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Digital Symbiosis

Holly Herndon at the Crossroads of Identity, Technology, and Art.

In the dynamic landscape of the 21st century, artificial intelligence (AI) presents itself as the tool with which new frontiers of creativity and knowledge production are delineated. The concept of "Artificial Intelligence" challenges us by intersecting with the core attributes of human intelligence: the capacity for innovation, and the systematic generation and organization of knowledge, and reconfigure our preconceived notions of what it means to be human in an increasingly digitalized world.

As an apparent Trojan Horse of the technological era, AI provokes both wonder and introspection, pushing us to examine its impact on society with the same attention with which one would observe the layers of a Renaissance masterpiece.

For the field of art, artificial intelligence constitutes a new spring of possibilities. Already in 2018, Christie's auctioned a work created by artificial intelligence, "Portrait of Edmond de Belamy" (2018), which was sold after six minutes of bidding. A year later, another piece of a similar nature by Mario Klingemann was sold, thus granting certain validity in the art market to visual productions more linked to the digital, which usually did not capture the attention of collectors.

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Images created using xhairymutantx, an AI image generator that utilizes the Stable Diffusion model.

This dialogue between man and machine, laden with ethical and aesthetic complexities, is set in a scenario where AI not only acts as an instrument of innovation but also as a mirror reflecting our ambitions, fears, and moral dilemmas.

Among the creators in the contemporary landscape who have explored such implications are Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst.

Holly Herndon, a composer, musical technologist, visual and sound artist based in Berlin, has charted a unique course through the contemporary artistic landscape. After completing her PhD at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, Herndon has firmly established herself at the forefront of musical and visual culture, using her voice and body as central instruments in her work. Her music, deeply rooted in computing, employs the visual programming language Max/MSP to forge vocal treatments and custom instruments, finding its place on prestigious record labels like RVNG Intl. and 4AD, culminating in her acclaimed 2019 album "Proto".



Herndon has delved into exploring the boundaries between humanity and technology, a quest that led her to the sanctuary of Torreciudad in Spain, where the diversity of representations of the Virgin Mary offered her a new perspective on the "embedding" of identities in artificial intelligence. Through her experiments with text-to-image generators, such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion, Herndon and her primary collaborator and husband, Mat Dryhurst, have investigated how artificial neural networks can be trained to reflect and transform human identity.

Herndon's artistic practice bravely faces the ethical ambiguities and expansive possibilities of contemporary technology, questioning the nature of authorship and the notion of the self and the other. Her work with Holly+, a vocal "deepfake twin", allows for creative collaborations that challenge conventional notions of ownership and originality in art. This approach reflects a commitment to the collaborative and democratic possibilities of artificial intelligence, considering how innovation can coexist with artists' rights in a world where technology blurs the lines between the real and the artificial.

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Herndon's work reveals a deep understanding that we are on the cusp of a new era in music and art, where artificial intelligence not only expands the scope of artistic creation but also raises fundamental questions about the essence of identity and personal expression. By transforming her own image and voice through algorithms and neural networks, Herndon invites us to consider how technology can serve as a distorted mirror of ourselves, offering additives to our being from foreign bodies, but from such a profusion of information that they are difficult to define.



 Almost all her works reveal alternatives to what it means to be human in the 21st century. In this new digital world order, Herndon emerges not only as an innovative artist but also as a critical thinker, where each work is a commentary on the intersection between our intrinsic humanity and the tools we use to express it. Her work anticipates forms of collaborative creation with technologies that use "infinite data and media" to remix and reimagine the work of others, a sampling and collage of information that redefines the creative process in the digital age.

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