– Am I to understand that it’s going to be possible to order a sculpture from your father, despite the fact he’s dead? – I ask.
– Possibly – says Dariusz Gross, a data sculptor and the lord of robots.
The grandfather, Heinrich Gross, was a wheelwright – carved wagon wheels. His son Siegfried became an artist: he sculpted Baroque angels and holy Madonnas. The grandson, Dariusz, is an artist who “sculpts” in data and generates works of art. With the help of artificial intelligence. All three are like history of art and the history of technological revolution in one.
The master is no more
It has dawned on me that I have been rising up for a few moments, and town streets wind upward. The mountain of St. Anne emerges out of the blue on a flat – until now – area. At its very top, stands a Baroque Church and a Franciscan monastery.
Over the altar, there reigns a tiny, 17th century St. Anne figurine of the Virgin and the Child with Baby Jesus on one knee and a little Mary on the other knee; the whole three, wearing embroidered clothing, seem to bend under the weight of huge golden crowns. They look at Baroque angel figurines and Saint Cecilia on the opposite side of the Church.
In reality, the saint and the angels are still young, although it’s difficult to distinguish them from the original Baroque figures. They were sculpted in 1998, just as the organ design, by a local artist Siegfried Gross – called the master from Silesia. His workshop is three kilometers from here, at the base of a mountain in Leśnica.
The master is gone. He passed away in January this year. But his son, Dariusz Gross, who is also an artist, is not letting his father fade into oblivion.
– I want to ensure my father’s immortality – he says. I am not talking about immortality in human terms, obviously. I am talking about the artistic immortality, so that… his lack of a body will not intefere with his continued creativity.
– What do you mean by that?! – I ask.
– I am building a machine learning model that learns how to create like my father, on the basis of what he had created in his life. That which is created in this model will not be a copy but a new form of art. That which will be designed in this model will not be a copy, but a new work of art. I believe that the creative moment does not necessarily have to be ascribed to a human, meaning: the human body, but it can reach… further.
Unusual mourning observance as a way of saying goodbye to the father? An artistic project which has never been done before? And maybe an innovative technological challenge? It’s probably all three points.
‘’Opa’’ was a wheelwright
Everything in Siegried Gross’ workshop was left the same way as when he had been alive. Unfinished sculptures, wood-cutting machines, chisels evenly arranged on the shelves, project drawings piling up on the tables. In the middle, a life-size horse sculpture stands. This is his last completed work.
– The workshop was built a hundred years ago by my opa [grandfather – editors], in 1920 – recounts Dariusz Gross while showing me around the workshop. – He was a wheelwright, he built wagons, until the Industrial Revolution didn’t make him change the profession. As the first individual in our town, he installed a steam boiler which powered the carpentry machines. My father was born here. He expanded the workshop, and transformed the steam engine to an electric one.
I grew up here, too. I started from sweeping the workshop. The father gradually taught me everything he knew. I was lucky to have worked with him in the last few years, although it wasn’t a simple relationship. After all, we were a pair of artists with a dramatically different approach to art.
Siegfried Gross learned sculpting in the workshop of Master Franciszek Masorz. He started at 14-years-old; gradually, he turned into a master himself. For over sixty years, he focused on sacral art. He created a few thousand sculptures that now can be found in Churches around Poland and abroad, because figurines were also ordered by missionaries. As the search for an artist who could reconstruct a Holy Cross Church altar in Warsaw destroyed in the war went on, conservators made it clear only he could do it.
A table that counted the steps
– I am not as gifted as my dad; sculpting came to him with great ease. He just stood in front of a wooden block and had a sketched sculpture in a day. I did not devote as much time as him to hone my manual skills. I can sculpt, it is just… I do not see a reason to do it this way. My father sculpted traditional, static sculptures. It always bothered me that as soon as you are done with them, nothing happens afterwards. The world changes, and they stay the same. I have always been drawn to interacting with members of an audience. I went on to study at academies in Kraków, Dusseldorf and Gdańsk. My expertise fields are conceptual and machine learning art.
