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INTERVIEW

Roope Rainisto and Chikai Dive into 'Vacation' and the Evolution of AI Art

Journal article cover

Ahead of Roope Rainisto’s Vacation series release, he and Chikai sit down to discuss his previous works, inspirations, his thoughts on the technological developments in AI and, of course, the upcoming release. 

Chikai: It's great to talk to you - I'm glad we're doing it in public and talking about your upcoming collection. So much has changed since your release of Life In West America 15 months ago. Your journey somewhat reflects what the space has been going through overall.

Roope: It's been inspiring to see your personality and progress over the last year too. So I think you now have an excellent perspective on both sides of the aisle - from the collector and the artist side - you probably have some interesting questions. 

Chikai: It's been quite a journey - I've been lucky enough to be accepted by both sides of the aisle. To start with, I think the first thing I want to know is tied to your Brain Drops release, Life In West America. I do think Life In West America is a key piece in the development of AI. And so I was wondering in that process - how did that happen? Is it something where you approached them or they reached out to you? What was the dialogue between you and that team that led up to that launch?

Roope Rainisto, All Eyes, 2023

Roope: Time flies so fast that it's hard to remember all the details. But I suspect that one of the key contributors was here once again, then Claire Silver. So Claire had her AI Art contest and I happened to win contest number two [with the work Temporary]. And I think that was probably an impetus then for them to contact me.

It is, of course, always hard to say, one particular thing that leads to something. So I think the art space here in the Web3 world works so that when you do something and you then do something else and you then do something else. You take a hundred small steps and only after you stop, then you see how far you’ve reached.

Chikai: I remember that piece. I think it was a video piece with an animated AI dancer piece, right?

Roope: Yeah, I've been doing video work with AI for quite a while. 

Roope Rainisto, Temporary, 2023

Chikai: The video work is amazing. I think I should go back and revisit those, especially since my personal work is very video-related.

And there's a long, long history from the initial three launches on Brain Drops that were one of them. I think even your latest work was a video work that you're doing with Foundation, right?

Roope: Yeah. So I did 10 single pieces for Foundation that come out soon. I think I did about 12 video works over the last 12 months, so roughly the one-to-one. Of course, to do video works well it takes a lot of time. I haven't yet invented a way to do a huge piece myself, but I'm sure I’ll come around to it someday.

Chikai: Yeah, it's hard to do a large video collection. Let's focus on the Life In West America line of work. This particular aesthetic feels very nostalgic and old, yet it's very futuristic and forward-looking. How did you come to that or what drew you to where you are now? How do you see that relative to other work? Since I don't think that's the only thing you do, but this is definitely what you're known for.  

Roope: Photography has been a significant part of my life for over 30 years. I remember receiving my first film camera from my dad at the age of 13. I had always wanted to experiment with his camera, and after much persistence, he finally gave it to me. Since then, photography has been a passion of mine. I spent my high school days in the darkroom of our school, further nurturing this interest. Photography has always been close to my heart.

A few years ago, when I started working with AI, my initial thought was to treat it like a virtual camera. I envisioned doing photo shoots and approached it with the same mindset. Initially, the visual quality of AI-generated images didn't resemble photographs; they looked more like paintings. However, over time, perhaps around 12 to 18 months ago, this began to change. Like many others, I started aiming for photorealism in my AI-generated work.

However, in late 2022, I had a revelation. I suddenly realised that what intrigued me more were the imperfections and deviations from reality in these AI-generated pieces. It was like stumbling upon accidents, tweaks, or defects that sparked my interest. I decided to shift my focus away from photorealism towards exploring the boundaries of reality. This shift marked a personal breakthrough for me. Instead of replicating photographs, I began experimenting with creating something entirely new by playing with reality itself.

Roope Rainisto, Artesanal, 2023

Chikai: Yeah, at the time when Life In West America came out it brought people to AI. Many people didn’t get it until that point. They finally understood it and said: 'This is the kind of stuff that I want to get into'. Did you feel that response when it was released?

