Eric Millikin’s Portfolio

Conceptual activist new media 
& site-specific guerrilla installations, exploring the boundaries of art, technology, activism, and the occult.

Seance Affliction: Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Sylvia Plath and Mike Kelley

One in a series of interactive video projections of “self-portraits while possessed by ghosts,” used as a metaphor for how our long-dead predecessors still have control over us (through laws, societal norms, cultural influence, etc.). The occult themes are inspired by my ancestors who were executed during the Salem Witch Trials. This portrait was created for the combined birthdays of poet Sylvia Plath (Oct. 27, 1932 – Feb. 11, 1963) and artist Mike Kelley (Oct. 27, 1954 – c. Jan. 31, 2012). Both Plath and Kelley were killed by depression and suicide.  The portrait depicts roughly half myself, half Sylvia Plath, in a stuffed animal style inspired by Mike Kelley.

Others in this series have included "Self-Portrait While Possessed by the Ghosts of Alexander Hamilton and Eva Hesse,” "Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Biggie Smalls and Mary Cassatt," and "Self-Portrait While Possessed by the Ghosts of El Santo and Louise Nevelson."

Medium: Artificial intelligence, interactive video projection
Dimensions: Variable. Here, about 75" x 48"
Year: 2017


Seance Affliction: Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Charlotte Brontë and Greer Lankton

One in a series of “self-portraits while possessed by ghosts.” This portrait was created for the combined anniversary of the birth of English novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816 – March 31, 1855) and Flint, Mich. native and transgender doll-making installation artist Greer Lankton (April 21, 1958 – Nov. 18, 1996). The portrait depicts roughly half myself, half Charlotte Brontë, in a style inspired by Greer Lankton, created by training an artificial intelligence to generate images based on Lankton’s dolls.

In augmented reality, the portrait speaks from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you … it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave …”

Medium: Artificial intelligence, archival inkjet on cotton paper, text to speech, digital animation, augmented reality
Dimensions: Print: 45" x 36", AR viewer: 8" x 5.5"
Year: 2018


Seance Affliction: Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Tammy Faye Bakker and Piet Mondrian

One in a series of “self-portraits while possessed by ghosts.” This portrait was created for the anniversary of the births of American televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (March 7, 1942 – July 20, 2007) and Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (March 7, 1872 – Feb. 1, 1944).

This is one of my first experiments in embedding a QR code inside a portrait, so that when someone goes to photograph the portrait with a smartphone or tablet, they may be redirected to a web site.

The portrait speaks from Tammy Faye Bakker’s song “Staying Up On The Wall.”

Medium: Artificial intelligence, archival inkjet on cotton paper, QR code reader, text to speech, digital animation, video
Dimensions: Print: 45" x 36", Tablet: 8" x 5.5"
Year: 2018


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Detail of "Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Sylvia Plath and Mike Kelley"

To give you a sense of the level of detail in much of my work, here is a close-up of one of the eyes of my "Self-Portrait while Possessed by the Ghosts of Sylvia Plath and Mike Kelley," created using artificial intelligence, in a stuffed-animal style based on work by Mike Kelley.

Medium: Artificial intelligence, interactive video projection
Dimensions: Variable
Year: 2017


Street Portraits

Interactive video projection of Black Americans who have died at the hands of our police, each drawn on a Google map through the streets of their city, almost a memorial parade route, that cuts through key places in their life, death, and aftermath. The installation uses motion detection to react to the audience, so images change based on how they are viewed, or move to create distance from the viewer, or follow viewers when they walk away. The portraits in this video are of Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, and Eric Garner.

Medium: Google maps, digital drawing, interactive video projection
Dimensions: Variable. Here, about 75" x 48"
Year: 2017


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Street Portrait: Eric Garner

Portrait of Eric Garner, drawn in one continuous line through the streets of New York, starting from the point where police put him in a choke hold, where he repeated "I can't breathe" eleven times, past the hospital where he was pronounced dead an hour later, on July 17, 2014.

Part of a series of portraits of Black Americans who have died at the hands of our police, each drawn on a Google map through the streets of their city, almost a memorial parade route, that cuts through key places in their life, death, and aftermath.

Medium: Google maps, digital drawing, archival inkjet on cotton paper
Dimensions: 20” x 16” 
Year: 2016


Liquid Lead

Liquid light shows created from lead-contaminated water from the city of Flint, Michigan, converted to three-channel video projection, projected through rotating 3D-printed optical illusion sculpture to create silhouettes of faces and water vessels.

The visual loops every 6.6 years, which is my calculation of the minimum average loss of expected life for a child conceived during the first 17 months of the Flint Water crisis, based on data from the Michigan Department of Community Health. 

