Bård Ionson’s work is an uncommon collaboration between man and machine, with an output beyond the power of either alone. Here, the machine isn’t being used just as a tool for creation. Nor is it being used as a mere processing center for Ionson’s vision. Ionson, a pioneer of both crypto and generative art, uses his GAN-algorithms to help flesh out small universes across multiple mediums. The resulting multimedia experiments, spanning image and written word, are but a strange, ultra-expressive tango capitalizing on what AIs do best —generate— and what humans do: imagine.
Nowhere is this tandem output better demonstrated than in Ionson’s Sage Anomaly saga, a fascinating and—to-my-knowledge— unprecedented union of generative artwork with traditional storytelling, the most ancient and most modern of art forms working in lockstep. Sage Anomaly is essentially a story, a truly engrossing tale involving aliens, radar technology, degenerative Alzheimer’s, and a mystery spanning decades. But Ionson uses his AI to bestow the narrative with life: He compiles and mints a series of generative images pulled from the text itself, acting as physical representations of the proceedings there. Some are bizarre symbols beamed down from space. Some are representations of an alien entity itself, as in Representation of the Entity v. 4, housed in the Museum of Crypto Art’s Genesis Collection. The multimedia chronicle plays out across Ionson’s website, across SuperRare and Async Blueprints. This entirely novel process doesn’t just demonstrate Ionson’s interest in various expressive techniques, but demonstrates an uncommon ability to reach across the breadth of artistic mediums and link them together.
To focus solely on Sage Anomaly, however, is to diminish the scope of Ionson’s achievements. This is an OG crypto artist, after all, one who first minted on the Blockchain in 2018, and so in his oeuvre is an impressive catalogue of cultural touchstones. With a singular algorithmic style —one which favors cohesion of color over cohesion of form, in which edges blend. Objects meld together, but subjects always remain strangely recognizable— Ionson has crafted both political artwork and the crypto-specific. He’s explored color, shape, organics, and more hard-boiled abstractions, all while including a cavalcade of recognizable symbols and signifiers of the moment.
But rarely does Ionson neglect his interest in, shall we say, ascended subjects. He points his eye again and again towards fighter pilots, aliens, rockets, always seeking something higher. Now, it seems he has turned his attention to an even more unknowable landscape than outer space: that of the human soul. Ionson’s latest project is a “soul-saving” prayer generator pulled directly from the pages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Though the project is still in-development, it again demonstrates Ionson’s inventive juxtaposition of artistic techniques. There is no source he won’t borrow from, no idea he won’t follow deep into a rabbit hole, no subject too imposing for him to explore.
Is every experiment successful? Of course not. But the successes are monumental enough to overwhelm everything else. And besides, in crypto art, it’s the spirit which matters most. Bård Ionson has been honing his artwork over these years, and his spirit remains sharp as ever. It’s that selfsame spirit which Ionson is, right now I’m sure, working to better understand.