Generative what?

Generative aesthetics – a combination of words that had meant nothing to me until recently. In my oblivious ways I had been to art shows and such looking at products of generative aesthetics. And yet I never before encountered this terminology in combination with its meaning until last Thursday.

A chilly autumn day, colourful leaves fly about and children walk with lanterns while singing „Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne...“ (in the way only they know; not caring about correct pitch and timing). And then on the grounds of the TU Berlin bright green neon lights welcome the wandering soul. Behind the doors to Hybrid Lab is a busy bunch getting last arrangements sorted while the first guests arrive. Time for the first Hybrid Talks of the winter term 2017/18.

The posters all around campus invite you to an evening with talks about generative aesthetics – I’ve googled the term, but do I really understand what it means? I have to admit – not really… Will people turn up or are they as unknowing as I am and decide to stay home in their own warm and welcoming surroundings, because it’s comfortable? They do turn up! They turn up in large numbers and even after we have started there is still someone every now and then sneaking in.

Prof. Dr. von Herrmann makes a joke on the amount of slides he has to get through in his ten minutes and then begins the introduction of the topic. And boy does he have many slides! Nonetheless after a fantastic 10 minutes I can see people around me looking as if they have just had someone explain quantum physics to them in a way that everyone understood, without reducing the topic to something much less than it is. Fabulous!

Slightly more abstract are the works shown by Prof. Gabi Schillig - some of them her own, other by her students. While the audience wonders how you can interpret space and time in artsy installations, she simply vows us with their ideas. Here and there a few people whisper about the impressive art shows one has missed, by simply not knowing about it.

Thinking in abstract ways however is a human phenomenon – recognizing shapes, even when only a reduced amount of information is given. But how does this apply to robots? Is it possible for an AI to learn to “be human” like that. This is Prof. Dr. Olaf Hellwichs area of expertise. Citing the little prince, in the end it all comes back to the question if we do the things we do more with our hearts or our heads.

While we wonder about this philosophical statement, which clearly defines the differences between us, the human race and AI for now Prof. Dr. Inge Hinterwaldner begins to immerse us in something we do on a daily basis – software art.

Visual elements contained in graphic user interfaces made of zeros and ones  - antivisuality as the cited Florian Cramer calls it. The decisive counterpole the neopythagoraic, digital Kitsch of our time. While this area of research dazzles us, the audience, the following speaker, Prof. Volker Straebel, takes it even further. Generative compositions like the 1950s concept-music by John Cage, are purely astounding. Choosing the act of composing to be aesthetic the composition is merely an end product. Fascination lies in every single face at the explanation of how Cage established his work. Until we actually do listen to the end product – maybe we’re not quite at the point of ignoring the melodious outcome quite yet.

As always after the talks everybody chats and as the wine flows, connections are made and laughter can be heard. “What did you think of this and oh, remember that…” Even though it is cold outside the warmth inside isn’t purely the one measurable with a thermostat. The excitement lasts until the final two disappear into the night. Did I expect this – truly I had no idea what I was expecting, but Hybrid Talks are always quite the eye-opening experience when it comes to noteworthy topics and interesting people and are always worth dropping in!

– Laila