Kaya Hacaloğlu: cinema as a containing medium

Pau Waelder

Kaya Hacaloğlu (Ankara, Republic of Türkiye, 1975) is an artist who works in video and photography, experimenting with live cinema, documentary, and video painting in individual projects and collaborations with other artists and creators, combining video with literature, poetry, music, painting, and performance. With a group of artists he developed the projects Mugwump and Cotton AV, consisting of live cinema performances combining found footage with electro/acoustic and atmospheric music. His work has been exhibited in international art festivals and biennials in Istanbul, Zurich, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and many other cities. 

Hacaloğlu recently presented on Niio the series Pensive Tree, a photographic project that merges images from a plane tree standing at the entrance of the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and a madrone tree in Austin, Texas into an ever-changing, flowing abstract composition that evokes multiple states of matter. Hacaloğlu chose the term Agâh to describe this morphing shape, a word that in Turkish and other languages means “aware,” or “knowledgeable.” In the following interview, he discusses his video and live performance work, the making of Pensive Tree and the inspiration he has drawn from legendary filmmakers.

Explore the Pensive Tree series by Kaya Hacaloğlu

Kaya Hacaloğlu. Pensive Tree Fluffy Tissue / Agah, 2022

Your background is in cinema studies. How has the cinematic narrative influenced your work? What has driven your transition towards abstract or semi-abstract works and to video paintings?

The cinematic narrative gave me a taste, an ability, and an interest to comprehend a ‘language’ which comes with a long history of collective creation. It opened a door which influenced me to get together with other cinephiles and people of interest in creating work. 

I regard cinema as a containing medium. 

The quintessential auteur who has made the leap from cinema to the lands of deconstructing his own visual narrative films and projecting them in rooms and cisterns  would be Peter Greenaway, whose techniques and abilities are particularly influenced by art history and classical paintings. Other filmmakers that have profoundly influenced me are Chris Marker, Derek Jarman, and Jean-Luc Godard. Marker’s approach into making a film, for instance La Jeteé, is made of a series of still photographs as opposed to filming them with a film camera by taking 25 photographs a second. He therefore plays with the sense of motion in film (although motion appears one time and only briefly at a certain point in the film.) Marker started in the movement of Cinema Verité, which takes video journalism approaches to everyday street life in Paris. Godard’s and Anne-Marie Miéville’s ways of editing and implementing found footage, archival images, sounds, music and narration, add a sense of belonging and nostalgia to the cinematic narrative, connected to a certain moment of the history of the 20th century. Jarman’s methods of multi-layer editing using video-synthesizer and his experimental approach into dance, queer cinema and his brave character have made him a landmark in Cinema culture. And of course Guy Debord and his slogan “le monde a été déjà filmé, il s’agit maintenant de le transformer:” The world is already filmed, it is time to change it. All of which I believe belongs to the tradition of filming and projecting that is part of the influences of cinema in my work.

“As Guy Debord once said: The world is already filmed, it is time to change it.”

Working a little bit at the University’s local television station channel 2 and watching displays of student works of the video art department’s ASTV is what drove me to study cinema and later take video classes at the Art School. The works I have come up with during my first years of learning were not exactly abstract works, at least the ones which got completed, but planned-constructed scripted works which were made in the university’s facilities. These works were very structural with usage of intellectual property. My transition from the realm of cinema into studies of non-narrative video making came after a work I have made mixing super8 and miniDV footage through the use of my digital NLE station at home in 2001.        

Cotton AV at Mute Club, 2011

In your video work one sees an attention to everyday life but also experiments with overlaying of images that lead to quasi abstract compositions, particularly Cotton AV which seems to be a precursor of the series we now show on Niio. Can you explain the process behind Cotton AV? How would you say this work relates to Pensive Tree?

Cotton AV  and its precursor Mugwump were made, as you say, by combining materials taped by Ozan Akıncı and myself and materials from public archives and footage from movies. Clips were created, looped in the most perfect possible way which were later fed to a software running on a laptop connected to a projector. By the time we started Mugwump none of us owned a laptop, and as the music was also live: there was a band of two musicians on stage, Şevket Akıncı and Korhan Erel, and a vocalist. We recorded the finished material on a DVD and connected a DVD player to the projector. As the band was playing live, starting and pausing at a certain time was crucial to keep the music synchronized with the images, which we had to do manually. We played mainly on a theater stage in Galata called Perform. Ozan got himself a laptop and as I was already used to being on stage and feeding loops, downloading loads of materials through eMule for my VJ mentor Exiled Surfer, we started using a software called Grid quite quickly. As we moved on I had a laptop and a V4 Edirol video mixer and were able to cut and fade between each other’s machines and mixes. Cotton AV had its last show at VJFest in 2012 organized by Burcu Gündüz, and ended after having performed with Gevende

Cotton AV and Pensive Tree may seem to be connected but are in fact quite different in their production and concept. Cotton AV is a group performing live on stage, whose visuals are created on-the-fly and whether or not they are being recorded they are just like live-music, which means they will never repeat themselves the exact same way but have been improvised. Pensive Tree is a series of works. Each work is a continuing display which starts and ends. And is not necessarily a loop. It is not a collaboration but made during a different time, in the presence of Leyla Atavi who was there as both a muse and an inspiration, she is a graphic designer. 

