This N.B. artist joined an online movement. Now her art is being shown across the world.

This N.B. artist joined an online movement. Now her art is being shown across the world.

Since joining a community that dreams of an internet free from giant corporations that can exploit users’ time and data, Victoria West’s digital artwork has been exhibited across the globe.

West, a photographer and digital artist based in Burton, 30 kilometres southeast of Fredericton, has had her work shown in Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Townsville in northeastern Australia, Miami, New York City, and even a museum in Albuquerque, N.M., — all through connections she’s made in Web3.

West warned it was a “rabbit hole,” but what she found in wonderland she doesn’t believe she’d find anywhere else.

Web3 is a future version of the internet. 

WATCH | Step inside Eden’s Dye, Victoria West’s NYC exhibit:

N.B. photographer explains how AI has freed her art from constraints

The work of Victoria West, a photographer and digital artist based in Burton, was recently showcased at an immersive exhibit in the Big Apple.

Web1, West said, was the first version of the internet, in which users passively consumed information.

As the 2000s dawned, Web2 emerged, and users could now post their own content — think Twitter, blogs, YouTube. People are now creating more and more in digital spaces, but the downside of Web2 is that corporations are technically still the owners of all that creation, and they could take your data and potentially do with it as they please.

Enter Web3, which still exists more in theory: nobody and everybody owns the internet. This version aims to be decentralized. It doesn’t eradicate the distrust some people have in mega companies like Google and Meta — it just removes the need for it, because no one person or organization can own the blockchain Web3 operates on. 

West said within Web3 there’s an art movement, with artists working together and taking control of their work. Imagine if Leonardo da Vinci had an internet connection, as well as Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello. It’s the renaissance all over again, West said, except it’s happening with digital art.

“And it’s happening online on a much bigger scale.”

Before learning about W3 in 2021, West said she was in a photography bubble.

A floor lights up with a digital winding path and flowers. The walls are artistic images of women with flowers blossoming from their faces.
Victoria West designed this whole exhibit, including the floor. Working with a coder friend and two well-known actors and poets, Vincent D’Onofrio and Laurence Fuller, Eden’s Dye became a multi-media experience. (Victoria West)

Photography isn’t the art form West imagined herself pursuing when she was younger. But when she bought a camera after the first commercial digital models arrived on the market in the mid-2000s, she was hooked.

“I was bothering everybody around me to take their portrait,” she said.

She built up her portraiture business, becoming involved with the Professional Photographers of Canada and competing in photography contests. Still, West didn’t want to just capture moments — she wanted to make them. 

A piece of art shows a naked man curled up in the palm of a giant, stone-like hand. The world appears a wasteland in ashes behind them.
Victoria West created this piece of digital art, which was exhibited at The Crypt Gallery, another gallery in New York City. (Submitted by Victoria West)

That’s when artificial intelligence came on the scene. 

West was using Midjourney, a generative AI program, when it was still in beta testing. Around the same time she became involved with Web3, she experimented with blending AI-produced textures into her photography. In her business, AI quickened her workflow and allowed her to change backdrops and furniture. 

While creating a piece in 2023 called When I Die, West wanted to design a man underground with roots blossoming into a tree. Well, there aren’t any blossoming trees in Canada in February, West joked — so she made the tree using AI.

“I feel like someone took handcuffs off me, and I’m free,” she said.

A woman with long, wavy hair in balayage blonde colouring stands in a photography studio.
West says technology will progress and the internet will change, but what she really wanted was for people to walk into Eden’s Dye and be amazed by the experience. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Lauren Cruikshank, an associate professor in culture and media studies at the University of New Brunswick, has spoken about the use of AI in universities, but she also thinks about it through an artistic lens.

From the camera to spell check, Cruikshank said the same discussion happens with each new medium: how much of the artistry belongs to the artist, how much to the tools they’re using?

“For some people where it gets uncomfortable is where the role of the human is minimal compared to how much the AI tool is creating or having creative influence,” she said.

With AI, Cruikshank agreed there are degrees — there’s a difference between prompting an AI to generate an image of a beautiful sunset and claiming it as your artwork and what West is doing, combining AI with her own artistry. 

“That sounds really compelling to me,” Cruikshank said.

A smiling woman with wavy blonde hair and wearing a charcoal turtleneck stands in front of a bookshelf.
Lauren Cruikshank is a professor in the media studies department at the University of New Brunswick. (Submitted by Lauren Cruikshank)

When West first saw Lume Studios on Broadway in lower Manhattan, the place she’d eventually display Eden’s Dye, her immersive art exhibit, she knew she wanted it immediately.

She collaborated on the exhibit with some of her Web3 friends. Los Angeles actors and poets Laurence Fuller and Vincent D’Onofrio wrote poetry to accompany each piece of art, which West created using both photography and AI. A coder friend joined the crew, and the result was a floor-to-ceiling immersive exhibit. West’s collaborators also choreographed performances to complement the art, using music produced by AI.

“Why wouldn’t I do that if I can?” West asked. “It’s freeing, I think, and lets you push the boundaries of photography and what you can do with it.”

While the exhibit leaned heavily on romantic, classical themes and Baroque aesthetics, Eden’s Dye is almost a premonition: minted, digital artwork taking up entire walls in people’s homes, flowers growing from code, experiencing art in virtual realms.

Demand will only grow, West said. Technology will progress and the internet will change. But what she really wanted was for people to walk into Eden’s Dye and be amazed by the art they were experiencing.

“They came because of the art, and they were there enjoying the art. You don’t really need to understand anything beyond that.”

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