yinka ilori

Yinka Ilori: Inside the creation of artificial intelligence artworks

Ahead of his Frieze installation, the artist and designer tells us why he’s turning to tech for the first time

It was only a matter of time really. Whether it be a smartphone or social media, tech is ever-present in modern society – and now it’s breaking into the art world too. Frieze London, which kicks off tomorrow, will play host to one of the world’s first pieces of AI art. Created by London-based artist Yinka Ilori, in collaboration with Bombay Sapphire, the abstract designs offer a tech-based interpretation of Ilori’s signature colourful works, blurring the boundaries between human and machine and questioning the nature of creativity.

As he prepares to make his Frieze debut, Ilori tells us why he’s turning to tech for the first time and why he thinks it’s a natural evolution for artists of all ilks…

The AI component works by feeding images of my artworks and Bombay Sapphire’s campaign pictures into an algorithm. The algorithm breaks down the images into tiny dots and, based on its memory of the original piece, projects thousands of pixellated images. It’s not clean, it’s got a rough, rawness to it which I think is beautiful.

When I was first introduced to AI I was very sceptical. I thought, “It’s technology, it’s very controlling – how do I know what the result is going to be?” My work is very personal to me – it’s about family, love, relationships and culture. It’s about stories that are secret but that I’ve chosen to put out there. The fact that they were being put into an algorithm that would retell my story – in a way that it thinks is authentic and honest – was an interesting concept. But my work is also about stories that are ongoing. There are definitely parallels between the way the AI takes my information and retells it and the way that, in our culture, we’re all migrating around the world and retelling our stories.

There’s an interesting tension for the viewer. How do we know that what we’re seeing is the truth? The viewer has to trust that the information I’m feeding it is being interpreted faithfully and they’re not being offered false information. The machine is telling you what it thinks my work is but, without seeing the original, you have no proof.

I chose works that were really personal to me and told the most interesting story about my Nigerian culture through their colours and patterns. These pieces are very much about trying to create a good feeling – that’s what I want I want to do with all of my work – whether it’s an installation or a mural or an artwork.

yinka ilori

Designers and artists are always looking for new ways of working. I get quite bored of always using the same processes. At the moment I’m one of the few artists to use AI but I hope this will inspire people to try it. The AI is trying to tell you a story, but not only that, it’s trying to remember your story. I think for any artist who incorporates memory and stories into their work it could be a really powerful tool.

When I started designing people didn’t always understand why I was obsessed with trying to tell narratives using both my British and Nigerian cultures. It was very different to European art. Now though, whether you’re a viewer, a buyer or a dealer, people want more than just the same things they see every year. Art needs to say more than just being a chair or a painting. It has to have something personal about it – people want to connect with what they’re buying.

The art world had accepted my story and way of working. It’s my identity, it’s who I am and I can’t erase or change that so I think it’s important to celebrate it. I can be quite shy so my work has always been an outlet for my voice and expression. I’ve always been comfortable discussing any topic, whether it’s race, identity or culture, through my work. It’s my way of speaking and I want to amplify that.

Yinka Ilori’s AI works will be on display at Frieze London From 3-6 October.

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