Steve Schapiro: what is special about people

Pau Waelder

Niio is proud to introduce a selection of artcasts by celebrated photographers in collaboration with Fahey/Klein Gallery, the leading contemporary photography gallery in Los Angeles. Curated by Nicholas Fahey, these selections dive into the work of the artists, presenting key series and iconic images, and are available to our members for a limited time only.

Interview with photographer Steve Schapiro (July 21st, 2017). Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery

Steve Schapiro (1934-2022) was one of the most prominent figures of documentary photography in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. An exceptional witness of the civil rights movement, his camera captured key moments in American history with a sharp eye and caring attention to the subjects of his portraits. 

Devoted to photojournalism from a young age, he was inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and took lessons from W. Eugene Smith, whose teachings marked a profound influence in Schapiro’s work throughout his career. In 1961 he traveled to Arkansas and photographed a camp for migrant workers. Jubilee, a small Catholic magazine, published his photos as an eight-page picture story. The New York Times picked up one of the photos and used it as the cover for the New York Times Magazine section. That was his first real break. Schapiro continued showing his pictures to Life while doing essays on “Narcotic Addiction in East Harlem”, “The Apollo Theatre”, “Women of New York”, and “Jazz Sessions for Riverside Records.” Finally Life gave him an assignment which worked out and he began freelancing for Life and other magazines such as Time, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post and Paris Match. 

“There’s so many pictures I look at which have an iconic feel to them. And yet, you can’t explain what it is in the picture that’s causing you to feel that way.”

Steve Schapiro

He closely followed the political and social changes of the 1960s in the United States, accompanying Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign and the civil rights movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the Selma to Montgomery march. In the 1970s and 1980s, Schapiro turned his attention to film set photography. He was hired by Paramount Pictures and worked on the set of famous films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). 

Steve Schapiro. Robert Kennedy at Berkeley, California, 1966

The series of photographs of the American Civil Rights Movement is among Schapiro’s finest. In late 1962, he read James Baldwin’s essays in the New Yorker which became the book The Fire Next Time. Schapiro asked Life if he could do a photo essay on Baldwin. They agreed and for the next month Steve traveled with Baldwin to Harlem, North Carolina, Mississippi, and New Orleans. He met many leaders of the non-violent civil rights movement and saw real segregation for the first time. Schapiro notes of meeting and traveling with Baldwin, “Here was an intellectual, a brilliant man, and a black leader who never seemed to forget the importance of relating to each other as human beings. He had a hunger for love and believed in its power.”

Steve Schapiro. James Baldwin, Do You Love Me, 1963

This portrait of Baldwin is particularly telling of a quality that Schapiro sensed in him: his loneliness. Describing the photograph, he confesses: “every time I look at that picture, I feel an emotional moment. Because it seems to me it really points out the loneliness that he had, during 1963, which was the time when I first met him.”

After Schapiro’s photo-essay ran in Life in March of 1963, he was assigned to cover the South in even greater depth. These assignments produced images that are now part of the American collective subconscious: George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama, the March on Washington, Civil Rights leader John Lewis in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Schapiro’s photographs from this time are some of the most important historical documents of the American 20th century. While his photographs certainly document the darker side of the struggle, Schapiro also manages to relay the constant reliance upon love, community, and faith that became the legacy of King and his Civil Rights Movement.

“It is looking for that specialness in people, what makes someone unique, which I really treasure, either in a person or in an event.”

Steve Schapiro

The way in which the photographer became part of the people he was portraying speaks of his care and attention to the human side of the stories he was telling through his pictures: “I really enjoy being a fly on the wall,” he says. “And really waiting for that moment when I sense something about someone, particularly in a portrait that really conveys something.” 

Steve Schapiro. Vote, Selma March, 1965

The images from the Selma march are among his most iconic, with this one being particularly symbolic: “[The vote picture] conveyed a sense of what the civil rights struggle was about,” he says, “because it was about gaining the vote for black people in America. There’s so many pictures I look at which have an iconic feel to them. And yet, you can’t explain what it is in the picture that’s causing you to feel that way.” 

