Saicharan Shetty's Cyberpunk Indian Cities Explore A Dystopian Future Through AI Art

Saicharan Shetty's Cyberpunk Indian Cities Explore A Dystopian Future Through AI Art
Saicharan Shetty

AI art is here and people are excited. By now you must have come across reels on Instagram that feature song lyrics through AI art. It’s fascinating to see the AI’s interpretation of human emotion through a series of post-impressionistic paintings melting into one another. The process of this kind of art is collaborative. To create AI art, artists write algorithms not to follow a set of rules, but to ‘learn’ a specific aesthetic by analysing thousands of images. The algorithm then tries to generate new images in adherence to its learned aesthetics. Some popular programs for AI art are DALL E-2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion.

There’s still a debate going on about whether AI-created designs can be considered art. The phenomenon is fairly new and we’ve yet to see if it’ll endure the test of time after the hype has cooled down. Both sides of the arguments surrounding AI art are valid; one believes that it’s not original since it needs a ton of data to create, and the other argues that all art movements came out of the previous ones with just a change in direction instead of complete innovation. The world of AI art is definitely not homogenous. Out of everyone that is delving into it, only some have been able to create art that's distinguished; like artists Sofia Crespo and Robbie Barat who have made a name for themselves by finding a niche to work on using AI. Thousands of others are still finding their way.

Apart from the collaborative work that AI applications create using prompts, an AI program called AICAN has become an artist itself. It operates without any human interaction and creates art by analysing art movements and styles but not fully replicating them. It has been around since 2018 and according to a survey, people couldn’t differentiate art created by AICAN from the ones created by humans.

“They didn’t simply have a tough time distinguishing between the two. They genuinely enjoyed the computer-generated art, using words such as “having visual structure,” “inspiring” and “communicative” when describing AICAN’s work,” as mentioned in Fast Company.

AI-based creations can be considered conceptual art — a movement that started in the mid-60s rejecting standard ideas of art that centre around skills. It’s a school of thought in which the concept or idea and process involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns. Apart from AICAN, which honestly isn’t very impressive to me when compared to the scale of human contributions and accomplishments in the art world, AI programs largely depend on what the human mind can conjure up as a concept. It still requires assistance and direction with style, prompts and references. Keeping that in mind, there definitely are artists who are using AI as a tool to manifest their artistic expressions.

Saicharan Shetty is one of them. Based in India, Saicharan is a visual artist who has created a series of reimagined Indian cities using Photoshop and Midjourney, an AI program that can only be accessed through Discord. After dabbling in font art and poster art, Saicharan has envisioned cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in a cyberpunk universe. These cities are imagined in 2077 — the dystopian future where technology has merged into society, substantially more than it is now. The project is a montage of images capturing the famous silhouettes of the architecture in these cities in a neon palette which is a colour scheme in cyberpunk.

This project by Saicharan is particularly impactful because cyberpunk is a powerful subgenre. Its ingenious use in films like The Matrix and Bladerunner has amassed an almost religious following which can be credited to its combination of ‘low life and high-tech’ — unimaginable technology with bleak, nihilist fiction surrounding international conspiracies and crime thrillers. It entices us because it plays on our pessimism and our fears about the future. It manifests all our anxieties and phobias and weaves them into a storytelling narrative which ironically, is highly alluring to the human mind. Blurring the lines between technology, humanity and identity, cyberpunk lets us live in an alternate reality for a while, oddly soothing us despite its disruptive ethos as it connects us to our morality and loneliness. It asks us, “ are we doomed?” without demanding an answer.

Saicharan’s series brings cyberpunk close to home with our own cities projected in the future. With climate change right on our doorstep, and the population reaching 8 billion, our worries about the future have been relatively high seeping into our careers and plans for the next few decades. The artist’s series plays right into that. The images have a nostalgic element to them as if we’re already transported to the future and wondering what our lives were like before. It plays with time and our perception of it.

In a way it also represents our scepticism about Artificial Intelligence and its connection to art. Art is deeply personal to us and it embodies our humanity so the involvement of AI with art perhaps, to us,  feels like a threat to our humanity leaving us with the question — Is AI the future? And do we have a place in it?

You can follow Saicharan's work here and checkout the cyberpunk cities below.

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