Article by Faye Campbell // Dec. 13, 2019
The interior of Kraftwerk has been transformed into a digital landscape: a virtual reality realized within the physical space. Entering the large industrial doors of Kraftwerk, and ascending the stairs, we are immediately cast as protagonists in a scene from the future. The work begins with lights filtering from the ceiling onto the floor, small glimpses and images that move along the ground, a digital amalgamation of visual images of Berlin. These are the beginning stages of Refik Anadol’s ‘dreaming machine,’ an AI algorithm that scrapes the internet for available images of Berlin, and then compiles them into digital paintings.
The work, titled ‘LATENT BEING,’ has also been executed in other cities such as London and New York. It is commissioned by LAS (or Light Art Sound), a recently established non-profit organisation based in Berlin that combines science, art and emerging technologies. By using light and art as a medium, in conjunction with new technologies, LAS seeks to question the present and create new possibilities for the future. The organisation will begin its commissioned series with works housed in various international locations, with an aim to be permanently based in Berlin.
For Anadol’s work, we are given a small plastic card, which presumably contains a chip. We are then tracked in a way that is admittedly immersive and interactive, but also uncomfortable. The work, therefore, not only immerses us physically, but also ethically and philosophically, as we are left considering our own unease in the face of AI and our complicity in its creation and action. The application of the tracker becomes more clear when suddenly we are bathed in a square light that follows us as we move, like a chosen character in a video game.
The work is divided into four chapters, which creep up onto us unexpectedly and suddenly. It begins as a sort of technically choreographed light show, beams of light flitting through the space, accompanied by resonant music, which flows steadily from one stage into the next. The final chapter combines all the images taken from Berlin, as they amorphously flow from one to the next. A view into the AI’s consciousness, perhaps.
The immense size of Kraftwerk allows for this kind of total immersion, a sensory experience that disengages from the outside world. The site-specific work is thus in dialogue with the space, which simultaneously, and perhaps conversely, feels like both a large, alienating warehouse (a lingering sense of its origins as a power plant) as well as an awe-inspiring and contemplative cathedral.
Is dreaming one of the most human experiences? If every face we see in a dream is someone we have once seen in waking life, is that not just our brain computing at hyper-speed and bringing up stored data? What does collective memory mean when it is shared with computers? Is it not imbued with the same sepia hue of emotions, love lost and found and everything in between? Where then, does this “dreaming machine” begin and end? In this instance, perhaps we are not letting the AI into our world, but the AI is allowing us a glimpse into its manufactured existence.