His first interactive, digital sculpture was ‘’Risky Player’’ on the basis of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s ‘’The Gambler. ’’It was created in 1996, in the legendary Grand Hotel, Sopot. It was the table that counted the steps of gamblers walking around it. If the number of steps was close to zero, a black mirror was smooth. And if someone was excited – the mirror bulged outward, distorting the image.
A way to say goodbye to the father? An unique artistic project? And maybe an innovative technological challenge? Probably all three.
– I wanted to ensure that gamblers realized their modus operandi, and not the mythical luck, has an influence on what happens – explains Gross.
In 2013, the father fell ill.
– Along with my mother and sister, we were by his side since then, until the very end. One thing is certain: he was not afraid of death. This picture on the horse, I took it on Febuary 13, 2018, a day before the operation in Warsaw. We named that day Bitwa Warszawska (The Battle of Warsaw). The operation was succesful. Thanks to it, we gained almost a year.
The father’s works have his hands
‘’The Artists like to challenge the impossible’’ – writes Dariusz Gross in an introduction to his project. The final aim is to create a robot which will sculpt in wood just as Siegfried did. An industrial robot is to serve as the basis.
– It is not an easy task: nobody has done it before. The algorithm will have to be taught to hold a chisel the way my father did, and sculpting in wood – organic, live material where growth rings arrange themselves in unique ways. I experiment, for now, trying to approach it from different angles – he says.
He uses GAN-s (Generative Adversarial Networks). These are deep learning models which are actually composed of two neural networks: one tries to create an image indistinguishable from the real one on the basis of data, and the second one tries to find these differences. The networks train each other, resulting in an increasingly improved quality.
– At the beginning, one must gather and work on as much data as possible. In my case, my fathers’ works: madonnas, angels, Christs, apostles, sculptures, relief sculptures and drawings. Please, take a look: I upload any kind of image to the computer. When I process a bigger number of photos with photogrammetry, I get a 3D block that I print out and cast it in bronze. These materials become the base of a model which then transforms them by itself, generating new works of art.
– Traditionally, sacral sculpture is created by following a strict set of rules. How will it be possible to prove this is your father’s work, and not the work of another artist? – I ask.
– There are clear signs in my father’s sculpture that are only his. Hands, for example. Every figurative sculptor looks for anatomy. As there is no model always available, you use your own hands. All of the father’s works have his hands, a model must get used to it – explains Dariusz Gross.
– But it’s a robot that is to be the sculptor, not a 3D printer. How do you achieve it?
– I have many video movies where you can see my father working, arranging his hands, holding the tools, how he does it all – explains Gross. – Here, I have a recording from the 1980s. I upload it to the programme; GAN reads and analyzes my father’s movements. On that basis, I can classify this movement in such a way, so that the robot is going to move like my father. It can happen in the real space or virtual space. Maybe the robot will exist in VR only, and everything will work only in the cloud. I am still considering it.
I just make it possible
Dariusz Gross is fascinated by a thought that this model will have his father’s skills, his knowledge, his sensitivity. After all, nobody else can sculpt like my father did.
– His knowledge got lost along with his death, I intend to retrieve it and keep it alive. It is remarkable that it will be possible to encode it in numbers, because we are talking about the code, actually about a mathematical function. My father’s 60-year legacy encoded in a single mathematical equation. I would like to see the moment where it will be impossible to say if my father created a given sculpture before his death, or after…
– Am I to understand that it will be possible to order a sculpture from your father despite the fact he is dead? – I ask
– Do you also assume the role of an artist?
– No. I only make it happen, but I do not decide on what is created. – says Dariusz Gross.
– But you build the entry set, and this is what matters most.
