By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Roberto Fassone, Ai Lai, LZ, And we thought IV. Installation view at Maison de la Culture, Luxembourg. Photo: Nuit de la culture, 2023. Production by Sineglossa. Courtesy of the artist and Fanta-MLN.
Can you believe that the special mention for this year’s MAXXI Bvlgari Prize for Digital Art went to Roberto Fassone, one of our teachers? And, guess what – everything started with Prince. The exciting story behind it is definitely worth the read.
Hallucinatory trips supported by AI? Roberto Fassone, an Art tutor at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, has created an innovative way to make it happen. His work has earned him a special mention at this year’s MAXXI Bvlgari Prize for Digital Art, and we are SO proud.
In my two years as one of Tutor Roberto Fassone’s students, I had the opportunity to experience his teaching method, and I can tell that AI plays a key role in his lessons.
At the beginning of each new topic, we engage in a brainstorming session where every student – and the teacher– must provide a single adjective based on their existing knowledge of the subject we are going to cover. Once everyone has declared their choice, we consult ChatGP and ask the same question; sometimes, we are surprised by the selection of adjectives, and other times, we find the answer to be a further confirmation of our own ideas.
When I discovered that Roberto Fassone received a special mention at the MAXXI Bvlgari Prize, one of Bulgari visionary initiatives, for his AI project it felt very natural, if not obvious, considering his genuine interest in the field. I realised that we’d been a little part of his project over the years, serving as prompts for a little everyday experimentation with the medium.
In the artists’ words, And We Thought is a project that aims “to create an artificial entity [later renamed as Ai Lai] who could experience and narrate psychedelic trips”. This was made possible by educating the AI with stories of mushroom eaters, which created an experiential database as reference. Eventually, these experiences would be translated into reality through films, albums, and posters conceived by Fassone himself.
First of all, congratulations on this great and well-deserved achievement! What is your first memory regarding digital art? How and when did you two meet?
I was first introduced to digital art in the mid-90s when I was a kid. I was 10 years old, and I received a VHS tape of Prince’s Greatest Hits, featuring his best music videos, including Sign of the Times.
I was completely taken aback when I saw that video for the first time; it was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and it left a lasting impression on me to this day. All of those colours, rhythms, the combination of the music and the video of that song were absolutely incredible.
Thank you for the question because it reminded me of that magical moment; to me, Prince’s video was a form of digital art in its own way.
How did the interest in AI spark?
My interest in Artificial Intelligence started two and a half years ago when I received a call from Federico Bomba, the director of Sineglossa, a cultural association based in Ancona that deals with the relationship between visual arts, artists and artificial intelligence. He proposed that I collaborate with him on a project involving artificial intelligence. I realised that I was interested in the ways that artificial intelligence can work with text. I have always had a passion for texts written in unconventional ways – with limitations or instructions – and I felt that AI would give me an opportunity to explore this relationship further. My discovery is my research on text and texts.
And We Thought is a project that deals with trips and other states of consciousness. What is your position regarding these creative enhancements in the art field?
For me, it is about discovering an alternative reality. In my practice, it is fundamental. I am interested in all those parallel worlds and realities between the real and the imaginary because they allow me to visualise things that we usually don’t see. I’m also intrigued by the hallucinogenic experiences induced by psychoactive substances related to the dream world, near-death and out-of-body experiences. The world of imagination serves as a great inspiration to me.
Roberto Fassone, the variegated artworks you created for And We Thought are based on the idea that they already exist in a parallel universe. How do you picture yourself in that other dimension?
I am the orange chameleon on the right.