Roope: I saw the reaction after the launch, and it was quite obvious. But leading up to the launch, there were many nights when I questioned my sanity. I spent hours each day and night waiting for something that few others seemed to be creating. It led to self-doubt.

I liken this experience to crossover artists in music, like Shakira, who appeal to fans of multiple genres simultaneously. Similarly, my work straddles the line between AI art and traditional photography, appealing to both audiences. Just as crossover artists can be appreciated by fans of different styles, my work bridges the gap between AI art enthusiasts and photography aficionados.

This duality reflects Life in West America, where appreciation for one side doesn't preclude appreciation for the other. Whether you're a fan of photography or AI art, there's something in my work for everyone to appreciate.

Chikai: I have one more question about Life In West America before we move on to other collections you've worked on. Looking back, there seemed to be a gradual shift towards more photographic-style work, especially after Midjourney was released. Your approach differed from traditional surrealism, as it truly embraced the medium itself.

Reflecting on it now, 15 months later, what do you think contributed to the success of that collection? Was it the timing, the uniqueness of your approach, or perhaps the fusion of photography and AI? As someone deeply immersed in the space, what do you believe resonated so strongly with the audience? Many have speculated, but I'm interested in your insights on why that collection struck such a chord.

Roope Rainisto, Balanced Approach, 2023

Roope: Yeah, it was somewhat of a perfect storm, a combination of factors. Being in the right place at the right time certainly played a role, along with an element of luck. But when I consider the aspects I could control, I believe the emphasis on storytelling was crucial.

I dedicated significant time to ensuring that each of the 500 pieces in the collection had its distinct narrative, complete with titles. Just like a compelling photograph prompts you to ponder its backstory, I aimed for each piece to evoke a similar response.

Creating 500 distinct stories with AI art is no easy feat, but it's just as challenging as doing so with traditional photography or any other medium. What matters is crafting something that resonates, that sparks thought. AI art, as presented in this collection, has the unique ability to tell stories that invite interpretation and leave room for mystery.

I'm particularly fond of art that doesn't reveal its intent immediately, and that invites viewers to engage and form personal connections over time. Spending time with these pieces allows for a deeper, more meaningful relationship to develop. In essence, I strived to tell 500 small stories, something that remains relatively uncommon, especially on such a scale.

Roope Rainisto, Board Meeting, 2023

Chikai: I think 500 pieces is a large number, although it's becoming more common, perhaps resembling the size of collections seen on platforms like Art Blocks. Brain Drops originally drew inspiration from the Art Blocks format, both in terms of structure and size.

Regarding the thematic arc within Life in West America and its connection to other collections, the overarching theme of America in your work has been apparent across multiple collections. For instance, the collaboration with Kate Voss Gallery delved into American history, serving as a prequel to Life in West America with Excess Eyes. More recently, Vacation also referenced American cities and movie titles, underscoring this ongoing theme.

So I’m wondering about this focus on America, does it stem from a conceptual point with your vision or have you made a personal connection with the US? Where are those touchpoints? Since you are Finnish, I'm intrigued by the cultural and societal dynamics of the United States that you focus on in your work.

Roope: Yeah, it's an interesting perspective. Although I'm based in Finland and have only visited the US a few times, my artistic inspiration extends beyond physical boundaries. One of my major influences is the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. Despite never having been to the US himself due to a fear of flying, von Trier has set several films there, delving into his fantasies of the country.

This idea of creating a fantasy world, a place for escapism and exploration, resonates deeply with me. Life in West America is born from this concept—an imagined space that embodies the ideals of freedom and adventure associated with the American West. While there's no literal place called West America, it serves as a canvas for limitless creativity.

In this fantasy realm, anything is possible. It's a place where rules can be bent or rewritten entirely, allowing for the exploration of diverse themes and narratives. By crafting my personal fantasy world, I have the freedom to infuse it with elements that reflect my artistic vision and resonate with audiences. It's a concept that offers endless possibilities and allows for genuine artistic expression.

