Digital artist Refik Anadol: “It’s about time we found a function for art”

  • What’s your earliest memory?
    Family visits to our summer home on the Aegean side of Turkey. The water is always in flux; this brings him an incredible life. When you mix it with the geography of Turkey’s beautiful coastline, it’s kind of heaven.

  • Who was or is your mentor?
    I estimate 80 percent of my family are professors or teachers. I’m very thankful that I grew up with it. My UCLA mentors, like [artists] Christian Moeller and Casey Reas taught me how to program. I knew how to program a computer, but my skills were really rooted in UCLA. And Jennifer Steinkamp, ​​the pioneer of immersive environments. They are all pioneers of public art. You are my giants.

  • how fit are you
    Before the pandemic, I was very into the gym, into well-being. But now I work about 18 hours a day. I only slept for three hours before this interview: I was in the studio until 4am.

  • Tell us about an animal you loved.
    I got my first computer when I was eight years old. It was wonderful. The second gift I asked for was a dog, and a beautiful cocker spaniel came to our home. Everyone had a different name for him: Because of the color of his skin, I called him Kahve, the Turkish word for coffee.

  • Risk or caution, what ruled your life more?
    100% risk. Risk brings excitement and joy. Risk breeds mistakes, but those mistakes can grow and be incredible. Caution doesn’t breed mistakes, and that’s a very boring life.

  • What trait do you find most irritating in others?

    I don’t like people who create negativity and don’t offer solutions. I’m not trying to say everyone should be like Pollyanna, but I surround myself with optimists who make an impact.

  • What quality about yourself irritates you the most?
    To me, sharing is happiness, happiness is sharing. I didn’t know people could abuse that. But copycats take your ideas. It’s an interesting problem, but one I don’t want to solve, otherwise I can’t share it.

  • What drives you?
    The future is my motivation. I am deeply inspired and excited to see how humanity will evolve. My team, our audience and the future is the triangle in which I envision and create. It is a beautiful place to be.

  • Do you believe in life after death?
    Yes. After significant progress. As younger generations are born into the algorithms, the data, the software, the systems, it becomes more and more credible that the data around us can become our identity. I don’t think Resurrection will be a sci-fi movie anymore.

  • What is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence?
    The work we’re doing now is about aesthetics and beauty, but I think it’s time for us to find a function for it; Work on the existence of diseases, on anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia. We have this deep desire to be useful to humanity.

  • Name your favorite river.
    The Los Angeles River. We work right next to it. One of my heroes, Frank Gehry, is building a new bridge. There is life in the river, you hear animals. It’s a beautiful retreat when you need a break, a walk, to contemplate.

  • What would you have done differently?
    I would have been more active in the cinema. What we do is a similar concept. We’re making something that looks real but isn’t. It’s an inspirational medium.

  • Machine Memoirs: Space by Refik Anadol is on view at The Reel Store, the UK’s first permanent immersive digital art gallery, until September 4th

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