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Memo Akten

Memo Akten is a London-based artist, researcher and philomath whose award-winning projects use AI to reflect ourselves and how we make sense of the world.


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Selected AI artworks:

Akten’s breadth and depth of work is truly impressive, and choosing just a few works to highlight here doesn’t do justice to his portfolio. However, we’ve selected a few works that we consider the most compelling from a conceptual standpoint. We recommend checking out his site at the bottom of this page if you want to learn more.

1. Deep Meditations:

“Deep Meditations” is a meditation on life, nature, the universe and our subjective experience of it. It’s a one hour immersive film, told through the imagination of a neural network trained on everything, on life, love, art, faith, ritual, worship, god.

Akten trained a machine learning algorithm to “see” using images that represent essential concepts in human life. He downloaded his curated dataset of images from the photo-sharing website Flickr using photos tagged with these words: everything, world, universe, space, mountains, oceans, flowers, art, life, love, faith, ritual, god, etc. 

Then Akten programmed the machine to “imagine” new images based on all those images— creating a new world of landscapes, objects and ideas never before seen, but based on our own experience of life. The result is a breathtaking journey through the “imagination of a machine” which has been trained on concepts core to our existence. 

Deep Meditations is in different formats ,  including a 1 hour film presented as an immersive, meditative, multi-channel video and sound installation .

The work is also an exploration into the use of deep generative neural networks as a medium for creative expression and story telling with meaningful human control. Using bespoke tools, precise journeys are constructed in the high dimensional latent space of the neural network, following specific narrative paths to create a one hour film oscillating on the borders between abstract and representational, hyper-real and painterly

2. Learning to See:

“Learning to See” is an artificial neural network looking out onto the world, trying to make sense of what it sees, in context of what it’s seen before. This ongoing series of works uses state-of-the-art Machine Learning algorithms as a means of reflecting on ourselves and how we make sense of the world.

The picture we see in our conscious mind is not a mirror image of the outside world, but is a reconstruction based on our expectations and prior beliefs. In “Learning To See”, an artificial neural network loosely inspired by our own visual cortex, looks through cameras and tries to make sense of what it sees. Of course it can only see what it already knows. Just like us. The work is part of a broader line of inquiry about self affirming cognitive biases, our inability to see the world from others’ point of view, and the resulting social polarization.

While many artists have used Ai to create visually interesting works, Akten consistently goes deeper by using machine learning to reflect how we experience the world. Beyond being aesthetically beautiful, his works give us a reason to pause and consider our own relationship with ourselves, our minds, and our experience of reality.

3. Journey through the layers of the mind:

Akten’s video shows how neural networks try to understand what they’re seeing within the context of what they’ve seen before, as the video progressively zooms in on his face and tries to interpret features with every zoom. He writes about the poetry of the process here.

The selection of works above represent a only fraction of Akten’s deep and wide-ranging portfolio. You can view all of Memo’s most recent projects here.

Akten on using artificial intelligence:

How has AI impacted your creative practice?

  • COMING SOON: Artist will supply a quote here.

What excites you most about AI as an artist?

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What specific AI / machine learning technologies does you use?

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Extended bio:

Memo Akten is an artist, researcher and philomath from Istanbul, Turkey, working with computation as medium, inspired by the intersections of science and spirituality; and collisions between nature, science, technology, ethics, ritual, tradition and religion. Combining critical and conceptual approaches with investigations into form, movement and sound; he works with computational systems and algorithms, designing behavioural abstractions and data dramatizations of natural and anthropogenic processes, to create (interactive, non-interactive or responsive) moving images; video, sound and light installations and performances.

Alongside his practice, he is currently completing a PhD at Goldsmiths University of London in artificial intelligence and expressive human-machine interaction, to enable collaborative creativity between humans and machines. Fascinated by trying to understand the world and human nature, he draws inspiration from fields such as physics, molecular & evolutionary biology, ecology, abiogenesis, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology and philosophy.