Roope Rainisto, West Coast Luxury, 2024

Chikai: Do you like American food, like McDonald’s and such? Or maybe if you watch American movies? I’m curious about how much American culture you enjoy regularly. 

Roope: I wouldn't say I enjoy it, but I certainly engage with American culture in various forms. I appreciate American music greatly, and movies can be hit or miss for me, depending on the genre. Nevertheless, American culture is undeniably influential, serving as a backdrop for projects like Life in West America, Reworld and Vacation, where I play with cultural stereotypes.

AI, as a tool, often distorts reality in its portrayals of people, places, and situations. My artistic interpretation of the world isn't realistic in terms of race, nationality, or other aspects of reality. However, I believe that artists should draw inspiration from their surroundings and experiences. I live in a specific cultural context, and it's more authentic for me to explore and manipulate those dynamics rather than attempt to portray experiences outside of my realm of understanding.

Chikai: You mentioned Reworld and the one thing about it is that Fellowship released some of your works in physical form? They made those huge prints - have you ever seen your work printed at such scale and high quality before?

Roope: No I haven’t and it was super inspiring to see! They exhibited it at Paris Photo last November, alongside other artists we had the opportunity to showcase our pieces in a tangible format, which is a unique experience for digital artists like myself.

One of the challenges of digital art, particularly in the realm of Web3, is the limitation of canvas size. Unlike traditional artists who can choose between creating small or large-scale pieces, digital artists often create within the constraints of digital screens, like iPhone screens. However, many of my works, such as those from Reworld and Vacation, are designed with a larger canvas in mind, which truly amplifies their impact when viewed on a big screen or in print. I am excited that Vacation will be at Photo London in physical form with Verse. 

Roope Rainisto, Holiday Romance #5, 2024

Chikai: And when creating Reworld, did you have a sense of size or vision for what you wanted those pieces to be?

Roope: For Reworld, I adopted a zoomed-out perspective compared to Life in West America, which focused on individual narratives. Instead, Reworld aimed to explore society as a whole, emphasising the smallness of individuals within the larger societal framework. Therefore, size and scale were crucial in conveying this concept effectively. Reworld pieces are best appreciated on a large scale to fully grasp the intricacies of the societal dynamics depicted. That's why I opted for larger and extra-large sizes, as they align with the overarching theme and vision of the collection.

However, I do face challenges with scale in the context of Web3 and crypto, where many people view art primarily on their iPhones. It's a limitation that I wish could be addressed to give artists more control over how their work is experienced and appreciated in terms of scale.

Roope Rainisto, All The Same, 2023

Chikai: I'm intrigued by the intersection of digital art and physical display. It's fascinating to consider how artists envision their work being presented in galleries or exhibitions. One aspect that often comes up is the level of intentionality and control artists have over the display of their pieces.

In the physical world, artists can have a significant say in how their work is presented, down to the smallest detail and I wonder if you ever think about how you’re intending to display the piece whilst making it? Museums often consult artists about their preferences for exhibition layout and presentation, recognizing the importance of aligning the display with the artist's vision.

My feeling is that in the realm of Web3 and digital art, it seems that artists may not have as much control over how their pieces are displayed. Digital artworks are often viewed on screens, and there may be less emphasis on the intentionality of presentation compared to physical exhibitions.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that. When you envision your work transitioning from the digital realm to the physical world, do you have any specific considerations in mind? Do you want it to be a print or a display? Perhaps it depends on the collection but I’m curious how you approach that.

Roope: It's indeed a complex question, and the approach varies depending on the artwork itself and the context in which it's being presented. For example, at events like Paris Photo where physical prints were the primary medium, the absence of screens created a level playing field for all artworks, enhancing the viewer's experience and appreciation.

Prints offer a timeless appeal and allow viewers to engage with the artwork in a tactile and intimate manner. For instance, with Vacation, being my highest-resolution artwork to date, prints provide an excellent platform to showcase its intricate details. Viewers can closely examine the piece without any discomfort, unlike screens which may strain the eyes.