I first saw Framed digital art at a coffee shop in Moscow in the year 2010 at the commemoration of the famous poet Nazım Hikmet as we were performing with the team that created Mugwump. The screens were as big as iPads and were framed. Various softwares were also coming along and methods of projections in clubs especially had moved along which were tiresome, at times. I had an idea of using a screen as a mirror and implementing algorithms to create effects similar to those on Instagram, but that didn’t progress. By the time I started working on Pensive Tree I found people who created their own software, used RasberryPi microcontrollers and provided complete instructions on woodcutting and fitting a monitor into a frame for displaying still or digital video. There have been previous encounters such as the famous fireplace video which I first saw in Switzerland. 

“Photography is a containing medium, an archive of a certain moment a fragment of a place in time. It has a natal relation with reality.

Your photography work is strongly inspired by nature and also plays with textures and blurs to deconstruct the image and suggest a painterly composition. Which is your approach to photography? How does it relate to your video work?

Photography is a containing medium, an archive of a certain moment a fragment of a place in time. It has a natal relation with reality. It is made to replicate what the camera is seeing, thus what one eye is seeing is shaped to be seen and interpreted by many. I think of it as a womb which contains the infant prior to giving birth and where its child comes into encounter with light, as the most extreme example one can give as its relation to reality. As being begotten with the source of light. Just as, in some eastern cultures it is treated so sacredly. My brother during his trips to the Far East told me of some people who wouldn’t let him take their pictures as they thought their souls would be stolen. My relation with the camera and especially the question with the subject has somehow become an ethical matter, and questions about quasi experiencing the present, the happening has led me to nature and visual compositions.

I do not have a certain approach in photography. Looking and capturing is a certain skill which has to do with the correlation in respect to the human senses and the refinement of the experience and the person who experiences. The subject behind the works in the Pensive Tree is a photograph of a tree. The essence is a photograph started progressing through circular motion, and advanced its way with changes of the image’s pixel points and alterations in the duration and colors of the pixels that gave its textural and blurry forms and painterly character through the utilization of computer software.  

Kaya Hacaloğlu. Pensive Tree Dervishes Adrift / Agah, 2022

You have collaborated with different artists, including writers, poets, musicians, and performers. Can you describe these collaborations? How have they contributed to shaping your artistic practice and the subjects you address?

The collaborations helped me to enhance my skills in editing and shaped my personal approach to the creation of later works. They have given inspiration and also reasons and responsibilities. It would have been impossible for most of the underground or non-mainstream works in Türkiye to be made if it was not for the sense of solidarity and companionship here in Türkiye.

An example of a collaboration I would like to give is from a performance that I have organized for the ending and closure of the first screenings of the works of Pensive tree. The exhibition took place in 2019 at the Taksim Art Gallery, an ancient water cistern, as part of the Istanbul International Art Biennial. The renowned Istanbul Biennial, which is sponsored by the municipality, features the work of numerous artists, mainly in the form of painting, sculpture, photography, fabric art, and installations. The new Taksim Mosque was being newly built right across the Ataturk Opera House. The closing performance consisted of guitar player Şevket Akıncı, musician Özün Usta who improvised music and artist Eymen Aktel who painted on a canvas while I was projecting or mixing works of the Pensive Tree series. A line I wrote, “I hug where you stand out, in the shadow of what is called admiration, I rest.” was read by Eymen who improvised spoken word along the show.  

“I would say that the video and digital art scene in Türkiye has evolved into a very rich and confident art scene.”

Can you tell us about the video and digital art scene in Türkiye? What is it like, how has it evolved in recent years given the growing presence of art fairs and international events? 

The video art scene started with a few people many years ago who voluntarily curated artists who had limited ways of displaying their works. This was before Youtube. I would recall VideoIst, and other collections such as Turkish Delight by Genco Gülan and other camps back in the 2000’s where shooting and editing video was taught and required collective work such as Barış için Sinema (Cinema for Peace.)

Displaying digital video requires expensive display equipment like a Digital Panel or a Digital Projection. Along the years many organizations with panels with artists and curators, and solo shows the scene has made its peak I would say with the help of sponsorship. Many Turkish artists are in the international arena. Mappings, public projections to historical monuments and the usage of ancient spaces are being organized for exhibiting digital artwork.

