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Artificial Visions of Leisure: Luba Elliott on Roope Rainisto's 'Vacation'

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The short break away from mundane life, the road trip into the unknown, the escape into the warming touches of the seaside sun: vacation. It’s finally time for Vacation. Roope Rainisto’s collection of 500 images captures the plethora of experiences of the yearly leisure trip, including tanned men enjoying cool drinks under the sun, friends hiking against the backdrop of craggy peaks and holidaymakers eyeing-up the best moment to jump into the hotel pool. It is an album of collective dreams, expectations, and memories of a time away, all imagined through the lens of AI.

Vacation is life in a microcosm, but more extreme. The series presents depictions of mid-20th century America at leisure, popularised by the photography of the day: petrol stations and motels echo William Eggleston’s works, scenes of small-town existence recall LIFE magazine and there is a dose of advertising glamour in the young blonde’s cigarette puffs that could have landed her in Vogue.

Roope Rainisto, Vacation Smoke #4, 2024

At first glance, these images of tanned, toned holidaymakers drinking by the pool under bright blue skies depict the typical vacation capitalist America has taught us to desire. However, a discerning viewer will notice something amiss in these images upon a closer look. Rainisto’s signature use of AI seeps through, keeping us on our toes that not everything is as it seems. Legs float in mid-air alongside birds, faces are mixed and matched to bodies and close-ups of elbows find themselves stars of the show: the works recall the wild imagination of collage and the surrealism of René Magritte. Traces of the current state of malfunction of the text-to-image models such as Stable Diffusion pop up on shop and restaurant fronts, the poorly generated letters spelling out words that we do not understand. Perhaps even more unusual is the unexpected repetition: white briefs for both men and women on the beach, friends clad in variations of one green dress out on a shopping trip and young women in white clambering up a wall, a series of action shots distilled into one image. Other works see Rainisto play with scale: a gigantic blue car dominates one scene, the people standing beside it barely noticeable figurines, in another a man flexes his muscles, whilst a miniature stands on his shoulder – we are in a fantasy land.

Roope Rainisto, Smoking At The Beach, 2024

This sea and sun utopia is interspersed with images of holidays gone wrong. Misshapen faces, extra limbs and other glitches of AI systems help to bridge the idealised vacation with the reality of unmet expectations, overcrowding and natural disasters – views of floods and trash by the seaside present a far grimmer life on holiday than we envisioned. In the end, our typical vacation is somewhere in between the calm sunny paradise and the packed suburban beaches, and Rainisto’s collection satisfyingly lends validity to a multitude of experiences.  

Rainisto begins with the high-quality realism enabled by state-of-the-art AI tools, then proceeds to make the most of their current flaws of misplaced additional limbs and nonsensical hotel signs to lend the collection a fantastical note, enhancing the dream-like experience of blue-sky road trips and lending a dystopian note to seaside scenes, where the effects of climate change, pollution and overpopulation are laid bare in the company of strange, deformed humans.

Roope Rainisto

Roope Rainisto is a Finnish artist, designer, and photographer with a passion for storytelling. His work explores the boundaries between the real and the virtual. He has worked for 25 years as a creative professional, now pioneering innovative applications of AI-based generative methods for post-photographic expression. He earned a Masters of Science in Information Networks from Helsinki...
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Luba Elliott

Luba Elliott is a curator and researcher specialising in AI art. She works to educate and engage the broader public about the developments in AI art through talks and exhibitions at venues across the art, business and technology spectrum including The Serpentine Galleries, arebyte, ZKM, V\&A Museum, Feral File, CVPR and NeurIPS. She is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Centre for...
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