Art by Claus O. Wilke

Human shapes of matter

An exploration of AI's understanding of material and form

Sculptures are in part shaped by the materials they are made of. If you attempted to make the exact same human bust using a bronze casting, a wood carving, and an assembly of nuts and bolts, you would end up with three sculptures that look very different. The differences among these sculptures would be due to both the inherent properties of the respective materials and the specific techniques required to shape them.

This work explores to what extent generative AI understands these constraints and/or has learned biases that tie certain materials to certain techniques or styles. The complete collection consists of 20 sets of five images each, where the five images of each set represent the exact same sculpture but made from different materials. All sculptures are representations of the human form, including busts, full-body statues, and groups of people. In total, the collection spans 19 different materials representing different sculpting techniques such as casting, carving, or assembling.

All images were made with StableDiffusion SDXL v1.0 using text-to-image generation. The generated images were subsequently upscaled with Gigapixel AI. Beyond upscaling, no post-processing was performed on any of the images. In particular, images were not manually retouched in Photoshop or any other photo editor. Every set of five images uses the exact same prompt (except the material specified) and the same random number seed. This ensures consistency within each set. Each set represents the exact same sculpture but made from different materials.

The final collection of 100 images is a curated subset of many hundreds of images that were generated while developing this project. In particular, for every set in the final collection, I generated images for all 19 materials in the final collection. I also generated additional sets and explored additional materials.

This collection will go on sale on Thurs. January 11 at noon Central time at Highlight. The minting mechanism will be “Collector’s choice,” which means every collector can pick the image they like, assuming it hasn’t already been minted. All 100 images of the collection are shown here on this page.