To understand the general structure of the universe has been one of the most far-reaching research topics of the mankind history. Nowadays, seeking this explanation, brings the unrivaled experiences within while disclosing the invisible events around us by using algorithms.
Memo Akten: Memo Akten who mentions how developing technology changes our perceptions in his works, takes advantages of advanced electronics, software and hardware systems while creating multimedia experiences. The artist who approaches the essence of the behaviors with computer based production, questions personal and social impacts of the technology. Akten, who ensures you to draw a paint with your body on a virtual canvas with interpreting the motions and dances as changing/developing formations, is getting ready to taking his place with developed version of “Body Paint” project in Sonar Istanbul with the support of Digilogue. The conversation between us, which is ranging from the importance of real time designs to points that language can be insufficient, explains the connection in be-tween technology and us…
Who is Mehmet Akten, how his production shaped in time and what is waiting for you in the future?
Memo Akten: I am Mehmet Akten, I’m working in a sector which is called as new media art. I call myself more as a computational artist. The reasons behind are it covers a lot of area in new media and it is the area that I interest and work on the most. To see the world while using computers… By computational, I meant using computers. Of course we all are using computers. The aim here is a more based version of math. Trying to disclose the things in the world around that we can’t see and to visualize them by using algorithms.
How working in different disciplines effects your production process?
Memo Akten: As I mentioned, computational approach is the essential of my field of interest. We may consider it as a language. It’s not formatting what I wanted to mean by language, it is more like in general. It’s the enlarged version of math. Just as we speak in English now, computational is that kind of language at some point. It is more prone to the different approaches like; dance, visual and aural arts and even philosophy. It offers new opinions when colloquialism is not enough. Hence, I combine my approach with different areas. I do collaborations in the areas that I don’t have any experience.
How do you evaluate the developing technology and the concept of dystopia which gain a seat in popular culture lately?
Memo Akten: Good point. Developing technology has an important role on what I do. It is not true to say just technology, because a tea cup or an oil paint is kind of technology. The impact of the process of technology development is one of the biggest questions in my works. I really ask this question. The impact on us, how does it improve our body and mind, also the social and cultural impact of it.
There is this quote that I use a lot “We form technology, then it forms us.”. It may be the fear of technology getting out of control is creating this dystopia concept. In the end something is happening without our control. In my opinion, technologies amplify our capacities. Our capacities tend to the good and the bad. It is really important to forethought this and to take precautions.
The damages of our mistaken points will increase while the technologies improve and be more powerful… As Max Tegmark said “First we invented cars, 50 years from that we invented the seat belt…”. We need to release the technology with the seat belt at the first time.
“Our capacities tend to do good and the bad. We learn from trials and errors.”
How do you determine the topics that you work on?
Memo Akten: Actually there are two answers for this question, the first one would be more general but try to understand the world. To understand the universe, is coming from physics. To understand the life is coming from biology. To understand the mind is coming from neurology. It is part of a sociology, antropology and religion is to understand the society. There are lots of general points like those. And of course, things that attract my attention in daytime, determine the topic that I’ll work on. In the mean time I believe that artificial intelligence has enough technological power to change the direction of humanity even the universe. Ai is in my topics as a reaction to this. I more believe in that ai will change the current flow. Hence I’m trying to understand that. Phd was a little bit extreme decision but as I said the main reason is to try to understand. I see something and try to understand that and suddenly it becomes a part of my art.
How do you approach to ai in your Phd program?
Memo Akten: My Phd is about deep learning. I examine the development of a realtime control system which is based on a human and ai/deep learning. Current systems can answer the questions that you asked, but when it comes to communication there is a lack of connection with people. The question that I seek for an answer is, in this point how to relate with a human and how can a human control the ai in a meaningful way? Let me give you an example, this relationship is more like a horse-riding. A horse is a self-reliant creature, but there this relationship with human. Human trains the horse, also submits the horse’s needs.
Can we say that new media studies are about interactive process? What does process mean to you?
Memo Akten: Interactiviy is a cosmic term. For example, Body Paint project is celebrating its 10th anniversary. I was doing these kind of stuff before the Body Paint. I’ve studied about motional image and animation on time based media. But it makes me feel limited.
I like to play piano. There is a real time loop while playing it. You make a move, it creates a sound, you hear and react to it. It becomes a part of your body. Like driving. I’m more interested to do it interactively, like playing and instrument. I want to develop systems like piano. This is how Body Paint was born.
How do you interpret the spiritual effect on Body Paint?
Memo Akten: This is the feeling that I’m trying to capture in all of my works. The pleasure is coming from creating something, this is a very satisfying. Especially, creating a beauty… To move… Moreover if there is a simple perceivable interaction and invisible technology, it feels like magic.
How do you define to being unique?
Memo Akten: This is an interesting and important question. I may be taking it to a different direction but it is really connected. This is not mentioned enough in the computational based art and software fields. Audience can’t understand that how much of a product is made by a system or by a human. And when they don’t understand, they don’t know how to evaluate. However when you see a sculpture, since you are living in physical world even if you are not a sculptor you may understand how much of it is coming from the sculptor or the machine.
An experienced human can understand the producer even just with its color palette. An unexperienced human from this field can’t see the difference. Me for instance, can understand the difference between red and white wine, but may not understand the difference between 2017 Bordeaux and Merlot. Hence be-ing unique is becoming a subjective thing. To generalize, not being unique is very easy in this field. Because the system that we use naturally creates beautiful stuff automatically. A metaphor that I use, if you take a paint and throw it on to a canvas, you create something beautiful. If you go back to the birth of abstract expressionism in 1940’s, everybody is saying something good but Pollock has a difference. It takes a little time to understand this difference and due to that we are still in that time period. It is still easy to create good stuff, but it needs to be unique to have a difference.
How do you see the place of new media art in Turkey?
Memo Akten: It feels huge, in an excited way. When I left Turkey in 97, there was no internet, and since we don’t have internet naturally I was thinking that there is no body like me in here. Then step by step we met each other with internet, with Vimeo. So many people all over the world represents very goodly. World got smaller and Turkey is in a more important status.