Representing Data

  • Publish On 7 October 2021
  • Refik Anadol

While the Anthropocene confronts us with our indissociable connection with Earth, for Refik Anadol we are living in an hybrid reality born out of the ubiquity of technological systems. He is engaged in the quest for a universal language to express this new era where the real and virtual worlds are intertwined, experimenting through prospective forms of representation which materialize data sets.

Refik Anadol is an artist, lecturer, and visiting researcher in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts. He creates immersive installations that involve both architecture and media arts.

His immersive installation, “Machine Hallucinations – Nature Dreams“, has been on display since June 11, 2022 at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, the first French museum to exhibit an NFT artwork. A data sculpture of colossal dimensions (100m2 of images in perpetual movement) composed of two hundred million images representing nature that are accompanied by sounds produced by quantum noises. For STREAM 05, Refik Anadol presents his work and comments on his most emblematic creations. 


Wind of Boston : Data Paintings, 2017
Les données collectées à l'aéroport de Boston Logan pendant un an sont exposées dans le hall du 100 Northern Avenue à Fan Pier.
Ici, Sea Breeze illustre le vent venu de la mer et Gust in the City la force des vents sur le bâti.

Exploring Liminal Space

Our reality has become hybrid because we are surrounded by machines and systems that define where we go to, what we eat, what we say, what we buy, what we listen to and watch, from the first moments after waking up to the last moments before going to sleep. There is no doubt that we are now in a liminal space, an in-between where physical and virtual are continuously colliding. Everything suggests the dawn of a new era in which virtual complexity commingles with reality, including in terms of esthetics, which opens unprecedented dimensions of exploration and imagination. The challenge art faces is therefore to serve as a universal language and to provide digital systems with new meanings, but also natural elements and landscapes, in a form that makes it possible to reach out to all, both living and nonliving.

Sculptures of Urban Data

Cities are living entities whose inhabitants are neurons establishing symbiotic relationships with their built environment. The strength of these interactions surpasses the very might of political states, as it is through these relations that we set up survival methods, that we imagine, remember, and learn every passing day. Data is a memory that gives form to my sculptures. By using the collective memory of New York City, Stockholm, Berlin, or Seoul, thanks to the huge banks of images of these cities which I feed to AI, I carry out a reconstruction of reality. AI helps predict and anticipate the construction of a building or the passage of seasons. Given that memory, in the twenty-first century, cannot be reduced to cognitive systems and extends beyond the traditional framework of perception, I attempt to establish a new emotional narrative through prospective forms of representation.


WDCH Dreams, 2018 / Seoul Haemong, 2019-2020
Les archives numériques de l'orchestre philarmonique de Los Angeles sont projetées sur le Walt Disney Concert Hall, bâtiment conçu par Franck Gehry en 2003, à l'occasion du centenaire de l'orchestre / Pour la nouvelle année, le DDP Building de Zaha Hadid devient le support de projection d'une chorégraphie numérique composée des archives publiques et personnelles des habitants de Séoul.
Melting Memories, en collaboration avec le Neuroscape Lab, UCSF, San Francisco, 2018

At the Frontier between Art and Neurosciences

Melting Memories was born from a frustrating observation: the fact that modern medicine is unable to stem the loss of memories caused by Alzheimer’s disease. I therefore began collaborating with the Neuroscape Research Lab at UCSF in order to capture the moments when memories form and transform them into an abstract painting of data. Philip K. Dick defined reality as “that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” I similarly view simulation as that which, when stories and memories fade away, doesn’t go away.

My artworks also serve clinical research in neurosciences as they help improve information visualization and make the world of science more accessible. My aim is to come up with new images and reveal a new reality.




From Weak AI to Organic Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has taken center stage in the prospective narratives of the city, yet Bruno Maisonnier emphasizes the need to differentiate “weak” AI, which is less about intellect than computing power, from the perspective of an “organic” AI, developed following the model of the brain and social insects, and which would be capable of carrying out highly complex tasks with low data and energy needs, of self-learning, and making rational arguments. In spite of the risks inherent in implementing any new technology before its use is regulated, AI heralds real progress for our societies, in particular, through optimizing the efficiency of genetic engineering.


Arguing for Spatial Intelligence

At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have plunged cities around the globe into an unprecedented crisis, geographer Jacques Lévy reframes this questioning as forming part of a long tradition of criticism against urbanity, associated with the human quest for autonomy considered as proceeding from a culpable hubris. He doubts that there will be any lasting disaffection towards the city. To the contrary, he sees the opportunity to restore urbanity at the heart of urban territories via a combination of density and diversity, two unique drivers of creativity within cities. The founder of a multidisciplinary chair on spatial intelligence, he calls for a unified approach of social sciences and the implementation of processes of collective intelligence in order to co-produce public goods, and urban space in particular, thanks to the involvement of local citizens.


AI facing complex urban environments

Hubert Beroche is the founder of the Urban AI think tank, dedicated to the field of urban artificial intelligence. He is the curator of the Eyes on the street lecture series, run together in partnership with the SCAI (Sorbonne Center for Artifical Intelligence), and explains here how urban AI can help us understand the city.