Akten received the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in 2013 for his collaboration with Quayola, ‘Forms’. Since 2009 his works ‘Body Paint’ and ‘Gold’ have toured with the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘Decode’ exhibition. In 2014 his work as Marshmallow Laser Feast ‘Laser Forest’ was part of the Barbican’s ‘Digital Revolutions’ exhibition. Exhibitions and performances include the Grand Palais (Paris FR), Royal Opera House (London UK), Moscow Museum of Modern Art (Moscow RU), Holon Museum (Tel Aviv IL), EYE Film Institute (Amsterdam NL) and Lisbon Architecture Triennale (Lisbon PT).

Akten is a strong supporter of open-source software and many of his open-source tools and libraries are used globally. He is one of the core contributors to the openFrameworks project, and he gives lectures and workshops around the world. In 2007 he founded The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company (MSA Visuals), a creative studio spanning art and technology. In 2011, with two new partners this evolved into Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF). In 2014, after a string of hugely successful, influential and large scale projects, Memo left MLF to focus on personal work, collaborations and research.

Akten’s Artist Statement

“My biggest inspiration is trying to understand the world around me. The fundamental questions that drive me are the same questions that have been asked for thousands of years. What is the nature of the universe? What is the nature of life? What is the nature of the mind? Drawing from fields such as physics, biology, abiogenesis, evolution, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, and theology, I study the hidden processes that shape our world, and develop systems that abstract behaviour hoping to create unfamiliar familiarities and encourage new perceptions.

Analogous to painting a sunset on a stormy sea, I’m fuelled by the idea of studying the nuclear fusion inside the sun powering our planet, the photons scattering in the atmosphere to create a crimson sky, the fluid dynamics driving the wind and the waves crashing onto the shore. As opposed to taking inspiration directly from the observable aesthetics of what I see around me, I’m inspired by the processes and behaviour that create and shape them. And I’m inspired by our capacity to dig deeper and learn more about the poetry of nature.

Alongside my practice, I’m working towards a PhD in Artificial Intelligence – or to be more precise: Machine Learning – and expressive human-machine interaction. While the PhD is a technical one (Computer Science), I’m equally (if not more) interested in the cultural, social, ethical, legal, philosophical and religious implications of the recent and ongoing developments in AI.

These days I’m mostly thinking about machine learning algorithms as a means to reflect on ourselves and how we make sense of the world; what (and who) we choose to value and why; our own self-affirming cognitive biases and prejudices; our inability to see the world from others’ point of view and empathise with those that we disagree with; and the resulting social polarisation and gaping wounds in our societies.”

Akten’s Awards, Commissions & Residencies:

  • 2018 Somerset House Studios & Chase Foundation, Commission, London, UK

  • 2017 STRP Biennale, Commission, Eindhoven, NL

  • 2016 Google Artists & Machine Intelligence, Artist in Residence, Seattle, USA

  • 2016 Somerset House Studios, Artist in Residence

  • 2015 Jury Selection for Simple Harmonic Motion for 16 Percussionists, Japan Media Arts Award

  • 2015 Future Everything, Commission, Manchester, UK

  • 2014 Blenheim Art Foundation, Commission, Oxfordshire, UK

  • 2013 Golden Nica for Forms, Award, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria

  • 2013 STRP Biennale, Commission, Eindhoven, Netherlands

  • 2012 In the Blink of an Eye: Media and Movement, National Media Museum, Commission, Bradford, UK

  • 2008 Trash City, Commission, Glastonbury Festival, UK

Collections:

  • Learning to See. Hansen House, Jerusalem, Israel. Acquired 2018

  • Body Paint, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, USA. Acquired 2018

  • Equilibrium, Yıldız Holding Collection, Istanbul, TR. Acquired 2017

  • Body Paint, Public, City of London, UK, Acquired 2016.

  • Simple Harmonic Motion #11 for 80 Lights, Blenheim Art Foundation, Oxfordshire, UK. Acquired 2014

  • Body Paint, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, NL. Acquired 2013

  • Body Paint, Webcam Piano 2.0, Public, City of Paris, FR, Acquired 2013

Akten’s Selected Exhibitions & Performances:

2019

2018

2017

  • Artists & Robots, Astana Contemporary Art Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan

  • The Other I, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria

  • International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Amsterdam, Netherlands

  • Sonar+D, Barcelona, Spain

  • Treviso Ricerca Arte, Treviso, Italy

  • STRP Biennale, Eindhoven, Netherlands

2016

  • Quantum Entanglement 2.0, National Center for Contemporary Arts, Arsenal, Kremlin, Russia

  • Art of Neural Networks, Gray Area Foundation, San Fransisco, USA

  • Resound, Simon Center, Long Island,USA,

  • Pattern Recognition, V&A, London, UK (performance)

2015

  • Simple Harmonic Motion for 16 Percussionists, Future Everything, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK (performance).

