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Graduate student explores intersection of reality, computer systems in digital art

Digital artist Aurora Mititelu crosses her arms while wearing a black turtleneck. The design media arts graduate student from Romania said she uses computer graphics often in her work. (Courtesy of Milena Zara)

By Sydney Gaw

June 10, 2024 12:14 a.m.

Aurora Mititelu is harnessing computer capabilities to blend technology with traditional art.

The design media arts graduate student is specializing in a unique form of digital art that employs computer-generated imagery. Mititelu said her work requires not only a foundational understanding of visual art, such as color theory and visual composition, but also a strong grasp of technological functions and coding. In her decade of artistic experience, Mititelu said she has focused on honing her skills in computer graphics and comprehending the political contexts under which these mediums have developed.

“I started to work with technology pretty early and I was very fascinated by the fact that you could do so many more things that you couldn’t do with classical pen and paper,” Mititelu said. “The possibilities and implications of what that means, I think I could grasp very early. That’s why I became obsessed with it.”

A Fulbright grantee from Romania, Mititelu said she previously worked as a 3D artist and art director in Berlin before moving to Los Angeles to pursue media arts. She said she was drawn to UCLA’s program because of its world-class faculty, many of whom are pioneers in the field of design and media arts. Mititelu’s thesis committee chair, Department of Design Media Arts professor and artist Casey Reas, said the MFA student stands out because of her artwork’s discussion of both biographical and broader cultural experiences. Reas said Mititelu was already an accomplished animator before coming to UCLA and has continued to push herself to create art that is meaningful to her identity.

“In her fall exhibition, she produced this extraordinary image that was a hybrid of photography, computer graphics and AI-generated images together in a way that was completely seamless,” Reas said. “She’s really grown from being an animator and 3D artist into an artist who can work with a broad range of installations in a really extraordinary way.”

[Related: Graduate student Vinny Roca showcases conceptual graphics with ‘ALL THERE IS’ game]

Mititelu said her artistic style draws from her positionality as a woman from Eastern Europe, a region she said is often perceived as being on the periphery of the world. Some of the topics she said she often focuses on include figures of authority and traditional gender roles. Two of Mititelu’s recent exhibition pieces, “Gen/esis” and “Abel & I,” depict her interacting with a computer-generated male avatar of herself posing as her boyfriend, she said. These pieces highlight her identity in a way she hopes will communicate her feelings about gender norms, she added.

“I’m trying to grapple with or make sense of what authority means as a woman from a working class background … and how traditional views on gender roles are still very present,” Mititelu said. “As a woman, you don’t have as much autonomy and power over yourself, and somehow this gesture of becoming my own boyfriend is almost like closing the loop of that and being sufficient on my own.”

Antigoni Tsagkaropoulou, a fellow graduate student in design media arts and friend of Mititelu, said they admire Mititelu’s capacity to explore current sociopolitical issues. Mititelu’s exploration into the field of artificial intelligence, which is made up predominantly of men, is particularly impressive, Tsagkaropoulou said. Mititelu engages in discourse about gender and power dynamics through generative media arts and AI, they added.

While working with digital representations, Mititelu said most of her art reflects on how computer and reality systems operate. She said her desire to connect concepts through code has driven her to experiment with other avenues of technology. “Gen/esis” and “Abel & I” are intersections of machine learning, 3D simulation and generative AI, Mititelu said. She views her artwork as a system and is particularly fascinated by visual art that breaks the traditional boundaries, she added.

“I think a lot about the relationship between space and media experiences and computer images,” Mititelu said. “My work is a lot about understanding how mainstream reality is working today and how our psyches work.”

[Related: Composer Tod Machover speaks on collaborative AI, progress of media technology]

Beyond computer graphics, Mititelu said her work with 3D simulations compels her to continue exploring how software algorithms can replicate real-world physics. The internet is moving in a direction toward spatial computing, which Mititelu said has inspired her to work more with embedding images into her everyday life. Mititelu frequently thinks about how interacting with digital images affects viewers’ perceptions and builds their subjective reality, she added.

Looking to the future, Mititelu said she hopes to continue creating art through computer systems, machine learning, complex simulations and physical installations. She said her goal is ultimately to urge viewers to examine their own lives through a more critical lens. After graduation, Mititelu said she plans to venture further into the world of coding and generative media arts through her artistic practice.

“I’m very analytical and reflective of my own life, and I think that’s something I want to encourage people to do as well,” Mititelu said.

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Sydney Gaw
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