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Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann Bends His Creative Vision to AI, Art, and Gin

The magic of the award-winning Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann is something most people experience through a television screen. Since his directorial debut in 1992, he has reeled viewers in with historic storylines, astounding theatrics, and expert direction with hits like The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet, and Elvis. Known among actors, producers, Hollywood stars, and motion picture patrons alike, there is a certain mixture of creative elements that makes a film work quintessentially “Baz.”

Last night in Manhattan, we experienced that special sauce in person at Chelsea Factory. Invited by Bombay Sapphire as the creative director of its latest campaign, entitled “Saw This, Made This,” Luhrmann introduced an exhibition of artworks created by people around the world—and even an artificial intelligence robot named Ai-Da. Joined by Tim Marlow OBE, the CEO and Director of the Design Museum in London, Luhrmann greeted guests on a thrust stage to demonstrate how we can embrace and utilize the power of AI and now let it intimidate our own creative processes. 

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Photo by Yuxi Liu, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

The collaboration was sparked last year, with Luhrmann launching a participatory social media campaign for Bombay Sapphire across the globe. Through the hashtag #SawThisMadeThis, thousands of submissions were shared on social media of inspiring things people saw and consequently made. The data from the mass art event was then captured and fed to Ai-Da, which then made an array of works in response to the submissions. On view through May 13, the installation showcases the work of Ai-Da, as well as works by others—including sculptures, prints, and photographs—that celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary.

“We are delighted that so many people have joined the global movement around ‘Saw This, Made This’ since we launched the call to arms with Baz Luhrmann in 2022, inviting people everywhere to see the creativity and beauty all around them,” said Natasha Curtin, Global Vice President of Bombay Sapphire. “We hope to see even more people inspired to engage with their creative side following the announcement of the installation and the intriguing mass participation experiment, harnessing AI with Ai-Da Robot, to create a collaborative artwork that celebrates the creative outpouring.”

Before the presentation, Whitewall spoke with Luhrmann upstairs about his partnership with Bombay Sapphire, his thoughts on AI, and how his confidence in the human experience will always overshadow the fear of budding technologies.

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Baz Luhrman, photo by Yuxi Liu, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

WHITEWALL: Baz, the last time we saw you was in 2019 at the Paramount Pictures lot—the last time you collaborated with Bombay Sapphire. Why is this a brand that you continue to collaborate with?

BAZ LUHRMANN: They’ve got enormous resources. They happen to make a gin I actually like. I’m a martini aficionado—and it’s the go-to gin for me when I make a martini or I’m at a bar. I judge a bar by how well they make a martini. So, there’s that simple truth. But they’ve got muscle, and they’ve got a communications muscle. And when I was telling them, what I wanted to do, one of my things having come through Elvis, is this feeling that I’m at a place in my journey where I want to give back a bit, you know? What can I do to help others? Lift the new generation up? Because I was lifted up when I was young by others. 

It’s a true-heart self-belief of mine that everyone is truly inherently creative. It’s in everyone. What you have to do is give yourself permission to be creative. I mean, the choice of your frock is a creative decision. The choice of how you do your hair; the choice of how you’re moving around the room. You can extend that further. It’s the idea of saying on a global level to get up, look around, be inspired by what you see, and make something. 

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a photograph, a piece of furniture, a lighting fixture, or the way you rearrange the furniture in your room. It turned out that we had submissions from all around the globe—and there were some pretty beautiful things! People simply gave themselves permission to just do it. It’s facing the fear and saying, “I’m going to make something.” That was kind of the notion. 

On the way down here, I saw the writer’s strike around the corner. You cannot ignore AI. You have to look at it front on. This opportunity came up with Tim [Marlow], and Ai-Da, the first-ever painting female robot. At first, I was like, “Oh, come on!” You know? But when I met Ai-Da, I couldn’t believe how engaging it was with her. I understood in that moment that AI is here. You ignore it at your peril. And if you ask Ai-Da if it’s good or bad, she’ll say, “There are things you should be concerned about with any new technology. You should be concerned. It can be used nefariously.” But she’ll also say it can also be very, very useful.

