Frieze Los Angeles: Rolls-Royce Art By Refik Anadol Is A Dialogue On Human And Machine

Media artist Refik Anadol is using data from the color of every Rolls-Royce motor car built in the last decade to create an LED canvas to explore the challenges and the possibilities we face in the digital age. Presented at Frieze Los Angeles, “Art of Perfection: Data Painting” is the latest commission in the Rolls-Royce “Muse” program, the initiative designed to help advance the medium of the moving image, explore materials and support arts and ideas. 

Anadol has produced an richly-textures LED canvas of sorts, conveying a painting formed from data captured at the Rolls-Royce surface finish center in Goodwood, UK, where the cars are painted. The data relates to the color reference of each car, as well as the information generated by the robotic movement required to apply the exact surface finish to each vehicle. Finally, the custom visuals created for this work have been precisely designed to complement the canvas and surrounding space.

Anadol is concerned with the challenges and the possibilities we face in the digital age. His is a study of what it means to be a human in the age of machine intelligence. The artist explores how the perception and experience of time and space are radically changing now that machines dominate our everyday lives.

I’m interested to know how he sees his artwork responding to this. “What’s happening to humanity is unstoppable and extremely fast,” he tells me, “so are the changes in life and ramifications of technology. The art I’m trying to explore, and let people of any age, any background and culture perceive, are these new future narratives,” he says, adding that these offer a critique as well as hope. He explains: “These experiences may inspire someone to look for the technology, to ask for the questions, but also, they can meditate, or just enjoy time and space.”

Anadol chose to use data as a pigment with machine intelligence in order to give purpose to that data. “It is pretty clear that machines can learn – they can even hallucinate. Still, the big question is, from the humanities perspective, what exactly are we doing with this technology? What it means to be a human in the 21st century – this question itself is our process. Most likely the answer is our relationship between those technologies and systems.”

The artist says his body of work address “the moments of serendipity” that are hidden in systems and machines, that his main purpose is to create “a moment of change in life”. He notes, “I’m trying not to make humans more machine but speculate on making machines more human. Simply, I’m trying to find the human in the non-human.”

I ask the Anadol how he sees art helping to expand on the possibilities of the digital age. “For me, art is about humanity and imagination. In every single moment of humanity, we are always inspired by technology. Either we find the fire and cook with it and create communities, or with the same technology, we separate from each other.” He feels this second scenario is closer to what’s happening to humanity now. “We have one of the most powerful tools that can allow us to think, learn, and remember differently. I do hope that the art that I’m trying to imagine, can eventually become not only just art, but also an experience itself to stimulate that feeling,” he says, before adding: “from this perspective, bringing depth to the surface is exactly what art can do.”

The Turkish-born Anadol’s site-specific audio-visual performances have been presented internationally at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles US; International Digital Arts Biennial, Montreal, Canada; and Arts Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria. He says of this latest commission, “I’m very excited that Rolls-Royce is sharing their complex computational painting data with me, to use as the raw material for this artwork. This project is very collaborative as there is a direct correlation between Rolls-Royce’s process and mine, in that we both harness machines and machine intelligence to help actualise our vision of beauty.”

“Art of Perfection: Data Painting” is premiered during Frieze Art Los Angeles (14-16 February) and will then exhibit at the Geneva International Motor Show in March.

Learn more about the Muse Rolls-Royce Art Program; see the Tomás Saraceno installation inspired by the web-weaving life of spiders; read about celebrity photographer Rankin’s edgy Phantom video here and the Serpentine Gallery partnership here