AI Artist Spotlight: Refik Anadol

Refik Anadol is a media artist renowned for using machine learning to create mesmerising art installations of how computers capture the world and the people in it. 

A highly acclaimed Turkish-American new media genius, Anadol is also a director and pioneer in the aesthetics of machine intelligence. He is famous for his work in data-driven, machine-learning algorithms that create abstract, dream-like environments. His aesthetic and interdisciplinary research centres around the question: “Can a building dream?”

Anadol combines new media art and architecture to define the new poetics of space by expanding or filtering his raw material using machine-learning algorithms and text-to-art methods. Pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence (AI)-generated art, Anadol describes data as pigments and machines as human collaborators capable of hallucinating new and vivid impressions of reality. His work has made him a contender among other highly respected AI artists, including Taryn Southern.

Virtual Depictions, one of Anadol’s first public artworks, is of the 350 Mission Building in San Francisco. Virtual Depictions consists of a series of parametric data sculptures in which Anadol uses his unique approach to tell the story of the city and the people around it. 

In designing Virtual Depictions, Anadol sought to create a way for people to experience a living urban space by making the invisible visible through media arts. Anadol believes that the architecture of the future “is enticingly malleable and increasingly collaborative, gathering architects with media artists, designers, programmers, and engineers.” 

His inspiring work has won Anadol multiple awards and artistic acclaim including Microsoft Research's Best Vision Award, Google's Art and Machine Intelligence Artist Residency Award, the German Design Award, UCLA Art+Architecture Moss Award, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Award, and SEGD Global Design Awards. 

Other Selected AI Projects

Anadol has also been commissioned to create numerous permanent and temporary installations. Here are a few of his best-known works:

Quantum Memories

One of Anadol’s most technically and conceptually ambitious works to date is Quantum Memories. In this piece, he amassed more than 200 million images linked to nature from publicly available internet resources, transforming them with machine learning and quantum computing into artwork depicting humanity’s collective memory of nature. 

To offer an immersive experience, the 3D visual piece was accompanied by an audio experience based on quantum noise-generated data. In 2020, Quantum Memories was the first known commissioned artwork created using both quantum computing and AI.

At the time, Quantum Memories was exhibited on the largest LED screen at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a ten-by-ten-metre LED display supported by NEC.

Melting Memories

In Melting Memories, Anadol harnessed data from paintings, light projections, and augmented data sculptures to demonstrate how the brain recalls memories visibly. Melting Memories is based on several interdisciplinary projects that translate the process of memory retrieval. 

The artwork allows viewers to experience aesthetic interpretations of motor movements inside a human brain. In creating Melting Memories, Anadol used advanced technology tools provided by the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California in San Francisco.

The installation for Melting Memories was created with a custom-built five-by-five-metre LED media wall and computerised-numerical-control-milled rigid foam and displayed in Istanbul in 2018.

Machine Hallucination

Machine Hallucination is a 360-degree video installation made from one hundred million photos of New York City found on social networks. Using machine learning, Anadol grouped and morphed photos to create flickering images of the city as recorded through the lenses of different individuals. He refers to the final work as “like a collective memory” of New York that allows people to view buildings in the city from multiple angles, from different times of the year.

Machine Memories: Space

Space exploration is one of Anadol’s long-term research goals. The immersive exhibition in Istanbul was inspired by a collaboration between Anadol’s studio and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attracting more than 40,000 visitors in the first four weeks it was open.

Breaking Records

Eight non-fungible tokens (NFTs) by Anadol were sold at a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction house for $5 million. The sale set the record for the most expensive NFT collection sold by a single artist in Asia.