However, prints come with their own set of challenges, such as cost, transportation, and durability. Despite these drawbacks, they remain a compelling option for displaying artwork due to their tangible and immersive nature. Ultimately, the choice between prints and screens depends on various factors, including the specific artwork, exhibition context, and audience experience.

Roope Rainisto, The Bath Tickles and Vacation Drink #6, 2024

Chikai: You mentioned Vacation being the largest resolution work you’ve done to date. Can you give me a sense of scale? Like what was the resolution of Life in West America, Reworld, and then Vacation?

Roope: Scale-wise, both Life in West America and Reworld are in 4K resolution. However, the Vacation pieces are 6K wide and utilise the latest upscaling processes, making them even sharper than the previous 4K upscales. Staying current with technological advancements is crucial, ensuring that my art reflects the state of the art in AI for the respective years.

These modern tools not only enhance realism but also add depth to the artwork. The intricate details appear realistic, inviting viewers to engage closely. Yet, when stepping back, the overall composition reveals itself as non-realistic, creating tension within the artwork. This tension adds complexity and intrigue, challenging the viewer's perception and interpretation of reality.

Chikai: Yes and it’s also reflective of the rapid technological advances in AI. And a lot of the exploration and experimentation and invention is happening as we speak, which I think is an amazing time to be part of. So when you look at Life in West America to Vacation, just those two, like, how do you see the technology reflected in those two collections? What about them is symbolic of the time in which it was created?  

Roope: It's been quite a journey from Life in West America to Vacation, spanning about 15 to 18 months. Looking back, LIWA marked a stage where I delved into a more photographic style with AI. Despite the rapid advancements in technology during this period, I've stuck to certain stable algorithms and tools that I know well, like Stable Diffusion versions one and two.

While I've embraced some advancements, I've been cautious not to create a mere sequel to Life in West America. I believe the value of that collection lies in its uniqueness. Instead, I've been exploring new tools and techniques, striving to strike a balance between innovation and maintaining a recognizable artistic identity.

It's a fine line to walk—pushing boundaries while staying true to oneself. But by experimenting with new approaches, I hope to keep my work fresh and engaging while honouring the essence of my artistic vision.

Roope Rainisto, Surveillance Society, 2024

Chikai: You’ve talked about new technologies and you’ve also been experimenting with different chains and galleries, Solana, Foundation, Brain Drops. This is interesting as you’re tapping into different communities. What do you think about having all these different audiences? And finding ways to experiment and approach these different avenues?

Roope: Yeah, I believe in taking risks as an artist. Sometimes they pay off, and sometimes they don't, but that's how I learn and grow. Each change in the art world presents a new opportunity for exploration and experimentation. Personally, I approach each change as a chance to try something different, push boundaries, and innovate.

I've experimented with different chains, from Solana to Tezos, and each has its unique community of collectors. I don't see the point in minting the same art on multiple chains—it's more about understanding the audience and adapting to their preferences. By embracing diversity in the crypto art space, artists can expand their reach and influence culture in meaningful ways.

I don't believe in putting all my eggs in one basket when it comes to chains. Change is inevitable, and I prefer to embrace it rather than fear it. If I see an opportunity to contribute to a chain's artistic ecosystem, I'll take it. I believe in making small changes now that can have a big impact in the long run, even if the results aren't immediate.

It would be easy for me to stick to what's familiar and avoid taking risks, but that's not my style. I believe in pushing boundaries, exploring new possibilities, and shaping the future of art in the crypto world.

Chikai: Yeah, I like experimentation. You can't learn unless you experiment and fail as well as succeed. And also to push culture. I think Patrick Comandant is another good example - he's pushing that recently with a multiple-chain release.

I'm curious to hear your contrast of doing a release by yourself, which I think you did with Smile. To now work with Verse and a whole team of people who support you and do things like the first solo exhibition in London.

