In Bloom: Tulipmania and AI in Gordon Cheung's Art

August 16, 2023

"AI Tulipmania 1" and "AI Tulipmania 2" offer parallels between historical events and technological advancements. Let's explore them.

Art is a medium through which humanity reflects upon its past, present, and future. Gordon Cheung utilised AI in his creation of two imaginary Dutch Golden Age tulip artworks, which were part of an Arcual community giveaway during Art Basel.  "AI Tulipmania 1" and "AI Tulipmania 2" offer interesting parallels between historical events and technological advancements:

Tulipmania and Modern Capitalism

The Dutch Golden Age witnessed the rise of Modern Capitalism, and its Tulipmania serves as an illustration of the speculative excesses that can accompany economic innovation. During this period, tulips, initially introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire, captivated the Dutch market. Prices for tulip bulbs skyrocketed to astonishing levels, with some bulbs trading for prices equivalent to luxury houses. However, this speculative bubble eventually burst, leaving economic ruin in its wake. Tulipmania is a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of unchecked speculative fervour, which serves as a historical precursor to modern economic bubbles.

AI and the Technological Revolution

Today we are witnessing a technological revolution driven by artificial intelligence. AI has the power to transform industries, enhance efficiency, and revolutionise the way we interact with the world. However, like the speculative tulip market, the rapid advancement of AI also presents risks and uncertainties. AI makes us ask questions about the loss of human control over increasingly sophisticated machines. The allure of quick wealth which fuelled Tulipmania, can also be tied to the allure of AI's promise today, to overhyped expectations, and to unforeseen consequences.

Intersecting Realities: Nature and Artificiality

Gordon Cheung's artworks blur the boundaries between reality and artificiality, inviting viewers to meditate upon the intersection of nature and technology. The tulips created through AI are a fusion of historical motifs and computational processes. This juxtaposition raises questions about our changing relationship with the natural world. As technology evolves, we find ourselves oscillating between admiration for AI's creative capabilities, yet simultaneously yearning for the authenticity of natural beauty. 

Reflections on Past, Present, and Future

By intertwining the historic narrative of Tulipmania with the contemporary context of AI, Cheung's work encourages us to contemplate the cyclical nature of human behaviour. The speculative excesses of the past echo in our current fascination with AI and its transformative potential. As viewers, we are prompted to ask whether we have learned from history, or are merely doomed to repeat it.

Gordon Cheung's "AI Tulipmania" artworks constitute a thought-provoking exploration of the parallels between historical events and technological advancements. The link between the Dutch Golden Age's Tulipmania and the AI revolution happening now highlights the ongoing human fascination with innovation, and the associated risks of speculative excesses. As we navigate the uncharted waters of AI's potential, it is crucial to heed the lessons of history and engage in thoughtful discourse, to ensure that we harness these technological advancements responsibly. Cheung's artwork challenges us to reflect not only on the past and present but also on the future of our human condition in a world increasingly shaped by technology.

Stay tuned for more from the Arcual Blog.

Learn what a typical day in the studio looks like for Gordon, in his Studio Secrets interview.

Image Credit: Gordon Cheung, ‘AI Tulipmania 2’, 2023