glacier dreams: at the intersection of art, science and technology
A pioneer in the aesthetics of data and machine intelligence, Refik Anatol reveals Glacier Dreams – his newest All included data painting installation revealed as an immersive, multi-sensory activation. In the Art Dubai 2023 which took place between March 1-5, the new media artist launched the first chapter of his ongoing collaboration with Swiss Private Bank Julius Baer for their NEXT initiative. It is presented as a three-dimensional space where sound, lightand fragrance combine in a hypnotic display, the synesthetic work illuminates the beauty and fragility of Iceland’s volcanic glaciers, which Anadol refers to as “melting memories”. In its multiple chapters, Glacier Dreams explores both the geological and aesthetic formations of glaciers while raising awareness of the dangers sea level rise by using AI tools in innovative ways to ‘change humanity’.
Call for conservation “The wonderful sculptures of nature”, As Anadol puts it, Glacier Dreams is at a thoughtful intersection of multisensory experiences, machine learning, and environmental studies. The project is shaped by a massive dataset that includes 85 million real-time images and sound bites along with an extensive collection of weather data. AI-powered and fluid dynamics-inspired algorithms were then trained on the datasets to reconstruct a dreamy, audiovisual alternate reality reminiscent of the beauty of these vanishing landscapes. Interspersing the data with fluid visualizations and using data as paint and AI as brush, the final installation unfolds as a poetic sequence of multi-sensory narratives.
Data ripples hypnotically across every surface of the room, disintegrating into tiny fragments and coming together once more. Through abstract glimpses, the display reveals the ever-changing nature of the glaciers, their distinct shapes and patterns, the glacier’s dynamic plays of light and color, and the fluctuating weather patterns in the region as they evolve under the threat of climate change. Despite the weight and urgency of the subject matter, the work exudes a sense of optimism. Every pixel and data point in the piece is heavily laden with a sense of hopeful activism, prompting viewers to urge the preservation of these final, eroding “memories of humanity.” “The whole idea is to draw attention to glaciers, their beauty, structure and function, while highlighting the dangers of their disappearance and the purpose of preserving them.” Anadol tells designboom.
To learn more about the goals and processes of the collaboration from the artist himself, designboom spoke to Refik Anadol and attended an exclusive preview of Glacier Dreams at the Julius Baer lounge at Art Dubai. Read our discussion in detail below.
Refik Anadol launches the first chapter of Glacier Dreams at Art Dubai 2023 | image © designboom
interview with Refik Anadol
designboom (db): What is Glacier Dreams and how did you start working on this collaboration?
Refik Anadol (RA): Glacier Dreams is part of the NEXT initiative commissioned by Julius Baer and edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist. It began as a powerful statement about how we can combine art, science, and technology and how we can move toward meaningful action that goes beyond shiny pixels.
I have been researching nature for the past four years now. In my work I do not try to imitate nature, but I try to find new ways of expressing it. In this case, thanks to Obrist, it challenged me to try something fresher and different. For the past seven years, I have also been working with AI and have worked with over 3 billion images across many different industries. But I’ve never been able to do a deep data collection of spaces, until now.
During this year, we are collecting new datasets to build a glacier corpus and archive, beginning our travels in Iceland. Our next stop will be Greenland and then Antarctica and each chapter will have its own activation. Here, we have an immersive 3D room where AI-driven sound, image and scent combine, looking at melting volcanic glaciers in Iceland and highlighting their beauty.
activation presents a multi-sensory experience in a three-dimensional space | image © designboom
db: How did you compile the datasets for installation?
RA: For the past few weeks, we’ve been in Iceland looking at volcanic glaciers and recording real-time data from the environment. For data collection, we are heavily focusing on photography, videography, drone-based glacier analysis, and NERF — a new 3D surface reconstruction technique. I have personally collected more than 10 million images.
We recorded the weather and sound of the glaciers as we walked along them, including the acoustics of their cycle. We also use weather station data looking at temperature changes, wind, snow and rain patterns, their speed, gestures, etc. We looked at all these patterns and turned them into a database.
a mesmerizing fusion of sound, image and aroma driven by AI | image © designboom
db: The installation is a truly rich multi-sensory display, including visuals, sound and even scent. How was this database then implemented into this physical experience?
RA: We have three steps. First, we collect the data, then we sort, analyze and curate it. In the second stage we use artificial intelligence production tools to train machines with the data sets and recreate new realities. As a studio we are always collecting our own data, training and interacting with our own models and trying to advance the AI training process in new ways.
In addition, there is also the artistic calculation that is now a signature move in my work — such as fluid dynamics. I like to think of data as a pigment and find ways to create art with it. I believe there will be an ever-changing input to the coloring of the data, so I try to reveal the aesthetic in the work.
activation highlights the beauty and fragility of glaciers across Iceland | © designboom
db: I think it’s very interesting how nature as a subject is depicted and even somewhat preserved by innovative AI design tools. What were your intentions behind it?
RA: Yes, I always try to find and see the beauty in things. Trying to figure out what else we can do with it. And artificial intelligence, I believe, is a form of preservation — the preservation of humanity’s memories. But also, glaciers are also so important. They provide 70% of the fresh water for humanity, and unfortunately, more than 10% of the earth is covered by constantly melting glaciers. I like to call them “melting memories”.
At the same time, they are also like beautiful sculptures of nature. I am no different from Monet or other artists, I am also inspired by nature, but I just use recent tools to re-imagine the reality we are exposed to from it. The whole idea is to draw attention to glaciers, their beauty, structure and function, while highlighting the dangers of their disappearance and the purpose of preserving them.