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AI Experimental Filmmaker Arrested


In 2018, the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam welcomed its first robot filmmaker:John Botis an artificial intelligence tasked with producing experimental short films using material from the museum’s archives. Every day, Jan Bot scours the web for hot topics and then takes them as inspiration for abstract interpretations. Creators Pablo Núñez Palma and Bram Loogman described him as “prolific, often misunderstood”. Today, with over 25,000 films in its catalog, the time has come to disconnect Jan Bot. Intended as a way to bring a physical archive into the internet age, the next phase will be to posthumously archive Jan Bot’s archive work by NFT. With the end in sight, the time seemed perfect to look back on this brief and brilliant career.

Samples from the Bits & Pieces collection (image courtesy Eye Filmmuseum)

“I shared a studio with Bram,” Palma explains. “We recently graduated from a master’s program at the Film Academy in Amsterdam. We had a workshop with found footage filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt. It was about experimenting with a collection of films from Eye called Bits & Pieces. bits and coins was started in the early 1990s by Eric de Kuyper and Peter Delpeut, who broke new ground by designing a collection made up of fragments of unidentified media – the type of material that could usually be discarded. The main rule of inclusion was that each clip must, in some way, have caught the attention of the curators.

Viewing these appealing but overlooked images sparked Palma and Loogman’s curiosity. “How can we update this material? Palma recalls. “How can we make something relevant? They came across the idea that in the modern age, cultural institutions are always looking for ways to create new and engaging content for online spaces and social media. “Bram is a developer, so we thought maybe we could make something that creates content – no matter the type – and cares about quantity, not quality. Hopefully that solves a problem for the Filmmuseum and will give us a good way to experiment.

Jan Bot’s physical installation (image courtesy Eye Filmmuseum)

Palma and Loogman were particularly keen to provide Jan Bot with relevant tools but not guidance in his creative process. In an article for the Metalog, a collection of essays and research papers on the project, Palma reflects on possibly existing examples of an “algorithmic mindset” in avant-garde cinema. He quotes Tony Conrad The flicker (1966) and Hollis Frampton Critical mass (1971) as examples of such cinema from a human point of view. Indeed, Eisenstein’s conception of ‘metrical editing’, in which film clips are sequenced according to what is effectively musical meter, was one of the techniques with which Jan Bot was coded. “Eisenstein is one of the rare filmmakers to talk about syntactic editing… all in rhythm. He explains how by having some form of modifications – like “metrics” – you can start building momentum by increasing speed and taking shorter and shorter shots. Basically, that’s all we could do, because we didn’t know what the moves would be or how they would go together.

One would assume that with finite material and a recurring set of cinematic practices and settings at his disposal, Jan Bot’s work could become repetitive. “If you see it from a writer’s perspective, I would say Jan Bot follows the same tradition, because he does the same thing all the time, but the world changes.” That said, after four years, it still feels like the time has come to end the experiment. Initially, Palma and Loogman assumed that one of the AI ​​interfaces would eventually stop working. But while automatic social media uploads may have faltered, Jan Bot is still alive, churning out new movies.

An image of a film from the Bits & Pieces collection (image courtesy Eye Filmmuseum)

So instead, the bot – which is physically based in the eye – will be unplugged at an official funeral event, where attendees will receive a card linked to an NFT from one of its films. These maps will then be available for purchase from the museum. “Last year,” Palma explains, “the whole NFT stuff was really in vogue. The big promise of NFTs is that digital native art can be taken more seriously. When they saw that some NFTs were being produced by generative projects with thousands of edits, it seemed like a fitting afterlife for Jan Bot’s huge filmography.” If you think of a blockchain as a new way of archiving things on the internet and digital platforms , there was a connection between these films, which bring old archives back to the present, and the archiving of these new films, made of old images, in a new form of archive… forever in the blockchain.