Refik Anadol: Unsupervised
MoMA New York, Installation until 15 April (and elsewhere)
If you walked towards the back of the lobby at MoMA in recent months, past the turnstiles you would find the space busy with people standing and sitting around while staring at a seething, squirming double-height wall, supported by accompanying sound. What they were experiencing was a beguiling site-specific work of AI-assisted abstraction, Unsupervised, a “machine dream” was constantly drawing data from images within the vast collection of the museum and mixing this with other data inputs from the location (such as light, movement, acoustics, the weather outside, etc.). All this was processed in real-time to create a continuously changing artwork. In a way, the ‘machine’ behind Unsupervised was meditating on the potential past and present of all the art. But as we know, AI machines still don’t quite have autonomy in their thoughts. It is notable that Anadol’s installations, whether at MoMA or at various other locations, tend to look somewhat similar. There is a distinct aesthetic to the output, whatever the endlessly changing source may be. As with visual AI platforms such as DALLE or Midjourney, the machines have their own visual bias, or style, call it what you will. For that, we must credit Anadol and his studio as the knowledge and tools he employs are ultimately in his creative grasp, even if they are a unique blend of algorithms and other newfangledness rather than oil paints or video, and so on, as in art past. The vision is always his, really, even if the machine dreams it. The work is entrancing, to judge by the time people sit watching it when they have paid to be upstairs with all the billions of dollars of old art to see. Anadol and his assistants, physical or digital, are onto something new but can they reinvent themselves again? It will be worth tracking.
Rick Rubin: The Creative Act. A way of being
Published by Canongate, 432 pages, £25
Rubin sets out his stall modestly at first, commenting in his prefatory prose poem of an intro: “Some ideas may resonate, others may not.” But by the end of these few lines he claims his words may be “Opening possibilities for a new way of being.” We can’t complain as the sub-head did advise that big swirly thoughts were on the way. We should expect no less of this multi-awarded record producer, co-founder of Def Jam records, collaborator and transformer of a whole host of legendary talents. Now he has condensed his decades of learning about the creative process into 79 short, wide-ranging, highly readable chapters. No images, zero eye candy, unless you are fortunate to get a signed copy and have Rick’s generous signature, as shown. If you persevere with the text, floating through topics such as The Unseen, Nature As Teacher, Greatness, and Surrounding The Lightning Bolt, you will have a good sense of how Rick Rubin sees the world. But if you think creative enlightenment will come your way, you may be disappointed. Like many a spiritual guide, what seems like easy clear messages turn out to be extremely hard to get any grip on and put into practice. Rick’s a shaman who seems to vanish into the space within his own signature. This is not to be critical though, just preparatory. Enjoy the book for endless dipping, as it is full of gnomic wisdom that just might get you thinking afresh, perhaps even doing the creative act a little differently. Nothing to lose but your chains.
Or a bit of time, now and then.
David Hockney: Bigger and Closer
Lightroom, London, Exhibition until 4 June
Lavish immersive digital experiences that provide a retrospective of an artist’s career are now something of a genre. They travel the world as blockbuster art experiences, somewhat superficial and generally without any of the original art on site. The hugely successful Dali and Van Gogh shows may hold the record for sales but straight in at number one for creative quality is the latest entrant. There is a crucial, transformational, aspect to it: the artist is alive. David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller and further away) saw its 85-year-old subject intensely involved in the planning and production of the show, now at the new Lightroom in London’s King Cross, a large box of a space lined with 12 m / 39 ft high screen walls and a pioneering sound system. Years of development between Hockney and the creatives at 59 Productions led to this spectacular show, which can itself count as a collaborative artwork, enabling Hockney to offer a non-chronological, thematic journey through how he thinks about and makes art. Seeing his iPad images being created as giant wall animations, hearing new and archival commentary by Hockney, being suffused in the brilliant colors … it’s quite a heady brew. As somebody who has regularly embraced different technologies across his career, it should be no great surprise that Hockney has taken this step. However, as somebody who sees collaboration as compromise, and says so in the show, we should count ourselves lucky that he took part in it at all. And while it doesn’t replace looking at actual paintings, it does something else very well. To judge by the sense of pleasure in the audience (which is typically of all ages), this might not be actual fine art but it is a fine effort.
The Abba Arena, London, Performances until 30 January 2024
A search for ‘world’s greatest tribute band’ delivers 75 million results. It’s a title nobody can call their own and so there are many contenders out there. However, as of now, there is only one real candidate for the title and this is Abba’s tribute to themselves, Abba Voyage, currently in a twice-extended run in a purpose-built structure next to what was London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium. More than 40 years after the band last performed together, their CGI avatars – a perfected youthful version of themselves as they never quite looked – perform a live show daily. To achieve this the band leaders Benny and Björn worked for three years with director Baillie Walsh and the team at George Lucas’s ILM. There’s a supergroup in itself. We may presume the 10-piece live backing band (real flesh and blood) does get the odd day off but it is the sheer tirelessness of the avatars that makes you wonder if this show isn’t better than the real foursome ever could be live. It’s not just the avatars, positioned teasingly a little way back on the stage, but also the large screens delivering impressive close-ups, great lighting and reflectors, while a terrific sound system envelopes all. It would be good if all musical heroes could be preserved thus but, alas, many can’t. You need to be alive to do the initial modeling.
LuYang: NetiNeti. Odysseys Through Multiple Dimensions
Published by Distanz, 144 pages, €38, $50
This is definitely the right time to read NetiNeti. 2022 was the breakout year for LuYang, winner of the Deutsche Borse Artist Of The Year. And with a big feature at the Venice Biennale and monograph shows in Germany and the UK, the Shanghai-born, Tokyo-resident artist went from niche interest to a hot global entity in just a few months. They draw inspiration from science-fiction, manga, gaming and techno cultures. In their video installations, references to breaking technologies blend with ideas for post- or trans-human scenarios for our world. To create their nonbinary avatars, they take 3D scans of their own body and then work to reincarnate themselves in massive virtual worlds operating within computer game engines. The whole intense mix takes interdisciplinary art into new spaces and really needs to be experienced to even begin to explain. It seems the media is no longer the message: it is the very being.