 

Kaya Hacaloğlu. White Tree.

Your work is present in several online digital art platforms. What is your experience with the digital art market? Which opportunities and challenges do you see in the way art is distributed and commercialized nowadays?

My experience with the digital art market is due to the medium’s properties, the ownership, “re-production,” and maintenance of the artist’s rights of the “original” artwork. It is a challenge for the art market to introduce digital artworks as there is a strong competition from “static” artworks such paintings and sculptures. But I believe the growing acceptance of digital art is coming through large installations in public spaces, and not only in ticketed entry shows. The main issues for the future of digital art, in my view, are the accessibility to the artworks, the fairness in remuneration for artists, and of course that the art is properly presented.

Digital art can be treated as wall art or framed art now and it is making its way into homes. I remember one platform which displays the works of painters throughout the history of art on a vertically mounted ‘television’ and this example only can show us how much it has evolved throughout the history of print making.

“The issue for the artist is to have their work exhibited and recognized. The way digital art can be distributed is already here, it is a technical matter for it to be installed and displayed almost anywhere.”

The opportunity is for the art is to be visible. The invention of NFT granted the digital artwork an ‘original’ status because of its copying properties being hundred percent undetectable, a digital artwork becoming a digital token marks it as valuable.

The issue for the artist is to have their work exhibited and recognized. The way digital art can be distributed is already here, it is a technical matter for it to be installed and displayed almost anywhere. The challenge is how will it be creating a revenue for the artist and how will the preservation of the work be possible. Is it ok for some works to be available publicly or do they belong to private institutions, as video art has been treated and distributed as videotapes or film?

Kaya Hacaloğlu. Plane Tree.

Carlo Zanni: e-commerce, identity, and the epic of our times

Pau Waelder

An early practitioner of net art, Carlo Zanni is among the first artists to explore the nascent opportunities for the online art market and reflect on how the web would impact on our sense of identity and privacy. With a painter’s vision, he has seen in the development of online platforms and graphical user interfaces a space of visual compositions in which the computer desktop becomes a landscape, and everything in it is a fiction. 

He has also developed new forms of storytelling through web-based projects such as the “data cinema” trilogy: The Possible Ties Between Illness and Success (2006), My Temporary Visiting Position from the Sunset Terrace Bar (2007), and The Fifth Day (2009). In these online films, he combined a pre-defined narrative with data collected in real time from the same users who were watching the film, or from a distant webcam, or from different sources describing the social and political conditions of Egypt. 

Carlo Zanni, The Fifth Day (2009)

Explore Zanni’s data cinema artworks

Embedded in his work as an artist, his research on alternative models to sell digital art has led to pioneering yet unrealized projects such as P€OPLE ¥ROM MAR$ (2012), an online platform dedicated to selling video art and fostering a community of creatives based on shared revenue, or ViBo (2014-2015), a “video book” aimed at facilitating the sale of video art at affordable prices in unlimited series. He collected his experiences with these models in the book Art in the Age of the Cloud (Diorama Editions, 2017).

Niio is proud to present two selections of artworks by Carlo Zanni: Data Cinema Anthology, which brings together the Data Cinema trilogy and an additional artwork, and Save Me for Later, a code-based artwork recently presented at Zanni’s solo exhibition Accept & Decline at OPR Gallery in Milan. In the following interview, the artist discusses the artworks presented in this exhibition, which can be visited until April 28th.

Carlo Zanni, Check Out Paintings, 2022. On view at OPR Gallery, Milan.

In this latest series you have come back to painting as a medium, after a long career focused on web-based art, but you keep exploring the same subjects. Can you take me through the main ideas in the Check-Out Paintings?

This cycle of paintings is part of a long-term investigation of the social and psychological role of eCommerce in our society. It stems from the memories of the eCommerce check-out pages: a final destination we all are funneled to, in every online buying process. The check-out pages of eCommerce sites represent a highly symbolic limbo that precedes the dopamine rush where we all hope to find shelter. A form of addiction, but as shown during the pandemic, also a lifeline. 

“Our identity bounces between the happiness for buying, and the sense of guilt for having bought.”

Buying online is both a sort of pursuit of happiness as we have been taught by our society, both a way to escape reality, procrastinating any possible confrontation with ourselves. Our identity bounces between the happiness for buying, and the sense of guilt for having bought. Between the satisfaction of an increasingly frictionless, user-friendly, fast, and on-time experience; and the anxiety, and also the shame, for what this transient fake happiness often entails on a social, work, and human level for thousands of people: directly (shifts and working conditions, small local businesses), and indirectly (tax evasion of mega-corporations and environmental impact).

Unlike early works such as DTP Icons Paintings (2000), here you do not look for a realistic representation of the interface, but rather create almost abstract compositions, why is that?

