Seeing differently

The Norfolk Coast is a rare haven for nature in a world in which it is facing mass extinction. But even here, it is under threat.

We all treasure this place. It is protected by law and the members of the Norfolk Coast Partnership work to share and keep it healthy. Yet the whole area is under threat from the effects of the climate crisis.

Throughout this edition of the Norfolk Coast Guardian, you’ll find ways you can help decarbonise as well as a celebration of its character in poetry, fiction and art. 

Our cover star, the pink-footed goose, is one of the five key species the Norfolk Coast Partnership has adopted to headline our work to protect biodiversity. Karen Frances Eng starts us off by explaining how she created the stunning image – and how to bring it alive…

What you see on the front of this newspaper is not entirely my own work, at least not in the way one normally thinks – a lone artist with canvas, brush and paints. I made it with the help of artificial intelligence technology, which in turn was created by humans and informed by human input. 

It might seem perverse to make art so intensely distorted by computers, but I enjoy confounding the commonly accepted opposition set up between the concepts of technology and nature. Human-made tools allow us to understand, interact with, and evolve our relationship with the natural world. 

As our technologies have evolved, we’ve eagerly used them to see the natural world in ways previously unimaginable: for example, electron microscope images of our own cells, of viruses – even the coronavirus. To see differently is to understand in new ways. Shamans using entheogens experienced visions empowering them to heal.

Goose Dream was based on a photograph of a pink-footed goose beautifully captured midflight by photographer David Tipling. I ran it through Deep Dream, Google’s Artificial Neural Network technology that recognises patterns in one image and can apply it to another. I made some decisions, such as choosing file resolution, selecting the image whose aesthetic I wanted to apply to the goose (in this case, a collage of images that was already the output of multiple Deep Dream processes by other artists). I adjusted various output levels. Then I let the computer do its thing, waiting to see what would happen. 

This is a game of chance: if I like what the computer spits out, I keep the image. If not, I try again with another style, different levels, and so on. Often I process the output further using digital editing techniques until I get the result I want. Sometimes I collage the image with something else, or digitally paint on top of or around it. Sometimes I bring an image from another artmaking process into this one. A lot of my practice is about experimentation mashing up various technologies.

I take comfort in the element of surrender in making art this way. It feels almost a spiritual practice to align with an intention but simultaneously leave things to chance, rather than bending everything to one’s will. 

I have taken the process one step further, just for fun. The image is augmented reality
(AR)–enabled. If you download an app called Artivive on your smartphone or tablet, open it
and point your camera to the artwork, you’ll experience one extra dimension of the piece. Enjoy!