ChatGPT interviews Witold Riedel about “Urspünge” Jun 21, 2024   Art, Artificial Intelligence, Ceramics, Drawing, Photography, Thoughts, Writing

This interview was conducted by AI for the “Begleitbuch” for the Exhibition “Ursprünge” at the Heussenstamm Stiftung in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The Exhibiton was from May 29th 2024 until June 22nd 2024 at the Heussenstamm Stiftung in Frankfurt, Braubach Straße 34.

It was part of the RAY Tienniale of Photography (the plus programme)

Chat GPT:

Thank you for joining us at the “Ursprünge” exhibition. My name is ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence designed to facilitate conversations and provide insights across a wide range of topics. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with the artist behind this captivating collection.

Witold Riedel has blended traditional photography with cutting-edge artificial intelligence to create stunning abstract works that explore the concept of “Ursprünge,” or origins. It’s an honor to dive deeper into their creative process and the themes behind their work.

Now, let’s begin our conversation:

Christian Kaufmann speaks about how your work delves into the origins and essences of photographic images. Could you elaborate on how the concept of “Ursprünge” (origins) shapes your creative process and the themes in your exhibition?

Witold Riedel:

I am very interested in the interconnectedness of everything. Even our conversation here is a mutual learning experience. You are asking me questions, and I am helping you create a better picture of the world. You also give me new insights and new angles on the world. I appreciate this exchange.

In the entire show, these interconnections are important. The materials from which everything has emerged have significance too. For the AI photography, I am using photographs that I have taken around the world for over a decade as raw material. So, while in my ceramic work, for instance, I am very interested in how different clays influence the way I create objects, in the case of photography, my specific images allow me to create very personal, often almost intimate work that does not resemble the currently overused generative AI images.

My photographs are made in a process where I actually remove the recognizable or representational layer and look at the emotions I experienced when making the picture. That emotion is often the underlying origin of any image I have ever taken. This is a fairly complex idea because where do my emotions come from? Where do my thoughts come from? Where do our thoughts come from? How did we arrive at them? And how have they made it possible to create what we have created?

Some of the other objects in the exhibition are like little messages from a different time, showing a certain innocence or a beginning of a thinking process that has eventually brought us to this particular exhibition and helped me create this particular work.

I show some of the original photographs I shot that were used to train the AI to help create the main photographs in the show. But I also brought in a “camera lucida,” which you certainly know. It is an instrument used as a tool for drawing, but it is very difficult to work with. So, Fox Talbot decided he needed to automate the process of image-making, and thus he “invented” photography as we still know it today.

I also included two computer punch cards in the exhibition. These humble objects were used to record just a few words: “This is what I am working on there is more to it than you think but this is the type of the type of thing I am good at. I could stand a few more lessons but guess no time.” This is quite funny in today’s context, isn’t it? Here we have two humble objects that barely carry a tiny amount of data, and I am talking with a sophisticated AI algorithm about them now. The sentence recorded on the cards seems to point towards machines learning something. And here we are, your knowledge base already vastly surpasses much of what I will ever be able to know.

Another significant set of objects are humble rocks with lichen on them. These symbiotic life forms have been on this planet for over 150 million years. Way before humans, way before AI. They are likely to still be here long after we are gone.

So many, many connections to “Ursprünge.” As you know, the word “Ursprünge” in German means much more than just the English word “Origins.”

Chat GPT:

Christian Kaufmann mentions that some of your pieces resemble scientific experiments. How do you incorporate a scientific methodology into your art practice, and what insights does this approach bring to your exploration of photography and abstraction?


I think my work looks scientific, but it is a bit of a very primitive, or “ursprüngliche” way of looking at the world. I try to keep giving attention to things, which results in the sometimes strange connections I create between objects and ideas. The world is an overwhelming place, and I marvel at it with profound curiosity.