True, because here is more about inner feelings than simple representation. It’s not witnessing from the outside but feeling from the inside, then trying to show a glimpse of it, if possible, in the real world.  So the rationalist layout, typical of these pages, fades into memory, it turns into a dreamlike experience, into a psychological post-image, while some details of the transaction, such as measures, prices, and quantities, emerge from the background when one gets closer to the surface of the painting: they bring us back to reality.

The subtle color fields of these paintings make them very difficult to be mediated or “seen” online (e.g. on Instagram, or on a PDF), instead they open up and expand in front of the viewer when experienced for real. While our society continues to demand fast, easily communicable images, these paintings are slow, almost invisible, non-existent images, and they ask for something very precious: our time.

Carlo Zanni, Check Out Paintings, 2022. On view at OPR Gallery, Milan.

How did you achieve this faded effect in the canvases?

The color used in these works is acrylic mixed with water and in some cases acrylic medium. This way tones are soft and they mesh one into the other when seen from a certain distance, vaporizing the memory of the whole picture. I take advantage of the cutting plotter to write numbers and other “technical” details. I cut the letters in vinyl (negative) with a size that allows me to draw inside them with a sharp pencil without touching the vinyl edges. This way the sentences and the lettering look “straight” and “guided” from a distance, and handmade from a closer inspection.

“When you stick your nose onto the canvas, the work transforms from an abstract field into a condensed epic of our times.”

Formally speaking, the style of these paintings was born in response to a period of social isolation due to the pandemic, during which, as a balance, we have tried to mediate all the possible human activities: meetings, purchases, employment, leisure, study, culture… I felt the need to go the other way, working on something that could be only appreciated when seen in person.

If you want to find some roots, these works echo the mature practice of artist Agnes Martin, in the use of pencil and subtle water-based colors, but here all the “modernist” and “minimalist” values of the time are almost gone. So all the pencil details and most of the color fields are only visible when you stick your nose onto the canvas, and the work transforms from an abstract, almost white, field, into a condensed epic of our times touching themes such as anxiety, desire, happiness, fear, gender identity, pandemics, politics, tragedies, wars.

While the paintings look almost abstract, they also contain references to the present, as is frequently found in your web-based artworks, what role do these references play?

The paintings dig into our daily culture and politics, for instance by discreetly showing disclaimers referring to the current Ukraine war. (Since February 2022, many eCommerce added such disclaimers for multiple reasons: from giving updated shipping info to giving their support to the Ukrainians). I see these paintings as a vehicle for meditation, an attempt to temporarily alienate ourselves from this endless moment of upheaval and unrest; while being violently dragged back to reality when we get closer to the surface: they are a way to extract some time from our hectic lives to sense the delicacy and fragility of our body and the transience of happiness while diving into our time.

While they are very different artworks, I would point out to Average Shoveler (2004) as having a similar approach in terms of its meditative aspect and the connection to real life events. In that work, which was commissioned by Rhizome, I created an online video game in which the player controls a man who has to shovel the snow falling on the streets of New York. Each time he does, several images taken from CNN and other news outlets in real time pop up and disappear. Additionally, some non-player characters stop and speak out news headlines. The main character invariably ends up dying of exhaustion, unable to shovel the incessant amount of snow. But the game also includes some secret spaces meant for the player to relax and just observe the scene, distanced from the gameplay. In a way, these paintings also provide that distanced space of observation while having these subtle hooks to reality.

Carlo Zanni, Average Shoveler (2004)

Talking about hooks, you describe some elements in the paintings as “clickbait,” can you elaborate on that?

Yes, the dark dots and solid-colored shapes (lines, rectangles, circles) that appear in some of the paintings are what I call “clickbaits” for one’s eyes. Seen from afar these canvases look pretty white and empty, but these dots stand out and catch your attention. They work similarly to how advertising plays with colors, double meanings, and impressive images to stand out in a visually saturated landscape.

They also remind of the so-called “dark patterns”, which are interface design strategies quite common in e-commerce pages, that are meant to fool the user into doing what the vendor wants them to do, such as sign up for a newsletter, add an extra service, or choose the most expensive option among several choices. In my paintings, the shapes intend to lure you into looking closely at the painting and finding what it is actually about. However, I would say that while clickbait is content that over-promises and under-delivers, in my paintings I under-promise and over-deliver 🙂

Carlo Zanni, Save Me for Later (2022)

Save me for later (2022) is also an intriguing artwork in the sense that it is not what it appears to be, and it connects with a concept you have explored over the years, which is the computer screen as a landscape

“Save me for later” is actually a bot browsing Amazon.com, continuously adding products to the cart that is visible in the right sidebar. When the cart reaches its limit, it automatically moves products to the “saved for later list”, making room for the new freshly added ones. The bot embeds a floating window with the webcam stream framing me while performing. This repetitive and almost hypnotic performance, with apparently no beginning and no end, speaks of the type of procrastination we all carry out while browsing e-commerce sites, looking for products that will bring us happiness and make our lives better.

