Vera van der Burg works at the intersection of design, art and theoretical research. Her research how intelligent systems and artists/designers can creatively work together over extended periods of time.
We discuss her practice, our recent collaboration and what she is optimistic about in the near future.
Can you please introduce yourself? What is your background?
My name is Vera, and I am an Amsterdam-based researcher and designer. I hold a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences, majoring in neuroscience and a master's degree in Contextual Design from the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Currently, I am doing a PhD at the Technical University in Delft in AI and Design.
What is your current state of mind?
Trying to stay curious and create beautiful things while the world is on fire.
Can you tell us more about your research and personal practice?
As a researcher, I am curious to find ways for Artificial Intelligence and creative practitioners to collaborate through creative dialogues. By this research, I will develop a 'new' practice with AI. My personal practice relates to this as I aim to create with AI systems to get to know my own practice better through Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) and Object Detection Systems.
Based on our recent collaboration, around computer-assisted design, what would you say is a key takeaway? How has it fed into your PhD?
It made me think about what future roles, balances and practices could emerge from collaborating with artificial agents during the early stages of a design process. Whereas design tools typically are designed to fulfil a specific task during a design process, this project showcases an opportunity for an AI to become an ideation partner that a designer can collaborate with to explore specific design spaces. The question is how an AI-designer interaction can be set up, what roles both parties take in this process, and how they integrate insight and ideas. This project was the first try in setting up such a creative dialogue. We chose to use a GAN as a form exploration tool trained on a mixed dataset inspired by natural and technological imagery. The generations were non-functional objects but hinged to function as they did showcase some recognizable elements. After selecting the most challenging generations, a 3D model was created based on these shapes.
For my PhD research, it is interesting to explore how the designer took inspiration from these generations, and what alternative views and new insights the AI did or did not deliver. By analyzing this process, further questions emerged relating to design interaction with a non-human agent, for example: When did the designer find inspiration? Did the AI give the designer valuable new insight? And how did the designer incorporate the AI's generations into their own process? By getting an idea of these questions, slowly, a new practice with its own characteristics emerges - which is one of the fundamental goals of my PhD research.
How do you judge the success of a project/research idea? Are you looking for tangible output or is it more about process and questions?
The tangible output plays a vital role in my research as I see the quality of the outcome linked to the quality of the process. From this perspective, both process and output are related; therefore, developing a successful design process will result in successful design output. I also think the generation of tangible outcomes can raise important questions for my research. Therefore, both are necessary for a successful research project.
Have you seen a piece of work/research you’ve been impressed /surprised by?
Hito Steyerl’s installation Power Plant is a beautiful piece I recently saw at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The installation brings together neural nets, nature, and technology in a very enticing and exciting format, poetical and without the use of many words, which makes the power of the image even more potent.
Do you have a go to book?
I recently finished Klara & the Sun, a masterpiece written by Kazuo Ishiguro. A beautifully weird and touching novel written from the perspective of a robot. In my eyes, it raises questions on how we could see the world from the perspective of non-human agents and what that can teach us about human life.
What do the next 10 years look like? What gives you hope?
I'm not sure I have an answer to that ...