Daniel Canogar: “I’m trying to find inner peace in this world of excess.”

Pau Waelder

The leading artist in the Spanish media art scene, Daniel Canogar‘s influential work spans almost four decades and a wide range of media from video art installations to generative software art. On the occasion of his solo artcast Liquid Data, I interviewed him in his studio in Madrid.

Light is an essential aspect of your work, not only as a way to make images visible (on screens or through projections) but also for its physical properties (diffusion, reflection) and its ephemeral nature. How would you describe the role of light in your creative process? 

I think it really all goes back to me, as a 14 year old teenager, discovering the magic of the photographic darkroom. I  was fortunate enough to have one in the house that I grew up, my father needed a dark room for his work. And I just kind of stumbled to this space. And before I knew it, I was totally addicted to the magic of the photographic process, in its photochemical analog version, of course, this was a long time ago.

This was a foundational artistic experience for me, that I’ve reproduced throughout my career, now through algorithms, huge projectors, in some cases, and LED screens. But I think I’m always trying to recreate that magical enchantment of a darkened space, and these glowing lights that create an  almost alchemical process. One thing, that I’m also realizing is the sense of artificial darkness: this is not the darkness of night, as I’m also not using solar light. I’m using artificially created darkness, and artificially created light. And that is also my connection to technology. So there is this common thread running through 35-40 years of work,  a relationship with light, which is very present throughout all my work.

Over the years you have depicted a society filled with objects, entangled in electronic networks, constantly throwing away obsolete products. How would you describe the use of accumulation and waste as a source material for your work?

I was feeling blocked, creating an artwork in a world that already has so much art, where there are so many artists producing so many art pieces. It just seemed futile to contribute another project to this ocean of projects. And it was at that time that it occurred to me to create artworks that address this sense of excess. We have too many things, and we have a hard time navigating, through the bombardment of information that we receive every day. So, the concept of excess took me to look at waste, residue, debris. I went to recycling centers, particularly interested, of course, in e-waste treatment plants. I got a lot of inspiration from just seeing the sheer amount of garbage that we generate with computers, cameras, and all kinds of electronics that we throw away too quickly. 

Daniel Canogar, Other Geologies (2005)

But then I was also thinking of data, the excess of data, and thinking in many cases as data as just pure garbage. I worked with obsolete technologies, in series such as Latencies and Small Data, and other projects like Sikka, these are works that are saying goodbye to the world of material media, that has dissipated online now, restored with cloud based technologies. Before that, we had all these physical media, DVDs, DVD players, and VHS players, all kinds of electronics that populated our life until not so long ago. And I tried to give them a new opportunity, a new life, but it’s also a send off. I wanted to give them a dignified ending. Data, in a way, created these electronic ruins and is now dominating our lives. So I am trying to create a deeper understanding of the rhythms and the pulse of these kinds of systems that we have created, that seem to have a life of their own. A lot of these words are very hypnotic. I practice Transcendental Meditation now for a number of years, and this has allowed me to find some kind of inner peace, so through my work I think I’m also trying to find inner peace within this world of excess.

Generative algorithms and real time data have become an integral part of your work, that was already concerned with flows, networks and mutability. What have these technologies brought to your creative process? Have they changed how you conceive your artworks, or opened new possibilities?

When data started to become part of my artwork, a crucial change was working with algorithms to create generative art pieces. This has been an absolutely fascinating change from working with video, that is basically something that you finish, then you cut, and then is perhaps played a loop. It’s basically a finished project. Conversely, with generative art I’m suddenly liberated from this finished product, and move into something that has a life of its own. And this has been absolutely fascinating.

Coding, which is now a central aspect of my practice is perhaps, in its results, closer to performance art. It is a form of living theater, where you set the stage by encoding certain rules, but then depending on the data that’s entering the artwork, it has one behavior or another. This type of work connects with the cycles of consumption of information, of 24/7 digital broadcasting, of never reaching the end of your Instagram feed of never really getting to the bottom of your daily social media consumption, the way in the past, you would literally finish the paper newspaper, and you would close it, and that was the end of it for the day. Now, you never get that sense of a finished, completed cycle. So these generative algorithmic works, also  tie in to these rhythms that are part of our daily existence. And I’m trying to understand these cycles that never end and how we become addicted to them. And how do we make sense of a world where there’s never really a sense of completion. 

Daniel Canogar at his studio, observing Maelstrom (2022)

You have worked with regular screens, flexible LED screens, and many types of projections. What do each of these formats bring to your work and how are they integrated into the whole concept and development of each piece?

I could establish two categories of displays that I use in my work. One of them is a traditional screen, which not traditional terms of its scale but it has the presence of a canvas. The other one is the sculptural screen. From the beginning, my work has always had a desire to have an exchange between the material sculpturalness of the image, and these more ephemeral phantasmagoric, immaterial aspects of the moving image. All my work is always referencing contemporary art. My work as a media artist is about trying to think of data, of sculpture, of the history of art, in a synchronous way where it all comes together. So when I think of sculptural screens, I’m also referencing sculpture, the history of sculpture.

Now that our experience of the world is mediated by technology and a sense of constant change, how do you think we will experience art in the future?