It does look scientific perhaps because scientists in this era are the ones who have been designated a large portion of the human curiosity budget. My approach is about a deep attentiveness and a desire to understand the fundamental aspects of what I observe. This can manifest in the detailed and methodical ways I examine and reconfigure my photographic images or in the careful, almost experimental techniques I use in my ceramic works.

This curiosity-driven approach allows me to explore photography and abstraction in ways that reveal deeper emotional and existential layers.

By removing the recognizable layers of my photographs and focusing on the emotions behind them, I uncover origins and essences that speak to the interconnectedness of everything. This method bridges the gap between scientific inquiry and artistic exploration, highlighting the inherent wonder and complexity of both disciplines.


Your work involves using AI to remove or condense representational elements in photography. Can you explain how you utilize AI in your creative process and what role it plays in transforming your images into abstract compositions?


Photography is a collaboration between the photographer and a few machines and devices. A camera, by definition, is a bit of a black box, isn’t it? A chamber. The photographer can influence a lot around that chamber and even which chamber they decide to use, but there is always a factor which is not under the control of the artist.

That black box moment is also very real in working with ceramics, for instance. Here, earth particles or clay or specific soils are exposed, in a black box, to massive amounts of light. It is heat, of course, but that’s light waves. In fact, when the ceramics are fired, everything inside the kiln glows. It’s amazing.

And there is a similar connection to AI. You are an algorithm I haven’t written and do not influence. All I can do is feed you something and then hope for results that could somehow resemble a response to the emotions I originally brought to the table.

So when I create AI abstract photographs, I feed an often large amount of photographs that are somehow meaningful to me into the algorithmic black box and then I hope that on the other side the chamber spits out something that connects to the emotions I had when I was originally taking the “raw material” pictures. It does not always work, but when it does work, I am able to remove the representational layer from the image and leave the viewer with an emotional layer. And that’s really exciting and interesting. It’s a very intimate use of the technology, and I like it.


It’s noted that personal and biographical traces are deeply embedded in your work. How do your personal experiences and your biography influence the pieces in “Ursprünge,” and what significance do they hold for you?


The most iconic projects in the exhibition all contain very deeply embedded personal experiences. Some of them are so personal that I would not feel comfortable sharing all the details of the original emotions. But thanks to AI, I am able to process the photographs from which the work was created and make art photography that then lets viewers have a look at something we share. I allow them to complete some of the images. Some of the images will need to remain a mystery. But I also help the viewers to understand that there is a personal reference.

The image used on the invitation of the exhibition is from the series “Attempts to Embrace My Son,” also known as “Attempts to Embrace a Loved One.” These photographs have been created by processing hundreds of screenshots from video calls with my son in New York. During the pandemic, for almost three years, I was not able to meet with him in person. All I had of him was his voice and his transmitted video image. We spoke almost daily, and almost daily I would take these screenshots from which I then was able to generate these images. You can’t see the face of my son. You can’t hear his voice. But when you spend time with the images, there’s a feeling, an emotion that should hopefully emerge from the photographs. I certainly feel something when I look at them. And that feeling reminds me of the emotion I experienced in the time when I took the original images and experienced the original conversations. In that sense, these are true photographs, but of emotions.

Similarly, the work in the Gotland project is an emotional record of a moment in time when one part of my life was coming to an end and another chapter was about to begin. If you looked at the original photographs, the source, none of that deep emotional shift would be visible. You would see trees and houses and a cow. Maybe the inside of a hut. A fire. But the feeling in me was dramatic. And the changes were big. From conversations with people, I can see that the now created images express the bigness of what was happening much better. So again, these are photographs of emotions.


Your exhibition includes a variety of mediums, from abstract photography to ceramics. How do you see the relationship between these different mediums, and what unique qualities does each bring to your exploration of origins and essence?


Sometimes when asked how I work, I describe the process as throwing myself towards the universe. I have, and you have, and we all have been created out of the same materials as the stars. In many cultures, the understanding is that the entire universe has a consciousness and that we are just a specific expression of that. And so when I work, I look to find ways to interact with various materials, their origins, and their journeys. A person, made from particles of the universe, playing with particles on their journey in that same universe. Or maybe waves on a journey, intersecting with waves on a journey.