As with the paintings, the experience of isolation during the pandemic was key to conceiving this artwork, in which the computer screen becomes a landscape, a place of escapism and daydreaming. The performance is consciously slow and cryptic, and as it is playing out in real time, in the real Amazon website, the items that appear reflect our present time just as the subtle writings on the paintings take us back to the world we are living in. For instance, when I first ran the program, the bot frequently picked up COVID-19 self-tests, which at some point were very much in demand and right now are almost forgotten. 

“This repetitive and almost hypnotic performance speaks of the type of procrastination we all carry out while browsing e-commerce sites, looking for products that will bring us happiness and make our lives better”

I see this project also as a vehicle for meditation, an attempt to alienate ourselves momentarily from our daily lives and our anxieties (so the title “Save me for later”). And behind the activity itself, what you see on the screen that is apparently me browsing the Amazon site but is in fact an automated process carried out by a computer program, is an interesting exchange of data. Data collected by the Amazon site about this meaningless routine (constantly adding items to the cart without ever checking out), data displayed by Amazon about the articles on sale, data that is processed by Amazon’s algorithm to display new items related to previously selected products. 

See a two-hour excerpt of Zanni’s endless automated performance on Amazon

Data is for me what gravity probably was for Bas Jan Ader. “The artist’s body as gravity makes itself its master.” These mysterious words were used by Bas Jan Ader to describe his short films Falling I (Los Angeles) and Falling II (Amsterdam) when he showed them in Düsseldorf in 1971. He was playing with gravity, he was becoming gravity, accepting its outcome: failures, fragilities, spiritualism, poetry, meditation, ascension. 

I feel that I use data in a sort of similar way, accepting the fact that most of my works will cease to exist quite soon after their birth. By using data from media outlets such as CNN, tools from Google, data collected from users, and so on, I consciously open my work to a vulnerability as the price to pay for creating a work that is always connected to the present and fed by data that circulates online. Then, an API is changed, a tool is discontinued, and the artwork cannot exist anymore. Sometimes you can fix them, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. 

Other times you start again from scratch as recently I did with Cookie Portrait (2002-2022), a work about online identity and privacy that had to be rewritten when it was launched at OPR Gallery last year, 20 years after it was first created. This work is based on the same cookie technology that is used – for instance – for the internal session management of an eCommerce site and more generally for user profiling and marketing activities. This work reminds us that, in our online existence, we are made of data. The body is thus the sum total of your data, the artwork is a temporary and transient experience of something elusive, like our own existence is.

Antoine Schmitt: coding movement

Pau Waelder

Paris-based artist Antoine Schmitt describes himself as a “heir of kinetic art and cybernetic art,” aptly indicating the two main aspects of his work: the interest in all processes of movement, and the use of computers to create generative and interactive artworks. With a background as a programming engineer in human computer relations and artificial intelligence, his career spans almost three decades and is characterized by a combination of interactive installations, process-based abstract pieces, and performances. He has collaborated with a wide range of professionals from the fields of music, dance, architecture, literature, and cinema. He also performs in live concerts and writes about programmed art.

Schmitt’s award-winning artworks have been exhibited internationally, in prestigious venues such as the Centre Georges Pompidou and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and world-renown festivals Sonar (Barcelona), and Ars Electronica (Linz). A selection of video recordings from his generative works have been featured in our curated art program, including the artcasts Unvirtual Art Fair (Paris) and Possibles, which was exhibited at the ISEA2022 Barcelona Symposium. The artist kindly answered a series of questions about the concepts and processes behind his work.

Antoine Schmitt and Franck Vigroux. ATOTAL. Audiovisual concert, 2021

From your early works to the latest installations, there is a constant interest in the relationship between the artwork and the viewer, and more generally between a human and a machine, that often become intimate, connected to emotions and to physical proximity. What do you find interesting about this strange relationship between an individual and a machine, or an apparently sentient entity?

Programming has always been for me a means to approach reality, by recreating it. I consider programming as a radically new material, in art and in general, because of its active nature: programs are processes embedded in reality and can react to it and act upon it. This specificity allows me to recreate programmatically aspects of nature that interest me. One of the most complex entities in reality (known so far) is the human being. Many of my artworks stage a programmed artificial entity that embodies a deep aspect of human nature. These artworks act for me as mirrors for the viewer, a way to question deep human mechanisms or ways of being, like desire, curiosity, language, conflict, gravity, etc… not forgetting that humans are also animals, and are also bodies in space. 

