An Artwork on the Intersection
of Art and Science


Diemut Strebe

Author concept, design, drawing, text and audio

in collaboration with AI Specialist:

Steve DiPaola

AI drawing & languages systems

Gaines Semler acting Socrates

With many thanks to Gary Marcus for AI consulting and to the Aichi Triennale for their support


El Turco presents a large scale (8x3m) triptych video installation. We see two digital AI avatars, animated hand-drawings, projected at the two sides of the screen. Their spoken dialogue appears as continuously evolving text at the center screen.

One of the avatars, called Socrates, is operated directly by a human, hidden in the system. The speaker’s audio input results in AI-generated gestures, facial movements by sentiment detection, text, and speech outputs. The setup is similar to the “Mechanical Turk”, an automated chess player that surprised the 18th century aristocrat courts, but later appeared to hide a human player. The second avatar, called von Kempelen, is creating speech through a natural language processing AI system. We use customized statistical based probabilistic language models called Large Language Models (such as the GPT series including ChatGPT, BARD, PaLM​ ​2 and others).

Von Kempelen seems to evoke allusions to what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard describes as a simulacrum: a system that generates a world of symbols and signs without any original reference. Despite the machine displaying impressive and surprising capabilities in mimicking knowledge and understanding, the effortless “talking machine” seem to reveal itself as an extremely advanced computational “magician’s trick”. Although the current AI systems generate representations of semantic dimensions, at this point within the accelerating development of AI technology the machines seem to hold no global conceptual understanding of language nor the world. Nevertheless, renowned AI specialists are claiming LLM’s as GPT4 can perform simple reasoning. Predicting the next word still seems far removed from that very human reasoning, such as consistent realistic or hypothetical modelling, critical and strategic thinking or drawing logical inferences for example, which allows for understanding instead of being exposed to showers of noise. But just already the level of coherence in current Large Language Models presents a strong challenge for our ability to even discriminate between true and false. This could hold unpredictable manipulative powers.

Would additional new technology and the chaining of AI modules elevate AI results to a whole new scenario of the much-discussed singularity? Could it involve the end of the lead of human intelligence? Who encodes such goals and motivations into machines in the first place? And whom do we have to fear more- machines or ourselves abusing technology?

In any case we seem to be compelled to rethink our definitions and perspectives on human and machine intelligence.

Next to the video series of live recorded dialogues (using a customized chat version of GPT-3) El Turco / Living Theater allows users to explore any latest version in Large Language Model technology in a live theater performance with an actor hidden in the system playing Socrates.

The figure of Socrates will be displayed in different gender and race formats.

The artwork also offers an interactive live interface, inviting the audience to talk with the AI machine directly by operating the green avatar.

Diemut Strebe, 2023


El Turco / Living Theater is a live theater performance. In each show changing actors are playing Socrates. Each actor is hidden in the system operating Socrates in various ways through his/her audio input.

The figure of Socrates can be displayed in different performances with different gender and race formats presenting AI drawings of a black woman, a white man, and an Inuit woman.

The artwork offers an interactive live interface, inviting the audience to talk with the AI machine live by operating the green avatar.

El Turco / Conversations with an AI presents 17 live recorded dialogues of the artist with a customized GPT-3 chat version in the summer of 2022. They are inspired by Plato’s Theaetetus, experimental concepts, and reflections on the human conditions.

The artwork was presented in the Aichi Triennale, Japan in 2022.

Live conversation of a person from the audience (to the right with microphone) with the AI machine called Von Kempelen to the left (red avatar). With her audio input (speech) she is operating and controlling the audio output of the green avatar, called Socrates. The speaker’s audio also controls the facial expressions, body movements and the running text (on the right side) in real time. The speaker talks, so to say, directly “through the avatar” in the live conversation with the AI machine. Instead of the audience, a professional actor can operate Socrates.











I am a German-born, US based artist, working with different international institutions, but mostly with MIT faculty. At MIT I have been Artist in Residence from 2017-2019.

My works link art and science to address contemporary issues, often incorporating themes related to philosophy and literature. I explore the crossover between science and art through media such as living biological materials, nanomaterials, algorithms & numbers, experimental setups and installations. This practice includes scientific concepts, methods and tools, engaging with science directly. The collaborations with scientists take place for example in the fields of human and plant-genetics, quantum- and astrophysics, AI, math and various types of engineering. The heterogeneous appearance of my works, results from the variety of topics and strands in science I deal with.

Focused on the advanced science of our era, I feel compelled to re-affirm the Romantic paradigm of “the new” as well as the role of avant-garde art relating to radical experiments of Classical Modern Art throughout the medium and its combination with the arts.


Steve DiPaola, PhD, Prof: Sch of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT);
Past Director: Cognitive Science Program at Simon Fraser University

research site:
art work site:

Gaines Semler is a Brooklyn-based actor, writer, and filmmaker. He graduated with a BFA in performing arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design. His specialities include voice acting, classical theatre, and sketch comedy.