaist song contest?
I've been exploring how we can make 'good noise' with machine learning algorithms in my practice for a while. To me 'good noise' means using these systems in ways for which they were unintended - to shake them, almost to breaking point, to see what comes out, to see ourselves anew. I like the idea of creating nonsense from political debates, a type of dada sound poetry, that criticizes current political rhetoric. It then felt natural to perform this dadaist song as May and Merkel. Swapping my face with May's and Merkel's questions the ethics of machine learning and its connections to politics, since we now live in a world where we can use AI to literally put words into politicians mouths. But I also wanted to propose a positive future, and not just be critical. Towards the end of the song, the English and German languages merge together and May and Merkel perform the same words simultaneously. I like the idea of being united through new hybrid languages.

by Libby Heaney
by Libby Heaney
How did you create the footage?
Firstly, I watched hours of political speeches of both May and Merkel and mapped their gestures to create a library of movements I could use in the performance (I also watched a few of May's dances too). Lulu’s 1969 Boom Bang A Bang Eurovision Song also inspired May’s performance. This song was chosen for Lulu to perform at the contest by popular vote over more known options by the likes of Elton John and others. After it won the song contest, Lulu said: "I know it’s a bad song but I won so I don’t care". Nicole’s Ein bisschen Frieden (A Little Peace) 1982 Eurovision winning song partly inspired Merkel’s performance and also Josh Brain’s guitar arrangement for the artwork.
Echo Ru Yi assisted me in filming the piece against a green screen. I then used two deep learning faceswap models to convert my face to May's and Merkel's - it took around a day to train each model to 'see' me as May and Merkel. Then I had to break all the footage into individual frames, extract my face from each one, and use the faceswap model to replace my face with theirs. Finally I had to recompose all the frames back into video and then edit. It was a long process.

Are you a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest?
Yes, it's fun! But I don't take it very seriously (as you can tell).

What does Europe mean to you?
I am pro-Europe. I lived in Freiburg Germany for my Erasmus year and have worked as an artist and physicist in many countries. I think it's extremely important to build bridges rather than walls. I'm very sad about what is currently happening with Brexit, here. I like to believe that humourous art such as Euro(re)vision may help to mend some of the wounds that have opened up between Leave and Remain votes in the UK.