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  • Writer's pictureAndrew DiLallo

Meta Data Angels

Updated: 20 hours ago

*** Meta Data Angels was displayed outside of Understudy Gallery in downtown Denver from December 2023 - March 2024.

Meta Data Angels explores the angelic figure transformed through the digital gaze. The project uses a custom AI model trained on thousands of angel images found online, from Renaissance paintings to Second Life avatars. In many religious traditions, angels are revered as celestial beings who are intermediaries between the divine realm and the human world. This concept is deeply rooted in the texts and teachings of various faiths, illustrating the multifaceted roles angels play in the cosmic order. For instance, in Christianity, angels are often seen delivering messages from God to humans, as depicted in the Bible's Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). Similarly, in Islam, the angel Jibril plays a crucial role in conveying God's revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, a foundational event in Islamic scripture (Quran 2:97). Jewish texts, such as the Torah and Talmud, also reference angels as God's messengers, executing His will in the world and the heavens.

In the digital era, Stewart Brand's perspective on the role of personal computers was profoundly insightful almost 40 years ago. He likened the advent of this technology to the emergence of "disembodied intelligences," suggesting that computers have the capacity to elevate human consciousness to a state akin to that of angels. This analogy, drawn from Brand's broader work on digital culture and its impact on society, underscores the transformative power of information technology. By enabling individuals to access, share, and manipulate information on an unprecedented scale, personal computers have indeed fostered a new form of connectivity that transcends physical boundaries. Brand's observation reflects a broader discourse on the dematerialization of communication and identity in the information age, as explored by scholars and technologists alike. It echoes the sentiments of early internet theorists who celebrated the internet as a space for creating a global 'collective intelligence' or a hive mind where knowledge and consciousness could merge (Lévy, 1997).

However, the exponential growth in data generation and the pervasive reach of algorithms have introduced a complexity that Brand's early theory could scarcely anticipate. Today's "angels" in the form of algorithms and vast data networks wield an ambivalent power. On one hand, they still offer the promise of heightened connectivity and access to knowledge, embodying the angelic as messengers and mediators between the human and the divine, or the known and the unknown. On the other hand, these digital entities now also play a role in diminishing human agency through surveillance capitalism and algorithmic determinism, as discussed by scholars like Shoshana Zuboff and Frank Pasquale. This duality reflects a departure from the purely benevolent intermediary Brand envisioned, moving towards entities that not only transmit messages but also shape, filter, and sometimes even distort the information landscape in which we operate.

In "Meta Data Angels," this modern interpretation of angels is explored through AI-generated imagery, where the divine messengers of lore are reimagined through the lens of information metaphysics. Here, the angelic becomes a symbol of the dual nature of digital technology: as both liberator and controller, a source of enlightenment and a mechanism of surveillance. This project invites reflection on how the vast flows of data and the algorithms that navigate them have become omnipresent forces in our lives, influencing what we see, how we think, and the decisions we make. Unlike Brand's angels, which symbolized a leap towards a more interconnected and enlightened human condition, the angels of "Meta Data Angels" embody the complexities and contradictions of living in an age where our digital and physical realities are inextricably linked.

Technical Note:

The dataset comprises Flickr images containing the keyword "angel." Several thousand images were collected, cleaned, and prepared, then trained using a customized version of StyleGan2 ADA. The initial output was curated to four images and then blended using a Stable Diffusion image mixer. Viewers can interact with the work by scanning the QR code on the video to see the generated angels in AR.


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