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Student combines artificial intelligence and art
Source: Shayla Cunico

Third year graduate student Zac Travis is the latest artist to occupy the John Sommers Gallery at the University of New Mexico. Travis is a student in the art department at the University of New Mexico in the photography area and is the visual artist and creator of Content Nausea.

“My primary inspiration for Content Nausea resides in our persistent and almost absent minded use of technology,” Travis said.

Travis utilized artificial intelligence (AI) to create text phrases calculated by an AI algorithm. Travis said he is interested in the idea of algorithmic processes and the way they are handled by corporate businesses.

The west wall of the John Sommers Gallery is covered by a continuous projection of Travis’ calculated phrases. The installation rotates through a series of different animated projections displaying different uses of typography, color and sound.

With phrases like, “then the various period of distance,” and, “for extension from a type of being made inhuman,” the suggestive typing tool of AI is highlighted while also evoking a thought within the viewer.

“A world awash in AI-generated content is a classic case of a utopia that is also a dystopia,” Travis said. “It’s messy, it’s beautiful and it’s already here.”

Having been influenced by the punk scene growing up, Content Nausea gave Travis the opportunity to translate that, and his influence from growing up in the era of the internet, into an expressive visual piece.

When asked what Content Nausea is, and where the name of the installation comes from, Travis said he was inspired by a song of the same name, by alternative band Parquet Courts.

Travis said this is his first full dive into AI, although he has been working with algorithmic processes for the past year.

Travis explained the selected text was a written essay by Susan Sontag called “On Style.”

“In her essay, Sontag asserts that style is the most important element in a work of art,” Travis said. “It is style or form that is the specific quality of a work of art, and therefore deserves the most attention.”

Travis ran Sontag’s article through a machine utilizing the algorithm of the Markov chain. The Markov Chain is the algorithm that most Twitter bots use to create sentences based on tools that analyze words that are most likely to follow others in sentences, and linguistic probabilities, Travis said.

He said he finds interest in the idea of creating art that relies purely on technology, missing the component of the artists manipulation of the piece.

“I was thinking about the algorithm as content and style creation, completely void of the human hand, and the possible ubiquitous volumes of information completely generated by machine,” Travis said.

Travis said that he thinks the outcome of the Markov chain as a whole is enjoyable.

“But it’s the generation of phrases, sentences and structures of words that I find fascinating,” Travis said.

Shayla Cunico is the culture editor and music editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @ShaylaCunico.


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