conversations – Interview by Margaret Murphy – 18.04.2023
DANIELLE KING: ARTIFICIAL EMOTIONS
FEMININITY AND AI
Looking at Danielle King's AI creations makes one wonder about the emotional side of technology. Her highly photographic works, whether depicting women, nature, or buildings, appear emotive and create an intimate relationship between the viewer and King's work. With a background in photography and film, King now utilizes AI technology to explore alternative art histories and timelines and to investigate capitalist and art historical ideals of beauty and femininity.
In conversation with Margaret Murphy, Head of Community, Danielle King reflects on the differences between the traditional art world and the NFT space, speaks about her path from photography to working with AI, and cites women as her ultimate source of inspiration.
Margaret Murphy: You studied photography with Nan Goldin, the American photographer and activist best known for her project THE BALLAD OF SEXUAL DEPENDENCY. How did you experience learning from such a prolific figure in the history of photography?
Danielle King: Studying with Nan Goldin while I was an undergraduate at Harvard was a powerful, formative experience. Nan’s work, which captures raw, intimate moments of her life and of people in her community, deeply influenced my perspective on art and storytelling. Her unapologetic approach to documenting her own experiences and addressing social issues through her work inspired me back then and continues to inspire me now. I was so grateful for Nan’s sense of humor, her candor, her wisdom, and her empathy. The class was a small group seminar, and the students formed a deep bond as we worked through personal issues, let ourselves be vulnerable with one another, and allowed that vulnerability to show through in our work.
MM: Has what you learned from Goldin had an influence on your art or collecting art today?
DK: Nan’s emphasis on authenticity, vulnerability, and storytelling has certainly helped shape my artistic voice and the subjects I choose to explore. As a collector, I’m often drawn to artists who, like Nan, produce work that is emotionally resonant and tells a personal story.
MM: Before entering the NFT space as a collector and an artist, you were the manager of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. Artists, curators, and collectors were excited to build something new and different from the traditional art world. How do you feel about the NFT space two years after the hype started? Do you think the NFT space today is still that different from the traditional art world?
DK: As someone who entered the NFT space as a collector and an artist after working in the traditional art world, I have mixed feelings about the current state of the NFT space. While there is no denying the excitement and potential for innovation in the Web3 art world, I do see similarities between the traditional art world and this one, including issues around exclusivity, speculation, and the commodification of art. However, I believe that the NFT space still has the potential to evolve and redefine the art world, and I’m excited to see how it continues to develop.
MM: Is it helpful for you when collecting and creating art to be familiar with the history of art?
DK: Having a background in art history is immensely helpful for me when collecting and creating art. It allows me to understand and appreciate the context and influences behind different art movements, techniques, and styles. It also provides me with a rich visual and conceptual vocabulary that informs my artistic practice; for example, my series AI MASHUPS explores the concept of alternate art histories by imagining collaborations between artists, photographers, fashion designers, filmmakers, and other creators from different points in history.
MM: You come from an art-writing background, often speaking in dialogue with artists in the NFT space. How do these conversations influence your own practice?
DK: I wouldn’t say I have an art-writing background. I sort of fell into art writing due to my involvement with Right Click Save (RCS), an online publication about Web3 art (I’m the CFO & COO of RCS and ClubNFT). Alex Estorick, RCS’s Editor-in-Chief, occasionally asks me to write pieces, and I’m always happy to oblige. I really enjoy speaking with artists and collectors in the space, finding out more about their backgrounds, their artistic practices, their collections, and what makes them tick. I learn a lot from these conversations, and I’m sure these learnings seep into my own practice in subconscious ways.
MM: How did you get started working with AI?
DK: I had been collecting generative art and other types of digital art for nearly two years when I began seeing an increasing amount of really interesting, innovative AI-assisted work, and I started collecting a lot of that. My friend Clownvamp—another AI collector turned AI artist—encouraged me to try MidJourney, and I totally fell down the AI rabbit hole. It’s been a wonderful surprise to find this new creative outlet and have a creative rebirth in mid-life.