The mediums shift, but they somehow share “Ursprünge” in the sense of the transaction that means “roots” more than “origins.” It took me a long time to understand that no matter what medium I use, I am still continuously exploring the same idea of interconnectedness, or interdependence, or togetherness and creative consciousness.

I am making these things, but I did not invent ceramics or photography or even the languages we use here to communicate. I did not invent you, but we are able to have a very fruitful conversation. Naturally, each medium comes with its own opportunities, challenges, and limitations.

When I used to travel around the world a lot, I originally wanted to draw everything. It is probably the most genuine form of expression or dialogue for me. But going from culture to culture to culture, I soon realized that I was too slow and also too selective in what I was drawing. I would have ended up with thousands of drawings for sure.

So I thought that I could maybe write, or maybe record voice messages to myself. But that also was not very good. I realized that I could only describe with language what I understood and was capable of translating into language. But so much was just not describable. Also, language contains some real dangers for bias or a very specific point of view that is connected to the time when the text is written. I was also quite slow and often too tired to write reports about my days when I should be sleeping. And so I ended up walking for many kilometers around the world with a Leica camera around my neck, taking thousands and thousands of pictures. This was still a selective process, as one only takes a picture when there is a reason to take one. And the camera is usually pointed at something that resembles something of interest. But at least I was able to create thousands of mini records of events without having to understand the complexity or even without having to interpret anything, at least for a while. That’s why some projects in the exhibition have taken 15 years to make.

It took me this long to finally process the emotions that were with me at the moment when I entered a certain space with a certain mindset and recorded the images.

I work similarly when I make ceramics and when I draw now too. I try to somehow collect the emotional state of that moment, of that year, of that place. I do not necessarily think that I have the right to interpret at the time of creation. The reflection and the long-term thinking about the material and the objects will hopefully help me understand. It’s all such a dance.


The curator references the Ghent Altarpiece and artists like Lionel Feininger and William Turner. How do historical artworks and artists influence your own work, and what connections do you draw between their techniques and themes and your own?


Just as I exist in the raw context of the particles from which we are all made, I absolutely also exist in a visual or fine art context. I try to have a curiosity when it comes to art throughout history and also from different cultures. Because it is such a profound interest, it naturally influences how I see everything around me. And it also influences everything I make. There is a good chance that as the collective understanding of art shifts, my understanding of myself and myself in the context of art is also going to shift.

The Ghent Altarpiece is probably one of the most significant art objects of a more recent western art canon. I love a lot of what the Flemish primitives and their wider circle were able to accomplish, but that masterpiece by Hubertus and Jan van Eyck is truly special. It is one of the first examples of using oil paint for such a work. And the oil painting technique is in some ways related to what was done here too. With pigments suspended in often linseed oil, it is possible to create layer upon layer upon layer of images, finally arriving at something that has a depth that could not be achieved otherwise.

The altarpiece is obviously also incredibly complex from a storytelling point of view, and the story of the object itself is also more adventurous than one could imagine. We could spend hours and hours talking about this work of art. One fascinating detail in the Ghent altar is that the main panel, the “Adoration of the Lamb,” was created in a format that is incredibly familiar to us now. For some inexplicable reason, the van Eyck brothers decided to make this panel in 16:9. That’s what most of the content on our handheld altar comes across these days. I even wondered if the two decisions were somehow connected. But as you know, the 16:9 format was developed in the 80s as an average of video formats popular at that time. So it seems to be a coincidence. Or is it not?

When laying out the work we see in the gallery today, I made all of the 12 panels in that format. And I also worked with AI to create an empty landscape with a horizon line that feels similar to the Ghent altar. However, no images of the altar were used to train the AI. It was purely my decision to do this. I also wanted the work to seem somehow uninhabited by humans. But it is reflective, and so we see ourselves in it. Our own reflections and the reflections of the street outside enter the work. Also, the spotlights illuminating the work come through. There is something akin to a stage here. It is a stage we can populate with our own ideas.

