The Concept of Qualia in Practice:
Claire Silver Discusses a Few of Her Works
The following is the condensed and lightly-edited transcription of a conversation between Claire Silver (@ClaireSilver12) and Maxwell Cohen (@cohenthewriter) recorded in November 2022.
Cohen: I was hoping we could go through a few of your works, and I’d love to know: Is there a story behind them, is there something they make you feel, could you tell me a bit about the processes? Nothing specific, just would love to get your impressions of these works.
Claire Silver: Absolutely!
Cohen: Shapeshifter is the first one. It was your first sale!
Claire Silver: Yeah, that was one of the first ones I did. That was public domain, I think it was Ohara Kosan ( 1877–1945) public domain pieces (crow at full moon, and blue irises), as I was thinking about AI building on the shoulders of giants.
So I was using those pieces, and I think I had mixed in some abstract photographs of the pour paintings I mentioned, the acrylic abstracts! I took photographs of those dried paint skins, and mixed them in Procreate, and then would layer in bits from Artbreeder or similar models. And so that one was a mix of past and present and future: public domain master paintings, mixed with my photographs of my paintings, and then future with AI. So it was a story of all of it brought together at one moment in time.
Cohen: The next one is I N T E R N E T, which is SO different than anything else you’ve done.
Claire Silver: So that one is actually going to be at Basel, and it is super different! This was right around the time that I was exploring more superflat, Eastern pop-art looks with my work. I had a lot of that style in my “AI Art is not Art” collection, as I was trying to figure out why I liked that so much.
I’ve had some people call me out for being cringe, for using anime aesthetics in my work, and how “It wasn’t fine art,” and so on and so forth. But this aesthetic is a part of the millennial and GenZ childhood to a certain point. I remember running home from school and watching Toonami, DragonBall Z, ReBoot and all these shows, and it was formative for me in a lot of ways because it was in that adolescent/preadolescent time period. Newgrounds was a website I was on a lot, too; I would play the flash games.
That time period with AOL Instant Messenger, and Toonami and Newgrounds reminds me so much of now, of being in this social network where you can talk to people of similar minds, with the same excitement and childlike feels, and we’re all sharing this experience now, and it’s centered around creative things: Television shows, animation, videogames, the internet, etc.
The actual figure was created in Dall-E, Pink hair with a Pepe sort of frog, so they’re references to crypto art culture. Sort of like Renaissance Renaissance Renaissance, in that it’s different from the rest of my work, but in a way that’s kind of a love letter to the community I found my tribe in.
Cohen: Looking at the description and seeing your mention of Toonami and Newgrounds, it was very much like a journey through my own past.
The last piece I want to ask you about is from your website: Trusting, which I don’t believe you’ve minted, but I thought was incredible, especially because I’ve seen so much of your work where figures and faces are seemingly deliberately abstracted or unwhole or shadowy, and this from 2020 is such an incredible recreation of a human face. Could you tell me a bit about it?
Claire Silver: This one was pure Artbreeder, because at the time it was all that was available. I think this one was just trying to create as emotional and realistic a face with the limits of that technology as I could.
They had introduced an upload feature: You’d have to load a picture of yourself, but the result would be not at all like you, so I’d uploaded a picture of myself from childhood and mixed into the dataset something like 7% of my own face (otherwise it would get kind of crazy), and created a kind of memory of this particular picture, which was from field day in elementary school, where I was not having it. *Laughs*. It was really about creating a very realistic, very emotional portrait that had a little bit of my own memories in it. And that was childhood before I had lots of trauma! So “Trusting” would make sense at that point.
Cohen: Where do your titles come from? Because they’re so varied.
Claire Silver: Yeah, I have, as writers do, a lot of concepts floating around at any one time, and you kind of brood on them for years, thinking about how you need to write a book and never do. So I have a lot of concepts, titles, chapter names and things just stored either on my computer or in my head. And I’ve been pulling from them, instead of creating a piece with a title in mind. The title doesn’t come first and then I make a piece to fit it, it’s the other way around. I make a body of work and I’ll look at some of them, and one will remind me of this or that concept, and I’ll tweak the image to make it fit exactly what I would want it to be, and then match it with the title. So most of my titles come from big concepts that I obsess over.