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Refik Anadol - On the Precipice of Possibility

Words:

Edd Norval
July 8, 2022

Turkish-American new media artist Refik Anadol is on the vanguard of a whole new landscape of art. If we are to imagine inside the mind of Ava - the sentient AI from Alex Garland’s Ex Machina - her dreams would look like his creations. This is what happens when data becomes beautiful.

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Utilising data-driven machine learning, the artist is able to construct dreamlike images, hallucinatory audiovisual explorations into the complete abstraction of everything we know about art, pulling down the frameworks of structure in order to unlearn and relearn what creativity is as its core - science.


Something of an industry wunderkid, Anadol amalgamates architecture with abstraction to create completely immersive digital public art that, for the most part, defies any real labelling. Recently, his Machine Hallucinations NFT was set in a palatial courtyard in Venice, a far-cry from the Renaissance art that was popular in the city in the past, yet equally as fitting.

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Nonetheless, it’s difficult to imagine that one of the High Renaissance’s leading figures, Leonardo da Vinci wouldn’t approve. If anything, this is probably exactly the kind of work that the master would be doing himself, ever a pioneer intent on challenging the philosophical, physical and artistic boundaries of the time.


A leader in the aesthetic development of machine learning, Anadol is like an alchemist, bringing together the various strands of art into a singular creative expression. Film, architecture, music, digital, abstract. They coalesce in a melange of movement - sometimes interacted with in isolation, at other times as part of an installation, for example, when his moving pieces are projected onto buildings (as per the magnificent video at the top of this article).


What is most exciting about this type of art is that it explores what we consider to be possible. Unbound by physical or human constraints, these works are technically only part-authored by the artist, more enabled than fully realised, as they transcend even his own ability to understand the nature of creation at its most elemental.

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By spending so much time in this space, on the precipice of possibility, his art also engages with the uneasy relationship between technology and humanity. Whether the two can continue to faithfully co-exist, or whether one becomes subservient to the other. The artist himself is invested in finding the ‘human in the non-human’. The question then - is it really there or is it just a reflection of ourselves?


These quasi-religious tones imparted onto data and science no doubt invoke something ironic, yet evolutionary. His views of the future of humanity, from his home in Los Angeles, look a bit like it does in Blade Runner. There’s neon vibrancy, synthetic life interacting with the natural. Big questions are being faced every day, but not by artists as much as scientists and the technology industry.


They are the new philosophers, the new poets. Figures like Anadol are capable of bridging that gap, of speaking a language that both understand. He is neither scientist nor artist, but a pioneer.

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