Schapiro’s unique ability to blend in with the crowd and capture spontaneity also allowed him to take candid photographs of movie stars, musicians, and artists that communicate a strong feeling of intimacy. His technique basically consisted in being there and assuming he would be allowed to take the picture: “If you’re a photographer, and you smile at people, they feel good about it,” he states. “Most people don’t mind being photographed, unless they feel that you’re going to do something to harm them in some way. So basically, if you’re just matter of fact photographing people in terms of who they are and what they’re doing, you don’t have any trouble.”

Steve Schapiro. Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Entourage, New York, 1965

“If I have a philosophy on life, it’s that we should care more about people.”

Steve Schapiro

Steve Schapiro was a great photographer not only because of his technique and his instinct for a perfect composition in the frame, but also because he cared about the stories he told and the people whose lives are part of that story. Without this sensibility and empathy, the images would appear perfect but distant, devoid of the human breath and the beating hearts that one feels in each of his pictures. Schapiro made this clear in one of his last interviews: “If I have a philosophy on life, it’s that we should care more about people. And we should have more of a humanitarian view of things. And I’m concerned that there are important, powerful people who don’t have that, and they don’t value human life. But life is so precious.”

What is digital art, then?

Ask Me Anything by Pau Waelder

Ask Me Anything is a series of articles in the form of conversations, aiming to clarify certain terms, techniques, and debates related to digital art. Our Senior Curator puts 20 years of expertise in digital art at your service to answer your questions, taking only 5 minutes of your time.

Illustration generated using OpenAI’s DALL-E 2

So, what is digital art?

Digital art is art created with digital technologies, namely computers. It is also art that addresses how digital technologies are changing us humans, our societies, and the environment.

But nowadays everyone uses computers. What is so new about digital art?

Actually, digital art is not new, it is at least 60 years old. It was in the early 1960s that mathematicians, engineers, and visual artists started creating drawings using computers. They wrote algorithms that described a visual composition and had the computer execute them using a plotter drawing machine. Back then, what they did was called “computer art.”

Two drawings from the series P-10, “random walk” (1969) by Manfred Mohr exemplify the use of a computer program to generate endless visual compositions. Source: emohr.com.

So the machine did everything? Where’s the art in that?

The artists wrote the program and set the main instructions that the computer would follow, leaving some space for randomness, and then selected from the outputs of the plotter the compositions that fitted their vision. In digital art, artists often leave part of the control over the appearance or the behavior of the artwork to a computer program, realtime data, and even the viewers’ actions. The machines and systems involved can play a more defining role than, say, a paintbrush or a chisel, but still it is the artist who creates the artwork.

The machines and systems involved in digital art can play a more defining role than a paintbrush or a chisel, but still it is the artist who creates the artwork.

Wait, did you just say “behavior of the artwork”? You mean that a digital artwork “behaves,” like a person or a puppy?

Behavior is a way of saying that the artwork is active. It is not like a painting, a sculpture, or a photograph, which are the end result of a process previously carried out by the artist. Some digital artworks are generative, which means they can create new outputs endlessly, or they are interactive, which is to say that they react to what is in front of them, for instance the presence of a viewer. Also, some are connected to an external source of data, such as the weather forecast in Wyoming or the latest news from CNN. These artworks are not static, they do something. They are constantly changing according to an algorithm, a storm approaching Cheyenne, or the movements of a person who just stepped into the room. Since they are doing something all the time, we can call the way they do it a behavior.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Surface Tension (1992) is an early example of interactive art

Ok, full stop. You started talking about “digital art,” then “computer art,” and now it’s “generative,” “interactive,” and “connected.” Why all these terms? Isn’t it all just art?

