Digital art star Refik Anadol’s earliest supporters were in the tech world. All of a sudden his work got hot at auction, too


In 2006, British mathematician Clive Humby proclaimed that “data is the new oil”. Little did he know that it would also become the new art.

As one of the leading practitioners of what he calls “data painting,” Turkish-American artist and TED Fellow Refik Anadol has been using data as the substance of his work for the better part of a decade. During this period he won awards such as the Lumen Prize and has been featured at the Venice Architecture Biennale and in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“I’ve always been interested in painting with data,” Anadol told Artnet News from Barcelona last weekend, where he was on hand to create a new digital work for the facade of the iconic Casa Batlló d ‘Antoni Gaudi. Thousands of spectators thronged the outdoor plaza to attend the illumination at an event organized by the OFFF-Festival. The work was already released as an NFT through Christie’s last week, when it sold for $1.38 million (and comes with dinner for 10).

Refik Anadol, Living Architecture: Casa Batlló, courtesy of RAS

“For me, NFTs and digital art should be experiential. Monuments have become my canvas,” Anadol said. “I’m interested in exploring the architectural realm as deeply as possible. have a physical link with the public space.

Using AI to regeneratively map iconic public buildings, Anadol works in equal parts architecturegraphic design and computer science using a JavaScript object-based coding language called VVVV, which enables live programming and projection mapping.

“UCLA is where I learned creative coding,” he says, referring to his time in the school‘s media arts program. There, his advisers included Christian Moeller, Casey Reas and Jennifer Steinkamp.

In 2014, after graduating, he created the Refik Anadol Studio, which currently has a staff of 15 people. “Our staff is multicultural and multilingual,” Anadol said. “We have amazing staff with different minds and skills.”

Early in his career, Anadol focused on seeking support from fellow technologists, rather than the art world. “When I opened the studio in 2014, our first collaborators were not from the art or design world. They were from technology,” he said.

In Quantum memories, made when he was artist-in-residence at Google, he used the search giant’s publicly available quantum computing algorithms to map the possibility of a parallel world in 3D. Part sci-fi, part next-level computer graphics, the the algorithm processed approximately 200 million images of nature to form an interactive algorithmic gesamtkunstwerkmimicking real-time simulations of audience movements in a tangled web of generative world-building.

Refik Anadol, Quantum memories, 10M x 10M x 2.5M AI Data Sculpture. Courtesy of RAS

In another piece, Melt away memories (2018), inspired by his uncle’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Anadol turned brain scans into projected images for the walls of the Pilevneli Gallery in Istanbul. The artwork and others were also inspired by Anadol’s long-standing interest in the imagery and history of space exploration.

Nowadays, various iterations of the NFT have been auctioned through Nifty Gateway and Sotheby’s, with total sales for the project now exceeding $13 million, according to “I am extremely grateful to the NFT community for supporting my work,” he said. “The NFT world has given my studio economic independence.”

(Asked what he did with his wealth, Anadol says anything he doesn’t put back into his studio goes to charity. A NFT from a collection titled “An Important Memory for Humanity” raised $1.5 million for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.)

Seoul Light, DDP, Seoul, KR, Courtesy of RAS

“In my artistic practice, I often ask myself the question: how would a computer collaborate with us to make art that is not only futuristic, but also about the possibility of various futures?” he said. “I think we only approach the answer to this question when we combine research efforts in various fields, including neuroscience, architecture, quantum computing, materials science, philosophy, and the arts.”

Anadol is currently preparing two new works: one for an exhibition at Strozzi Palace which reinvents the works of art of the Italian Renaissance; the other, a new play presented in Istanbul and based on the writings of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. For this latest work, Anadol will build a digital installation in the foyer of the newly redesigned AKM Theater in Taksim Square.

“We all stand on the shoulders of giants,” Anadol said. “I’m just trying to explore the language of humanity.”

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