Refik Anadol was among the first artists to reach a large audience through artistic expression using artificial intelligence. He is a Turkish-American media artist and researcher focused on humans living in the digital age. His LA-based studio has been active for almost a decade and explores machine intelligence and the communication of data. His approach is to analyze surroundings as raw data and process them through custom-designed algorithms to create mesmerizing visuals and AI data sculptures of already-present elements that exist.

Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting Refik Anadol Living Paintings: Nature as the first solo exhibition in the Netherlands until April 1, 2024. As an audio-visual experience, the works show a glimpse of the artist’s early inspirations. The exhibition consists of four triptych AI paintings and one grand installation in a closed room called “Living Painting: Immersive Room.” This installation is the most intriguing work in the exhibition, as the designed space is supported by carefully thought-out elements such as mirrors to maximize the work’s impact. In this exhibition, Anadol presents a reality that is already known but in a different form, movement, environment, and context. His tryptic works were inspired by the natural movements in California, US. Anadol created the presented digital works by collecting millions of images from public databases. The works have various sizes of pixels in motion regarding the natural movements present in the geographical research done for the specific site.

Compared to earlier styles, contemporary art has different forms, which make it harder for the brain to engage with or accept it as what is known as art. There are times when the contemporary art approach tends to be reduced to abstract visuals, where bystanders, targeted audiences, or even artistic or creative professionals try to understand the meaning behind the work just by making assumptions. Without previously knowing the artist’s work or approach, it might be a challenge to make sense of what is seen. If informatics is offered without context, as a decorative or poetic explanation, it may not only cause a disconnect between the viewer and the work, but it may also disrupt the process of stimulating emotions, thoughts, and associations from a work. Of course, one can discuss that the disruption mentioned above is done intentionally to allow the engaged person to think or process more freely, but at the same time, there is a risk of just accepting the work as a simple decoration. Unfortunately, for people with less familiarity with a specific topic, artist, or context, this causes confusion to some extent and the possibility of less art intake in society.

However, Anadol’s exhibition is not an art exhibition where you are supposed to read paragraphs of information about the works or the artist himself. In this exhibition, other than the works, an enormous space is given to the research study constructed by Refik Anadol Studio, which is presented as a projection, allowing the visitors to receive information about the source materials themselves. The study is about the collection of data from various locations with geographical information and the process of scientific visualization through a custom-generated algorithm developed by the studio.

The research is presented as a slide show with a specific visual language, remarkably similar to architectural presentation in terms of having strong visual elements and typography. An architectural research presentation embodies various aspects of a project, from its location to the social texture around it, to establish the reasoning behind the process of design. By using the methods and stylistic choices of an architectural representation, Anadol creates an interesting experience that supports his works. Still, there is space left for the visitors to have their own experience while engaging with the art. The artworks are contemporary in terms of medium and context, but in terms of presentation, they stand between the blurry lines of architecture and art.

The art captures visually and emotionally, and architectural methods give information and awareness. That is how Refik Anadol creates a fulfilling experience by combining the processes of both art and architectural techniques that give people a kind of hallucinogenic and disoriented experience, but, on the contrary, without being confused about it. Without any question marks about the context, the visitors have the space to themselves to engage fully with the works and go through the experience freely.