The scope of this paper is to investigate the phenomenon of art created by digital means. This essay examines the effects of the digitisation by focusing on the shift from physical content to virtual content in arts in the last 10 years. It is obvious that the relationship between human and machine is getting closer gradually and technology becomes indispensable for all of us. In particular, this essay analyses to what extent digital art effects the future of the artistic creation and the visual aesthetics and the visual perception of people. Since the middle of the 20th century, electronic and computer arts create big changes and opportunities for artists. Especially, as we enter to Industry 4.0, we would expect to face with great transformations in the 21st century. The digitalisation of archival databases and their transformation to art forms are examined through a unique example from Turkey.
The digital revolution, particularly in the last 10 years, has fundamentally changed the way of producing, distributing and reaching to cultural goods and services. It is sayable that the digital age offers an opportunity for relatively easier, cheaper and much more democratic content for the artists and it really helps to eliminate social and geographical barriers. The digitalisation of cultural content has made a remarkable progress. Since the last decade, new forms of art, entertainment, and literature based on the digital technologies have emerged. As it is mentioned in “Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 17th edition”, 2016 of Council of Europe/ERICarts, either re-mastering of older works or creating new ones by digital means creates a diversity of cultural expressions.
As in the Global Report published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Octavio Kulesz, in his chapter on this topic, reminds us that the diversity of cultural expressions is closely bound up with the changes in the technological world. As among the five core themes or nodes listed in the article: (access to culture, the cultural industries, public awareness and civil society, cultural data and statistics, and creativity), I would like to highlight the “creativity” node which Kulesz explained it in detail. As pointed out by Kulesz, “It should be noted that the new era also produces creations of a richness that makes it possible to go beyond the mere migration from analog. In fact, digital culture inherits the same power as the web, and creations thus acquire a logic that is increasingly hyperlinked, multimedia-based and interactive. The possibility of remixing with other creations is almost unlimited and results in autonomous narrative forms with enormous flexibility. The impact of this can be seen not only in literature, music, and cinema but virtually all forms of expression, including those more often associated with analogue, such as the performing arts, where in effect we are witnessing a proliferation of resources such as live-streaming theatre, choreography for robots, 3D stage sets, video-mapping, augmented reality and interaction via social networks.”
Since the late 50s, computers have some learning capabilities, In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0, computers learn with coding systems and lead us on to make our choices and we do act without being conscious of it. Let’s just think about our purchasing choices on Google, we are guided by algorithms and machine learning. So, isn’t it both fascinating and terrifying at the same time?
What digitisation means?
Digitisation is the conversion of analog information in any form (text, photographs, voice, etc.) to digital form with suitable electronic devices (such as a scanner or specialised computer chips) so that the information can be processed, stored, and transmitted through digital circuits, equipment, and networks. (Business Dictionary) Digitalisation designates the use of digital technologies and the integration of digital media into the arts (Collin 2013).
The Creation of Art in the Era of Digitalisation
In an increasingly digital world, art is transferred from a physical to a virtual space by digital means. Art, as an expression of human creative skills, has always existed in a complex way and always be in a relationship with the technological capabilities of the time. We can think about the invention of applied pigments, the printing press, lithography, photography, computers and let’s say artificial intelligence. As the former ones affected the culture sharply, the later one will definitely have a huge impact on society very soon.
The digital art, which have been seen particularly in the last 10 years, is evaluated with similar approaches as in the criticisms of photography in the past. A member of Google’s Machine Intelligence group in Seattle, Blaise Aguera y Arcas states that, “As with earlier technologies, some artists will embrace machine intelligence as a new medium or a partner, while others will continue using today’s media and modes of production. In the future, even the act of rejecting it may be a conscious statement, just as photorealistic painting is a statement today. Any artistic gesture toward machine intelligence — whether negative, positive, both, or neither — seems likelier to withstand the test of time if it’s historically grounded and technically well informed.”
