A pioneering collaborative online new media art project, generation/mutation, began as an experiment in crowdsourcing creative work online. Today, the project has evolved to incorporate machine learning algorithms and other digital tools to generate novel visual patterns and remix existing artworks.
The original version of generation/mutation was launched on DIGITALSOULS.COM in March of 1998 with a simple call to artists. The call consisted of a few hand-coded HTML pages: a project description, a downloadable 41 Kb JPEG image file, and three instructions.
Participating artists were asked to
download the project’s seed image
alter the image any way they like
email the result back to be shown in an online exhibition.
Participation in the project was open to everyone and every contribution—provided it met a few simple technical requirements—was guaranteed a place in the planned online exhibition.
No jury, no curator, no censorship. The aim was to trigger a free and open-ended collaboration that would generate a series of contributions by artists from around the world, using the just emerging Internet as the only means of communication and exchange.
The resulting online exhibition was seen by more than 2,5 million visitors during its first three years online!
Today, almost a quarter of a century later, the synergy of the contributions continues to amaze the viewer. Here are the contributions of the original online exhibition.
Chapter 1 - Crowds
Launched on digitalsouls.com in the early days of the Internet, before Google or Facebook or iPhones, generation/mutation explores the new possibilities of collaborative art production and distribution afforded by the evolution of digital technologies.
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The evolution of web-based technologies created the foundations for a second and third mutation of the project. The second mutation of the project, generation/mutation 2.0, presents a collection of machine-made contributions—images found on Google’s Street View and Google Earth services. The Google-made images were taken at same location that is seen in the original seed image and present a Street View interpretation of the same place.
Finally, the third mutation of the project presents images that are made by AI—generated by the application of neural style transfer models that became accessible as early as 2018. The images presented in the third mutation return to the original seed image but they now render the original image based on the visual “style” detected in a second image, for example, an image of a painting by Vincent Van Gogh or Auguste Renoir or Mark Rothko.
As a collective work of art, generation/mutation defies traditional assumptions of authorship. It consists of many individual contributions, but it is not the work of a single author or artist. It is a synthesis of voices and expressions that relate to each other and create a presentation that is simultaneously unified and polymorphous.
generation/mutation challenges the traditional roles of artist, artwork and spectator, and explores the shift from a world that is grounded in a classic account of reality to the new, digital representation of the real, the intersection of the hyper-real and the virtual.
The entire collection of contributions to the project with notes on each mutation of the project is available in H-Ray Heine’s new book generation/mutation: from crowdsourced to ai-sourced new media art. A selection of museum quality Giclee prints are available exclusively on the DIGITALSOULS.COM Shop.