Exploring GAN art with Amir Zhussupov

Generative Adversarial Network practice of Zhussupov, who is based in Kazakhstan, uses code-based digital art to produce works beyond the realm of recognition.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Apr 19, 2021

Amir Zhussupov is a new media artist who lives in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and has an educational background rooted in finance. He mentions that he has no formal artistic training whatsoever, and currently engages with his creative practice purely as a hobby. However, he has held a keen interest in the arts since his youth, with DJing being a notable passion going back to his time in high school. Zhussupov has also been enamoured by game design in the past, but has since gravitated towards GAN art. GAN or Generative Adversarial Network refers to a code-based digital art practice that functions through the computer’s ability to create composite visual forms after the absorption of ‘datasets’ of imagery. While this technique is most famously used to create art that look strangely familiar, yet sits ever so slightly outside the reach of total ascertainment, Zhussupov’s most striking work remains his videos that live in a liminal space, caught in transition between two imagined end points that themselves are sometimes outside the realm of recognition.

01 min watch Shifting landscapes | Amir Zhussupov | STIRworld
Shifting landscapes Video: Amir Zhussupov

The artist tells STIR that his visual generation process is carried out, in its entirety, in code. However, this has not made Zhussupov’s work easy by any means, and he explains, “For the (GAN) model I have been working on for the past month, I had to clean up, colour correct, crop and align more than 17,000 paintings”. He adds humorously, “So I have been practically living inside Photoshop, ha-ha!” Nor is his software palette limited by any means, and in order to successfully add motion to his work, Zhussupov often finds himself utilising a myriad of smaller programs and plugins along with more mainstream video editing platforms such as Premiere Pro. The artist often selects his image datasets as per his current interests, and has most recently been creating shifting and swirling worlds based off of the works of classical painters. In the past, Zhussupov has used datasets from unlikely sources to great effect, with some of his most engaging work focusing on Trypophobia, or the fear of surfaces littered with small holes. The artist has also created a striking video piece informed by the visual art of famed sci-fi horror artist HR Giger. Here, Zhussupov’s work roils and swirls within a fugue-like fever-dream state constructed through Giger’s visionary, extra-terrestrial aesthetic. He tells STIR, I really like experimenting with some unusual datasets. It mostly comes from curiosity and the question “what would happen if I train a model on this?”.

01 min watch Giger’s realm | Amir Zhussupov| STIRworld
Giger’s realm Video: Amir Zhussupov

Zhussupov mentions that he enjoys surfing Instagram a great deal, and that he is quite inspired by the works of his contemporary coders. “I am very grateful to communities for artists such as Creative Code Art for giving me and other very talented artists a chance to showcase our work and to discover something new. This seems to be a sentiment mirrored by many such as he, and one wonders if the diffused, decentralised online creative community may soon serve as a healthier alternative to the rigidity and dogma of the academy,” he says. It has certainly enabled many amateurs and hobbyists such as Zhussupov to develop a base for their creative practice, and has also perpetuated the spread of many niche artistic genres such as his.

01 min watch Trypophobia by Amir Zhussupov | STIRworld
Trypophobia Video: Amir Zhussupov

He says, “I am particularly interested in using technology as a creative instrument, as well as an autonomous creator. This is a fascinating perspective on the role of digital, but more specifically, code-driven art in the larger creative arena”. Artists such as Zhussupov actively perpetuate the notion that, given a measure of instruction, today’s computer may very well be as capable, if not superior to human participants in terms of creative aptitude. This can be an uncomfortable and highly controversial notion for some, with many who militate against this opinion presenting a degree of anxiety regarding the presumed shakiness of their place in the contemporary and future artistic realm. However, while the possibilities of code-driven practice are seemingly limitless, it is equally important to remember that, without the instructions of a skilled human driver such as Zhussupov, the sophistication and advancement of modern digital technology would be for naught. It is no mean feat to interface with computer learning algorithms, and the practice of relevant artists in this field has been invaluable in pushing the degree of technological acumen that creatives all over the world possess. Work such as Zhussupov’s does not signify any impending threat to human agency within or without the creative realm, but rather, serves to underline a growing relationship between man and machine; one that will undoubtedly yield great value if freely nurtured. The artist is not specifically part of any creative collective but mentions that he recently worked with Francesco Corvi, who is another practitioner with work grounded in code. He tells STIR, “We have created a four-minute audio-visual piece for the Creative Code Festival in New York. My work is also going to be showcased in a couple of other places soon”. It will certainly be valuable to watch for artists such as Zhussupov, and explore their growing mastery over the digital faculties, as the work these creatives put out is often stunning, and evolves largely in tandem with the incremental progressions in digital technology. At the current historical juncture, GAN arts practices, such as those undertaken by him, are particularly prescient, and perhaps foretell of a fascinating future for human creativity.

Untitled | Amir Zhussupov | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Amir Zhussupov

Zhussupov, like many other artists, has found a certain solace in the isolation perpetuated by the current global paradigm. He explains, “Not much good could be said about the COVID pandemic, but the time spent inside during the lockdowns have definitely helped to concentrate on my creative skills”. It would be interesting to look back upon this time in the future and wonder if it had not been for the lockdowns we endured, would many of us have gained and honed the skills we did? Or might so many of tomorrow’s emergent practitioners have remained hobbyists. In Zhussupov’s case at least, the question of tomorrow brings with it a great deal of excitement. “When the pandemic is finally over, I would like to try performing live, and also, to create audio-visual installations for art exhibitions,” he adds.

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