Islam, Interactivity And a Drone: Chevalier and Mossessian Reunite for “Digital Arabesques”

I’m always happy to see collaborations among artists grow, and even happier when artistic projects explore different cultures and build bridges between distant worlds. That is why I got very excited about Digital Arabesques 2014. As featured in a recent article on Designboom, the latest collaboration between French digital artist Miguel Chevalier and filmmaker Claude Mossessian is a new way to explore oriental patterns through an interactive virtual-reality installation.

"Digital Arabesques 2014" - Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

“Digital Arabesques 2014” – Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

Digital Arabesques 2014 was showcased from 18 to 29 December 2014 as part of the Islamic Art Festival at Al Majaz Waterfront in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), featuring 6 infrared video cameras and 6 video projectors operating in an area of 1,100 square meters. As for every interactive project, visitors were not only part of the experience, but they shaped it by being involved in the digital environment designed by Chevalier.

"Digital Arabesques 2014" - Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

“Digital Arabesques 2014” – Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember my post from May 2014 in which I explained how the collaboration between these two artists began. Digital Arabesques 2014 was something new for both of them. It was Chevalier’s first truly open urban installation, and Mossessian went a step further in documenting his work by using a drone camera to capture the floor of the fountain space from a birds-eye perspective (a few minutes of footage accompanied by Michel Redolfi‘s hypnotic music are available on the director’s profile on Vimeo).

"Digital Arabesques 2014" - Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

“Digital Arabesques 2014” – Image courtesy of Miguel Chevalier

Digital Arabesques 2014 may not be the magic carpet we dreamed about when reading Middle-Eastern stories and folk tales, but while watching Mossessian’s framing of Chevalier’s work I can’t help thinking that there is a little bit of that in it. The only difference is that if the carpet is not flying here, our eyes are through his camera.

Paint Like a Human, And Stop Training Robots to Take Your Place

Robots and AI are all around us. Deal with it. In the past few days I’ve come across news that made me think about the relationship between art and mechanical – and digital, in this case – means of (re)production. Especially when the connection between humans and machines is blurred like it is nowadays.

It all started at the end of 2014, when online media gave prominence to Wild Growth, a project by digital artist Chang Liu inspired by Jackson Pollock’s dripping and digital works from Camille Utterback and Memo Akten. Using Processing as a main tool and combining camera analyzing systems and visual parts, he managed to create something similar to a plant’s growth in a digital environment, whose development can be seen in this video and the final outcome in the picture below.

Chang Liu's "Central Park, face to a tree" from the Wild Growth project.

The following week The Creators Project featured a post about classic paintings and data, opening an article focused on the work of artist Yousuke Ozawa, Data Visualization, with a reinterpretation of The Son of Man by René Magritte rendered through a code made of numbers, letters and symbols (quite coincidentally, at the same time I was visiting the Magritte Museum in Brussels, which I highly recommend).

Yousuke Ozawa's reinterpretation of "The Son of Man" by René Magritte.

A few days later the new trailer for the science fiction film from director Neil Blomkamp, Chappie, was released on Facebook. It features an experimental robot, “A machine that can think and feel”, can write poetry and music. And that of course, to be considered human, can also paint. Because art is believed to be quintessentially human. Hum…

Chappie the robot shows his skills as a painter in Neil Blomkamp's film.

Again, last week Dazed introduced its readers to Novice Art Blogger, a robot that “reviews art better than most critics.” A project by British-Colombian artist Matthew Plummer Fernandez, this bot “honestly” says what it sees and provides detailed descriptions of works of art deprived of all that snooty critical jargon that very often makes its meaning impossible to grasp.

Novice Art Blogger describes "Sahara" by Julian Trevelyan.

While trying to figure out how to conclude this post and say something that could provide a brilliant ending, I additionally discovered Crowd Painter, a crowdsourced painting project about “an interactive robot that can paint with a brush on canvas.” So I got the feeling that I could go on writing on this topic forever… Maybe time has come for me to read Robots Will Steal Your Job. But That’s Ok. And if you’re an artist, I suppose you should read it too. Alternatively, just stop programming robots to do your job.

Why Audiences Matter: The National Gallery Told Through Frederick Wiseman’s Documentary

Being a member of The National Gallery I have already seen its amazing permanent collection many times, as well as quite a few exhibitions (recently, “Rembrandt – The Late Works”). However, I had never had the chance to go behind the scenes and discover how the whole museum works. Thanks to Frederick Wiseman’s documentary National Gallery I have now had a taste of what it means to engage with audiences when you’re home to some of the most prestigious paintings in the world.

I have to admit that Wiseman’s doc is a little bit chaotic, mainly because the director opted for a narrative that takes the form of a flux of voices and contributions captured on camera with no proper credits until the very end. So very often it’s hard to really understand the exact role of the person speaking, not to mention their identity. Curators and specialists, guides, restorers, marketing managers and, of course, the Director Nicholas Penny are all part of a 3-hour ride across opening events, exhibition rooms, laboratories and workshops.

How to introduce an audience to the masterpieces of The National Gallery.

Despite this, the documentary really captures the passion that is at the heart of The National Gallery, its busy environment, as well as some unexpected scenes happening under the unperturbed eyes of masterpieces of Western art, which are framed in all their grandiose beauty thanks to repeated and powerful close-ups and details.

But if you perceive The Gallery mainly as a traditional institution, you might be surprised to know that a concern for its audiences is central to all the activities planned during the year. It’s no secret that nowadays audience engagement is crucial for museums and institutions, but watching how The National Gallery reaches out to its audiences with a process that involves a mix of storytelling and marketing, media relations and communication strategies, is revealing. As the collage of micro-lectures that composes the spinal column of the documentary clearly shows, the whole idea is each time to find a unique way to approach the specific kind of visitor, without losing the museum’s (brand) identity.

A dance performance at The National Gallery captured by Frederick Wiseman's camera.

Focusing on how The National Gallery modulates its interaction with visitors, depending on demographics, special needs, exhibitions and events, the documentary shows the process of engaging with them in various ways: from lectures to guided tours for kids, from piano concerts and dance performances to drawing lessons, up to classes for blind people using Braille to read the paintings.

As soon as the screening of National Gallery ends, you’ll probably find yourself longing to explore the Gallery’s collections. Don’t resist this impulse, because it will be a feast for your eyes. And even if you’ve visited many times, going back to those paintings after learning what’s behind them will force you to look at the collections with a new interest. What more could you ask of a museum?