100 Kaleidoscopic Portraits From Creative Coder Espen Kluge

100 Kaleidoscopic Portraits From Creative Coder Espen Kluge

Most artists scoff at the idea that artificial intelligence (AI) is creative—but it depends on your definition. Norwegian artist and designer Espen Kluge is careful to separate fact from science fiction when it comes to digital systems that “create” art.

With intuition driving his process, Kluge created Alternatives, a kaleidoscopic collection of Javascript-generated portraits numbered at an even hundred. “My vision for the project was [to] generate beautiful and interesting portraits that tell their own story,” says Kluge, who instinctively shies away from the blocky, pixelated aesthetic that defines contemporary synthetic art.

‘Electric Accents’

Seeded in 2010, the idea for Alternatives emerged from an experimental website logo project Kluge eventually shelved. “The general concept was an abstracted vector logo based on a photo of me that would react somehow to the content of the loaded page and movement of the mouse,” he explains. Though Kluge never finished the script, he eventually dusted the algorithm off, pulling it out of retirement in 2019. “I saw some potential in [the algorithm] for creating visual structures that looked dynamic and organic, something rarely seen as a product of generative art, which tends to consist of distinct geometrical and linear shapes and patterns,” he continues.

Trained on a data set of sourced internet photos, the algorithm Kluge created for Alternatives has few parameters, and is, more or less, the same rudimentary script he wrote 12 years ago. “I made a rule of avoiding adding more complex or convenient features to the code,” he explains, a strategy that makes room for unexpected surprises.

It also gives his more creative control over the end product. Rather than simply copying code and hitting “run,” Kluge reflects on what it means to be creative in the first place. Alternatives reminds us it’s man—not machine—who sifts through and decodes the final output.

“My vision for the project was [to] generate beautiful and interesting portraits that tell their own story.” — Espen Kluge

Scroll down to see a selection of portraits from Alternatives

‘I’d Have to be Friends with Him to Ask That’
‘Second Crisis’
‘Superclear When I Say it’s Risky Business’
‘Slowly Passing’
‘Two at the Bottom, One at the Top’
‘More Extraverted Than You’
‘Need to Cancel Due to a Funeral’
‘100 Atoms in My Favor’

Espen Kluge: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Purchase Work

All photos published with permission of the artist.

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Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.