An increasing number of artists are making intensive use of new technologies to generate artistic digital content today. However, it is really hard to define the boundaries of digital art which is directly bound to the changing technology. It is clear that many artists in the field of visual arts have started to use electronic and digital facilities as well as traditional production methods since the second half of the 20th century. The first examples of computer systems were developed in 1950’s. Almost in 40 years, it has moved to a new level with the internet that emerged in the late 20th century. Often called as new media art, digital art gives an opportunity to the artist to create interdisciplinary, hybrid forms and multilayered compositions including digital collages, audiovisuals, videos, 3D or 4D sculptures, video-mapping. Christiane Paul, an Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School, in her book “A Companion to Digital Art” makes a clear distinction of the art created with direct code. “With the art produced using digital technology, the art produced by the original language of the digital technology, for example, the art created with direct code software, needs to be considered separately.”
Digital media enables experimental work for the artists with a large scale. Codes, algorithms and software are needed for the existing of digital image in addition to the imagination of the artist. Codes make the imagination of the artist visually visible in the physical environment, as a two-dimensional, three-dimensional, four-dimensional or moving image. With the rapid development in digital technologies, today’s technology is considered as Post-Digital Era. In today’s post-digital environment, it is possible to think about the cyber life forms constructed by artificial intelligence in the near future. The most important features of this era are speed, augmented reality and virtual reality which change the concept of reality drastically and overturn the concept of time and space. When we just think about what is our around like electronic camera systems controlling personal spaces and spying on people, simulations, digital social communication platforms, as an area of experiment, we can say that the ‘new’ environment of art is cyberspace.
Started in the 1960s, ’Generative Art’ and ‘Processing Art’ are the artistic language of the 21st century. Especially ‘Generative Art’ created through the use of autonomous systems, such as natural language rules, algorithms, genetic sequences, machines, or procedural interventions largely relied on elements of chance and randomisation, and ‘Processing Art’ which is a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts. Since 2001, ‘Processing’ has promoted software literacy within the visual arts.
A Unique Example From Turkey: Refik Anadol “ARCHIVE DREAMING” at SALT
An artistic work on SALT Research collection done by artist Refik Anadol who employed machine learning algorithms to search and sort relations among 1,700,000 documents from the archive. With the title “Archive Dreaming”, an immersive media installation visualising relations among these archival documents through artificial intelligence tools, was held at SALT Galata between April 20 and June 11, 2017.
In Archive Dreaming, the interactions of the multidimensional data translated into an immersive media installation. It is a user-driven exhibition; however, when you are experiencing the exhibition, the installation ‘dreams’ of unexpected correlations among those documents. Refik Anadol states that he created this exhibition “Archive Dreaming”, based upon the the story of “Babel Library” by famous writer Jorge Luis Borges written in 1941.
Archive Dreaming is not the first example of its kind, as Refik Anadol says in the interview. In different scales, in other countries there are examples of art created through artificial intelligence tools. In San Francisco, for example, in a certain place given by the municipality, the mass of data of all the twitter usage was shown on the screen. So, the mass of data turned into a sculpture in public space. The data comes out in any form in such installation. It is a kind of playing with an abstract data, so the subjectivity or the objectivity can be discussed. It is interesting that another artist can make totally different things with the same data, the outcome is like science fiction film. Another example is facial scanning and analysis systems sort people according to the similarities of their faces. A group of people downloaded 6.000 photos only from the bedrooms from a website and the artificial intelligence generated new and similar rooms.
Refik Anadol asks that “Can we see the non visible? For example, how does the effect of the wind look like?” This is the crucial question which puts the eager and the creativity of the artist drive forward. Whether the question is logical or not, the exciting projects are important. Here is Anadol’s second question: how we could reach to the data when there was no search engine in 20th century? and what comes up if we make the same data read to the artificial intelligence?
As an artist and a researcher, Refik Anadol has a background in Google. As he stated in one of his interviews, he was very well aware of Google “RankBrain” which is an intelligent algorithm built on a machine learning system. While we do search on the internet, an artificial intelligence system attempts to answer and provide us more logical and quite related answers to us. He also uses “Processing” which is program which is a generative design made with code and “Perlin Noise Algorithm” which is a good random number generator created more organic appearance.