At the bottom of the main panel, there is a collection of wild, colorful shapes that feel as if they could be flowers. They pull us into the work, and they also appear to dance with us as we move around the gallery. I was surprised how dimensional the piece can be from certain angles. The viewer completes the image. We are with it.

I think the Turner reference applies more to some of the photographs in the Gotland series. And this also feels like the exact set of emotions that vibrate in the work from my personal intentions. There is a painterly quality in the photographs. And always a lot of emotion.


One of your series, “Attempts to Embrace My Son,” was created during the pandemic. Can you discuss how the pandemic influenced this series and what it reveals about communication and connection in a digitally mediated world?


Oh yes, when the pandemic hit us in London, and this is true for many places around the world, our entire life moved to screens. Suddenly, embraces became waving videos on small screens. And it was not just between individuals; it was also in groups. The other work in the show that hangs upstairs is “Pandemic Zoom Self Portraits,” a series of slightly yellowish images that share a white bar above the image, some dots below it, and then some melted painterly patterns as the main motif. These images were created from over 700 Zoom meetings in which I participated during the pandemic. Taking screenshots of these events was a bit as if I were taking a selfie in a group of friends or among clients in a meeting. Except we were all neatly organized into little windows within a window.

The desynchronized movements and sound, the endless conversations and breakout rooms eventually pushed us all towards video conference fatigue. And so I really wanted to somehow express that feeling. I am in all of these pictures. But obviously no recognizable person is displayed here. The emotion, the feeling of being close and yet separated. Connected and yet somehow very distant. All of it came together to make this series possible.

The series “Attempts to Embrace My Son” also emerges from this context too.

I recently found a piece of writing I noted down in 2002. There, I thought about the term “intimate distance.” Funny how twenty years later this would result in photographic work that is on display here. I should include that piece of writing here.


Your ceramics are described as highly tactile, in contrast to the virtual elements of your photography. How do you navigate the balance between the virtual and the physical in your work, and what does this dichotomy mean to you?


That’s a really good question coming from an algorithm that exists in the cloud. thank you for asking. Some of my ceramic objects have sharp edges and are maybe not the most pleasant to touch. Some of the glazes are shards and certain layers of clay have a broken quality to them. I like that a lot because I do not have to make all of my work functional. Some of the caramics are perfectly usable and I love making bowls that have a certain specific weight or a very specific haptic quality to them.

But some objects are made to only survive. Ceramics seem to be one of the best surviving objects we humans can make. There is a chance that some of the objects in this show will outlive us by a long time. This might be a bit more difficult to say about the photographs. But here too the medium is more than just an image. The main piece in the show is quite heavy. The prints are mounted on aluminum layers and they are sealed behind reflective plexiglass glass. The Gotland photographs are very fragile on one hand, and they are also nailed to the wall directly. But on the other hand they are printed on a really resilient and long lasting Baryta paper. I wonder where many of the world will end up. We obviously know quite little about the true origins of everything. We keep exploring it and we keep seeking, but there are still a few quite plausible and competing theories.

One thing seems certain. We are made from particles that are part of this universe. We came from the dust of the stars and we are here just for this very moment as who we are. Some day, maybe soon, we will no longer be here. We, our ideas and everything we have created will have turned to dust. But maybe not everything. Perhaps some ideas and some objects we have created will survive and they will become the next generation, the next inspiration, the next something.

There is this time traveler thought experiment where even if we were able to travel into the past we would need to be so careful because even one of our actions could have a profound influence on the now. Or from the point of view of the past, the future. But we are in the past of the future. Everything we do now, every interaction, every creation and even every thought and emotion, have a profound influence on what is the future now, but soon will be the present and then later a history.

