New online artworks demystify Artificial Intelligence

Artworks launch to the public on 8 March, with live events 5.30pm-6.30pm on 11 and 18 March.


Two captivating pieces by globally acclaimed artists, which explore the boundary between the physical and digital worlds, are being jointly presented by the University of Edinburgh with the Edinburgh International Festival .

Online artworks presented by eminent AI artists Jake Elwes , and Anna Ridler and Caroline Sinders are designed to delight and help keep the spirit of the festival city alive at a time when other much loved cultural highlights are unable to take place.

The New Real , curated by the University’s Edinburgh Futures Institute , is the first creative output of a wider research programme that is supporting the recovery of the arts and creative industries in the wake of Covid-19.

Curators say the exhibition’s ingenuity not only resonates with Edinburgh’s reputation as a leading edge festival city, but also reflects its standing as a global hub of excellence in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The research programme – also called The New Real – is a collaboration with The Alan Turing Institute that will help arts organisations harness the dizzying possibilities offered by AI to delight audiences in inventive ways.

The two commissions that launch the programme ask searching questions about how our lives and experience are being shaped by technology, particularly during a pandemic.

Mechanized Cacophonies by Anna Ridler and Caroline Sinders – both artists and machine learning experts – is an immersive and interactive online artwork. Inspired by lockdown, it explores how experiences of nature are mediated by technology.

The artists, working remotely, captured sounds from a variety of sources including natural and industrial environments. They then trained a machine learning neural network on the resulting dataset to generate eerie and uncanny soundscapes created by AI. The joy of the work comes in immersing oneself within it and bringing it to life across multiple devices through clicking and touching the screen. The music will build and change slowly in response.

Jake Elwes ’ interactive online artwork explores queer culture and the algorithms, philosophy and ethics of AI. In The Zizi Show , made with a community of drag artists , Elwes constructs and then deconstructs a virtual cabaret show that pushes the limits of what can be imagined on a digital stage.

Elwes is a master of deep-fake technology, using a form of AI called deep learning to make images of fake bodies, which enables him to create Zizi – the drag act who hosts this playful and vivacious cabaret.

Zizi is capable of learning a variety of dance styles, looks and mannerisms by observing human performers. Audiences are invited to switch between the different deep-fake identities that Zizi has learned and enjoy hit songs.

The artwork conjures up the Zizi character, and exposes the processes used in its construction, to reveal it is simply a technological artefact and dispel our obsession that machines are becoming more human.

Both works are presented alongside a series of online discussions and explorations on the ways data systems and AI reflect and shape our social reality.

Dr Drew Hemment of Edinburgh Futures Institute, who conceived and led The New Real, says: “We are delighted to present two astonishing artworks in partnership with Edinburgh International Festival. The New Real shows that great art won’t be dimmed by lockdown.”

He says: “These artworks enrich the conversation about the ways our jobs, health and wellbeing, even our experiences of art and culture, are ever more bound up with new technologies and AI.”

Hemment also comments: “Creative content is increasingly digital and AI is enabling new forms of production and dissemination that were unthinkable only a few years ago – astonishing possibilities open up with these tools in the hands of such talented artists.”

Two projects, Experience in The New Real and Resilience in The New Real , have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Scottish Funding Council as part of this Edinburgh Futures Institute research programme. They will support festival and cultural organisations to research and commission new works to help strengthen their recovery post pandemic. These include a new online festival experience for the 2021 Edinburgh Science Festival.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will develop further co-creation partnerships with Edinburgh’s festivals, to imagine and deliver novel artistic experiences, unlock creativity, shape new business models, and maintain and build new audiences.


The New Real is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland, and the Data-Driven Innovation programme of the South East Scotland City and Region Deal. Discussing The New Real: Two Free Online Events

View the artworks and learn more about The New Real projects including webinars where you can meet the artists at . Find details and registration links for Discussing The New Real Two Free Online Events featuring live discussions with the artists.

Read the latest DDI news

Building a Better Future for Children’s Sports in Scotland

Data for Children Collaborative, a specialist unit at Edinburgh Futures Institute, has launched a vital…

Photo of satellite in space

Electricians and carers sought to launch careers in space

Workers are being offered the chance to take their skills into orbit by enrolling in…


Pain-free home test kit for cervical cancer is unveiled as Venture Builder Incubator recruits next intake

A non-invasive, test-at-home device which screens for cancer-causing HPV strains in regular menstrual blood has…