Certainly, but keep in mind that digital art has followed the development of digital technologies over the last decades, incorporating new forms of creativity as these technologies became available to artists. The pioneers of computer art in the 1960s were a handful of people who had access to mainframe computers in research centers. Others started creating digital images when they got their hands on the first personal computers. Later on, more joined in creating artworks using websites or video game engines. Nowadays, artists can use artificial intelligence programs, 3D scanners, robots, and all sorts of hardware and software in the making of their artworks. 

Each new technology brings with it new ways of creating art, sometimes changing the definition of what an artwork is and what we can do with it. In order to describe and understand these new art forms, and, well, behaviors, we need new terms. However, you can stick to digital art as an overall term and then remember that some artworks are based on a computer program that constantly generates new outputs, or they interact with the viewers, or they use data from anywhere in the world. Actually, some artworks do all three things at once.

Each new technology brings with it new ways of creating art, sometimes changing the definition of what an artwork is and what we can do with it.

I am familiar with contemporary art. How come I’m hearing about this just now?

Although digital art is one of the many branches of contemporary art, it has been ignored in the contemporary art world for decades, and has even found it hard to be considered art at all. When pioneering artists exhibited their algorithmic drawings in the 1960s, some felt threatened by the idea of a machine that could replace human creativity. Computer art was dismissed by many as little more than a curiosity, not a genuine artistic practice. Digital art soon found its place in electronic and media art festivals, as well as in a few museums and galleries, developing a parallel network that seldom crossed paths with the contemporary art world.

During the last decade, the presence of digital art in contemporary art museums, biennials, galleries, and art fairs has grown, while an increasing number of online platforms and marketplaces are providing ways to access art in a digital form. The pandemic and the NFT boom have brought even more awareness about digital art, although not always in a positive way. Additionally, younger generations of artists and collectors now see digital art as the form of creative expression that more closely represents the world we live in. As you said before, now everyone uses computers, so why not integrate digital technologies into our culture?

“I can’t imagine ARTFORUM ever doing a special issue on electronics or computers in art”, stated editor Philip Leider in 1967. The magazine has seldom published reviews about digital art in the last 55 years.

So everything will be digital from now on? Is this the death of painting?

Absolutely not. Digital art is not about replacing traditional forms of art making, but rather expanding them. Many digital artists are as interested in drawing, painting, and sculpture as they are in pixels, circuit boards, and coding. Some paint with robots and drones, others create sculptures out of 3D models rendered in a computer, and many create installations combining interactive, screen-based artworks with physical objects. Even artists selling NFTs are adding to their blockchain-certified digital artworks unique prints and 3D-printed sculptures. Therefore, artistic creation is now more rich than ever, thanks to the possibilities brought by digital technologies. 

Many digital artists are as interested in drawing, painting, and sculpture as they are in pixels, circuit boards, and coding

In the coming years, we will see even more new forms of artistic creativity developed with artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnology, and innovative ways of distributing and displaying digital art, in virtual and augmented reality, and on any screen. 

I see. Well, thanks! Just one more thing: Wyoming? What is there?

That was just an example.

The Exploit of Art: AI and the Banality of Images

Grégory Chatonsky

Our guest author Grégory Chatonsky is an artist whose work has explored the possibilities of artistic expression with digital media since the mid-1990s. An ongoing subject in his practice is the exploration of Artificial Intelligence and particularly the concept of “artificial imagination,” which exposes the machine’s ability to produce content beyond human capabilities and push the limits of art. 

In this text, he presents a critique of the latest advances in artificial intelligence aimed at producing more realistic images, which may lead in turn to the banality of all images.

Gregory Chatonsky, from the Latents Diagrams series, 2022

Every week a new text-to-video generation and translation code becomes available on Colab [1]. We keep on experimenting, eager to produce new images and explore these new possibilities. We try to make them our own to avoid some of the visual naïveties that are spread daily on Twitter and Discord. But gradually the field of visual possibilities seems to be narrowing, with Dall-E 2 and affiliates [2]. By becoming more “credible”, the images also become more boring. The technological progression and the aesthetic motivation seem to go in opposite directions, as if each one had its own goals.

