ArtSEA: AI experiments and ceramic sailors spell Seattle summer

Plus, more far-out art, including the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Fest at SIFF Egyptian.

A scupted woman holds a phone in her neck

‘Sea of Vapors,’ a new installation by Seattle artist Emily Counts at the Museum of Museums. (Brangien Davis / Crosscut)

Look skyward over the next couple nights (June 1 and 2) and you might witness an unusual outer space phenomenon. Mars is moving through a close-by star cluster known as the Beehive, buzzing with more than 1,000 stars. You’ll need binoculars to see these bees (look for them shining around the red planet in the western sky), since they’re 577 light years away. Far out!

Much closer — no binocs necessary — are a few far-out shows kicking off summer.

Consider the Sea of Vapors (Museum of Museums, June 2 - Dec. 31), an installation by local ceramicist Emily Counts. In the museum’s upstairs gallery, space-blanket silver curtains surround a collection of large-scale ceramic female figures aboard a blush-toned boat littered with flowers, swords and fruits.

The crew members — whose facial features aren’t where you might expect — take powerful stances, from sturdy-legged to clamping an analog phone between shoulder and ear. 

“The figures are vapors — a little like ghosts,” Counts told me when I talked with her in the gallery. “They are not on this plane of existence.”

That much is clear, evidenced by sometimes multiple mouths in place of eyes, mysterious triangle and teardrop symbology, and the blue, orange and yellow glows their bodies emit from various carved-open cavities. Some of the women wear robes fit for alien royalty, but others sport sensible turtlenecks and slacks. 

Counts says the figures are amalgams of the women who have supported her artistic process and given her “genetic gifts” of creativity. They contain elements of her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and best friend. (Of that group, only her mother is still living.)

Look for giant lipsticks standing sentry, several busy spiders and many graceful hands — Counts is excellent at ceramic hands — which hold, guide, signify and shoot flames.

Jason Puccinelli's “Curiosity and Skepticism,” part of his new series of AI collaborations. (Roq La Rue)

Human hands are notoriously hard to draw and are even harder, as many have pointed out, for AI tools to get right. (A quick Google will bring up artificial intelligence interpretations that run from hilarious to grotesque.)

It was AI curiosities like this that prompted Seattle painter Jason Puccinelli to explore an unusual artistic collaboration. “With AI on the brink of sentience, we are faced with the question of how to relate to this new technology: should we reject it, or should we embrace it?” he asks in his artist statement. 

Puccinelli chose the latter — at least for the run of his new show Mimic at Roq La Rue Gallery in Madison Valley (June 3 - July 1). Welcoming this looming unknown into the creative process, Puccinelli prompted an AI tool to create images of humans and robots celebrating together over a feast (like you do). 

The machine did its obedient work, crafting compositions built from countless existing images on the web. After a few edits, Puccinelli hand-painted a replica of each of the AI-generated digital images in oil on panel.

There is layered mimicry happening here, a clever play on the derivations and reworkings that art history is built upon. And the AI paintings themselves? Like some transporter accident on Star Trek — as if a shiny retro-robot and an early 19th-century masterwork got scrambled while beaming up.

The feast foods are yellowy brown globs, the human hands are mangled and even the robots seem half-baked. In one case a topless woman wears a duplicate of her own torso as a hat. 

While reports about the power of AI keep getting scarier, as a painting exercise this is fascinating. “I had to adapt the way I see… to steer away from using my familiar tricks as an artist in order to capture the essence of each image without putting my own spin on it,” Puccinelli writes. “I went about the work with the mindset of an art conservationist, trying to recreate and preserve a lost piece of art.”

Anne Carlisle in 1982’s ‘Liquid Sky.’ (Northwest Film Forum)

For more takes on our suddenly imminent sci-fi future… 

SIFF and MoPOP have teamed up again to present the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Festival (yes, that’s SFFSFF) at SIFF Egyptian (June 3). This 18th annual event is a packed evening of 20 short films from all over the globe. The sci-fi subject matter is equally wide-ranging, from alien abduction to robots trained as actors to a Korean film about the plight of the last human writers in the realm of AI. Too soon? Feels like it!

For a campy cinematic take, check out the cult classic Liquid Sky (from 1982; screening at Northwest Film Forum June 2 - 4), which raises the important question, “What if aliens fed on human orgasms?” It’s part of the ongoing Unstreamable series, highlighting movies that can’t be found on streaming services and featuring Black Arts Legacies writer Jas Keimig as co-curator and co-host alongside Chase Burns. 

Liquid Sky follows the New Wave antics of two cocaine-addicted models and features a UFO roof landing and a lot of ’80s face paint. No wonder it was the most financially successful indie movie of 1983!

Taking over the former R Place building (now called The Teal Building) at 619 East Pine Street on Capitol Hill is a new group show called Seattle: City of the Future (June 3 - 24). More on this after I see it, but press materials boast immersive installations by 43 local artists, all presenting visions of the near future by way of robotics, inflatables, mapping software and even some good old analog art. 

Finally, it seems essential to note that former Seahawks Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman are spending their summer “on Mars” (aka southern Australia) in the new competitive reality show Stars on Mars. As host William Shatner says, it’s “the most realistic celebrity Mars colony simulation ever created.” (Premieres June 5 on Fox.)

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