On Oct. 30, UNC Charlotte Center City hosted Turkish-born artist Refik Anadol for “The Poetics of Data,” a discussion of his newest work, “Interconnected,” sponsored by the Arts and Science Council. Anadol is a big deal; a renowned digital media artist, he’s been recognized many times by publications as prestigious as the LA and New York Times and has received numerous awards and fellowships. He credits his success to his collaborators, teachers, audiences and maybe most importantly, the movie “Blade Runner.”

Anadol recently created a 2,147 square-foot work for the Charlotte Douglas International Airport called “Interconnected.” The work is comprised of four digital-media art pieces displayed on huge LED boards. “Interconnected” not only occupies a large amount of space, but moves in the space as well. Some pieces appear rippling like waves, others almost like milkshakes; like a spoon moving a thick and creamy liquid.

The idea all started when Anadol was seven and saw the movie “Blade Runner.” Fascinated by the way walls and buildings displayed thought and the way technology made everything animated, Anadol was inspired to make this fictional universe a reality.

“[I wanted to] let the building dream,” Anadol said.

After studying at the University of California at Los Angeles, Anadol began to develop a method of art-making using data. Data is collected and compiled and then, using an algorithm, is transformed into moving shapes, colors and forms. With this method established, Anadol turned to his fantasy of catching the dreams of buildings. For example, in the case of the airport, Anadol and a team of about 12 other people set up six computers to collect all the data that ran through the airport: flight times and delays, number of people, baggage transport, etc. Next, the data was analyzed for patterns, algorithms were created and, with a little bit more work too complicated to explain in this article, moving art was made. Data from a building is like all the information that goes through our brains; Anadol uses it to express the emotions and reactions of the space like human beings do through action.  

“There is pulse in data,” Anadol said. “Each set of data has its own character.”

This data is frozen, so it is not reacting to the airport’s every movement, but it is recycled every 90 days and replaced by new data, keeping the artwork growing and adapting like a person. Anadol views the work as a work-in-process and hopes that, with developing technology, the piece will one day represent data even more frequently, live instead of frozen.

Refik Anadol. Photos courtesy of Refik Anadol and the Arts and Science Council.

Now, while travelers curse the airlines, they can ponder what the airport is thinking back. At its enormous size, “Interconnected” is hard to miss and now surely thousands of travelers have seen it, wondering if the airport is sympathizing with them or laughing at them. But Anadol hopes that instead of this, travelers will just look.

“I hope they don’t worry about what it means,” Anadol said.

Anadol figures upon first glance, viewers probably try to analyze the art.

“But then they go ‘ahhh,’” Anadol said, and give up on trying to understand a meaning. They instead experience the piece and notice how cool it is. One of Anadol’s main points about his works is that they are meant to make the invisible visible. Walls often go unnoticed, and the data inside them certainly does. Anadol and his team bring these invisible aspects to the forefront of a space, giving life to it and inspiring audiences to search for the unnoticed details in life.

If you find these investigations interesting, a similarly themed work, the exhibit currently in the Storrs gallery, “SEE-ING,” is available through Nov. 16. Like “Interconnected,” the exhibit explores notions of the unnoticed, the influence of technology on today’s world and architecture that speaks.  

“Interconnected” was commissioned by the city, led by the Public Art Commission of the Arts and Science Council. Public art brings people together, Anadol says, people of all sorts, coming and going and in between. The role of the artist, according to Anadol, is to bring people together and to get them to use their imaginations. So then, when you go see the newest addition to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, what should you think? Well, first, don’t think anything. Just look at it. But then, appreciate the space, think about those things or people that go unseen and use your imagination. Think about the possibilities of art and technology. Think about your seven-year-old thoughts, like those of the seven-year-old Anadol watching “Blade Runner” in awe and imagining his future.

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