  • Reflection, Opera Gallery, London, UK

  • Monochrome, AkSanat, Istanbul, Turkey

  • Pattern Recognition, Sadler’s Wells presents at Platform Theatre, London, UK (performance)

  • Dallas Aurora Festival, Dallas, Texas, USA

  • Europalia, Brussels, Belgium

2014

  • Quantum Entanglement, Laboratoria Gallery, Moscow, Russia

  • Digital Revolutions, Barbican, London, UK (as part of Marshmallow Laser Feast)

  • The Measures Taken, Royal Opera House, London, UK (performance)

  • The Measures Taken, EXIT Festival, Creteil, France (performance)

  • Blenheim Art Foundation, Blenheim Palace, Oxford, UK.

  • Nouées, La Briqueterie, Saint-Brieuc, France

  • New Realities, Alphaville, Barcelona, Spain

  • Creative Machine, St James’ Church, Goldsmiths University of London, UK

  • Polytechnic Museum, Moscow, Russia

  • Infoversum, Groningen, Netherlands

  • 90db Festival, Rome, Italy

  • A Taste of London, le Cube Gallery, Paris, France

2013

  • Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Lisbon, Portugal (as part of Marshmallow Laser Feast)

  • Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria.

  • Popular Science Festival, Kaluga, Russia

  • 6th Annual Imagine Science Film Festival, Google NY, USA

  • Glitch festival at Rua Red, Dublin, Ireland

  • Royal Institute of British Architects, Manchester, UK

  • Plums Festival 2013, Moscow, Russia

  • Cube Gallery, Manchester, UK

  • Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dublin, Ireland

  • The Center for Recent Drawing, London, UK

  • SXSW Interactive, Austin, Austin, Texas, USA

  • STRP Biennale, Eindhoven, Netherlands

  • Node13, Frankfurt, Germany

2012

  • Ottawa International Animation Festival, Ottawa, Canada

  • In the Blink of an Eye: Media and Movement, National Media Museum, Bradford, UK

  • File Festival, Rio, Brasil

  • File Festival, Sao Paolo, Brasil

  • Of this Event, I cannot foresee the end, Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery, London, UK

2011

  • Decode: Digital Design Sensations, Holon Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel

  • Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, The Roundhouse, London, UK

  • Bouillant festival, Vern-Sur-Seiche, France

  • Digital Shoreditch festival, London, UK

  • Decode: Digital Design Sensations, Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, Russia

2010

  • Yota Space Festival, St Petersburg, Russia

  • Cube Festival, le Cube, Paris, France

  • Vigo Transforma Festival, Vigo, Spain

  • Sydney Biennale, Australia

  • Future Gallery, London, UK

  • Lovebytes Digital Arts Festival, Sheffield, UK

  • Phoenix Spark Festival, Leicester, UK

  • Mapping festival, Geneva, Switzerland

2009

  • Decode: Digital Design Sensations, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.

  • Tent Digital / London Design Festival, London, UK

  • Edinburgh Film Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland

  • Exhibit Festival, Venice, Italy

  • Berlin-open, Berlin, Germany

  • Clicks or Mortar? : Designing a future for cultural venues in the digital age, Newcastle, UK

2008

  • My Secret Heart, Royal Festival Hall, London, UK (performance)

  • Trash City, Glastonbury Festival, UK

Selected talks:

  • Kikk 2017 (Video). Intelligent Machines That Learn: What Do They Know ? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!

  • Resonate 2016 (Text). A digital god for a digital culture. Surveillance, artificial intelligence, data dramatization, poetry and God. 16th Apr 2016

  • Digital Utopias (Video). Disruptive Innovation, talk on production models. 20th Jan 2015

  • Digibury Weekender (Video). Art, science, technology and society. 18th Oct 2014

  • Eyeo (Video). 2013

  • Resonate (Video). 2013

Akten’s press and interviews:

Learn more about Memo Akten: