How Kezia Barnett uses AI to create her whimsical artworks


Kezia Barnett’s Flying Bed artwork series is like something out of a dream. Ethereal and delicate, her paintings have an otherworldly, poetic quality. Also a sadness.

There are images of beds covered with stones, of a female figure buried up to her neck in the ground, another with her face barely above water. The images were created while Barnett was in bed, seriously ill, using only her phone and occasionally her laptop.

Barnett creates artworks using artificial intelligence (AI). She enters text prompts—keywords that describe the type of image she wants—into an image generation tool, which generates a new image that’s rendered using the program’s vast datasets of existing images.

The result is a kind of co-creation between Barnett’s imagination and the AI’s visual interpretation of the text. Barnett repeats it over and over until she is happy with the image. Or she gives up and starts over.

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She can spend hours on each image, editing, selecting and refining it. The AI ​​program will never produce the same image twice, even with identical text prompts, as the algorithm is constantly evolving and improving.

Barnett, 47, is an award-winning director of short films, commercials and music videos who had a successful career both here and abroad until she fell seriously ill.

In 2011, she was managing the biggest job of her career in South Africa when she contracted a virus from which she never fully recovered. A short time later she suffered a severe concussion, which affects her to this day.

For Barnett, AI is more than just a new creative tool.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

For Barnett, AI is more than just a new creative tool. “It gave me an opportunity to express myself,” she says.

She was stationed in London but too ill to work and returned to Auckland. “For a long time no one seemed to know what was wrong with me. I kept trying to create and work, not knowing it was making me sicker.”

Barnett would eventually learn that her concussion was much worse than initially thought and was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome. Added to this was the diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a complex condition with a bewildering array of symptoms including debilitating fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances and pain – all aggravated by exertion of any kind – and often by a traumatic injury or triggered a virus.

Barnett has spent most of the last few years in bed.

“When I am at my sickest, I become very sensitive to noise. I become sensitive to light. I get a lot of body aches. Being upright feels backwards, so I have to lie flat. It feels like my blood is lead, like I’m buried alive, like I’m underwater. Cognitively I feel very far away. Although I still have all my cognitive abilities, I can’t do as much as I would like due to limited energy. I am about 95% bedridden at the moment and the isolation can be extreme. I fall very easily when I go beyond my energy envelope.”

Barnett only started creating AI art in July and has since created thousands of images, only a few of which made it to final editing. She says that Web3 (a new iteration of the World Wide Web hosting decentralized apps running on blockchain technology) has opened her up to a huge online community of interesting, like-minded people.

Many of them also live with various disabilities and health challenges. “The Web3 world offers a whole level of accessibility. Since I can no longer be on film sets, I’ve been looking for a way to continue creating imaginary worlds and telling stories.

I wanted to find an artistic expression of my experience to raise awareness for the millions of people around the world who are suffering and to do it in a way that people want to see and not just look away.”

Flying Bed #9 is part of Kezia Barnett's Fairytale Dreams series and can be purchased with NFTs.


Flying Bed #9 is part of Kezia Barnett’s Fairytale Dreams series and can be purchased with NFTs.

Flying Bed is one of three series, along with Bubblegum Queen and Ethereum Forests, that together make up the Fairytales Dreams collection.

“They are all inspired in some way by my experiences with Web3.” Each of Barnett’s images is either a character, location or scene in an imaginary fairytale world. She invites collectors to participate in shaping the narrative. They can help name the characters, describe them and have a say in what happens using blockchain technology and the freedom of direct connection between artist and collector.

“Working with AI kind of feels like directing, rather than directing a crew, you direct the AI. There is a collaboration with both of them.”

All works are unique and available for sale as NFTs (non-fungible token is a unique digital identifier stored on a blockchain used to certify authenticity and ownership). Barnett’s images are being sold for 0.1 Ethereum, which is roughly NZ$235 (although this can fluctuate widely).

Kezia Barnett's Flying Bed series of artworks, created from her bed.


Kezia Barnett’s Flying Bed series of artworks, created from her bed.

Predictably, the arrival of AI art in the art world has caused consternation – as has the introduction of Photoshop before it and digital photography before that. The question arises: What makes art art? And who gets to decide that anyway?

Some art communities and marketplaces are banning AI-generated images entirely, as are galleries saying they won’t be showing AI art. In August, an AI artwork won the Digitally Manipulated Photography category at the Colorado State Fair art competition. keyword outrage. Award-winning artist Jason Allen told the New York Times, “Art is dead. It’s over. AI won. lost people.”

Nearby, Gary Langsford of Gow Langsford Gallery in Auckland says: “We certainly wouldn’t hire an artist because they use a component of AI in their practice. There’s good art made with artificial intelligence, and there’s really bad art.

It comes down to how the artist uses the technology and the image they’re actually making. That’s largely in the eye of the beholder. When we are, we make value judgments about its quality.” Ultimately, Langsford says, it’s just another creative tool in the artist’s toolbox.

When it comes to understanding the legal implications of AI art, attorney Julius Hattingh, who specializes in intellectual property at Hudson Gavin Martin, says there’s a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding AI art because it’s a so new area acts.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

“Working with AI feels like directing in a way, rather than directing a crew, you direct the AI,” says Barnett.

“The headline reads: It’s complicated. The core idea is that if you create something, then you should own it. But who is the creator? Is it the person who created the AI ​​code? Is it the person creating the work that is then fed into the AI ​​that allows it to create resulting works? Or is it the user of the AI ​​tool entering an interesting prompt to create a new artwork?”

Hattingh says there is an important concept around derivative works. “Does it reach the threshold of an original work, have you added enough originality to it? Is there sufficient skill and effort from the user or is it just random and random?

Where the AI ​​tool works by drawing on existing artworks, this leads to an interesting philosophical tension between mere inspiration and copy. All of that overlays, he says, the terms of service of each AI platform being used.

For Barnett, AI is more than just a new creative tool. “It has given me an opportunity to express myself, the freedom to communicate, and brought me a sense of hope and joy. Creating is my reason for being, it was my drive, it was my meaning. I feel incomplete without it. It’s incredible to find something that empowers me to create.”

You can see the art of Kezia Barnett on Opensea.


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