Celebrities Kissing Themselves shows us just what AI and celebrity have in common – imperfection

On the surface, Bård Edlund’s series is an indictment of the cult of personality, but it is actually a showcasing of the standoff between the artist and the machine.

23 April 2024


Bård Edlund was seen as ‘the kid who could draw’ while growing up in his hometown in Oslo. He found himself immersed in the comics and cartoons and rather assertively taking special notice of logos, before getting into computer graphics and heading down the digital path. “I eventually realised that a lot of what I was passionate about fell under umbrella terms like ‘graphic design’ or ‘illustration’ and I decided I should go to school for something like that,” he tells us. He soon relocated to the United States, because he figured “that’s where computer graphics came from”. After serendipitously finding a friend online from Baltimore and gaining some advice, he got a place at the Maryland Institute College of Art to study illustration, before beginning a career in graphic design – chiefly in web design on CNN’s financial news website. “It became more and more restrictive and dominated by engineers and A/B tests and I was built for more free forms of expression, like illustration and animation,” he adds.

A true lover of craft and creativity, since quitting his job and starting his own studio in 2012 Bård has stayed on the pulse of developments in the industry. This, of course, includes a reckoning with the onslaught of AI. “I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of impact AI will have on visual culture and the people involved in creating it,” he shares. His concerns aren’t alien; many creatives share similar sentiments, a general fear of what’s to come, and Bård decided that the best way to remedy that was to experiment with it. As such, the artist started working on a project to generate beauty pageant contestants from different countries. During the process, he realised that the models looked like “very poorly produced porcelain, or like these globby, melting figures” and thought it would be interesting to have the figures melting into each other.


Bård Edlund / EdlundArt: Celebrities Kissing Themselves (Copyright © Bård Edlund / EdlundArt, 2024)

Throughout Celebrities Kissing Themselves, Trump, Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Elon Musk to name a few, can be seen doing just that, kissing themselves or their doppelgängers. It’s a perfect metaphor. Could it be the cult of personality gone wrong? The self-obsession or narcissism of celebrity? The echochamber of the elite? Yes, it’s about all of these things. But Bård also chose these figures because of the ease of portraying their likeness, which allows us to see the failures of AI more clearly. Using the Genie tool by Luma Labs – which generates 3D models from text prompts – he found inspiration in the fact that it didn’t work very well. “It often failed in interesting ways, that I can then highlight by applying a sheen to the models along with intense ‘product lighting’ in Blender. I was able to emphasise rather than hide the flaws,” he shares. Next, he opted to rotate them under these lights, borrowing many of his visual cues and overall language from car commercials.

Usually when working on his design and animation projects, Bård finds that he can be a bit of a perfectionist. “My natural inclination is to tightly control every aspect of composition,” he tells us, which can be conflicting when working commercially to a deadline. But for this project, he found that it was all corner cutting, which helped him to give up control. He likens himself to that of a curator in this process, an exemplifier of the gaps between “man and machine” before saying that the difference between this work and his practice “is like the difference between being a traditional musician and a DJ”.

After completing the project and seeing the portraits assembled, Bård has come to the conclusion that if we have to live in a world with AI, he’d prefer it were flawed. “I think only artists can find uses for these tools that reject perfect simulations or perfect copies,” he tells us, “because that’s just stealing from other artists anyway”. He’s more keen on us using the tool to aid us in subverting or diverting the current visual languages that we create with, but doesn’t believe it has the capability to do anything without our say so. “I don’t want to convince anyone that these are perfect humans, I want to show that they are flawed objects, the results of a wayward process,” he shares. Now that’s the metaphor.

GalleryBård Edlund / EdlundArt: Celebrities Kissing Themselves (Copyright © Bård Edlund / EdlundArt, 2024)

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Bård Edlund / EdlundArt: Celebrities Kissing Themselves (Copyright © Bård Edlund / EdlundArt, 2024)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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