Minnesota Artists Talk Tech in an Age of AI

As artificial intelligence learns to make art, we asked three local artists to discuss their approach to augmented reality and other futuristic tools

Art generated by artificial intelligence—after it has scraped artists’ work from the web—has brought into question technology’s capacity for creativity. So, we found three local (human) artists, all of whom use tech in some way, and asked them the following questions:

1. Could you explain a recent work of yours that incorporates tech?

2. Technology can sometimes seem scary or unapproachable, perhaps because laypeople don’t grasp how it works, or because it seems mechanical and neutral to human experience. As an artist, what drew you to the technology you work with, and how would describe your approach to making art with it?

3. How do you feel about AI-generated art?

“Dakota Spirit Walk,” a work of augmented reality at St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, created by Marlena Myles
“Dakota Spirit Walk,” a work of augmented reality at St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, created by Marlena Myles

Name: Marlena Myles
Instagram: @mylesdesigns
Age: 37
Location: St. Paul
Medium of choice: Augmented reality
Current inspiration: “The Creative Act: A Way of Being” by Rick Rubin

1. The “Dakota Spirit Walk” is an augmented-reality public art installation that is continuously located at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in St. Paul. It’s GPS-oriented and available on the Revelo AR (augmented reality) app.

To Dakota people, the area at Bruce Vento is sacred on many levels. I was inspired by these connections to the land and wanted to use augmented reality to show people what that sacredness means, allowing them to see the area through a Dakota person’s eyes using AR technology.

Making the AR installation has been groundbreaking in connecting the past, present, and future through land-based education, showing people how meaningful AR art can be, while honoring the significance of the land. It’s empowering as a Dakota person to show how innovative we are as people, always being able to incorporate any new technology or medium into our culture.

Marlena Myles
Marlena Myles


2. As a child, I always loved working on a computer. At the time, dial-up internet connected me to the world, growing up in the small town of Rapid City, South Dakota, and I felt like my art and stories could be seen on a global scale.

As a young kid, I was using GeoCities and Blogspot. I also had a DeviantArt account to share my art and learn new styles, such as vector art in Adobe Illustrator. Later, I joined the digital artist collective known as the Cosmosys Collective. Being able to connect with people using the internet has always been a source of motivation, and digital art is an easy way to adapt my art into many different formats, from illustrations to animations to augmented reality.

Creating with a purpose and drawing on my Dakota ancestry has given my art a deep, human connection that opens people’s eyes not just to my culture but to us as modern people. I often create video recordings of my digital works being created to help people understand the process and possibly inspire them to use technology as a tool to reach bigger audiences or work more efficiently.

3. As a Dakota artist, I don’t feel threatened by AI and its ability to be trained to create art or even write poems. Dakota people believe everything has a spirit, and I can see AI as having its own spirit, one created from the Human Collectiveness. It’s powerful and should be respected, meaning we should establish honorable protocols in using its abilities.

As Native people, we’ve always been able to adopt new materials or technology and have it fully express who we are, giving that new medium a connection to ancient powers. And it can empower us—we (Native Americans) make up only 1-2% of the American population, and AI can give every one of us the strength of a hundred people to adapt and create from our Indigenous cultural lens in a much faster way than ever possible in human history. We have something accessible to all that can be a new Renaissance if we’re not scared to wield the power, approach it with respect, and perhaps become even more human through it. We made it, it doesn’t make us. It is Us.

“Earth Odyssey AR postcards” by Zoe Cinel
“Earth Odyssey AR postcards” by Zoe Cinel

Name: Zoe Cinel
Instagram: @zcinel
Age: 30
Location: Minneapolis
Medium of choice: Multimedia
Current inspiration: Disability justice movement, intersectionality, sustainability, queer narratives in new media

1. “Earth Odyssey AR postcards” is part of an ongoing project that includes live and recorded performance, video, studio photography, installation, and augmented reality. I was going through my first visa application process. Everything felt so uncertain. I felt surveillanced (sending a lot of personal information for the application) and fearful the application would be rejected and that I would lose my community in Minnesota. Because I was applying for a visa for “non-resident alien,” I thought I would start dressing up as such and do performances. I wore virtual-reality goggles (modified Google Cardboard goggles) to have a mysterious yet silly look and also because at that time I just started working with new media and it was exciting to incorporate that element in the costume.

In 2018, I went on a road trip with my parents, who visited me when I couldn’t leave the United States due to my visa status. My dad recorded performances of me dressed like the alien in locations that were either touristy or desolated. I later took screenshots from these videos and turned them into postcards. I like the format of a postcard: Items circulate much easier than people—no passports, less bureaucracy. Because of smartphones and social media, we moved away from this practice, but I find it so heartwarming and special to receive a postcard from a friend these days! So, I designed the back of the postcard so that people could actually mail it. I wanted to incorporate the videos somehow. So, I used an AR app called EyeJack that works sort of like a QR code: It allows me to digitally associate a video with a printed picture that can be scanned with a phone. It triggers the video and sound augmenting the still with motion and action.