This approach also allows me to reflect on the way we humans are programmed, by laws, evolution, society, etc… My artworks are, like deep science fiction, very much fueled by philosophy, physics, metaphysics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, etc… Using programming to create artificial entities, more or less intelligent, more or less sentient, but all embodying dynamic aspects of human life, allows me to focus each artwork on a specific concept or aspect of human nature. They are forms of living caricatures that are all the more effective.

“I consider programming as a radically new material because of its active nature: programs are processes embedded in reality and can react to it and act upon it.”

Your work is characterized both by its interactivity and the generative processes that bring it to life. What do you find most interesting about these two types of processes, the one carried out by an autopoietic generative artwork and the one carried out by an interactive installation?

All my artworks are active and exist in real time, i.e. the same time as the spectator. Some artworks are not sensitive to the real world, they are not interactive, they live their life in their own universe, and we watch them like we would watch a strange animal in an aquarium. With these artworks, the main link between the audience and the artwork is through empathy. By projecting oneself in the existential universe of the artwork, the spectator recognizes and feels the situation. It is the same process as with movies and books, with the additional dimension of the real time: with realtime artworks the spectator knows, or feels, that what happens happens here and now. It is not a recording. This gives a different dimension to the empathy, like when watching a live performance which also happens here and now.

Antoine Schmitt. Systemic. Interactive installation, 2010

With interactive artworks, I usually want to question the behaviors and inner mechanisms of the audience themselves. It is the actions of the viewer which are the artwork, I create the dynamic situation in which the viewer is immersed and I orient it so as to highlight and question certain deep ways of being. For example, the Systemic (2010), Lignes-mobiles (1999) and La chance (2017) installations draw dynamic arrows on the floor in front of passers-by to question their intention. In Psychic (2007), a text on the wall describes the movements and intentions of the spectators in the exhibition space (“Somebody is coming”).

I tend to adopt a minimalist approach: I don’t use an artistic dimension (color, figure, interactivity) unless it is mandatory for the artwork. So I don’t use interactivity unless the artwork’s subject is the spectator themselves.

“In my interactive installations it is the actions of the viewer which are the artwork, I create the dynamic situation in which the viewer is immersed and I orient it so as to highlight and question certain deep ways of being.”

Since the beginning of your career, you have collaborated with performing artists, among which composers such as Vincent Epplay, Franck Vigroux, and Jean-Jacques Birgé, performers such as Hortense Gauthier, and choreographers such as Jean-Marc Matos and Anne Holst. How did these collaborations take place? What have they brought to your own work and your creative process?

I have two different approaches to performance, whether I’m on stage or not. When I work with professional performers who use their body and actions as their main material, we craft situations where the human entity is confronted to an artificial one. This allows us to precisely stage the encounter and focus precisely on certain aspects, which become the subject of the performance. The situation usually centers on the concept of an encounter with an “other” and on the modalities of dialog. In Myselves with Jean-Marc Matos, it is about exploring various modes of dialog like imitation, fight or fusion. In CliMax with Hortense Gauthier, it is about finding mutual pleasure. In these setups, the mirror effect happens between the performer and the artificial entity rather than with the audience. The audience is watching the encounter. The artificial creature becomes an actor of the performance, in the spirit of performance: taking risks in a staged delicate situation. 

Antoine Schmitt and Hortense Gauthier. CliMax (Préliminaires), 2018

When I am on stage, I usually play live images, using a videogame-like visual instrument that I program myself and that recreates a specific abstract though consistent live universe, while the other performer plays live music. We are in a situation of semi-improvisation and we create an audio-visual temporal exploratory journey around a specific theme (the birth of shapes in Tempest, the cohabitations of multiple timelines in Chronostasis, totalities in ATOTAL, flows in Cascades, etc…). As a performer, I appreciate sharing the energy of the present moment with the audience, especially while being delved into an artificial universe and struggling with it, which the audience can feel.

Antoine Schmitt. Generative Quantum Ballet 21 Video Recording, 2022

Besides the performing arts, another strong reference in your work is scientific research: you often mention theories from mathematics or physics as the conceptual ground for your pieces. What does science bring to your work? How do you build a bridge between the scientific method and your creative process?

I am very sensitive to the deep and strong laws of the universe that math and physic theories can give us, as they allow me to both approach our reality and imagine other possible realities. What is interesting with these laws is that they are programmable so I can recreate them using programs, thus focusing on deep mechanisms, to stage them or alter them. For example, in the Tempest show, I created a universe containing many of the forces of our universe but also invented forces, thus opening the doors to parallel universes.

I often say that science and art are interested in the same subject : the crack that exists between reality and our abstraction of it. This crack is our curse as human beings. Animals do not feel this pain but as soon as one has the gift of abstraction, the distance between what we abstract and what is, is the source of all mental suffering. Science tries to close that crack by explaining as much as possible through theories and language, more and more precisely, even though it is an impossible task (as was demonstrated in the 20th century by the scientists Heisenberg and Gödel). On the contrary, Art delves in the depths of the crack, exploring all its modalities, playing with all the emotions that stem from it. And the narrower the crack, the deeper it is.

