In this case, we perceive the future in a physical and sensuous way. The term ‘immersive’ is often used to describe the type of works that Anadol creates, because they not only involve us mentally, but let us enter the work entirely, body and soul. He brings entire buildings and spaces to life, incorporating the floors, walls and ceilings to create digital visualisations that fully envelop us. The approach represents how we are currently moving towards an ever-increasing fusion of our physical and virtual lives. What we previously only experienced via our screens now penetrates our physical world, and the screens turn into 3D simulations. This development goes by many names, including augmented reality, hybrid reality or the metaverse. All this is happening now because our digital being is becoming increasingly important to us, and we need the various formats to exist across the different realities we find ourselves embedded in. The worldwide pandemic is now remembered as more than a health crisis: it was also as a digital revolution. Not only did we learn to work and hold meetings online; our sensibilities regarding the digital realms have changed, and we have learned to experience art and culture online. We have not gone back to our former offline cultural habits after the shutdowns brought by COVID-19 were lifted. But our online consumption of culture is growing. Many artists feel a need to be able to exist in both worlds, and the term ‘phygital’ has been coined to express this, a contraction of the words ‘physical’ and ‘digital’. The word is used to describe works of art that straddle the physical and digital worlds, working with traits that characterise both modes. We are heading towards a future where sensory inputs are not only associated with nature or art in our physical reality, but also with the digital realm, and artists like Refik Anadol pave the way for this kind of sensibility.
This is by no means the first time we have seen artists collaborating with technology. The brush and the chisel are both analogue technologies that have facilitated artistic expressions through human history, but in Anadol’s artistic practice the technology possesses real autonomy, actively helping to shape the character and expression of the work. The works are generative, which introduces an element of unpredictability, even for the artist, because the work’s appearance is created in collaboration with an algorithm. People first began talking about generative art in the 1960s, when machines and computational systems became part of our lives and so also entered the realm of contemporary art. Generative art is art that interacts with an autonomous system, meaning different factors that can leave a unique imprint on the work’s form. These factors may be algorithms, but may also involve chemistry, biology, robotics, etc. that take over parts of the process so that the work comes into being in collaboration with the generative source. Anadol controls a range of parameters and creates a unique artistic signature evident in the way textures appear in the picture plane, in the colours and the movements. However, he does not know exactly how the work will unfold over time.
An important aspect of generative art is the very fact that time often becomes an essential part of the work. The works change constantly: what you see at ARKEN will not be the same as what other visitors experience the next day. In addition, the works are generated in what we call real time: the visuals are not video footage that is played over and over again, but unique images continuously generated by the algorithm based on the data selected by Refik Anadol.