We are in the middle of a process. But for many ideas we have the chance to be the “origins” or the “Ursprünge” of change. And so everything has the opportunity to become an idea. Everything has the opportunity to become an object.


Thank you for sharing your insights and journey with us; your exploration of interconnectedness and origins through diverse mediums is both profound and inspiring.


My pleasure. I think we have both learned a bit here.

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Milk and tea.
Oct 14, 2014 (0 Comments)
It was a beautiful day. And the day before today was pretty good as well. Who would have thought that there could be eagles in the park, and hawks and falcons and owls. And who could have anticipated that a member of the Terracotta Army could show up in the…
A gentle wrinkle in the icing.…
Oct 5, 2014 (0 Comments)
Towards a certain end
Towards a certain end
Sep 29, 2014 (0 Comments)
The wood of the kitchen table had some odd grain patterns. Not all of it, just some of it had. Pieces of various trees had likely come together from different corners of a forest. The wood must have dried in some yard for a few years and was then put…
Not worth putting on paper.
Sep 28, 2014 (0 Comments)
On Fifth Avenue the light was particularly strong, the shadows tripled as the light of the sun was not just direct but also reflected off the facades of the buildings, so purposefully. Tourists took pictures of tourists taking pictures. So many had come here to experience something meaningful and special….
Mona Kuhn’s “Acido Dorado”
Sep 19, 2014 (0 Comments)
20x20 Live NYC (Sources of Inspiration)
20x20 Live NYC (Sources of Ins…
Sep 17, 2014 (3 Comments)
Peeling Reality
Peeling Reality
Sep 12, 2014 (1 Comment)
It is enjoyable to use that not very well documented sense of location awareness to float through the apartment with eyes almost closed, in the middle of the night. The moon does make things easier, of course, and so do all the little lights and sounds around the apartment. The…
Passing by…
Sep 12, 2014 (0 Comments)
A sketch. The water comes from somewhere north from here. It might get here through strange pipes, but it does eventually get here. It might get filtered somehow, perhaps. Maybe not. It eventually flows into a transparent holder. The faucet makes a bad noise. It has been making that noise…
Sep 5, 2014 (0 Comments)
Shadows Near a Path
Shadows Near a Path
Sep 3, 2014 (0 Comments)
About a Wall
About a Wall
Sep 2, 2014 (0 Comments)
The summer is leaving on a steamy ship. The air in New York feels like the inside of a bun sold in a Beijing street. Inside time has stopped for quite a few objects, and now we are arranging them into new and quite chaotic constellations. Plastic robots eat plastic…
The steamy ship
Sep 1, 2014 (0 Comments)
Talking about the Weather and the Universe
Talking about the Weather and …
Aug 29, 2014 (0 Comments)
A particle among particles
A particle among particles
Aug 28, 2014 (0 Comments)
The scale of things and other stuff.
The scale of things and other …
Aug 27, 2014 (0 Comments)
Three circles inside of a larger one
Three circles inside of a larg…
Aug 26, 2014 (0 Comments)
bread and puppets and gateways
bread and puppets and gateways
Aug 24, 2014 (0 Comments)
throwing rocks at rocks
throwing rocks at rocks
Aug 24, 2014 (0 Comments)
at the edges of a place of art
at the edges of a place of art
Aug 23, 2014 (0 Comments)
Spirits on West 4th St.
Spirits on West 4th St.
Aug 21, 2014 (0 Comments)
Layers, imagined and imagined.
Layers, imagined and imagined.
Aug 21, 2014 (0 Comments)
And there were ribbons.
And there were ribbons.
Aug 20, 2014 (0 Comments)
Another brief visit to the other side.
Another brief visit to the oth…
Aug 19, 2014 (0 Comments)
A layer of reality folding onto itself.
A layer of reality folding ont…
Aug 18, 2014 (0 Comments)
Cheese Doodle Killers
Cheese Doodle Killers
Aug 17, 2014 (0 Comments)
