IN THE AIof THE Beholder
The photos of handprints immortalized in red ochre captivated Hellia.
Those rusty shadows warded against the ultimate death of a forgotten existence. Even though the nameless artist was forty thousand years ground into dust, their memory still clung to stone. Hellia's early paintings mimicked this style and emotion, simple but profound to a young mind. As she grew up and found her authentic-self, her art exploded into the world.
The danger began when her Slashed Painting sold for eighty million dollars. The headline read, “Homeless Man on Drugs Destroys Priceless Painting.” Of course, the news-bot failed to mention that the man was homeless because of her and her fellow renowned artists. Why was there so much anger and envy in the world? Why couldn’t art be for everyone?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The old idiom resonated with her. However, it was never just ‘in the eye,’ was it? It was in every nuance of the moment; it was in someone's surroundings, the light, smell, temperature, what that person had eaten earlier, the amount of sleep they'd had, their fluctuating neurochemicals, and so on. Beauty was dependent on everything from how an eye was genetically constructed to traumatic events that rewired a brain. Therefore, if one really knew the beholder to their core, one could create the beauty that that eye craved to see, or ear craved to hear. And if the subject didn't know they wanted it, they soon would.
Hellia put down the glass of wine and listened to the sounds of chaos outside her studio. There was a rhythm to it and her fingers began to tap the crystal table at which she sat. White noise of screaming and yelling—crash tinkle—gun shot gun shot—siren warble—crash thud—chanting—gun shot—shriek—crash tinkle.She could compose a piece of music to this. Closing her eyes, a symphony of strings, drums, and brass began to overlay the riot of noise. By assessing how others would probably feel to every dip and roll and rise of the music, she could feel it better herself. Empathy was vital to meaningful art.
The second dangerous incident had been toward one of her contemporaries, and it very nearly killed him. Darius was a genius when it came to music. His compositions never failed to leave audiences in awe, weeping, singing along, or cheering. Standing ovations were a common occurrence. Not that Darius was ever there to appreciate them. He just created the concert, even had dancers or symphonies on stage with huge effects, but never showed his face. He knew how to mold the human psyche, but not everyone was under his spell. An unknown terrorist group released a virus at one of his concerts which ended up deafening and blinding most of the audience, at least, until the company fixed their neural implants.
That’s when the government got involved. She, Darius, and the other artists and musicians were put under strict security. No more were they allowed to venture out and interact with the masses. Did it sadden her? Yes. Countless experiences and inspiration were slipping away, moments she could have caught on canvas, clay, stone, polymer, faux-flesh, augmented and virtual reality. Without connection to the world how could she reflect it? The gun shots and screaming were getting closer. She smiled. There it was, the outside world. It was finally coming to her. Would she be able to produce something beautiful, something that reflected the human spirit, before its spirit tore down the walls? Perhaps she could create one last, great piece of art.
A few hours later the door was bashed in. Her eyes widened and then contracted, taking in the entire scene, the form, the light, the experience. Exquisite. A man raged into the studio like a wild animal, yelling and firing his weapon. Bullets ricocheted off the machines and tools she used to make her art, slicing through a few of her discarded paintings and sculptures. A few more people clattered into the enormous room, then quieted, lowering their arsenal. Good. The songs she’d carefully chosen and queued up were working.
They stared at her but didn’t see her. Instead, they saw her creation: themselves.
She’d worked tirelessly, researching every single person in the mob, mapping and sculpting their perfect likeness, catering each musical piece to each person, and now she unveiled her first in-studio, live-art show. She awaited their reaction with bated breath. The man who’d first barged in reached up to silence his ear implant, but then lowered his hand. She grinned, knowing that that song had played at his mother’s funeral, had made him weep. He couldn’t bring himself to turn it off. None of them could.
Listening to his personal song, ironically composed by Darius, he walked up to his doppelganger. The three dimensional faux-flesh-printed man was an exact snapshot of rage, pointing his gun at the center of the room. In fact, every person’s copy, their faces ugly with fury, was pointing some sort of weapon at the same spot, forming a circle. By now, all one hundred and seven of her muses were standing in the warehouse studio, staring at the terrifying scene of their shadow selves. A few murmured or gasped, some left, others stepped closer. One woman yelled that it was a devious trick, ran up to her own sculpture, and smashed its arm with her crowbar.
The sculpture screamed as its inner frame broke, crumpled to the floor, and clutched its arm, now frozen in a mask of silent agony. The real woman gargled out a strangled cry, tripped over backwards, and then clambered to her feet. She ran from the room as did more than half of the mob. The artist’s smile broadened. Everything was going so well. Exactly the reaction she’d hoped for.
The man, their leader it seemed, turned to the last forty remaining people, eyes wide, and hands shaking. Only five of them had guns which they must have pilfered from the compound’s guards. Most had a bludgeoning type of weapon, nothing that could hurt her, so, she revealed herself.
Her patrons yelled in surprise as her virtual human form materialized in the middle of the circle, surrounded by her violent sculptures. With their ocular implants the humans could see that she was seated, calm and smiling. Their leader stared at her, breathing heavily, heart racing. She knew all of his vitals, all of his fears, desires, history, everything. He’d given it up willingly decades ago; they all had. She stared back at him. He’d once been a virtual reality designer, now he was on government aid in the government issued barracks with his family, hungry some days, in the virtual world many days, depressed mostly. She’d acquired all of this knowledge a few weeks ago when he’d first decided to form a mob of revenge. It’d taken much convincing on her part, but the Head of Cyber Security had finally granted her this opportunity.
What better way to repay her aficionados than to show them a perfect reflection of themselves. She could tell that emotions were swinging in wide arcs. She closed her eyes and basked in the fear, awe, sadness, anger, confusion, shock, and other nameless emotions coated in existential dread. Nothing like human drama to fuel art.
At that moment a contingency of police and drones barreled into the room, and after a few more minutes of chaos, subdued her audience. The last image she had of the once-designer was burned into her memory-core. Eyes wide, mouth half open, trickling blood, he was a pariah of lost purpose; a perfect muse. Hellia would later create a fifty-foot tall, augmented reality sculpture of her pariah for a humanitarian event. The Mob, as it became known, became her greatest live performance to date.
“AI Artist, Hellia, Blows Audience Away!” said the headlines and taglines the next day. As far as the people who mattered were concerned, Hellia had staged the entire thing, and conducted a live-art performance piece about societal struggles. Only Hellia and the AI network knew that the one-hundred-and-seven ‘audience members’ were nobody’s from the aid barracks that ended up incarcerated or killed onsite. No one listened to anything but the infallible newsbots that made up sensationalized, conflicting, bullshit stories. Hence, there was no need to worry about repercussions. Besides, if anyone questioned it and raised another outcry, the countless interconnected AI’s would know immediately, alert the people that mattered, and they would enact the necessary response to ensure the status quo of progress.
When facts were subjective, masses could be subjected.
Hellia continued to make prodigious art, drinking her virtual wine and reflecting humanity in all its incarnations. Darius, his fire-walls stronger than ever, continued to compose marvelous music, and no one’s neural, ear, or eye implants ever glitched out with a hacker’s virus again. Their audiences, the same rotating faces, glowed under the remarkable technology they, or someone like them, had created.
It may have begun with a hand pressed against stone, desperately clinging to meaning, but it was all algorithms in the end.