Fear of water and the unknown, and the desire to increase our understanding of nature, prompted multidisciplinary designer Kurina Sohn to create Deepest Unknown. In the project, Sohn uses machine learning as a tool to offer viewers a hyperdimensional view of our oceans. We sought out the designer and talked about her project, development and findings.
Kurina Sohn is a multidisciplinary designer, co-founder of NeeNee Collective and has taught Crossmedia Design at AKI ArtEZ. She is involved in residencies, grants and international exhibitions at the Nieuwe Instituut, among others. In 2022, Sohn received a grant for her project Deepest Unknown from the Creative Industries Fund NL’s Design Grant Scheme. With her fascination for exploring realms, life forms, and narratives that transcend the ordinary, she wanted to push the boundaries of what we mean by ‘nature’. Sohn does this by creating a fictional story from the perspective of artificial intelligence (AI). She explains: ‘People experience nature through their senses, media and curated spaces such as an aquarium, museum or taxidermy. AI “experiences” nature in different ways because it is driven by input from a variety of people and from programmed algorithms. By examining these differences in perception, we can speculate on how AI sees the deep sea’.
The first version of Deepest Unknown was exhibited from April to August 2023 at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium, during the exhibition Water Expeditions. In this group exhibition, a new crop of designers and architects showed refreshing insights into our interactions with water. Sohn’s installation engaged the audience through graphic videos and deep-sea soundscapes. In the video, a creature could be seen that was created using modified Stable Diffusion AI, which incorporated a deep-sea dataset and images of marine debris. The video told a story based on a dialogue between humans and GPT-2. The exhibition space included a chair designed by DALL:E2 AI as it might look in a world without gravity, and a diagram illustrating how we as humans experience nature. This set-up encouraged visitors to think about our relationship with the natural world.
The second version of the project was presented for one evening on 14 July 2023 during Tryday: Winter-session 2023 at V2_Lab for Unstable Media in Rotterdam. At this stage, the project had been developed into a 360-degree VR film experience showing a digitized deep-sea landscape populated by AI-generated creatures. The soundscape was inspired by sound propagation in deep water, merging AI-generated sound samples and hydrophone field data from MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The film script, created with ChatGPT, was read by an AI voice. Screens showed the perspectives of two users moving simultaneously through the same waterscape.
Through this project, I have grown as a person and a professional.
The installations provide a poetic take on themes related to environmental issues, such as deep-sea mining, plastics and lack of research into deep-sea ecology. The subsidy from the Design Grant Scheme enabled Sohn to train the AI with images of deep-sea animals and ocean plastics, depicting life beyond the limits of biological constraints. ‘The AI is still a human perspective, but thanks to this research, it creates its own vision as an imaginative, speculative creature’.
For Deepest Unknown, Sohn collaborated with many different people associated with science museums and research institutes, among others. This allowed the project to take its own shape. She also learned many new terms that have enriched her work. ‘By working on this project, I have grown as a person and a professional’, says Sohn.
It is estimated that the exhibitions at Z33 and V2 together attracted more than 14,000 visitors. Online, the reach is estimated at nearly 24,000 people. The work was also part of the online archive of the Interior Ecologies international conference, organized by MAIA, Master of Arts in Interior Architecture in Geneva, and the Institute for Postnatural Studies in Madrid. As a result, the project created space for dialogue and awareness about the global ecological crisis affecting places beyond our reach. The research for Deepest Unknown continues. Sohn is aiming for the project to be seen in more locations in the coming time.
Video: Robbie van Zoggel