Entrepreneur’s ArtPrize entry merges AI, ballet, and chalk art

Holland entrepreneur and artificial intelligence (AI) specialist Charles Elwood is merging technology and art with his 2021 ArtPrize entry, titled “The ABBy Project.”

“(We’re) taking cutting-edge and really ancient technology and merging them together,” says Elwood. 

The ABBy Project is an interactive and educational art piece that bridges AI, Edge Intelligence, ballet, and chalk art. The installation will be hosted at the Hyatt Place hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. 

ArtPrize, an open, independently organized international art competition, is returning to its traditional format after a three-year absence. The festival is open to the public from Sept. 16 until Oct. 3. 

Elwood’s installation will take attendees through three interactive stations. The first station will have an AI video monitor that shows how the software recognizes people, items, and even dogs. The next station will allow visitors to showcase three ballet positions that have been programmed to describe an emotion they are experiencing. Elwood partnered with Deos Contemporary Ballet to create the positions that could be recognized by the AI. 

“It’s going to let them participate in the training of the AI.” 

Interactive element

Attendees of ArtPrize will be able to access a dashboard that showcases which types of emotional ballet positions are the most popular. 

“From that day on, your sign will be part of the art piece.” 

Holland entrepreneur and artificial intelligence specialist Charles Elwood's ArtPrize submission merges technology and art.

The final stage of the installation will be a chalkboard with the open-ended question of “what would you apply this to?” Attendees will be encouraged to write down problems that could be solved using AI. On the festival weekends, Elwood will be at the site, adding another interactive element to the third stage, where attendees can create their own AI-recognized pose or sign representing an emotion or feeling. 

The idea for the installation comes out of Elwood’s passion for AI and how it can be used to solve real-world problems. This summer, Elwood partnered with the Rotary Club of San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Superheroes Foundation to help create a custom AI sign language for a young woman named Maria, who is unable to speak or physically sign accurately.

‘Software as art’

Elwood hopes his installation will help people understand AI and how it can be used to express emotion and solve problems. After the festival, Elwood plans to take attendees’ AI submissions and suggestions to discover further problems like Maria’s that can be solved using AI. 

“It’s a new medium,” he says. “It’s also a change in perception because I don’t think people think of software as art.” 

Elwood says that the process of getting a venue for his installation was challenging. It wasn’t until the evening of the venue selection deadline day that he got a call from Hyatt Place. 

“I was afraid to apply,” he says. “But out of all the rejections, you still learn something.”

The team from Hyatt Place was looking for an interactive piece for attendees and was excited about the ballet component since multiple employees have participated in ballet. 

A typical barrier for people is the negative connotation of AI and the safety of people’s likeness and data. Elwood says he’s had hesitancies in the past about that.

‘Edge intelligence’

“The more I understand about it, the more comfortable I’ll be to protect myself,” he says.

Elwood’s installation will be using Edge Intelligence, which captures only what the AI recognizes rather than the complete video. For example, when someone poses in front of the camera at the second station, the software will recognize a human, a pose, and the percentage confidence of its accuracy. This information will be sent to a cloud-based database and will not include the video or any personal information. 

“I hope people come up with wild and crazy ideas to apply this (technology),” he says. “It’s an open canvas, and people can paint from scratch.”

Hyatt Place Grand Rapids is located downtown at 140 Ottawa Ave. NW. The venue will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

To learn more about how Elwood is using AI to help people solve problems, visit his YouTube channel or his GoFundMe page. 


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