There is an arbitrary boundary drawn up between the real world and its digital reflection. In our day to day lives that division has already been eroded. Our friends, families and work exist in both realms. Does it matter which one art emanates from?
Solimán López is an artist and technology enthusiast who explores the social changes brought about by the digital revolution. His art is a reflection of a wider social and psychological shift and utilises the language of this new world. Virtual and augmented realities, artificial intelligence and other innovations all allow him to play with and confront the frontiers of contemporary technology. He is a resident media artist and the I+D director of the Escuela Superior de Arte y Tecnología in Valencia. There, his investigations reflect the diversity of his interests, offering workshops on how to understand, interact with and use technologies such as photogrammetry, 3D scanning, 360 degrees video and wearables, among others. He is also the founder of the Harddiskmuseum, which imagines what it would mean to build and curate an art museum without it having to exist in the offline world and without it having to contain any physical objects.
What would an online museum look like? A hard disk connected with a million people online can always achieve more than a gallery on a busy street. Contemporary technologies allow us to transcend our corporeal limitations, so why not apply the same thought to our expository spaces? If technology is to allow us to become augmented beings, then Solimán López, wants to explore that journey, from the now towards the maybe. His piece The Runner, which depicts a blank, neutral grey, rendered human body running endlessly across an empty track was displayed at the Palacio de Prensa in Madrid, the third most visited place in Europe.
Some of his recent projects explore the everyday possibilities offered by the augmented reality of social media. By designing and developing his own Instagram filters, Solimán Lopez employs social media not only as a means of promotion but as a place of creation itself. He uses the online advertising billboard as the canvas itself. Like third millennia make-up art, they offer a second skin, overlaid upon our own. Indeed, a recurring theme across his recent work is the notion of skin, something that both encases us from the world and allows us to feel it. It is a liminal space which can be torn. In many ways, augmented reality as we know it today, is exactly that, an added layer on top of reality as we experience normally. In placing a thin film, a digital layer on top of ourselves, we get to interact directly with the other side, our digital twin, shaped to fit our bodies, our human form.
In his mind, these new techniques, especially artificial intelligence, are artistic mediums just like painting or sculpture. For artists to embrace that new truth allows them to engage with the most compelling questions of our time. How far can the human mind rise? How far can the human body reach? When does a person become more of a machine and when does a machine let a person become more of a person?
Words by Jack Apollo George
Media artist and researcher ‘investigating the social changes obtained by the technological revolution paradigm and the new language proposed by the digital debate itself.’ Could you please expand more on this? How and when does the interest in algorithms, creative coding, and art come about?
Each social revolution is associated with a psychological one. The brain and even the body features changes at the same time. In fact, the social environment proposes a new activity and point of view of the world. The way our brains are working today is totally different from twenty years ago. The multitasking associated with our current and daily life forces our machinery to work according to different levels of intensity. Most of us are coping with these changes, but other ones are suffering the consequences of this newly rushed existence.
Within these changes, language (the main tool of communication), in its many forms, visual, verbal and gestural, has also changed. A new language has also emerged: code. The code is now, one of the most important languages in the world, for me at the same level than another idioms. My interest for art comes from the early stages of my life. I was always very curious about how things worked, and specifically how things with some electronic connections are made. I used to disassemble many different objects of this nature to see what was inside of them. Maybe that was the origin of my curiosity about new technologies. Now for me, this kind of research is totally justified by our living through the most important revolution of the history of humankind, the digital one.
AI is transforming society, and the creative application of AI opens new possibilities in artistic creation. You’ve been using AI in your pieces and to narrate your artistic ideas. What has this media contributed to your artistic practice?
For me, working with artificial intelligence inverses the position and thought the process of the artist. As creative people, we are used to making all the decisions related to our work, but now we can create a new input. This can create a whole new landscape to analyse and introduce into our imagination. I really enjoy the way we can create the rules for making AI processes happen, it opens up new ways to think about creativity.
We have a very real opportunity to open our mind thanks to this technology. It’s a new dynamic, no longer is it just the case that human thoughts are being introduced as new features for the machine. No, the machine can establish relations that we can not imagine before, so let it happen, it gives us a window into the next step of our mind’s evolution. Art will amplify its limits with no boundaries and artist as me, also we will change our points of view of reality and of “what it means to make art”.
For me, Artificial Intelligence is now a technique that has to be accepted by the art community as a medium, just like painting, sculpting or drawing. There is no intrinsic difference in the process. The artist begins their artwork on an empty canvas (digital) that has to be filled with a technique (code) via a logical and thought-out process (algorithm).
How do you think new inventions (machine learning, Google Magenta) are impacting the landscape of art creation (from inception to production)? Do you think AI generated art is going to change the paradigms of art?
My response is a big “yes”. Artificial Intelligence is changing all the big fields of our society, and this includes art. AI will put us in another position in the chain of production. Now the crafts are important in terms of romanticism and cultural preservation, but our main activity should be based on thinking. We have to think that to be intelligent in comparison with other species, that is the key to our survival, so we should always to make the best use of this advantage. Artificial Intelligence is now a big machine that has to be fed by clever and innovative ideas so that it can look forwards and grapple with the meaning of humankind and social responsibility. Once that is done, we will observe how our society has changed for the better. Art is the test bed for all these new features in our communities. In art, everything is possible and just as if-if we were in a laboratory, we can make different creative experiments to “see what happens”.
