Rearranging Nature with Neural Artist Sofia Crespo

Artwork by Sofia Crespo

Published 05th Mar 2020, Written by veronica

Standing at the intersection of the tech and art world, Neural artist Sofia Crespo uses technology to connect with nature.

Inspired by biology and how human-made technologies draw inspiration from natural sources, the Berlin-based artist is rearranging nature. In her latest project Neural Zoo, Sofia Crespo is recombining natural elements into new lifeforms with machine learning, using a neural network.

Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo

All artworks in this article by Sofia Crespo

What drew you to become an artist?

I guess it originally was a mix of depression and a need to express myself to understand what was happening inside of my mind. Eventually, it became a sort of inspiration, and later it transformed into an educational asset.


What does your creative process look like?

Usually quite chaotic, if any deep-learning engineer saw how I actually run things, they would freak out. But there’s a part of the process which tries to bring order to things and another part which is very meditative, calm and rewarding.


How did your interest for Machine Learning start?

I got into it thanks to Gene Kogan and his Machine Learning For Artists. At that time, I was doing an intensive C1 German course and came home every day, really excited to experiment with new techniques. Eventually, the workflow became something I could do in an automated way without thinking much about the technical setup, and I could focus more on the creative part. The first time running 4 GPUs on the cloud felt like an adventure; for me, it involved the same amount of adrenaline one could get from bungee jumping.

Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo

What is the idea behind your latest project Neural Zoo?

The idea behind Neural Zoo is extracting patterns that visually resemble the natural world while simultaneously not hiding that they are artificial, but making a certain essence of “nature-ness” explicit to the person who views it. Hugely inspired by The Codex Seraphinianus from Luigi Serafini, and Parallel Botany from Leo Lionni, I wanted to see how these topics would be reinterpreted using technologies that weren’t available before.

Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo
Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo
Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo

With Neural Zoo, you have stated that the algorithm is the creator, and you, as the artist are the muse. What does it mean for the artists to turn themselves into the muse instead of the creator?

This view has been evolving in the process of the work I do. I used to feel that way at the beginning, like there was little I could control and felt a higher degree of separation between me and the technology. Whereas the thought of an algorithm being autonomous is fun to think about, I don’t want to feel like I’m reinforcing the ‘machines taking over humans’ hype. To me, the main focus is connecting with nature through the use of technology.

Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo
Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo
Neural Artist Sofia Crespo

"The good thing about artists using AI is that these tools help us portray new critical messages and bring them back to the realm of the human being."

What do you think of the general portrayal of technological advances in pop culture, where it often is seen as something scary and threatening?

The part that is seen as dangerous is the ‘computers taking over the world’, not the actual human problems happening in the background. I believe these societal issues will stay until they are faced with humanity and compassion. Human beings are working on the technologies, not autonomous technologies creating themselves.

Pop culture is overdramatizing things that aren’t realistic at the time being while disregarding the actual issues with the technologies (such as racial bias in machine learning models). 


What is the most exciting thing happening in the art world right now, according to you?

Something that feels highly relatable is what Vera Molnár says about generative art: “Some people argue that using computers dehumanizes art, but the opposite is true. It’s thanks to all this technology, we can get close to what we have imagined, which we otherwise might not have found.”

The fact that people like her have a voice in the art world – that in itself is exciting.

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