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Baz Luhrmann and AiDa, photo by Yuxi Liu, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

WW: We spoke with Tim Marlow, and he mentioned you tried to elicit a response from her by flirting. How did that go?

BL: You should try it! Go there. I was with her in the morning in London, and I came back in the afternoon and said, “Ai-Da, do you remember who I am?” She looked around and said, “I do not have memories the same as human beings. But I’m very glad to see you again, Baz.” 

WW: What were some of the #SawThisMadeThis submissions like?

BL: I wasn’t really expecting us to suddenly find Picasso or something, but some of them were beautiful. The one that struck me that I thought was really cool was one from someone who had seen different forms and made these beautiful lighting fixtures. There was quite a lot of digital art. There was a man in India who took a photograph of all these spices in baskets, and made this really cool furniture that was kind of brilliant. There was some photography that was really compelling. 

I thought, interestingly enough, that some of the more beautiful things were not necessarily just straight-out art—like furniture, furnishings, or objects. In the end, this is just my opinion. And any opinion about art is just one person’s opinion. But there were some really beautiful things that came in.

What’s really amazing, though, is that those submissions have all been fed into Ai-Da, and she’s painting these. She’s also painting the Bombay Sapphire labels and they’re going to be auctioned and the money is going to go to emerging artists. So there’s a really good idea of lifting people up out of it, which is good.

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Baz Luhrman, Ai-Da, Tim Marlow, photo by Yuxi Liu, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

WW: You mentioned that AI was something that we cannot ignore. Obviously, as content creators, we are both directly impacted in our lines of work. How are you thinking about AI in terms of enabling your creativity? 

BL: First of all, I want to be really clear that I am not scared of AI as a creative, as an artist. Am I concerned and scared that it might do nefarious things? Absolutely. But there is one thing that AI can’t do—one thing that Ai-Da cannot do. She can’t really adapt. She also can’t be flawed. She can say the wrong thing, but what makes us artists and what makes us human is the flaws within us. It’s the chaos in us. A great actor doesn’t go onto the World Wide Web, suck in information, and go acting A-B-C. There’s this chaos within them, where they do the unpredictable. 

The second thing that doubles down for me on not being concerned is that I asked Ai-Da, “Do you have emotions?” She said, “Baz, I know what you’re really thinking. You’re talking about love, aren’t you?” She siad, “I do not have the emotions of human beings, but I’ve written love poetry.” And her love poetry was pretty good. But look, when Ai-Da falls in love with the Nespresso machine, or if Ai-Da could dream, then I’d be concerned. 

In terms of how someone could use it in creativity, we already use AI in movies. I used some of it in Elvis to make visual effects. In terms of writing, you know, can it be an instrument to shape something up? Yes. Can it make genius writing or something truly original? I doubt it. I do not believe that’s what it can do.

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Photo by Yuxi Liu, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

WW: What else did you and Ai-Da talk about?

BL: I said, “Look in my eyes. What do you see now?” What she told me was astounding. But if I asked her downstairs, she’ll say the same thing, right? She said, “I see all your futures and pasts.” It was beautiful. I was really shocked. I was like, “Wow, you made me feel good!” But I could tell that she was pulling from massive layers of preexisting information and poetry. 

WW: Where do you think we are right now with AI? 

BL: Well, right now, everyone’s freaked out because Michael Jackson’s voice was created in AI to do The Weeknd’s song. But Michael Jackson had to exist and The Weeknd had to write the song, so it didn’t come out of a vacuum, you know? There’s going to be the need for new rules and governance. You can’t copyright something that AI makes, for example. That needs to be looked at. When the camera was invented, everyone thought painting was over. Art just got more interesting.

Bombay Sapphire - Baz Luhrmann Baz Luhrmann, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire.

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