Do you enjoy both? I mean, one has a lot of freedom. You can do whatever you want. Another one, you have people supporting you and working with you and challenging you and pushing you, which I think is also good. Maybe talk about those two experiences. 

Roope Rainisto, Disillusion Plan, 2023

Roope: Yeah, in my experience, collaborating with a team has often yielded the best results. There's a lot to appreciate about working with others—they bring a diverse set of skills and expertise to the table that I simply don't have on my own. While I may excel in areas like art and marketing, organisations bring so much more to the table, from an existing collector base to effective outreach strategies and brand recognition.

It's interesting to consider what would have happened if I had undertaken projects like Life in West America solo instead of partnering with Brain Drops. I'm pretty sure the outcome wouldn't have been the same. Collaborating with Brain Drops had a significant impact on the visibility and success of the collection, leading to instant minting and discovery.

I'm a strong advocate for collaboration because I believe it's one of the best ways to learn and grow. While individual projects have their place, especially for experimentation, navigating the crowded crypto art space often requires a team effort. In such a competitive landscape, every bit of support and assistance can make a difference, creating a win-win situation for all involved parties.

Chikai: Yeah I generally agree with that. I do like working with people, but occasionally it's nice to launch one yourself to experiment. 

Roope Rainisto, Right On The Sea, 2024

Roope: Certainly, and I hope Vacation can be another success. Especially since it’s a topic that holds immense fascination for me, and it's a theme I wanted to explore deeply in my art. When we think of vacations, we often associate them with an escape from our everyday realities. It's intriguing to observe how people seek refuge from their regular lives by immersing themselves in a different world during their vacations.

What's particularly captivating to me is how individuals might even alter their personalities when they go on vacation, almost like shedding their usual selves to embrace a different persona in this temporary escape. AI art, for me, serves as an excellent medium to capture and express these themes of escapism and fantasy.

In Vacation, I aim to depict this longing for an idealised getaway, where individuals can indulge in fantasies of perfect lives and endless enjoyment. However, I'm also keenly aware that the reality of vacation spots often falls short of these idealised images. My experiences, particularly during a brief visit to Las Vegas, have profoundly influenced my perception of artificial realities created for the sole purpose of escapism.

Vacation draws inspiration from these observations, aiming to evoke the complex feelings associated with the desire to escape reality and immerse oneself in a world of fantasy. Through my art, I hope to convey the allure and the contradictions inherent in the concept of vacation, inviting viewers to reflect on their own experiences of seeking respite from the mundane.

Roope Rainisto, Viva Las Vegas, 2024

Chikai: Was Las Vegas the last place you went on vacation?

Roope: No it wasn’t. But Vegas is the ultimate place to present the American fantasy, in my mind it’s the centre of this fantasy world. People say ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ and for me, this is the alternate reality of it that’s inspiring.

Chikai: So what was your last vacation? When and where did you last go on vacation? 

Roope: Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Estonia for a few days. While it's geographically close to Finland, the experience was profound. Travelling alone, especially for business, often evokes intense isolation and solitude. These emotions become a rich source of artistic inspiration for me.

In these unfamiliar places, surrounded by strangers and immersed in unfamiliar surroundings, I find myself grappling with a sense of disconnection from the world. It's a complex mix of emotions, where the excitement of exploration mingles with a deep-seated unease.

Through my art, particularly in Vacation, I aim to capture these contrasting sentiments. While vacations are typically associated with joy and rejuvenation, I also seek to portray the underlying sense of emptiness or disorientation that can accompany them. It's a reflection of the paradoxical nature of travel – the idea that you can journey halfway around the world, only to find that the world remains unchanged, while you are profoundly affected by the experience.

In Vacation, I hope viewers can resonate with both aspects – the allure of escape and the underlying complexity of seeking solace in unfamiliar places. It's about capturing the essence of these conflicting emotions and inviting others to explore them through the lens of my art.

Chikai is an AI artist and collector. He is a Creator of Anthrocinematica, Panopticon and Cinematic AI. Previously co-creator of Google Earth.

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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