The 6.6 year loop is created by overlapping three looping videos that are 475 seconds long (475 is the highway that runs through Flint), 313 seconds (313 is the area code of Detroit, who previously provided Flint with clean water), and 82 seconds (82 is the atomic number of lead) along with the silhouette of the sculpture that rotates every 17 seconds (17 is the number of months from when the water was first contaminated until officials stopped denying what they'd done).

Medium: Lead-contaminated Flint water, video projection, silhouette of 3D printed sculpture on turntable
Duration: Loops every 6.6 years
Dimensions: Variable
Year: 2018


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The Hunger Strike

One of my mutant Venus flytraps from inside my artistic carnivorous plant cross-breeding and tissue culture cloning laboratory. This is a genetically unique, seed-grown, designer Venus flytrap. I consider these plants to be works of art in themselves as well as potential building blocks for other artworks.

This one sort of puckers up in such a way that the traps twist and fold backwards on themselves. After a certain point the trap has folded in on itself so far that it can no longer close, turning the plant into a sort of non-carnivorous, pacifist Venus flytrap.

Medium: Tissue culture grown Venus flytrap
Dimensions: A colony approximately 6” x 6” x 9” and growing
Year: 2018


Danger Beasts Cube

One in a series of interactive video projection mapped sculptures, using imagery of endangered animals (here, a polar bear and a Sumatran tiger) created based on endangered Venus flytraps that I've cross-bred and cloned in my tissue culture lab.

Medium: Interactive video projection mapping on wood cube
Dimensions: 12” x 12” x 12”
Year: 2017


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Danger Beast: Koko

One in a series of portraits of endangered animals created based on endangered Venus flytraps that I've cross-bred and cloned in my tissue culture lab. Here, the portrait is of Koko, the western lowland gorilla who reportedly learned about 1,000 sign-language hand signs that allowed her to share her thoughts with human beings.

Other portraits in this series have included an endangered tiger, polar bear, and chimpanzee, and I have installed some of these as 10-foot-tall printed murals on the exteriors of buildings in Metro Detroit.

Medium: Artificial intelligence trained on Venus flytraps, inkjet on cotton paper
Dimensions: 36” x 45”
Year: 2017


Aye, AI Eyes

Part of an ongoing series of low-tech virtual reality masks that transform the person wearing the viewer into a performer, a sort of living video sculpture. Here, the person experiencing the VR views a post-apocalyptic scene of an artificial intelligence-created cityscape, while outside spectators see the eyes of the person wearing the mask taking on the appearance of a shape-shifting series of AI-generated cross-bred mutant animals.

Medium: Toy gas mask, cardboard VR viewer, black duct tape, iPhones, artificial intelligence, video
Dimensions: 9” x 8.5” x 5”
Year: 2018


AI: Architectural Impermanence

Video documentation of virtual reality city ruins. The cityscape is created based on artificial intelligence trained on various world architecture, including monasteries, churches, and castles, subtly cross-bred with various animal lifeforms including jellyfish, ants, and butterflies. I've then used CGI to turn the cityscape into a post-apocalyptic scene, half overgrown by plants, half consumed by fire. Part of what I am exploring here are the roles of man and machine. Here, my machines are creating a city, and I'm the man who is destroying that city.

Medium: Artificial intelligence, 360° looping video, virtual reality
Dimensions: Variable
Year: 2018


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Replacement Trumps: The Sun

Part of a series of tarot trump cards created with the assistance of artificial intelligence, where I have taught a machine to recognize what tarot cards look like, so that I can then teach that machine to draw its own tarot cards, and then I send the cards as part of a mail art project to the White House and elsewhere as "Replacement Trumps."

The occult themes are in part inspired by my ancestors who were executed during the Salem Witch Trials, and as a response to President Donald Trump’s view that he is the victim of a “Witch Hunt.”

Medium: Artificial intelligence, offset print on card stock, ballpoint pen ink, 35¢ stamp, U.S. Postal Service delivery
Dimensions: 5.5” x 4.25”
Year: 2018


Self-Portrait of an AI Art Factory Worker

My idea here is that my use of artificial intelligence to create artwork is somewhat like previous generations of artists, like Andy Warhol, who relied on a Factory of workers. So, I trained an artificial intelligence based on photos of people from Warhol's Factory scene, as if that AI were trying to create its own self-portrait based on its knowledge of what it might look like as an AI art factory worker.

Keeping with the theme, I trained the AI to draw its self-portrait in a somewhat pop art style. I intentionally programmed the results to be loose and somewhat alien or mutated in appearance.