“I often say that science and art are interested in the same subject: the crack that exists between reality and our abstraction of it.”

The aspects of your work that we have previously addressed all point to a main subject which are the processes of movement, as clearly highlighted in your artist’s statement. These processes are explored in a wide range of contexts, from the quantum realm to urban societies, and among different actors, be it people, bodies, or particles. Why are these processes so important to your work, and which of these contexts is more rich, engaging or interesting to you?

I think that I’ve always had this abstract approach to reality which can be synthesized in the question “why does it move like this?”. I started with a rather scientific approach through my studies as an engineer, and when I decided to become an artist, I continued to explore this question in a different way. It is an analytical approach, a way of looking at the world, and a way to question it. I frankly appreciate all the dimensions of it and will continue to explore them, but I think that the strongest and the ones that give me the biggest satisfaction are the most abstract approaches, the ones that are the most remote from reality and still apply to many aspects of reality, existing or perceived. Black Square (2016), where a flock of white pixels try to enter an invisible square and bounce on it thus revealing it, can lead to multiple interpretations. It is a fundamental delicate situation. 

Antoine Schmitt. Black Square Video Recording, 2016

The signature element in your work, the pixel, is introduced in Le Pixel Blanc (1996). There, you describe it as “a minimal artificial presence… something that almost did not appear, but that still would be «there».” Over time, the pixel has gained more presence and become as much an object, a presence, and an absence, as part of a flow or the representation of an individual. How would you describe the evolution of your conception of this basic element and its influence on your work?

The pixel and the square are omnipresent in my work. I like my artworks to be minimal, like mathematical theorems. This naturally led to the pixel, the minimal visual element in the universe of the computer. A pixel is a small square, and by enlarging it, you get a large square. And like Malevich, I consider the square like the symptom of the human being’s power and curse: the ability of abstraction These two elements are the basis of most of my artworks. What I work on is their movement, relatively to the space around them, or relatively to the other elements. They are minimal but open to all the possibles, through their movements and the infinitely rich possibilities of programming.

“The pixel and the square are minimal but open to all the possibles, through their movements and the infinitely rich possibilities of programming.”

Your career spans almost three decades, in which you have explored many different formats of creation and distribution, from multimedia projects on CD-ROM, to Internet-based artworks, interactive installations, video mapping, screen-based pieces, software art, live performances, generative cinema, NFTs, and much more. What is your opinion on the way technology has evolved over these decades and how it has influenced art making? How have you experienced this period of constant innovation and obsolescence?

These have been very exciting years, for one because computers are more and more pervasive (we all now have a powerful computer in our pocket) and also because art made with computers is now widely accepted. It is therefore easier to create programmed artworks and to show them. The technology is more easily available, the distribution channels — in the wide sense — are numerous and the audience is listening.

On the other hand, technology is nowadays mainly used for advertising, surveillance, entertainment and manipulation of opinions, which is a social problem and has an effect on art made with technology. Many approaches build upon or react to these social dimensions, which are all needed and interesting but leave little room for the more conceptual and radical approaches. This may be true for all forms of art, but it is stronger with technological art as technology so much shapes our society these days.

Antoine Schmitt. FaçadeLifeGrandPalais. Generative mapping at the Grand Palais in Paris, 2016

What is interesting also is that I think that no new concept was really born in the field since Alan Turing invented the computer, the “universal machine”. All computer-based technologies are avatars of this unique concept. This can probably account for the fact that my artworks have not radically changed since I started. My work does not reflect on the social impacts of technology on society, nor are impacted by the various technological “innovations” and obsolescence. It is minimal so does not make use of the innovations toward more “power”, and it is rather rooted deeply in the concepts of the universal machine which have not changed : with a universal machine, all thinkable processes are programmable.

“Art made with technology often builds upon its social dimensions, which are all needed and interesting but leave little room for the more conceptual and radical approaches.”

You were already working with generative text twenty years ago, in The Automatic Critic (1999). What is your opinion about the current trend among artists to use machine learning models such as ChatGPT?

Although I am quite impressed by the quality of the interactions of users with ChatGPT (I thought that this level of quality would take more years to happen), the generative approach on these systems are in the normal continuation of the original concept of the computer. We are at the stage of imitation: these algorithms generate media that look like media created by humans, as the central mechanism of neural networks is pattern recognition and pattern generation, whether it is text, images, music, reasoning, etc… This is quite fascinating for users and it is similar to the caricatural mirror effect that I was referring to at the beginning. The art, or more generally the forms of expression, created by these algorithms in imitation of ours are a mirror to our forms of expression and thus question them.