Undoubtedly, the codes developed by creative computer scientists, who most often have little knowledge of the history of art, meet requirements that are antagonistic to those of art. Computer practice consists in taking up challenges (exploits), in realizing objectives and in not questioning their presuppositions, so that one inherits more often than not an underlying ideological structure that tends to naturalize what is a social and cultural construction.

“The images in neural networks become more and more coherent, banal, until they strangely have a family air with those of Beeple.”

Thus, the generation of images in neural networks seems to have as a major objective the capacity to produce “natural” images from texts, i.e. images that seem to have been made by human operators with a technical mediation (painting, drawing, photography, etc.) and not generated by solitary machines. Inspired by Turing’s test, this finality conceals that this test took into account, in its two versions, its performative effects. Indeed, Alan Turing did not want the machine to be an intelligence like a human being (this faculty being moreover uncertain in the latter), but that the latter grants, affects, attributes to the machine an intelligence if he ignores that it is a machine. The recognition of the arbitrariness of the attribution is fundamental here, because it is what defines the conditions of possibilities which must be built and deconstructed.

Thus, the images in neural networks become more and more coherent, banal, until they strangely have a family air with those of Beeple. An average aesthetic fruit of the thoughtless juxtaposition of our culture, a latent space that can be statistical (technical) or cognitive (human). They seem to lose the strangeness of pixels and Surrealism, to repress their psychedelic or hallucinatory character of a Deep Dream [3], since it is a question of overcoming what appears as defects and oddities, so that one does not notice the difference between the alleged original and the alleged copy. One then sees only fire. In fact, there is nothing to see anymore, except a symptom of our time and its hypermnesia.

There is behind the computer exploit a generalized instrumentality, a deterministic construction of the world, which affects the aesthetics itself. It supposes here a linear conception of the representation, of the mimesis, of the Vorstellung: the images would not have effect on themselves. The images of Dall-E 2 seem less disturbing than those of Disco Diffusion or VQGAN Clip, so much they are mastered and normal. One becomes nostalgic for a technology that is only a few weeks old. The technological evolution is an instant ruin, at the very moment of its appearance it is a disaster. Gone are the germinations and the metamorphoses, the imperfections and the monstrosities. The silhouettes and the objects are cut out on a background, each thing is distinguished from the others, the image becomes clearer and more “credible”, but we know well that this credibility is not natural and that it does not go without saying, it is a cultural construction and historically, geographically located. 

“When neural networks will be able to generate an image that cannot be distinguished from a human creation, it will be because images created by humans have been transformed, in their biggest banality and instrumentality, as an aesthetic by default.”

But it is precisely in the contingency of this construction that the true work of art underlines, whereas the technological development of the generation of images rests on the belief of an essentiality of this one. Coders therefore often pursue a decontextualized and essentialized visual purpose. The original images are considered as data that must be translated. That the perception of these “original” images can be retroactively influenced by the automated productions remains unthought of. That the translation of a text into images belongs to a long Western theological tradition of making images express a sacred text is obscured. This is the reason why “prompts” are often more interesting than visual results. If we were to catalog all the “prompts” that flood Twitter [4], we would probably get a good representation of the visual imagination of our time: what words do people think of to make an image? They don’t see that the defects, the metamorphoses, the amorphous are so many aesthetic potentialities, that the strange familiarity between human and technical productions is also made of distances and differences consisting in an anthropo-technological gray zone: human and technical have always influenced each other, the imagination will have been the name of their meeting through a material support.

When neural networks will be able to generate an image that cannot be distinguished from a human creation, it will be because images created by humans have been transformed, in their biggest banality and instrumentality, as an aesthetic by default. While we believe to be producing new images, we will be in fact modifying the perception of all the past images to which we refer. Our technical present will influence our cultural past. Also, we will have forgotten that there is no human production that is not technical and no technical production that is not human. We will then be able to produce images as stereotyped as those of the influencers, of Beeple, of these instagrammable painters of which we do not know if it is the paintings or the faces which make their fleeting success. We will then be able to be submerged by the flow of images, to create images of images, to take up the thread of all our visual culture through the latent space of statistics. We will then find something to do and we will invent enough errors and shifts to continue experimenting.

