alignDRAW ― A Research Project's Journey to Artistic Triumph
2023 has been a great year for me (knock on wood). A standout moment (perhaps once in a lifetime) was the alignDRAW project making its way into the art history books. Initially, alignDRAW aimed to explore text-to-image generation, focusing on whether an AI model could generate images based on captions. At that time, captioning was gaining popularity, and given my experience generating images (albeit in the context of predicting future video frames given the past frames), I decided to give text-to-image generation with AI a try.
alignDRAW was not only accepted as an oral paper at ICLR 2016 but also accumulated hundreds of citations. Most importantly, it served its purpose in helping me get into the PhD program at NYU.
For many years, the project didn’t attract much attention beyond academic citations. That is until 2021/2022 when DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion began to go mainstream. People started delving into the history of such text-to-image AI systems, and a reporter from Vox Joss Fong reached out to me for a short interview about alignDRAW.
In my opinion, that video from Vox marked a pivotal moment, as alignDRAW suddenly extended its reach beyond AI scientists to a wider audience. Then, on a late April 2023 evening, I received a curious Twitter DM from Alejandro Cartagena of the Fellowship group. For context, Fellowship is a collective of artists and collectors that, in my opinion, is at the forefront of exploring the intersection of photography and AI within the art world.
Alejandro proposed transforming the generated images from the alignDRAW paper into art pieces on the blockchain and prints. He aimed to leverage Fellowship’s network to showcase these pieces to collectors and NFT/art enthusiasts, breathing new life into these once AI generated images from text back from 2015.
Alejandro Cartagena’s very first DM to me pitching the idea of turning alignDRAW images into NFTs and physical prints.
What followed was a fantastic journey, marked by physical displays at Paris Photo, Verse, and engaging interviews with the head of Christie’s photography, culminating in a successful auction and sell-out on the blockchain. I am documenting these moments in this blog post for future reflection and remembrance.
alignDRAW: Entering the Archives of Art History (A Timeline) #
Very first (from my memory) announcement of alignDRAW coming to the art form as part of the Fellowship group:
One of the first-ever AI text-to-image collections from 2015 is coming soon to @fellowshiptrust. A beautiful project by @elmanmansimov that, like early photography of the 19th century, contained the promise of a new picture-making tool. Pictured here is the prompt:— alejandro cartagena (@halecar2) October 25, 2023
"A group of… pic.twitter.com/U74TFyLKSS
Announcement of alignDRAW art works presented at Paris Photo, the largest photography fair:
"alignDRAW" by @elmanmansimov is coming with us to the @ParisPhotoFair!— Fellowship (@fellowshiptrust) November 6, 2023
The "alignDRAW" collection showcases the first-ever text-to-image artworks using AI technology. pic.twitter.com/iEfX5RmFpZ
alignDRAW at Paris Photo, featuring large prints from process prompts:
👀 almost ready @ParisPhotoFair pic.twitter.com/yIOUmKtwxU— alejandro cartagena (@halecar2) November 6, 2023
Head of Photography at Christie’s Darius Himes praising alignDRAW work and interviewing Alejandro Cartagena about it:
Head of Photography at Christie's @dariushimes talks with our co-founder @halecar2 about one collection exhibited at our booth: "alignDRAW" by computer scientist @elmanmansimov.— Fellowship (@fellowshiptrust) November 8, 2023
This collection of 101 pieces of 32 pixels square represents the birth of Al-generated images from… pic.twitter.com/Dh3eMwNFiQ
Announcement that several alignDRAW pieces, specifically the paper prompts, have been acquired by a famous American museum.
We are delighted to announce that several pieces from @elmanmansimov´s alignDRAW project have been acquired by an American Museum. Our mission is to connect digital art to institutions looking to expand their collections by embracing new technologies like AI. Congratulations to… pic.twitter.com/F7sW7WQ4jk— Fellowship (@fellowshiptrust) November 9, 2023
Showcasing Roope Rainisto’s generated images inspired by alignDRAW prompts and my work organized by Verse in London:
Roope Rainisto & Elman Mansimov | Fellowship ↓ pic.twitter.com/7wSWh18KaD— verse (@verse_works) November 29, 2023
pic.twitter.com/yeryQXGT0s— Jamie Gourlay (@jamiegourlay) November 27, 2023
A full house at the showing:
It’s kicking off…! HERE, No.9 Cork Street 🌟 pic.twitter.com/iKNLAEgDbI— hollywrenchxx (@wrenchxx) November 25, 2023
After physical showings, the project entered the digital phase with auctions at Christie’s followed by a larger mint on Fellowship’s website.
A set of 8 images from the favored prompt “A stop sign is flying in blue skies” was auctioned off at Christie’s, fetching a top bid of 15 ETH, starting from 5 ETH. I had the opportunity to speak with the auction winner, who was very happy about acquiring this set:
And the @ChristiesInc alignDRAW auction is closed!— Elman Mansimov (@elmanmansimov) December 12, 2023
Congrats to the winner of the auction and thanks @fellowshiptrust and @ChristiesInc for organizing it.
I am genuinely blown away! pic.twitter.com/4nzbdBOFTA
Today, Fellowship has two sales for alignDRAW and following successful sale at @ChristiesInc yesterday:— Fred A (@fred_dot_jpg) December 13, 2023
1- [Live now] and finishing in 30mnhttps://t.co/QX5eYchVPU
2- Dutch Auction starting in 1h30mnhttps://t.co/SeITm2NGyz@fellowshiptrust @fellowshipai @elmanmansimov https://t.co/t8kf8g7U3k
Remaining 2,000+ images sold out as a Dutch auction within a few hours, receiving a great response from the NFT community:
I want to big round of applause to the @fellowshiptrust team for executing technical details of the alignDRAW auction amazingly well.— Elman Mansimov (@elmanmansimov) December 13, 2023
Just look at the details of alingDRAW process prompt image cloud. Every little detail from displaying each image piece to showcasing which ones… pic.twitter.com/nZooHs69SP
During the physical showings and digital sales, I wrote two extensive Twitter threads to reflect on the project’s history, delving into alignDRAW’s journey and its impact over the years:
very proud how far my work on text-to-image generation has come.— Elman Mansimov (@elmanmansimov) November 6, 2023
i never expected that a research project will be one day considered a significant historical artifact and the generated images be shown at largest photography fair @ParisPhotoFair
let me give you a backstory:… https://t.co/EYcCaV9RsP pic.twitter.com/EtbdJzwxL8
I have been browsing old photos from 2015 from my time in Toronto.— Elman Mansimov (@elmanmansimov) December 8, 2023
And found the photos of my old desk inside Pratt Building at 6 Kings College Road at University of Toronto. This is the birthplace of the alignDRAW project, where the idea was conceived and brought to fruition.… pic.twitter.com/ThVrPi7Oj8
Through a happy coincidence, my research has turned into historical art that’s now collected by museums and well-known NFT collectors, and recorded on the blockchain (alignDRAW at OpenSea NFT marketplace). The success of alignDRAW makes me excited to try and recreate it with today’s neural net technology and frameworks, just to see what might happen.
alignDRAW serves me as a reminder that the reach of your creations may extend far beyond initial expectations, often in many unexpected ways. While such recognition may not come immediately, the eventual realization is immensely rewarding. Onwards!