MM: Your project, THE MUSES, released with EmergentProperties, used AI that was trained on the styles of different historically significant painters to create portraits of women. You also create highly photographic works that embrace photography’s history, such as Polaroid and film aesthetics. In both projects, your subjects are women. What interests you most about women as subjects?
DK: I’m deeply interested in the representation of women throughout art history and in our capitalist society. Women have been historically marginalized and objectified in both art and society, and I often investigate and subvert these narratives in my work. I find it fascinating to explore the concepts of the male gaze and the female gaze using AI.
I love the questions Anika Meier poses at the end of her essay on THE MUSES": "Taking THE MUSES project as a whole—as the entire long-form collection, not just the individual works—and assuming that the "male gaze", the "female gaze", and the "male gaze reproduced by women" are all mashed up, almost remixed, across its 500 images, what does that tell us about the collection’s overall meaning? With artificial intelligence’s help, can THE MUSES point the way to constructing a new type of "gaze" that is removed from gender assignment?"
MM: Your new series ARTIFICIAL SELF-PORTRAITS, part of our exhibition RECOLLECTION. AI AND MEMORY consists of images made with AI that you trained on your analog self-portraits from 20 years ago. You mentioned in our conversations that the process of creating this work has been like therapy for you. What new perspectives do you now have about your younger self that this project helped realize?
DK: Working on this series has allowed me to revisit and recontextualize my younger self. It’s been an interesting process and has brought up a lot of mixed emotions. I’m simultaneously protective of that young girl, sad for her, envious of her youth, nostalgic for some aspects of that time, and relieved to be past other aspects of that time. This project has also made me reflect on aging and the evolution of my identity both as an artist and as a person.
MM: Different from mediums like painting and photography, one might assume that artists working with AI do not have a connection to their subjects because they are computer generated. Do you find this to be true or untrue?
DK: The assumption that artists working with AI do not have a connection to their subjects because they are computer-generated is not necessarily true. Artists working with AI carefully curate and input data and make creative decisions throughout the process, using these technologies as tools to express their artistic vision. You become connected to your subject during this process. And, in my case, I often use AI to explore my own emotions and memories, so I have a very personal connection to those subjects.
MM: Many of the subjects in your AI artworks are highly emotive. Does this emotion come strictly from your source imagery or text prompts, or do you find that the AI creates a level of emotion on its own?
DK: While the emotion may come from my source imagery or text prompts, AI also has the ability to create its own unique emotional language. I am fascinated by the interplay between these. As I work on a piece, sometimes I will strive to evoke a certain emotion, and the AI will come up with something unexpected which will move me in a different direction. It’s an iterative and collaborative process.
MM: There is much discussion around the merits of AI in art, not unlike the way photography was viewed when the camera was invented. Where do you anticipate the conversation about AI will be one year from now? Five years from now?
DK: Oh boy, the AI space is moving so fast, I’m sure any predictions I make will be wrong! But I’ll try.
One year from now, I believe we will see increased acceptance and integration of AI in the art world. While there may still be debates and discussions about the merits of AI-assisted art, I anticipate that more and more artists and collectors will embrace AI as a legitimate and exciting tool for artistic expression. As AI technologies continue to advance and become more accessible, I think we’ll see an increase in the integration of AI into various artistic practices, including music, literature, dance, filmmaking, and more.
Five years from now, I think we’ll see wider integration of AI into various aspects of the art world, beyond art-making and into the areas of curation, preservation, etc. I also imagine there will be interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, technologists, and other thinkers to navigate the ethical and philosophical implications of AI in art and society.
Danielle King is an artist, collector, writer, and curator based in Western Massachusetts. She studied studio art and art history at Harvard University, working primarily in photography, film, and mixed media. Her recent work utilizes AI technology to explore alternative art histories and timelines and to investigate capitalist and art historical ideals of beauty and femininity.