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Visual Communication (MA)

Ishaan Bose Verma

With a background in a design-centric Indian family, my graphic design career began in earnest at the Rhode Island School of Design. Post-graduation, I honed my skills at a Boston-based design agency. I’m currently at the Royal College of Art in London, completing my Masters in Visual Communication. My investigations into image-making and typography leverage various tools, driven by my curiosity for emerging tech and its potential for creating new images of possibility while being critically wary of the destructive implications they might realise.

One of nine primordial beings

Tools and technology are extensions of the mind, driven by the body. From the first bag used to store food and carry valuables to today’s machine learning neural networks, their use activates a mode of thinking outside the mind. They become a form of embodied cognition through use. It is through their affordances we unlock new potential and realise possibilities. They enable us to do more, by doing less. They empower and give access to many through open democratisation. They allow us to make sense of the world and even go beyond it.

Viewing systems and practices as tools and not limiting their potential by prescribing specific uses can lead to new and unexpected realities. There is liberation in ‘misuse’. Re-purposing and restructuring how an existing tool is used opens up new ways of thinking about them and sometimes results in new, never before seen outcomes.

In my recent work, I have been experimenting with ML systems to generate (and collaborate) outputs using material unfamiliar to these systems. To gain an understanding and speculate how these machines work, I subvert their intended or prescribed uses, forcing the system to improvise. These experiments lead to new forms and modes of working, granting insight into how these systems operate and exposing their inherent potential for perpetuating bias under already established power structures.

Spread from the book showing a chapter that asks What are the Right Questions
Spread 2 showing how my face is misinterpreted and regenerated with exaggerated stereotypes
Spread 3 showing an image of my studio
Spread 4 showing frames from an animation featuring an Indian dancer translated as a shifting landscape using GauGAN
Spread 5 showing instances of early algorithmic illustrations reintroduced to the machine

Leveraging the growing accessibility of generative machine learning, my focus was to unveil its potential biases. Using these models, I created text descriptions for images linked to my Indian cultural heritage and subsequently fed these prompts into image generators. The outputs were a deviation from the originals, often amplifying stereotypes or shifting towards a Westernized hybrid. These biases, while sometimes overt, are frequently subtle and potentially harmful to under-represented and marginalized groups. Echoing Hito Steyerl’s concept of ‘poor images’, these distortions depict a semantic loss. I’ve collated these experiments into a book, serving as both a resource and historical documentation. It scrutinizes these systems, their implications, and similar disruptions in the creative sector’s history, translating digital discourse into a tangible medium.

Knit Scarf
Scarf detail 1
Scarf detail 2

To dissect and communicate how these systems work formally, I parallel the digital medium and processes of generative machine learning with that of knitting. Both realms work with individual units as their primitives that, when strung together, form whole pieces. Generative ML looks at images and builds them pixel-by-pixel. Similarly, knitting involves making one stitch after another to create a knitted fabric. 

To bring these seemingly distant worlds nearer, I translated an image I generated as a knitted scarf where each stitch corresponds to each pixel that forms the makeup of the original image.

PracticeAtlas Poster
Instructions for the workshop
Acrylic boards used in the workshop
Keywords written and mapped by the participants

The PracticeAtlas is a tool developed in collaboration with Beatrice Sangster, Urjuan Toosy, and Wojciech Feć to investigate the exploration of an individual’s practice and methodologies within a group dynamic. The process is two-pronged process mapping proximity through macro and micro relations. The system developed provides an exploration into the liminal areas between practice and methodologies by creating space(s) for dialogue that highlight and explore the obvious and non-obvious, or possible tenuous relations and connections. The PracticeAtlas explores the relationship and proximity between practice and hopes to enhance understanding and forge new discoveries through serendipitous methods to define and reveal new connections and meanings.

1st and 2nd issues of the Digestive

Digestive, born (2022) out of a love of biscuits and chatting, is a monthly reflective publication from the Visual Communication BR13 studio at the Royal College of Art. We create content based on the collective theme of the month – designed, collected, and shared on a single piece of paper.

Previous issues of Digestive include Digestive, Tunnelling, Leftovers, Collective Mapping, and Crusty Sunburn, where we explore the gut, crumbs of conversation(s), parasites, tunnel-vision, pockets, the weather, rock pools, tubes, ideal holidays, nostalgia and revel in the sharing of nan’s recipes.

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Cover image for Modalities, Forms & Systems from the Future