By using technology as a tool, Refik Anadol creates linear forms between each archival data (documents, images, paintings etc.) out of 1 million 7 thousands, so, the data pool turns into a space of information as the Milky Way, or like a neural network of neurones in an artificial intelligence or like synapses in our brains. He does the design of the data. He asks a vital question: Could artificial intelligence have a dream of these memories? What if you go to a library in 21st century and an artificial intelligence presents you some unreal documents?
Discussions and Questions
In the Global Report published in 2015 by UNESCO, Octavio Kulesz reminds us that the technologies bring the promise of enormous opportunities but they also present barriers and obstacles. Digital artworks are still evaluated with the similar approach to the criticism of the photography in the past. Technological innovations are unfortunately hardly accepted at the very beginning of their existence.
On the other hand, in lithography or photography techniques, it is believed that production and reproduction of artwork cause loosing of ‘magic’ in the artworks. Trung Pham raises 3 questions in the article “The Artist’s Perspective: Original Works of Art in the Digital Era”, 1) What is the original artwork? 2) How does the digital reproduction help viewers perceive and experience the original artwork? and 3) In the artist’s perspective, what is the role that original artwork plays in the digital era?.” “The digital reproduction, according to this theory of perception, can point the viewer to the vision of the artwork where the viewer’s mind is directed into the created world. However, the digital reproduction cannot deliver the “happening of truth,” a major aspect of the original artwork. It only illustrates the flat image of the original that lacks true dimensionality of brushstrokes and holistic views of physical textures as well as complex layers in the original artwork.”
There are also some questions about the reality and unreality of the artworks. The ontological discussion on the originality and authenticity of craft in the digital age still can be discussed. The fear of pluralisation and the loss of authenticity is a crucial discussion point on this. It needs to demonstrate that the object is genuine. Plus, as the result of the ongoing developments of globalisation and mass production, there are raising questions about using, enhancement and ownership of older / traditional art and new designs.
Lastly from the curatorial aspect; “The emergence of interactive multimedia delivery systems has been accompanied by a fashionable assumption that proper curatorialship of collections must now employ a greater awareness of disciplines previously far removed from the established practices of the photographic archive.”
The Future of the Digital Art
It can be thought that the visualisation of the information will be more complex and more intensive in the 21st century compared to the past. It is clear that digitalisation will become more widespread in the fields of art, culture, entertainment, science, medicine, education, and industry and also the cyber space, which is still in its development phase, will be more developed.
I expect to see that the new opportunities will occur for artists and the arts will change people and society as a whole. The imagination, fiction, curiosity, criticism, interpretation and intuition of the artist can create new artworks with digital technology. Digital technology offers new venues for artists to disseminate their creative artworks via cyberspace. The advancement of technology allows for artists to reach out to a wider audience.
“Digitalisation and the new technology are just tools for art. It can be predicted that there will be no computer-free world for the future generation born in the 21st century and the art will be shaped and varied via this technology. Of course it is just a prediction. The question about the place of art will be shaped by the question of what will happen to people in the future.”
In conclusion, I consider digital technology as a new tool for the artists but also i gave a space for the discussions. Throughout this essay, I kept in my mind the question of how digitisation and digitalisation has affected or will continue to affect the creation of art. It is quite obvious that the integration of digital technology will create big changes and opportunities for artists. Especially, as we have entered to Industry 4.0, we would expect to face with great transformations in the upcoming years of 21st century. This essay represents, therefore, not only the current snapshot— but also reflects a futuristic views and discussions.
Refik Anadol’s installation “Archive Dreaming” is visualising relations among the archival documents through artificial intelligence tools. As we see in Anadol’s example, artificial intelligence is not in the hands of big men’s, everyone has opportunity to use it right now. There are information pools including millions of data. It is both a revolution and a fear with a tremendous creativity that artists have an opportunity to reach it now.
So, we are both excited and frightened with the possible future effects of digitalisation. As Refik Anadol asks; “Could artificial intelligence have a dream of the memories? What if you go to a library in 21st century and an artificial intelligence presents you some unreal documents?”
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