Bantam Tools ArtFrame Art System Resuscitated AARON, one of the First Art AI Systems from the 1960s
NEW YORK, Jan. 25, 2024 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- The new exhibit Harold Cohen: AARON, opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art on February 3, 2024, examines the historical foundations of AI artmaking and provides a deep exploration of creativity, authorship, and collaboration in the context of AI. The machines making the AI-generated art for the exhibit are the Bantam Tools ArtFrame system, a new product created for the Whitney exhibit by Bantam Tools. The Bantam Tools ArtFrame is an extensible art machine system with modular tool heads for artists to create physical art from digital designs with traditional materials. The exhibit is open to the public February 3 through May 2024 and more information is available at whitney.org.
Eight years after Harold Cohen's death, drawings created by his AI AARON will be plotted live in the Whitney gallery, for the first time since the 1990s. While Harold Cohen was often quoted as saying he would be the first artist to have a posthumous show of new work, due to AARON being able to create after he had passed away, the Cohen Trust emphasizes that posthumous new works are not possible because a Harold Cohen attributable work requires a triad of: "the artist, the process, and the software." Harold Cohen AARON at the Whitney is important because it draws a line around what is artist-attributable artwork in today's world where AI art is abundant.
When the Whitney Museum embarked on resurrecting the early foundations of AARON, the AI software for creating Harold Cohen's art and the plotter machines to create it, they contacted Bre Pettis at Bantam Tools about rebuilding Cohen's original art plotters from the 1960's.
"While rebuilding the original machines was one way to go, we took that challenge a few steps further by creating a whole new art machine system using contemporary technology to present Harold Cohen's AI art in a way that is true to the original," noted Bre Pettis, CEO of Bantam Tools. "We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Christiane Paul, curator of Digital Art at the Whitney, Thomas Machnik, Harold Cohen's former assistant, and Paul Cohen, Harold Cohen's son. The results have been fantastic and we are super excited to have the Bantam Tools ArtFrame as part of the exhibit."
Bre Pettis knows about generative and computer-controlled machines. He was the co-founder and CEO of MakerBot, the 3D printing company that took the world by storm in 2009 and purchased the CNC manufacturer Bantam Tools in 2017. His background is a mix of art, education and technology. In January of 2024, Bantam Tools acquired Evil Mad Scientist, the designer and manufacturer of popular computer-controlled drawing and handwriting machines that provide versatile solutions to artists and educators. Evil Mad Scientist was founded by Dr. Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman, who are now CTO and COO of Bantam Tools. The trio is focused on launching new computer-controlled art machines. The ArtFrame Art Machine System that is part of the Harold Cohen: AARON exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is just one of the new machines that Bantam Tools is launching in 2024.
Bre Pettis has also been collecting historic computer art since he sold MakerBot in 2013. Pettis noted, "Harold Cohen's works in my collection are some of my favorites. It's truly an honor to be able to collaborate with the Whitney Museum of American Art on this exhibit and develop and provide plotters for the exhibit that will be on display actively creating work generated by Harold Cohen's AI AARON."
The exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art centers on AARON, the earliest artificial intelligence software for artmaking and one of the longest-running contemporary art projects. Conceived in the late 1960s by Harold Cohen at the University of California San Diego, AARON was further developed until his death in 2016. AARON's various manifestations include software that drives plotting and painting machines and software to display imagery on monitors or projectors. The first and only museum to collect versions of the AARON software from different time periods, the Whitney will showcase artworks produced by AARON and highlight its drawing process live in the galleries for the first time since the 1990s. Featuring the Museum's collection of AARON's paintings and drawings, along with two versions of the screen-based and drawing software, Harold Cohen: AARON offers a comprehensive view of AI's foundations and its role in artmaking today.
Two Bantam Tools ArtFrame machines are part of the exhibition and will be creating drawings of the images generated by the AARON software throughout the exhibition. A selection of the drawings will then be installed on the gallery walls and become part of the exhibition, much to the benefit of museum-goers who will get to experience a new and expanded exhibit each time they visit the Whitney Museum. These new drawings will be seen for the first time by the museum-goers who are watching them being drawn.
Pettis noted that there were some challenges to resurrecting the technology. "When the Harold Cohen Foundation team went to pull AARON's source code data off magnetic tapes, there was nothing there. Paul Cohen, Harold Cohen's son, is a computer scientist who combined his experience with his father's work and was able to reconstruct the wandering line algorithm and re-create the Maze software foundations from Harold Cohen's notebooks. Bantam Tools was then able to use Paul's reconstruction of the Maze code to generate the tool paths to drive the pen and bring these works to life. These drawings are being drawn in real time for viewers to see in the museum on the smaller of the two Bantam Tools ArtFrame plotters."
During the 1990s, Harold Cohen teamed up with American computer scientist, author and futurist Ray Kurzweil to distribute a screensaver version of AARON called KCAT. Bantam Tools was able to use the source code for the KCAT that the Whitney Museum acquired to generate the larger drawings on the larger of the two Bantam Tools ArtFrame machines in the gallery.
"We used great care to be respectful of Harold Cohen's approach to art making. Besides having to translate the code to be functional on a modern pen plotter, we went deep into marker and paper selection to make sure we were staying true to Harold Cohen's art making approach. We also tuned the machines to run at historic speeds," said Bre Pettis.
"AARON has iconic status in digital art history, but the recent rise of AI artmaking tools has made it even more relevant," noted Christiane Paul, curator of Digital Art at the Whitney. "We are very thankful to have the knowledge and passion of Bre Pettis and the Bantam Tools team behind making the art plotters to execute Harold Cohen's AARON work. Watching the software's creations drawn live, as they were half a century ago, will be a unique experience for viewers."
To learn more about the Bantam Tools ArtFrame Art System and Bantam Tools NextDraw, drawing machine, visit bantamtools.com. To learn more about Harold Cohen: AARON at the Whitney Museum of American Art, visit whitney.org. Harold Cohen: AARON is organized by Christiane Paul, curator of Digital Art, with David Lisbon, curatorial assistant of the Whitney Museum of American Art, with ArtFrame plotters provided by Bantam Tools.
Bantam Tools builds exceptional computer-controlled machines for innovators, engineers, artists and educators, including desktop CNC machines with professional reliability and precision and computer-controlled art machines that are fast, automatic, mimic handwriting and create physical art from digital designs using traditional materials. Bantam Tools machines are easy to set up, ready to use right out of the box, and like its namesake the bantam rooster, punch above their weight class, empowering mechanical engineers, product designers, entrepreneurs, electrical engineers, machinists, designers, students, educators, artists and digital fabricators to stay ahead of schedule and under budget. All of Bantam Tools Desktop Milling Machines are clean, safe, and easy to use, making them a great choice for any lab, shop, classroom or studio. To learn more about the Peekskill, New York, company, at bantamtools.com, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @bantamtools, or on Medium.
SOURCE Bantam Tools