As an exploration of how AI might turn against us, I trained my AI with extra images of Valerie Solanas, the member of Warhol's Factory scene who grew paranoid and attempted to assassinate Warhol.

Medium: Artificial intelligence, video
Dimensions: Variable
Year: 2018


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Repeal and Replace: To Complete the Masterpiece

One in a currently ongoing series of computer-assisted prose poems created as possible alternatives to the current Second Amendment. Each is created by cutting apart and reassembling three contemporaneous writings: The pioneering Gothic novel “The Romance of the Forest” (1791) by Ann Radcliffe, “Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue” (1791) by the Marquis de Sade, and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (also 1791). 

Each poem is created by a program I’ve developed that starts with the text of the Second Amendment, then loops through the other two texts searching for the same words as a point to switch to a new text, and then it keeps looping through, searching and switching text sources until it can finally loop all the way back to the start of the Second Amendment again.

I am collecting the series into an artist’s book to be reverse-shoplifted onto the shelves of bookstores, as I have done with previous somewhat similar projects. 

Medium: Computer-assisted poetry
Dimensions: Variable.
Year: 2018


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Gerrymonster: Michigan's 76th House District

Part of a series of site-specific installations of images of mutant techno-biological organisms, created based on the shapes of gerrymandered voting districts, covertly placed within those districts, near their polling places, where there was an anti-gerrymandering proposal on the ballot. Here, one is installed at the white line marking 100 feet — the legal barrier for displaying election materials near a polling place — just over the line.

Gerrymandering is the process of politicians redrawing the borders of voting districts into unusual shapes, in order to weaken the voting power of opposing classes of voters.

This series is my contemporary take on the original “gerrymander,” an 1812 editorial cartoon depicting an unusually-shaped state senate district that was redrawn to favor the interests of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, with the district resembling the shape of a mythological salamander.

Medium: AI, voting district map, inkjet, found polling place distance marker
Dimensions: 16” x 8.5”
Year: 2018


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World Free Gum: Martin Luther King Jr.

One in a series of small-scale print portraits based on photographs of over 40 different brands and flavors of chewing gum, distributed to the public along with packages of chewing gum secretly stuck underneath tables and chairs of public restaurants and bars. On the back of each print is a quote from the subject, with the word "freedom" replaced with "free gum." Here, the back reads: “Free gum is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Other portraits in this series include: Malcolm X, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy.

Medium: Photography, digital, inkjet on photo paper, package of gum, double-sided tape
Dimensions: 2.5” x 3” x .5”
Year: 2018


Made of Money

Interactive video projection of historical figures who died virtually penniless, each based on cut-up strips of paper money. I've created these as a reminder that our best people aren't always rewarded with wealth, and our wealthiest aren't always our best. The video changes based on which angle you view it from, and features portraits of Vincent van Gogh, Hedy Lamarr and Joe Louis.

Medium: Photos of paper currency, digital editing, interactive video projection
Dimensions: Variable. Here, about 75" x 48"
Year: 2017


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Made of Money: Book One

Artist’s book of portraits of historical figures whose contributions are immeasurable yet they died virtually penniless, each based on cut-up strips of paper money. I created these as a reminder that our best people aren't always rewarded with wealth, and our wealthiest aren’t always our best. The five portraits are of Nikola Tesla, Hedy Lamarr, Edgar Allan Poe, Joe Louis, and Vincent van Gogh. The book is found inside a post office box, where a person might receive their paychecks or their bills, so that they can personally remove the artwork from the post office box, hold it in their own hands, and then think about this outside the box.

This post office was located within the 2017 Art Prize, an art festival created and funded by the billionaire family of Donald Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, making the work a commentary on the greed and disproportionate wealth of the Trump and DeVos families.

Medium: Photos of paper currency, digital editing, inkjet on paper, PO Box
Dimensions: 6.5” x 4.75” (opens up to width of 24”)
Year: 2017


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Self-Portrait as the 'Predator' with Lyrics from Janet Jackson's 'The Pleasure Principle'

Part of my series of data-driven "Hottest Trending Self-Portraits," based on my study into the most popular trends in music sales, airplay, movie box office revenue, etc. This was created to memorialize the week in June 1987, when the movie "Predator" debuted and was so hot it topped the US weekend box office, and Janet Jackson's song "The Pleasure Principle" was the hot #1 on the Billboard dance charts.

Other portraits in this series have included "Self-Portrait as Pennywise the Dancing Clown with Lyrics from Taylor Swift’s 'Look What You Just Made Me Do'" and "Self-Portrait as 'Robocop' with Lyrics from Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me).’" 

Medium: Artificial intelligence, digital, archival inkjet on cotton paper
Dimensions: 20” x 16”
Year: 2018