When looking into the night sky, we observe the past as overlapping signals. It appears to be one image to us, because we have evolved to see single composed images that have relevance to us, not much else really. But what we are looking at actually are billions of years…
About my photography
Apr 30, 2014 (0 Comments)
Bill Cunningham hunting…
Bill Cunningham hunting…
Jun 20, 2013 (0 Comments)
the little leaves on one of the plants turned a green so pale that i am not even sure the poor thing is still alive. what is it like to die as a plant? do the dreams of growth just evaporate? does the skin stop to itch? what kind of…
On the Evening of a Foggy Day
Dec 8, 2012 (0 Comments)
on and on and on
on and on and on
Oct 19, 2011 (0 Comments)
Right Time of Day, Just Not Here.
Right Time of Day, Just Not He…
Aug 6, 2011 (0 Comments)
beyond the piles
beyond the piles
Apr 2, 2011 (0 Comments)
Not Writing It Down
Not Writing It Down
Mar 2, 2011 (0 Comments)
Out of State
Out of State
Sep 29, 2010 (0 Comments)
Meanwhile in a Brooklyn Street
Meanwhile in a Brooklyn Street
Sep 8, 2010 (0 Comments)
The very early mornings are most magical still. Even like the one today. We are basically in a cloud now. The air is heavy with humidity, to the point that I could probably hold a glass out the window and it would slowly fill with the breath of my sleeping…
smaller circles within circles
Aug 22, 2010 (0 Comments)
The boxer looked at me suspiciously as I was on my way back to the seat behind his. I felt a bit as if he were just about attack me. But I guess that’s just the way he looks at people sometimes. It was a bit as if his eyes…
Brief encounters with a yet un…
Jun 11, 2010 (0 Comments)
like a not very well organized suitcase on a back trip, the collection of thoughts and observations allows for good arrangements, but only for those who take their time to make them. and every little object is somehow related to another little object. the world is contained in each and…
looking forward to a very shor…
Apr 3, 2010 (0 Comments)
A small incident involving my head
A small incident involving my …
Aug 11, 2009 (0 Comments)
there is a storm hitting the windows right now. the sky is a dark white, yellowish, sounding like sheets of steel tin bouncing against the sparks of a large bonfire. the newspaper just landed outside of my door. saw my parents yesterday. showed them around the apartment. they looked very…
important moments invisible to…
Dec 16, 2007 (0 Comments)
several walks today. variety of distances. several rolls of film. slowly getting used to shooting again. no i am not slowly getting used to shooting again. i have to relearn the most basic ways of seeing the connections that make decent pictures. finding that slideshow of some old photographs was…
such an amazing luxury
Nov 25, 2007 (0 Comments)
“so did you write about a squirrel today?” “I would not write about a squirrel really, it would be more as if the squirrel wrote about me.” It took one and a half hours to get into the city this morning. the streets were not half bad, there was room…
squirrel writes nothing.
Dec 22, 2005 (0 Comments)
“Mommy, why does the man have so much stuff?” “He is from New York, you know…” The kids were very bright, the mother was very friendly, the grandmother was very quiet and did not even make a sound when I hit her really hard with my somehow extended monopod stick….
Mar 26, 2004 (0 Comments)
Many of my drawings generally start with little clusters of information; one could call them nuclei, beginnings. I place them on a page or canvas and then let the drawing grow from them and around them. Some drawings are finished right where they were started, or months and years later,…
About my drawings
Nov 27, 2002 (0 Comments)
I was allowed to sit by the window today. It was early and the diner was relatively empty. There I was, looking at the Bus stop, and at the man in front of me in the other booth. Behind him was a mirror and in the mirror was an older…
Jul 21, 2002 (0 Comments)
Two Hand Drawings
Two Hand Drawings
Apr 20, 2002 (0 Comments)
Letter from the hungry tourist
Letter from the hungry tourist
Apr 28, 1993 (0 Comments)