Notes by the editor:

[1] Colaboratory is a tool that allows users to write and run code on Python using Google’s cloud services. It facilitates running complex tasks that would otherwise be difficult to process on a personal computer, and also share the code. 

[2] Dall-E is an AI system developed by Open AI that creates realistic images from a text description. Its first version was announced on January 5th, 2021. The second version was announced in April 2022, presenting spectacular results.

[3] Deep Dream is a computer vision program created by Google engineer Alexander Mordvintsev that was released in 2015 and became popular for its ability to create dream-like images based on algorithmic pareidolia.

[4] Some Text to Image AI projects invite Twitter users to send “prompts,” descriptions of the images they would like to see generated by the AI.

What We’re Reading Now: Art (x) Design (x) Technology

At Niio, we are passionate about the intersection of Art, Design & Technology. From code-based and algorithmic artwork, to AR & VR installations, blockchain, and the new .ART domain, digital art was everywhere in ’17.  Check out some of the great stories that we’re reading now and look out for lots more in ’18.

 

ARTNEWS // 
The Year in Screens, in Museums, Galleries, and So On

“It’s estimated that the average American spends about ten hours looking at screens—on phones, laptops, desktops, tablets, televisions, and so on—every day. Screens are more than a little ubiquitous at this point, and I realized, perhaps not so surprisingly, that many of my favorite exhibitions from this year involved the use of screens.”  Read more.

Installation view of “Haroon Mirza: ‘ããã – Fear of the Unknown remix,” 2017, at Lisson Gallery, New York. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND LISSON GALLERY

 

THE VERGE  //
Miami Art Basel: Where Art Reckons With Technology

“In the mass of confusion that is Miami Art Basel, there’s more discussion about the issues of our time, and much of that is framed around technology and the way it is making us think, react, and exist. In the midst of traditional paintings and sculpture on view, Miami Art Basel is demonstrative of how the art world is catching up to internet culture.”  Read more.

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“Members Only” by Brian Bress, a high-definition single-channel video (color), high-definition monitor and player, wall mount, framed. Courtesy of the artist and Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles

 

BOSTON GLOBE //
Boston Arts Groups Team up for Sprawling Look at Art, Technology

“This February, 12 Boston-area arts organizations will band together to present a sprawling series of exhibitions exploring the symbiotic relationship between art and technology — a rare cross-institutional collaboration that includes painting, film, and Web-based art, among others.”  Read more.

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Jon Rafman’s “View of Harbor, 2017” will be part of “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

 

OCEAN DRIVE //
Julia Stoscheck Talks Her Inspiring Collection of Time-Based Media Art

“Art that exists only when installed? Whose every iteration can be considered a different representation of the work? Employing essential equipment and technology that can fail or become obsolete? None of it fazes Julia Stoschek, a leading collector of time-based media art, who gives these pieces the space they need to unfold their magic.”  Read more.

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Imi Knoebel, Projektion X, 1972, and Klaus vom Bruch, Das Alliiertenband (Allies Tape), 1982, from the exhibition “Generation Loss” at the Julia Stoschek Collection, Dusseldorf.

 

The 25 People Who Defined Visual Culture This Year

“What, exactly, is visual culture? In a world where we communicate increasingly with images, it’s an ever-expanding field, comprising not just art, photography, and design, but also memes, advertising, histories of representation, and the very technologies through which all this flows.”  Read more.

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Magic Leap One, Lightwear. Courtesy of Magic Leap.

 

THE ART NEWSPAPER //
UK’s First Permanent Virtual Reality Space in an Arts Institution to Open in London

“This year saw Virtual Reality (VR) reach new heights and capabilities in the art world and now London is getting its first free and permanent public VR space.”  Read more.

