A Moment in the Disruptive Art of Albert Barqué-Duran

Explorations of AI Art— Episode 03

Beth Jochim, Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. Twitter: @_bblurred

“I realised how powerful are some experiences when shared. Even more when these experiences are aimed to push the boundaries of human perception.” — Albert Barqué-Duran

My Artificial Muse (2018–2019). Courtesy of Albert Barqué-Duran.

Libre AI’s journey into AI art goes ahead through the summer with an interview with Albert Barqué-Duran. Artist and researcher, he is a Lecturer in Creative Technologies and Digital Art at University of Lleida and an Honorary Research Fellow at City, University of London. Based in Barcelona-London-Berlin, he has exhibited worldwide and he is considered one of the 64 “Culture Activists” in Europe by We Are Europe, and internationally awarded by the “Re:Humanism Prize” and the “International Award City of Lleida”.

Let’s go on to discover another piece that composes the puzzle of this post-modern genre that is becoming more and more an important part of the present and future of the artistic scene.

Beth: Albert, you have been involved in many interesting projects so far. Could you tell us about one that has been very special to you and why?

Albert: It is a bit difficult to choose after all the crazy projects we’ve been doing lately! But if I really have to pick one very special moment I would say the one that happened last year during Sónar (Barcelona), when I was sitting unnoticed in a tiny corner inside our big immersive installation of our project “The Zero-Gravity Band” (Barqué-Duran & Marzenit, 2018). To get to that specific point in time and place, we worked like crazy with a huge team for an entire year: first doing research on how microgravity conditions and environments affect our aesthetical perceptions, and then trying to perform in a parabolic flight that induces different types of gravity conditions. And that precise moment, sitting unnoticed in that little corner inside the crowded installation (around 10K people visited it in 3 days!) and seeing how people where behaving and reacting to what was happening inside that dome was very emotional and inspiring. I realised how powerful are some experiences when shared. Even more when these experiences are aimed to push the boundaries of human perception.

The Zero-Gravity Band — Installation Short Film. Courtesy of Albert Barqué-Duran.

Beth: You are one of the artists that are shaping the field of generative art. Your interests are at the intersection of art, science and technology. How do you see the future of generative art? And how is the figure of the artist evolving? What are the challenges you are facing as an artist?

Albert: I always say that the very nucleus of my work is scientific/academic/research-based. I’d like to think that following this framework I can contribute in what it could be the “next generation” of cultural and artistic experiences. Nowadays, the challenge we are facing as disruptive artists is to figure out how we can use technology to create powerful experiences that push the boundaries of our perception. Most of the time, what I propose is what I like to call “a closed-loop” installations or performances. Imagine an installation that can adapt to your preferences and overcome your expectations. This closed-loop approach motivates the design of an experience for a specific location, which shapes and personalises a shared experience. It fosters the relationship between a community and its most immediate environment becoming more adaptive and in harmony. An example of that is my recent project ULTIMATE EMOJI (Barqué-Duran, 2019) premièred at Mobile World Congress (Barcelona).

Ultimate Emoji — Performance. Courtesy of Albert Barqué-Duran.

Beth: You have been considered as one of the 64 “Culture Activists” in Europe and your art is disruptive. Is there a message you want to pass on to the public? Or does your art provide a way to investigate the world we live in? Where do you want to bring your art in the future?

Albert: The other day a journalist called me “A character somewhere lost in between the past and the future” and “A boy from the Neo-Renaissance”. I found it funny. In a sense, all my work is clearly motivated by my academic background: I earned my PhD and Postdoc in Cognitive Science from City, University of London and now I’m a Lecturer in Creative Technologies and Digital Art at University of Lleida and a Honorary Research Fellow at City, University of London. So unsurprisingly, my artwork and performances are inspired by my research and combine post-modern art techniques (A.I., computational creativity, data, experimental electronic music) and classical fine art methods (oil painting, sculpture) to reflect on universal topics (knowledge, digital culture, futures). In the end, with these disruptive projects at the intersection of art, science and technology my aims are: (1) to find novel formats of generating scientific and artistic knowledge; (2) to reflect about contemporary and futuristic issues and its cultural implications; (3) to create powerful experiences to push the boundaries of human perception. It’s a constant search of the avant-garde, introducing innovative elements with respect to the traditional or conventional forms in order to break or distort the most accepted systems of representation or expression. Another example of that is our project My Artificial Muse (Barqué-Duran, Klingemann, Marzenit, 2017) premièred at Sónar+D (Barcelona).

My Artificial Muse — Performance. Courtesy of Albert Barqué-Duran.

Beth: After so many interviews, festivals and talks I feel I have to ask you this: Is there a question nobody ask and you would like to answer?

Albert: Well, actually, I would like to be the one asking YOU a personal question! I would like to be the “journalist” for a second. So Beth, why are you interested in the topic of how AI can enhance the creativity of artists? What would be your “ideal” artistic performance that you would love to experience/attend?

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.” — William Blake

ushing the boundaries of perception can be done in different ways. Albert Barqué-Duran guides us through his own unique door. He envisions “a closed-loop” installation or performance that can adapt to preferences and overcome expectations. This approach designs an event for a specific audience and location and shapes, personalizing, a shared experience. The relationship between a community and its environment becomes harmonic and more adaptive, bringing a powerful occurrence to life.

This artist feels the responsibility to contribute to the “next generation” of cultural and artistic experiences following a scientific and academic approach. This gives a strong base for researching the impact of technology into the human existence, for generating scientific and artistic knowledge, and for reflecting about contemporary and futuristic issues. Pushing the boundaries of perception implies to break or distort what is already known and accepted, asking implicitly questions and putting the audience in the position to reflect about the status quo.

Albert asks me why I am interested in the topic of creativity and AI, and I am happy to provide him with an answer.

I would like to recompose the dichotomy between traditional and generative art, making it easier for everybody to understand why art and science can collaborate and reach interesting results together. Also, our society talks about the importance of creativity, although sometimes it is exactly what seems to be missing in our lives. Professor Teresa Amabile says, “Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells”. AI can be a powerful tool that helps to expand the mind of the artist and the spectator in ways never done before, stimulating discussions at different levels including sociological, philosophical and ethical.

We are living an important moment where we can push boundaries and co-create a new avant-garde also as spectators. I want to understand how technology can intertwine with art and what this can mean for the present and the future.

And, yes, I would like to experience an immersive installation where I could experiment a derangement of the senses “in order to obtain the unknown”. Because art can surprise, help to discover a different truth, a different self, and bring us to a new and unexplored territory breaking on through to the other side.

A big thanks to Albert Barqué-Duran for opening his ideas and inspiring new perspectives to us. ∎

About the author: Beth Jochim is the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI, and Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. She works at the intersection of technology and arts. She is actively involved in different activities that aim to democratize the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, bringing the benefits of AI/ML to a larger audience. Connect whit Beth in LinkedIn or Twitter.

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