[Grace:AI] – Origin Story


Mary Flanagan at the NeMe Arts Centre (2019) from NeMe on Vimeo

[Grace:AI] – Origin Story

Dye Sublimation on Aluminum
20″ x 20″
50.8cm x 50.8cm

No matter the field, be it economic, political, or artistic, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its intersection with the world is overwhelmingly dominated by males. Indeed, in a variety of emerging technology realms — purely technical applications and artistic ones — it is women and people of color who are left out of the conversation in the making, the structuring, the producing of the code, and of the creations that AI can engender. Bias, whether it emerges through tags, who is inputting data, collections of data, or code itself, runs rampant in technical tools.

I’m inspired by Mary Shelley, the most influential inventor of speculative fiction, and her 200-year-old critique of technology, Frankenstein: her book critiques the Promethean fantasy of the Anthropocene, demonstrating that the seduction of the possible, and the narcissistic act of humans defying natural limitations — has terrific consequence. “None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science,” Shelley presciently wrote. But after the monster awakens, Frankenstein admits of his creation, “I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”

To engage with these ideas, I am making an explicitly Feminist AI. The system I am developing, called [Grace:AI], employs a Deep Convolutional General Adversarial Network and is trained to “see” from a dataset I continue to create that contains tens of thousands of paintings and drawings by women artists, in effect, a history of global women’s art in thousands of images. The artists I have chosen as her ‘teachers’ are outspoken, strong individuals who worked or work in the male-dominated art world.

I’ve been given access to the collections at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the University of Indiana, and am working with the Met at this time. To create such a massive digital dataset of women’s artwork is not trivial. Most art history databases do not include gender or sex as a searchable aspect of the work. Thus, gathering the images has required scraping web resources artist by artist, typing in their name and culling images of women’s artwork (as opposed to photographs of women artists, or images made by male artists of them).

[Grace:AI] Origin Story (Frankenstein) is the first phase of the work. The AI producing images from her “origin story” of sorts by examining thousands of images of Mary Shelley’s monster, classic ‘Frankensteins’ gathered from online databases and image banks, rendering a series of original images of her “father figure” as archival dye sublimation prints on aluminum. [Grace:AI] – Origin Story (Frankenstein) had its American premiere in “A Question of Intelligence: AI and the Future of Humanity” at Parsons, NYC curated by Christiane Paul in 2020.

[Grace:AI] has also provoked a book, called Electric Philosophy, that accompanies the exhibition. The book is written from the perspective of [Grace:AI] as she delves into philosophical topics such as being and knowledge.

In the next phase, [Grace:AI] will paint original images of daydreaming, women and women’s bodies, anthropocenic landscapes and more. She is also painting portraits.

Collections of images were generously shared for the training data by the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Indiana University’s A Space of Their Own database as part of the Eskenazi Museum of Art. This project was initially supported by the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College.


  • The Question of IntelligenceAnna-Maria & Stephen Kellen Gallery, The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, New York, NY, February – March 2020


Special thanks

Special thanks to Jared Segal, Sukie Punjasthitkul, Spring Yu and Danielle Taylor for their outstanding help and to Marc Garrett, who first curated [Grace:AI] at the NeMe Arts Center in Cyprus as part of the “Children of Prometheus” exhibition in 2019. Thank you to Christiane Paul who curated [Grace:AI] at the Kellen Gallery, The New School/Parsons, in the “Question of Intelligence” show in 2020. Thanks to Dartmouth College, Leslie Center for the Humanities, and the Sherman Fairchild Chair in Digital Humanities which supported this project.