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Rachel Rossin’s I Came and Went as a Ghost Hand (Cycle 2, 2015) Courtesy the artist, Zabludowicz Collection and ZieherSmith, New York

 

VENTURE BEAT //
AR and VR Could be Educational — and Profitable — Tools For Museums

“When introduced to new technology, many people react with a mixture of fear and confusion, rather than excitement for the possibilities that the future may hold. Museums are in an even more difficult position: balancing the archiving and preservation of our history and remaining relevant to our society in the present and future, while being cognizant of major financial considerations.”  Read more.

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The Kerry James Marshall exhibit at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

UPROXX REPORTS //
This Artist Explores the Intersection of Art and Tech by Using Bitcoin 

“I make art that that tries to sort of shine a spotlight on the connection between humans and technology,” Bauch says.  Read more.

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Uproxx

 

THE ART NEWSPAPER //

High-tech Art in Houston: Data-driven Installations Look at Issues Like Hurricane Harvey and Mass Incarceration:

“While musical acts like Nine Inch Nails, Solange and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke might have taken most of the spotlight at this year’s Day for Night, a music and art festival in Houston, Texas, the visual art on offer was just as attention-grabbing.”  Read more.

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The Mill, Uproar (2017) at Day for Night Victoria Stapley-Brown


HYPER ALLERGIC
//
Women Artists Working with Technology

“This rigorous exhibition uses art to critique the stereotype that men and technology go hand in hand.” Read more.

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Installation view of “Making/Breaking the Binary” (2017), Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Philadelphia


THE VERGE
//
Artist Daniel Canogar Visualizes Real-time Environmental Shifts With LED Sculptures

It sometimes seems like technology is at odds with the art world — a tension between brain and heart. But plenty of artists, from Da Vinci to Cory Arcangel, have proved that’s not true, and continue to prove it as technology evolves. In Technographica, we explore how contemporary artists are using technology in unusual and unexpected ways. Read more.

 

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Basin by Daniel Canogar; Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales for the Verge. Daniel is represented by bitforms.

 

RHIZOME //
What is the Future of Digital Art? 

“A new video from the Thoma Art Foundation brings together answers from ten experts.”  View video.

Studio Visit: Refik Anadol

[vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” text_align=”left” css_animation=””][vc_column][vc_column_text]We were thrilled to be invited to the Los Angeles studio of cutting edge media & data artist Refik Anadol. Located in the Silver Lake area on the east side of LA,  the studio is accessed from a small side door.  Step inside and you’re immediately enveloped by a sleek white space with 20ft ceilings, desks dotted with enormous computer screens, a brand new projector and great Mid-century modern furniture.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” text_align=”left” css_animation=””][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Of course it’s hard to miss the perfect, small scale model of Frank Gehry’s Disney Music Hall, one LA’s (if not the world’s) most iconic buildings.  Refik used the model to create one of his very first projects in LA.

If you’ve been to San Francisco recently, you would not have been able to miss the skyline altering Salesforce Tower whose lobby is defined by a 3-story tall, 2,500-square-foot digital canvas featuring a custom data art creation by Anadol.

Together with his collaborator Peggy Weil, Anadol created a large scale data piece for LA’s first public art biennial, Current: LA Water.

To learn more about Refik’s unique artwork check out this feature story, KCET: Big (Beautiful) Data: The Media Architecture of Refik Anadol.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”580″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” qode_css_animation=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” text_align=”left” css_animation=””][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”579,578,577″ img_size=”full” onclick=”” column_number=”2″ grayscale=”no” space_between_images=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” text_align=”left” css_animation=””][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_column_text]About Refik Anadol

Refik is a media artist and director born in Istanbul, Turkey.  He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He is a lecturer in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts.  He works in the fields of site-specific public art with parametric data sculpture approach and live audio/visual performance with immersive installation approach. Particularly his works explore the space among digital and physical entities by creating a hybrid relationship between architecture and media arts.  Learn more about Refik.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]