What is the artist's raw material? A canvas, plastic materials, pigments? For Refik Anadol, 36, from Turkey, author of breathtaking installations around the world, it's data. Immense, complex, trillions of data that he uses to imagine languages and scenarios.
Refik Anadol shapes the infosphere with machine learning to make the virtual world dialogue with physical space. For him, technology is not just performance and possibility (to achieve, develop, analyze) but above all expression and creativity (personal but at the same time universal). We were able to chat with him about the dualism between machine and man, numbers and colors, thanks to his recent visit to Italy where he is present with two great works: Renaissance Dream at the Meet Digital Culture Center in Milan (until the end of July) and Sense of Space at the Venice Biennale.
Let's enter the Data universe: what do they represent in your research?
Ours is a century of massive exchanges between machines, algorithms and constantly generated data. Data for me are patterns to shape new realities, tools to relate science, art, history. When I work with Artificial Intelligence I ask myself "can a machine dream? Have hallucinations? ". I don't believe in taboos and predefined schemes of what it means to make art or architecture: I am interested in the human capacity to imagine, in relation to a global and infinite memory.
How can an artwork be co-created by man and machine alike? And how much input does the artist have in generating its aesthetic?
I don't particularly believe in definitions, after all great thinkers have not drawn a clear line between art and science. AI gives me the opportunity to generate a universal language and to learn. When you research with artificial intelligence, you have access to every single painting, every single sculpture ever created, every word of literature. So for me the input is to start from this amount of information, compute questions and learn from the new scenarios generated by AI. Renaissance Dreams, for example, is an installation generated from a million images and texts produced between 1300 and 1600 in Italy. The data was processed by artificial intelligence using GAN algorithms, capable of identifying common characteristics and producing, so to speak, "original" creations. The result is a composition of dynamic multidimensional shapes to which the AI has attributed new volumes and colors and associated a sound design.
Is the machine therefore a workmate of yours? Artist as much as you are?
AI is my thinking brush. Much of what computers have generated came as a surprise: machine consciousness is generative. This is not to say that I ignore the critical implications of the new media. Machines are our mirrors, whoever we are reflect it, whatever the questions they answer us. We are responsible for the use we want to make of it. I want to focus on what good we can do: can AI help us to privilege diversity instead of individualism? Can we remember or learn better? I think negative thinking is much easier than being optimistic.
Another aspect that transpires is that the new figure of the artist is more collective than solitary. A work is born from co-creation with the machine but also from collaboration.
Taking a journey through something that doesn't yet exist requires a team. I think of my work as directing a film: I collaborate with intellectually, linguistically and culturally different minds. And this not only enriches the creative process but brings me closer to the dream of creating an art that can reach everyone: all ages, all origins and backgrounds. You can't carry on a dream like that in a self-centered way. Collaborating is the key to unlocking this inclusive language.
Your work gives a new dimension to the concept of "building". What is your relationship with space?
We are architects of perceptions, we want to design and build cultures, consciences, emotions. I don't just want to integrate media into built forms, I want to translate the logic of a new technology into spatial design. I then move on two levels: public art and immersive installations. Public art is a democratic action: there is no entrance door, there is no end or beginning, everyone can enjoy it. In the interior spaces what I am looking for is an immersive storytelling experience - not surprisingly, a book that continues to inspire me is Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood. AI manages to look at space in 1024 dimensions: I want to put the audience inside the work and make them perceive the invisible.
With Pladis: Data Universe you probed NASA's open source datasets, with Quantum Memories you shaped the intersection between Google AI Quantum Supremacy experiments, machine learning and the aesthetics of probability. At the Biennale you create a bridge between biological and neuronal structures and architectural space. What will your future be?
For me the crucial question is whether art can heal people. The work begun for the Biennale has involved numerous scientists - in particular Dr. Gökhan S. Hotamislig director of Harvard's Sabri Ülker Center for Metabolic Research and expert in the molecular and genetic basis of metabolic diseases. In the coming months we will continue the work of analyzing the more than 70 Terabytes of MRI brains of people from birth to nonagenarians. I hope that the union between art and science will help to better understand diseases: Alzheimer's, depression, dementia. I hope that experiences can be created that lead the public to perceive new dimensions of love and inclusion. In the near future I would like to augment hope.