At Frieze, Sebastian ErraZuriz Infuses Scotch Whisky with AI

The multihyphenate is the latest design-world luminary to partner with Mortlach to showcase the artistry behind the Scotch whisky experience.

It verges on understatement to say Mortlach has a distinguished roster of collaborators. Through Mortlach by Design, the heritage brand has partnered with a cross-section of the industry’s foremost creative talents—Felicia Ferrone, Sabine Marcelis, Joe Doucet—to exhibit boundary-pushing works at the likes of Fotografiska New York, the Cooper Hewitt, and the London restaurant Toklas, the latest venture from Frieze founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover. Now, Sebastian ErraZuriz is picking up the mantle at Frieze L.A.

The Chilean-born artist is gearing up to unveil a thought-provoking installation of augmented-reality sculptures, titled State of the art A.I. 02/15/23, at Neuehouse’s newly opened location in Venice Beach. Each sculpture is a manifestation of the essential steps of Scotch whisky-making. The first is inspired by the harvest of barley grown in the bucolic Scottish village of Dufftown; in the next, ErraZuriz interprets Mortlach’s proprietary 2.81 distillation process. The third conveys the experience of partaking in a premium Scotch without a singularly smooth finish, thanks to the 126-year-old distillation tradition used nowhere else in the world. The artist’s three sculptures render gargantuan copper stills, grain processing equipment, and bronze-hued Scotch waterfalls in otherworldly industrial architecture.

Mortlach has reigned for 200 years as Dufftown’s oldest legal distillery. Details of its one-of-a-kind 2.81 distillation process pioneered by engineer George Cowie and his son Alexander are only disclosed to a handful of trusted craftspeople —but a wider circle of lucky insiders familiar with the distiller specifically seek Mortlach out by name for its rich, malty, and floral characteristics that can’t be found in any other Speyside whisky.

ErraZuriz wanted to capture the magic and magnetism of this process, bringing it to life using two zeitgeisty collaborators expected to have a transformative effect on art and design: OpenAI’s ChatGPT and DALL-E. He describes his creative process as “iterative”: by conversing with ChatGPT and honing the language he used to request imagery from DALL-E, the AR sculptures eventually took steampunk industrial form—which ErraZuriz prefers to describe as “ghost in the machine.”

“I was drawn to Mortlach’s story immediately because of its clear use of science, technology, and high-quality craftsmanship to create an intricate product,” ErraZuriz says. “I wanted to create a similar process using the technology of today to create an experience that’s unlike any other, and thus reflects Mortlach.” The convergence of heritage craft and cutting-edge technology is reason enough to experience ErraZuriz’s latest feat—but the post-installation Mortlach tasting in store (for those 21 and over, of course) sure sweetens the deal.

Below, take a closer look at the installation.

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