Interview with Refik Anadol

Sunday 25th December, 2022 - Bruce Sterling


What artists inspire you? Do you see yourself working in any particular lineage of art making?

My work as a generative artist draws inspiration from the legacies of abstraction, systems art, Surrealism, and Expressionism. The works and the incredible visions of the early pioneers of computer art—such as the geometric abstraction of Vera Molnár and the algorithmic drawings of Georg Nees—motivated me to define my own place at the contemporary intersection of art, science, and technology. I am also indebted to the Light and Space movement that emerged in Southern California in the 1960s. Play with optical illusions, Minimalism, and geometric abstraction were its defining features, and I dwell on these elements and strategies frequently in my works. Of course, the fact that the movement was introduced to the public at the famous University of California Los Angeles exhibition in 1971 [Transparency, Reflection, Light, Space: Four Artists] inspired me a lot, as I completed my second master’s degree at UCLA under the mentorship of Casey Reas, Christian Moeller, and Jennifer Steinkamp, and have been teaching there for eight years. With the inspiration that I get from Gene Youngblood’s foundational book Expanded Cinema, and artists such as Helen Pashgian, Fred Eversley, James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Larry Bell, and Dan Flavin, I try to understand and explain the relationship between data, machine intelligence, and space by using cutting-edge light and projection technologies in environments and installations.

What was the first digital art that you encountered? How did it make you feel?

It was The Legible City by Jeffrey Shaw, a groundbreaking interactive art piece [at ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsuhe, Germany], where the visitor rides a stationary bicycle through a city simulation surrounded by three-dimensional letters. It brought together many elements of immersive, interactive, and multisensory art that I had been pondering as an undergraduate student at the time and opened new windows for me to think about the city, urban architectures, and collective memories in a different light. When I viewed Shaw’s piece in Karlsruhe, I was already studying with Peter Weibel at ZKM, and I was interested in exploring Pure Data, and later VVVV, both open-source visual programming software platforms. I helped put together the very first media arts exhibition in Turkey, installing 300 artworks from all over the world in 2009….