These experiments, based on the unlimited curiosity of the artists, will give us a whole new world to explore and conceptualise, where the machine is our assistant allowing us to reach spaces we had never even imagined. But we have to make a big effort to take these thoughts to the more classically-minded communities within the contemporary art world. Art is not based on touching the object, art is based on making things happen, applying innovation to aesthetics, involving people and creating new paths for thought. In order to achieve those ends, I cannot imagine a better technology than artificial intelligence.
The concept of digital skin permeates your work, Skin Path (2019) is an audiovisual installation showing an athletic pitch made of a digital skin surface. Could you tell us the intellectual process behind? What were the biggest challenges you faced in its development?
The “collection” of artworks based on digital skins have a very strong conceptual basis, where I analyse the relationship between the digital skin and the real one, establishing ways to connect both realities. I find it curious how today, the digital skin of these hyper realistic three-dimensional creations, tries to be like a human one, imitating its textures, plasticity, light response and so on.. and how the real skin is imitating the aesthetic of the digital-virtual-artificial one. The human aesthetic is changing thanks to new materials, clothes, wearables, make up and augmented reality.
AR represents a true social media revolution thanks to the face filters proposed by companies such as Instagram or Snapchat. There, we can see both realities in a never ending playground where, in the hybrid space, both kind of skins, the real one and the digital can coexist. This is the basis of this work around digital skin, where the application of real skin digitised by photogrammetry are used as the surfaces of different virtual landscapes. In the case of Skin path, I created this pitch to show how we are in an infinite loop looking for the limits of our skin, aesthetic and in the end, imagined.
From programmable matter, 3D/4D printing and bio-inspired design, the material (both biological and inert) seem to be more and more blending with the digital. Where do you predict we are headed in terms of the new digital materialism?
From the very beginning of the digital age, artists, designers and creative people in general, have been trying to connect both spaces, the tangible with the untangible. The problem is that we have to think that both are the same. There are no differences now between the digital and the analog. Everything is already connected. We should imagine a world with no barriers in between the two spaces. This will help us also to open our mind and fix other general problems like borders, religious, sexual or gender conflicts. Everything is connected in the universe, and the digital is always trying to teach us this very concept. We are still looking to the past to solve our problems, misunderstanding the fundamental truths offered up by our digital progress.
The digital revolution is already changing our bodies, from the inside and the outside. It is a very deep change based on our ability to see. Our eyes are not the same anymore. We see the world from the hyperconnection. If I suggest you to imagine a space like a three dimensional one, based on lines and wireframe objects. You can do it, achieve this Matrix view, because now is in your imaginary. If I ask the same to my grandmother, she will have a lot of problems to make appear that overlay with lines in an already existing space. This is for me one of the big transformations in materialism: our own sight. If the sight has changed, the rest can change too, because humankind has been doing the same all the history. Projecting our vision onto objects and onto the real world.
Creative code, creative technology, poetic computation, new media art, digital art, interactive installations… In your opinion, are we collaborating with machines or are machines collaborating with us?
It depends on the general point of view. In industry, for sure the machine is collaborating with different skills and tasks. This what they are programmed to do. We could say that it is like an extension of the industrial revolution where there is a new layer that connects advanced machines with an artificial pilot. If we are talking about art, design and philosophy, as I am, I love the idea of the inverse of that equation and to have myself try not to think like a human anymore.
This provides me with unexpected responses to my questions. In terms of the evolution of thinking and knowledge, this start point seems to be more interesting than to make a machine think more like a human. We already have people to think like people. The evolution of the machine has a non-predicted ending. It is a mystery where they can arrive. But for sure, any achievement they do is still because of us.
What directions do you see taking your work into?
I’m still comfortable with my current path. The philosophical terms and concepts involved in technology are for the moment, a huge source of inspiration. Sometimes I want to get out of it of all and just have time to think in an open field or mountain. To have nature itself in front of my eyes, and to leave technology on the side. But quickly I come back to the reality of our time and all the concepts involved in the word technology.
The idea is to be in balance between both worlds, and for sure, respecting the most important one, which is nature. Everything in nature comes in cycles so, maybe in the future, I come back to wanting the opposite. In fact, my latest project High Meshes is based on the body from a physical point of view and its new virtual construction. The basis is nature itself and how it can be integrated into the virtual one. The future is complex, the singularity is coming and with it, the biggest ever change to humankind. I keep my eyes open all the time, trying to take note of the important discussions in this field. My practice has to solve these issues for everyone, not just myself. My work will continue to try to tackle all of these emerging questions.
What is your our chief enemy of creativity?
I have two enemies. One of them is active. The words. The words are spread like the action but could be not active. To speak about stuff without making anything is something I hate. This first one is quite connected with the other enemy. Passivity. To watch what is happening all around and close my eyes without responding.
Our responsibility as humans is to see our reality and respond to it. Is the same that any other species does day by day. They are all the time responding to their environment. Imagine a whale that doesn’t want to swim or to go to the surface to catch air. That action goes against his own nature. She has been designed to act like us.
You couldn’t live without…
My own reflections. They are my travel partner, my alter ego tied up with the ego of the others.