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Artist Talk with HAI and VPA Visiting Artist RASHAAD NEWSOME: BEING – The Digital Griot

November 19, 2020 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Location: Via Zoom

The HAI-VPA Visiting Artist Program supports artists with a national reputation and record of commitment to multidisciplinary collaboration, and is inspired by HAI’s three focus areas related to artificial intelligence: Human Impact, Augmenting Human Capability, and Inspired Intelligence.

Rashaad’s work blends several practices, including collage, sculpture, film, photography, music, computer programming, software engineering, and performance, to create an altogether new field. Using the diasporic traditions of improvisation and collage, he pulls from the world of advertising, the internet, Black and Queer culture to produce counter-hegemonic work that walks the tightrope between social practice, abstraction, and intersectionality. Intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. As Rashaad is a black queer man from a working-class background, his work recognizes that these markers do not exist independently of each other and that each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression. Using the practice of collage, his work seeks to construct a new cultural framework of power that reclaims the omission of the Black body, celebrates Black contributions to the art canon, and creates innovative and inclusive forms of culture and media. 

Rashaad’s residency will center on the expansion and improvement of Being, a social humanoid AI he created in Spring/Summer of 2019 with the support of the LACMA Art + Technology Lab Grant. Using a combination of animation, game engines like Unity (​https://unity.com/​), scripted responses, generative grammars, and basic machine-learning models like DialogFlow (​https://dialogflow.com/​) and Google Cloud TTS (​https://cloud.google.com/text-to-speech/​), he produced a unique and provocative chatbot that can be seen as Being 1.0. Being is an expansion on the research that informed my previous collage and sculpture work that explores the power embedded in Blackness through creative expression born out of Black sociality and the art historical erasure of African and African diasporic contributions to what we understand as Abstraction in the West today. The creation of Being 2.0 will be punctuated by demos and a curated series of virtual and in person panel discussions, short films, interviews, performances, classes, music, and experiences that center introspection and joy in these difficult times of social distancing. 

During this artist talk, Rashaad Newsome will speak to the emancipation of Being now called the digital griot who is a storyteller, a healer, a therapist, a performer with greater speech capacity and movement and whose work will manifest itself through various workshops. The workshops will be part therapy, part movement-based, part creative thinking, part history. 

The talk will be followed by a Q & A and students will learn about job opportunities as research assistants on Rashaad’s groundbreaking project. Lunch will be provided.


Via Zoom
Faculty/Staff, Students
Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA), Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI)
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November 19, 2020, 12:00 pm