Tech+Art Podcast: Sofia Crespo


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"If we acknowledge that we are organic life and that we are investing this energy in simulating this world around us, there’s something really valuable in that. Then it feels like organic life is simulating itself."


In this episode, we’re chatting with Sofia Crespo, a generative artist working with neural networks and machine learning models – effectively blending these new technologies with biology-inspired concepts to produce incredibly unique outputs.

One of Sofia’s main focuses areas and underlying thesis, is the way organic life uses artificial mechanisms to simulate itself and evolve, implying that technologies are a biased product of the organic life that created them and not a completely separated object.

She is also passionate about creativity and the changing role of artists who are working with machine learning techniques.

I highly recommended exploring her work online!

Question 1: Can you describe your work or focus area at the intersection of biology and technology? How did this unique combination come about?

[ 5:39 ] – I guess back then I was trying to figure out what I was doing. But eventually what I wanted to do was create a project which opened up a conversation about what creativity is in humans. Like creativity as a re-arrangement of things that we absorb through biological neurons and that somehow get shuffled in our brain and they take on whatever shape, like an art project or a research project. So I use neural networks to talk about creativity and to talk about biology.

[ 7:51 ] – […] so reading more about artificial neural networks, led me to learn more about hope pattern recognition works in the biological brain – or how it’s understood, nowadays, that it works. So from there, learning about computer vision and edge detections, where does an object end and where does another one begin? All of these concepts suddenly made more sense through learning about the technology. So ya I think this was hugely the inspiration for Neural Zoo. How can we extract patterns from nature? How can we extract the essence of a plant, but without creating a plant that looks like something we can recognize? So I wanted to extract “plant-ness”, or “jellyfish-ness”, or “nature-ness”, so to just see those textures outside of their context.

Question 2: So building on that learning that you did - in terms of taking classes and exploring what different technologies are capable of - how did that shape your creative process? Specifically about the idea and inspiration to combine it with the world of biology? How do you continue to find inspiration to continue the work today?

[ 9:42 ] – Oh it shaped it incredibly! Because before I found out about all these techniques, I was used to thinking about images in a completely different way. I thought about how to compose an image – more like if I were to take a picture, I would think about the composition and really maybe use photo studio to put things together. Or if I were to do digital art, which I was also doing, or online graphic design things, then I would but this pixel here and that pixel there […] But when I learnt about machine learning, suddenly I couldn’t think about the image only in that way. I had to think of a dataset, I had to think of which patterns would be extracted from that data. And that really pushed me. I found that really motivating, to suddenly be doing something so different, to completely rethink the way that I was doing stuff. That felt really refreshing.

Question 3: I came across a very interesting sentence somewhere on your website that really caught my eye. The sentence was something like: “the way organic life uses artificial mechanisms to simulate itself”. I’m hoping you can unpack that a little more. What does that statement really mean to you?

[ 11:05 ] – So to me… I guess I was asking myself a lot of questions like ‘what am I doing?’, ‘what is artificial life really?’ and ‘why do, for instance, I don’t just want to see my plants or the being under the microscope moving and growing, I also want to visualize life in a digital context’. When I frame it like that it makes me feel like, somehow my small human ego wants to feel like it’s adding life onto something that previously hadn’t. So maybe that’s partly the reason why it’s formulated like that. But also, maybe it’s an instinct inheriting organic life, trying to simulate something, trying to relive that life in a different context. So I guess this is a shift in perspective if we look at life being simulated in a digital context. It’s just a different way of looking at. If we acknowledge that we are organic life and that we are investing this energy in simulating this world around us, there’s something really valuable in that. Then it feels like organic life is simulating itself.

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Question 4: And so as your work has taken shape, how has it evolved with new ideas and new technologies? How does that work itself back into your process and enable you to take it all to the next level?

[ 12:46 ] – Sometimes I have a fully developed idea of something I want to do with it, but a lot of times, I don’t. I’m like: ‘oh, this is cool, I want to learn about this. And I don’t know what I want to use it for, but I just want to play with this toy.’

[ 13:27 ] – It kind of keeps me… alive, because there’s so many new things happening – constantly, that there’s so much to learn. It makes me feel like I don’t have to stay in one traditional way of producing work.

Question 5: So how do you tie that exploration and learning back to your work? How do you turn playful exploration into ideas and then a complete piece of work?

[ 13:48 ] – There is a lot of delayed gratification there. Which is something I actively try to practice. To move away from wanting to see a result immediately.

[ 14:50 ] – I also have like phases, where sometimes I’m in a flow of creating, of kind of like dreaming up new ideas. And then I replay with very simple technical tools, over and over again so that I don’t have to think too much about the technical stuff. And then I have periods when I just tweak everything technically, and already have the main concept of the project worked and kind of polished so that I can just tweak the technical bits.

Question 6: If you could share a few words or advice with a younger version of yourself, what would you tell yourself?

[ 19:06 ] – So I guess if I were to encounter a younger version of myself, I would advise her to do art as a form of healing. So to really think about the healing aspect of art. So I think that there’s something deeply soothing about investing time in finding the correct mental space for working – for creating. […]

[ 20:13 ] – […] I had times when I was kind of angry at the world, years ago, when I was deeply deeply depressed and I just thought ‘oh I’m not interested in biology. I don’t care. I only care about what we can achieve as a humanity – technology wise. And then suddenly, from making this kind of radical statement, I learnt that there is something really healing about nature too. So it felt like a leap that I had to take to realize that. Caring about nature somehow means caring about ourselves too.