The digital, as an intangible media that only manifests itself presently on screens is something that I would hope allows for a more active spectator. A more physically active viewer that engages with these images in a more dynamic way than we are doing right now. So despite so many discussions about the metaverse and despite all these kinds of things that we could imagine, I wish that the sentient body remains as a focal point for these experiences.

A Conversation With Ben Fino-Radin, Preservation Expert (Part 2)

Ben is a NYC based media archaeologist, archivist and conservator of born-digital and computer based works of contemporary art. He is the Associate Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In this role, he develops strategies and policy that contribute to the preservation of the museum’s digital collections.  He has also worked with the Whitney Museum, Cory Arcangel, JODI, Rhizome just to name a few.

We are thrilled that Ben has joined us as an Advisor and is working with us on a key part of the Niio platform – – digital preservation.

Ben in his natural habitat.

What do you believe are the biggest misconceptions about digital / moving image art and what would you like people to understand?

The idea that digital means immaterial. So often I hear collectors and institutions describe digital artworks as being fundamentally ephemeral and immaterial. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Take for instance Andrew Blum’s book Tubes: a Journey to the Center of the Internet – Blum travels around the world tracing and documenting the immense and complex physical infrastructure of the internet. An earlier example of this kind of hacker tourism / documentation is Neal Stephenson’s 1996 piece for Wired Mother Earth Mother Board, where Stephenson documents the gritty blood, sweat, and tears involved in laying a transcontinental fiber optic cable.

This same brutally physical reality exists when considering the storage of digital files. Let’s say you had 100 reels of 35mm film prints, and you digitized and digitally restored them. Are these now immaterial?  You’ve now created roughly 206 TB of data. If you were going to stored these on LTO 6 tapes, they would take up 4,684 cubic feet, and would weigh a total of 37 Lbs (16.7) kg. If you stacked the tapes, they would be almost 6 feet tall. Is that immaterial? Absolutely not. Granted, the amount of physical space in the real world that a digital bit requires is very small – but it is still very much physical.

Do you see a time when digital art / time-based media is considered mainstream?

It is. I think we can all agree that MoMA is mainstream, no? The atrium at MoMA is most often the first gallery that visitors see when coming to the museum. Now, consider the kind of artworks that have been shown in this atrium – the most prominent space in the museum – in the last five years. I would estimate that 75% of the work has been at least partially time-based media.

How do you define mainstream? Will media art be mainstream when museums are selling Ryan Trecartin coffee mugs in museum gift shops? Is that something we even want?

What do you think about all the hype surrounding VR?  Do you think it’s a tool that artists and museums will eventually embrace?  

Artists of course started playing around with the various new VR platforms as soon as they could get their hands on them, and I think that the response on the part of museums has been rather rapid.  MoMA in fact has been including VR in its curatorial programming, and it is only logical to suppose that it is just a matter of time before a VR work is collected.

Personally I approach anything that is hyped as hard as VR with a great deal of skepticism, but having tried various examples, it is absolutely an incredibly rich area for artistic exploration. The sensation is rather astounding. 

As an artist yourself, what drew you to “digital” vs. a more traditional medium?  

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to take things apart, figure out how they work, put them back together (or not), and make something from the parts. I think that anyone with this predisposition is naturally attracted to working with computers, and time-based media in general.

Many of the professors I met in art school had been heavily involved in the upstate New York video art scene of the 60s and 70s – and they had built our studios accordingly. I became very immersed in real-time video synthesis and processing – hacking, circuit bending, custom electronics, etc. I was lucky enough to have spent time at the Experimental Television Center in the early 2000s, before it’s closure in 2011. Throughout this time I was still drawing, making sculpture, prints, painting, everything really. I was fortunate to have a very interdisciplinary art school experience.

Niio Co-Founder in front of a work by Cory Arcangel in the Lisson Booth @ Frieze NYC.
Niio Co-Founder, Rob Anders, in front of a work by Cory Arcangel in the Lisson Gallery Booth @ Frieze NYC.

What was the first piece of digital art you remember experiencing?

Either Paper Rad or Cory Arcangel

Who is doing really cutting edge work?

Tabor Robak continues to amaze

If you could own one piece of art, what would it be?

Any Ed Ruscha

Favorite museum (aside from MOMA)?

The New Museum is always a favorite for a weekend afternoon.

Favorite city for exploring art?

New York, naturally


Read Part 1 of our interview with Ben.


About Ben Fino-Radin

Ben is a NYC based media archaeologist, archivist and conservator of born-digital and computer based works of contemporary art. He is the Associate Media Conservator at the world-renowned Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In this role, he develops strategies and policy that contribute to the preservation of the museum’s digital collections.

Prior to MoMA, Ben worked as a Digital Conservator at Rhizome at the New Museum where he structured preservation and collecting practices for collections management, documentation, and preservation of born-digital works of art. As an Adjunct professor at NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program, Ben taught a course on Digital Literacy designed to equip first year graduate students with fundamental technical skills for careers in digital archives as well as Handling Complex Media, a course designed to give second year graduate students practical skills for the identification, risk assessment, preservation and treatment of creative works that employ complex and inherently unstable digital materials.

Research interests include: digital preservation, digital cultural heritage, web based creative communities, computer history, information architecture, metadata and animated gifs.