But art is intention and responsibility. These two notions are still unique to humans. But maybe one day, we will be able to create an algorithm able to feel pain, express it with intention towards its fellow humans and take responsibility for it. There is no theoretical impossibility for this in the theory of the universal machine and I look forward to it.

In the meantime, as an artist, the most interesting aspect of AI systems remains for me the creation of biased algorithms which focus on some dimension of human nature, like Deep Love (2017) which answers all questions with “I don’t know, but I love you.”

Antoine Schmitt and Franck Vigroux. Tempest. Audiovisual concert, 2013

You entered the NFT scene in 2021 with Buy Me! a particularly conceptual, and generative piece. What has the NFT market brought to your practice? Has it influenced your production? Have you found new forms of creation or sources of inspiration, beyond its commercial dimension?

It took me some time to understand that the main new concept behind the NFT market boom was the perspective of financial profit, for collectors and for artists. This is the reason I created the satirical piece Buy Me! (2021), which embodies an algorithm desperately trying to convince its viewers to buy it, using language techniques inspired by advertising and psychological manipulation. It is a piece on the processes of marketing.

Apart from greed, the NFT market has opened the field of computer art to a new audience, which was really interesting, but I am eager to see the fusion of the traditional art market with NFT seen as a new way to buy and collect artworks.

Antoine Schmitt. The Fall of Leviathan. Interactive installation, 2021. Photo: Quentin Chevrier

You recently quoted the mathematical theory of catastrophes to describe the year that has begun and may bring sudden change, positive or negative. How does this year look for you? Which upcoming projects can you share with us?

I am very excited to start a collaboration with the DAM Projects gallery in Berlin. Its owner, Wolf Lieser, has been involved in computer art for a few decades and I look forward to working with him and his team. We will start with a solo show next autumn, with a selection of historical works and new artworks.

I am also very excited by two new live audiovisual performances, Videoscope and Nacht, with Franck Vigroux, which are in the making, and that will tour the world along with the existing performances (Melbourne, Gijón, San Francisco, etc..).

Digital Art Powers Workspaces in 2019

Inspiring creativity at work through New Media Art

  • Written by Natalie Stone

The seismic shift in the way we work has made the last decade feel as though many businesses are finally focussed on their most important asset – their people. Allowing the workforce to play a role in dictating how, where and when we work demonstrates the true value that leaders are placing on their staff. Endless research has shown that a happy workforce breeds increased productivity and companies worldwide are taking note. Businesses are constantly striving to enhance working environments with unique experiences – a telling and effective tribute to this trend. Many companies have turned to art and design to connect their people and customers to their story or brand and to inspire creativity.

Artwork: Alex McLeod, Walking Seasons // Photo: Or Kaplan

A study conducted by The Harvard Journal of Workplace Learning shows that employees believe art promotes social interactions, elicits emotional responses, facilitates personal connection-making, generally enhances the workplace environment and fosters learning. It also tells us that art which directly relates to the organization’s mission, and diverse art collections generate deeper engagement for employees and customers.

Digital art is a key component in this shift and Niio is at its cusp. As art advances beyond the white walls of galleries and museums into commercial, private and public spaces, Niio is harnessing this trend through collaborations with cutting-edge designers, venues and artists.

Galvanized by the idea that moving images can change in real-time and are often influenced by current events or incoming data, Niio has collaborated with artist Refik Anadol to power his groundbreaking work. Anadol’s coded piece of art changes based on real-time wind patterns in Linz, turning a screen into an ever-changing living artwork, lauded by critics and art-lovers.

Refik Anadol, Wind of Linz

Anadol and Niio’s partnership demonstrates the potential of digital art to incorporate interactive works and kinetic and rotating exhibitions, creating engaging spaces throughout time. The possibilities are endless.

Meet in Place, another of Niio’s partners, is a meeting room focused start-up, bringing curated rotating collections of fine digital art to high-end meeting space locations in New York, London and Tel Aviv, powered by Niio.

Artwork: Zeitguised, Void Season // Photo: Tom Mannion

The digital age is well and truly here. Screens are everywhere – on office walls, building facades and in open public spaces. With all this digital noise comes a unique opportunity for artists to take their work beyond its traditional realms by turning screens into a memorable and magical experience – at home, in places of leisure and at work. Niio is helping artists make the magic happen.

Committed to enabling seamless access to the world’s finest gallery quality video and interactive media art, screened on digital canvases across the world, Niio transforms and enhances workplaces to create engaging and inspiring environments.

The team at Niio collaborates with designers, bringing them together with the best fine digital art in the world and helping them deliver and display their work. With a network of over 1,500 artists, curators and galleries and a portfolio of over 9,000 premium artworks on our platform, Niio is a game-changer in an evolving realm.