– Not exactly. I would like to use reinforcement learning to build my model. This is how my Walker learns to walk (agent in UNITY setting). There were no databases – the agent had to somehow move from point A to point B. He did something clumsy at first, inept, but he slowly learned and he eventually learned to jump, and not walk. I will, surely, specify the database as a first step. But then, I will later introduce reinforced learning so the virtual artist will be independent. I will just place a tool in its hand. And I will leave it to do what it wants with it, just as my father did with me.
Gross is constantly searching, wondering, because ‘’this project is a process.’’ There is no specific framework, because machine learning deals with every facet of life.
At the start of the 1980s, my father brought an analogue sculpture copying machine to the workshop. He would have been fascinated by artificial intelligence, except his time ran out.
– It surely will be a hybrid action, I use five different models at this time. I experiment. I scanned my father’s workshop using photogrammetry; you can walk around it in VR. Based on audio recordings I synthesize the father’s voice, so I can have a dialogue with him. Will this dialogue be with my father – or with myself? I do not know.
– What would he have said to all this?
– I think he would get involved. Just like with Instagram. I set up an account for him in 2016 and he got immersed in it. We live in a small town, where people are not interested in art., and here suddenly he gained 18 thousand followers from across the world! He was fascinated. At the beginning of the 1980s, my father brought an analogue machine copying sculptures. It was state-of-the-art forty years ago, the latest technological fad. I suspect he would have been fascinated by artificial intelligence, but we ran out of time.
– What’s your reason to be doing all this?
– Probably gratitude. I learned a lot from my father. He taught me in the past, now it’s the opposite – the son teaches the father. Besides, it is the subject which affects each and every one of us; we all cope with loss differently. I believe this idea has merit. I would like for it to be an open source project, so everyone can use it, upload their pictures, their histories, their recordings and get an effect similar to mine. It is crucial to remember that these models are merely tools, like chisels. Everyone can have a chisel. The question is: what will he do with it?
Not the Holy Grail, but a tool
In July, Dariusz Gross along with his friends established a non-profit foundation Machine Learning for Social Good. Its mission is the democratization of AI tools, with the focus on non-governmental organizations.
– Non-governmental organization have experience in solving social problems, but do not have the tools – he explains. Typically, they have limited human resources; we can help them. With the help of machine learning, they will attain better results with less means. People ought to familiarize themselves with AI, use it. Soon, it will be a skill just as common as driving a car. But it is still in the beginning stages; we are all still learning. These are the tools which will broaden our skillset, although they will surely not solve all our problems. We have to be aware that artificial intelligence is not the Holy Grail, but another tool. Like my father’s chisel.
Dariusz Gross studied at the Faculty of Sculpture of Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. He then studied in Gdańsk and Dusseldorf. For 25 years, he has run an architecture studio business with his wife, preparing novel spaces, fulfilling the modern needs of investors. A few years ago, he has started using virtual reality and augmented reality in presentations. In 2015, he used the machine learning and photogrammetry models for the first time. He has created an international community Next Top Architects, with over 700 hunded thousand architects following the groundbreaking solutions in the field. One of the 25 founders of aiartists.org, a global community of AI artists.
A movie about an artificial artist
In the cooperation with two European televisions, a film will document the entire process of creating a posthumous artist. There will be background music generated by GAN-s (Magneta Tensorflow). Darusz Gross’ plan is such, so that the movie consists of GAN-suggested images – picked for esthetic qualities, judged as visually attractive on the basis of what people look at, when perusing websites. An AI tool is being devised for movie production making the material editing easier. The premiere is set for 2020 – a 100th anniversary of the Gross sculpture workshop.
The ‘’State of the Art’’ Conference
A “State of the Art” conference organized by DATAworkshop.eu and Learning for Social Good Foundation will be held on September 28th in Warsaw. AI specialists from the University of Stanford, Facebook, DeepMind, and Uber will be present. At the conference, Dariusz Gross will present his project for the first time and he will make the machine learning tools available to the audience.