Zoe Cinel
Zoe Cinel


2. I agree that there is a sense of reverence and uneasiness when approaching digital media, especially new media. I personally find virtual reality, augmented reality, and other new technologies very exciting because of what has not yet been done with them. There is so much potential in these new territories to create aesthetics and narratives that are different from traditional media, such as painting or drawing.

I am very comfortable working with some digital media, but I am not a software developer, and my interest resides in finding tools that already exist to execute new ideas. That might lead us to use some of these tools unconventionally and push the boundaries of what softwares can do, or are built to do. The result is artworks in which the glitch becomes a fundamental component, and error is embraced rather than feared.

3. I have mixed feelings about [AI making art]. There is something exciting about AI-generated art. Some artists deeply understand the nature, limitations, and controversy around the software and are able to “collaborate” with it, push its technical and aesthetic boundaries, and make powerful statements about the technology itself or its cultural context. For example, some artists understand the database nature of these softwares and assume a sort of curatorial position by building their own archive to feed to the AI machine.

I don’t share the consumeristic excitement for this technology. It’s a fun activity to write words and see what comes out, but the amount of apps and websites that are popping up looks out of control.

There is a responsibility when creating artistic images. We need to understand the politics of appropriation, representation, and the cultural context from which a style or an image is inspired. It’s a human practice to use and reuse, appropriate or reinvent things from the past, but we need to know some of the history and meaning behind it to deeply understand how the image could be perceived by others, and if it could be offensive or misinterpreted.

There are other points of debate on this AI matter: What is the origin of the AI-generated images? Did the database appropriately compensate the artists or institutions who create or preserve these artworks, or were they taken without consent just because we think the internet is free and rule-less? Would these machine-generated images impact professional artists, such as digital illustrators? Overall, I think this trend is not helping artists thrive, because it eliminates the idea that creative work takes time, skills, and patience.

“███” by Brian Matthew Hart
“███” by Brian Matthew Hart

Name: Brian Matthew Hart
Instagram: @brain____________________heart (20 underscores)
Age: 42
Location: Minneapolis
Medium of choice: Cameras, computers, and collaboration
Current inspiration: Space and time

1. “███,” (2022, photographic reconstruction, digital embellishments)

It was mid-winter last year and I was preparing for a solo show of some new portrait work in the spring at United Art Supply & Gallery. The theme of the work was obscured, distorted, and redacted portraiture that was made in close collaboration with the people whose portraits were in the show, and ended up being a totally new way for me to co-create a body of work using photogrammetry as a tool.

For ███’s portrait, we began by discussing how they wanted their identity obscured, distorted, or redacted and set up some time for source photography, which consisted of taking about 100 photos of ███ from various different perspectives. These photos were then processed through photogrammetry software to make a three-dimensional reconstruction of ███. Having ███’s base portrait information in this spatial format unlocked a number of capabilities, such as the ability to dynamically re-pose, re-light, re-texture, and re-contextualize ███.

I loved making this work, as it let the subjects—the portrait sitters themselves—take the reins and guide how they were going to show up in the work. I like to think of the subsequent pieces being as much subject-guided self-portraits as they are portraits.

“Staircase” (2022, for the fashion label LA CLEANIC) by Brian Matthew Hart
“Staircase” (2022, for the fashion label LA CLEANIC) by Brian Matthew Hart

2. The short story behind “Staircase” (2022, for the fashion label LA CLEANIC) is that my artistic first love was drawing, so I drew my entire childhood and ended up going to college to initially pursue an art degree in drawing. Sometime in college, I learned that I could use cameras and other photographic elements to make drawings, so I spent a decade drawing with cameras. In 2015, I was introduced to photogrammetry—basically, the ability to understand the shape of a subject through computational analysis of a number of photographs of it—and have spent the past eight years exploring the artistic potential of those methods.

'Self' [Janus], New Years Eve, 2022 photographic reconstruction, digital embellishments
A self-portrait called “‘Self’ [Janus]” (photographic reconstruction, digital embellishments) by Brian Matthew Hart
Working with data expressions from the photogrammetry process lead me to explore other 3D software, which was a gateway to developing my first sculptural work: a series of small-format, wearable, architecturally inspired metal 3D prints (available via my friend David Maxwell’s fashion label, at lacleanic.studio, for a limited time). So, describing how I got to this part of my practice and how I approach making work with this technology are one and the same thing: relentless curiosity. I don’t believe technology is inherently good or inherently bad, nor does it have to remain bound within the walled gardens of the domain experts for/by who it was initially conceived, and—sitting here, writing this now—I can’t think of a single technology that I would put outside the reach of artistic practice and human expression.

3. Having learned late last year that some commercial image-generating services are powered by AI models which were trained on massive web-scraped datasets consisting of billions of individually protected pieces of artistic/intellectual property, which were initially collected for purely academic, non-commercial purposes, I have some concerns and reservations. However, I think the technology itself is fascinating and—like all weird new technology—I’m excited to follow its journey as it evolves in its technical and ethical aspects.