Yinka Ilori unveils AI artwork at Frieze London

We caught up with the British-Nigerian designer to talk about his innovative new collaboration with Bombay Sapphire

Art and Design 3 Oct 2019

It’s been a very busy year for Yinka Ilori. The London-born designer, famed for his use of bright colour and textiles, finished a summer of high-profile projects with a cutting-edge commission from Bombay Sapphire, currently on display at this week’s Frieze London art fair.

Born to Nigerian parents in north London, vibrancy is in Ilori’s DNA. ‘From church services to weddings – everything in my culture is very loud and colourful. We don’t really wear black,’ he laughs.

After studying furniture and product design at the London Metropolitan University, Ilori began creating upcycled vintage furniture inspired by Nigerian parables and African prints. Since graduating in 2009, his projects and vision have grown in both scale and ambition.

Earlier this year, Ilori won a prestigious competition to transform a gloomy underpass between Wandsworth Road and Nine Elms Lane with vibrant enamel panels and new lighting. Now fittingly named ‘Happy Street’, the permanent installation was unveiled in July as part of the London Festival of Architecture. On an equally grand scale is the 10m-high ‘The Colour Palace’ pavilion, a temporary exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 20 October. The work fuses the symmetry, curves and right-angles of Sir John Soane’s original 1811 design with Ilori’s memories of ‘buzzing’ Nigerian fabric markets. The designer also took part in the critically acclaimed ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now’ exhibition at Somerset House by transforming the Grade I-listed building’s walls and archways with vibrant colour and graphic print.

Illori’s latest project with Bombay Sapphire explores familiar themes of culture, storytelling and colour, but with a high-tech helping hand. Working with artificial intelligence for the first time, Ilori has produced four large-scale immersive artworks on display at the Bombay Sapphire Frieze lounge. The collaboration comes off the back of the gin distillery’s recent research into Britain’s attitudes towards creativity and tech, and the evolving role of smart technology in art.

AI artwork by Yinka Ilori

Bombay Sapphire commissioned Marco Marchesi, a research engineer in artificial intelligence and mixed reality, to create a ‘bespoke algorithm’ for the project. The AI was ‘fed’ images of new work by Ilori and brand images from Bombay Sapphire, resulting in the unpredictable, kaleidoscopic shapes and patterns that make up the resulting artworks.

‘The more you feed the AI, the more detailed the work is,’ explains Ilori, who calls the work a unique artistic collaboration.‘When you think about it, both evolution and the creative process are ways of colliding things.’ Added Marchesi. ‘Throughout this project we’ve seen the system start to think about what it has seen before – it is essentially dreaming about the artwork.’

Ilori’s work by its very nature is eye-catching and attractive. He predominantly works with functional objects and strong themes of memory and narrative underpin everything he does.

‘The beauty of AI is its ability to generate new content based on its memory of the illustrations, which were fed into the algorithm. There is something quite fascinating about this process as a huge part of my practice involves investigating how existing colour can be used to tell new stories,’ he says.

‘This way of processing and projecting makes me extremely excited for the future and will shape the way I decide to tell my stories and look back on my memories.’