Extraordinary stories from the most interesting artists, writers, athletes, and thinkers on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience.

Season two of This Being Human is proudly presented in partnership with TVO.

Refik Anadol

Season 4

EPISODE 7 - Refik Anadol

This week, Turkish-American new media artist and designer Refik Anadol joins host Abdul-Rehman Malik for a compelling conversation about his journey, inspirations, and the impact of his groundbreaking work on the global art scene. Anadol's projects consist of data-driven machine learning algorithms that create abstract, colourful environments. They  discuss his cultural collaborations and the impact of his work on global art narratives, all while contemplating the evolving role of artists in our technology-driven world.

Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Welcome to This Being Human, I’m your host Abdul Rehman Malik. On this podcast, I talk to extraordinary people from all over the world, whose life, ideas, and art are shaped by Muslim culture. 


Refik Anadol: I do believe machines can do many things we will do. But I don't see the meaning of it. I don't see the purpose of just giving a value back to a machine does that. I think, still, I believe art and creativity should and must be in the hands of humans.


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Today, we dive into the mesmerizing mind of Refik Anadol, a visionary at the intersection of art and technology. A Turkish-American new media artist, Refik's groundbreaking work transforms vast data sets into stunning visual and auditory experiences that challenge our very perceptions of reality.

Born in Istanbul and now based in Los Angeles, Refik's journey through art and technology began at Bilgi University, where he studied photography and video, later advancing to earn his Master of Fine Arts from UCLA. His work, represented by bitforms gallery, has not only graced the spaces of renowned institutions like MoMA but also entered the dynamic realm of NFTs, making waves at international auctions.

Refik's art is not just seen—it's experienced. It envelops you, offering a glimpse into what he calls "machine hallucinations," where algorithms narrate hidden stories embedded within streams of data. From the historic façades of Gaudi’s Barcelona to the digital galleries of New York's Artechouse, his installations are portals to a world where data becomes art and technology breathes life into raw numbers.

I had the privilege of experiencing Refik’s work in person twice. Once in a mall in Singapore, and again at the MoMA in New York. The MoMA piece, titled "Unsupervised," is a mesmerizing display of subtly shifting colors. It's created from the metadata of 138,000 pieces from the museum's online archive. The algorithm is uniquely trained to ensure it never mimics another artist's work.

Today, we’ll travel through Refik's artistic odyssey from Istanbul to Los Angeles, delve into how he bridges art with cutting-edge technology, and uncover how his work reflects cultural narratives and fosters collaboration across continents. We'll also look ahead to the future of art in the digital age—a future that Refik Anadol is actively shaping with every project he undertakes.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I'm hearing you speak about all of these thousands of data points, which is kind of, also kind of blowing my mind, right? That art as data, right? I never think about art that way!

Refik Anadol: Yes. So first of all, it was 2008, I, I think, coined the term "data painting" with the idea of information around us. Weather pattern, heartbeat, brain signals, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth signals, things that can be quantified by computers. I do believe they can become a pigment. They can become a material, and we can liberate them from the Newtonian physical constraints of life. Because, you know, if you think about a pigment, it can dry. If you think about the bronze, have a gravity, right? If I have a glass, steel, concrete, they all have physical properties. But if I think about data, it can be something like completely independent from those constraints, but also making invisible visible. Because technically data is something invisible, right? That is not using our language. But what happens if we use an algorithms and data together to make the invisible visible? And then what also inspired me so much is a light as a material. I do believe light is a divine material. Light is what we need to survive. It's particle, it's wavelength. I mean scientific, spiritual, emotional. I think I just try to connect these light data algorithms and paint with a thinking brush, if it makes sense. And I think I'm, of course, super careful in this work for the respect of the artists in the history. But we are also trying to find a new art form, because, by the way, I think art…for artists, art is like all about chance and control, which is a very important aspect of art making. And I believe by adding this algorithm and using AI there, we really speculate this relationship significantly. And also I think we've found a vocabulary that doesn't exist before. And now AI can remember all these possible colors and forms and reflections in that space. And then of course, on top of it, what was very special for the work, we were able to use a camera and a microphone and a weather station to let the artwork hear, see, and feel. So we let AI to look at the patterns of the sound. The movement and the weather condition influence the artwork. If the weather is rainy, it's different. Windy day, different. Sunny day, different. So we let the artwork have a conversation with life instead of just a frozen context of an idea. Can we let a living artwork happen? That was all that context. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Refik, that blows me away even more. Like I…[laughs]...I'm almost speechless, actually. Thinking about this intelligence engaging almost…I mean, I don't, I don't even know the language to use. You have the language, Refik, as you said, like it's a, it's an intelligence that is engaging with life itself. And of course, you and I, as human beings, feel sun on our skin and the wind in our hair, the rain in our eyes. And you're right, it produces all kinds of feeling, doesn't it? Not just sensory feeling, but emotional feeling. Nostalgia, intellectual feeling. It brings up books that we've read. It brings up lines of poetry. We sing songs about it. To what extent is that AI doing those things, generating meaning? Can the AI generate meaning? And then can we see that meaning in the artwork? 

Refik Anadol: I think it's a great question. So the meaning part is super subjective side of the research where things get really can be blurry. But what I try to look for is things that I hope that have much more common grounds. For example, when I think about weather data like, you know, a windy day, rainy day, sunny day, snow day, because the artwork was in a one year in the museum which witnessed four seasons of New York. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Wow. 

Refik Anadol: Which was a fascinating response to life. And then because there are days with rain, that means the museum is relatively crowded, that people are coming outside, and there's loud and noise in the space, that people are talking. But it may, in the afternoons, it’s much quiet and calm meditative space. Or in the morning there's a movement because students are coming and they are looking and so forth, but there's always life there. So it's not necessarily just a one idea, right? It's a dialog, it's a co-creation. And I think that's just a fascinating part of making digital art, because that means that we don't need to worry about one perspective of idea. Now we have multiple perspectives. The river, the life, the experience. Of course, these are like speculation, it's not necessarily, you know, it's still human made, you know, scenario. Human made decisions in many places. And I'm calling it 50% human. 50% AI. So it's like a co-creation. But I think it's so exciting to think that. Why not the new era of imagination with machines can create new form of art? That have a new vocabulary, a new kind of a dialog that is not our classical language, but a whole new world. This alien space exists. And I think. I'm so grateful our artwork was average viewing experience was 38 minutes. And that's a fascinating number to think. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: That is that that is a fascinating number! Because it's constantly changing. It draws you in. 

Refik Anadol: Correct.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Refik, I'm thinking about the younger version of you. Did you always find these things compelling? Was there something about your childhood in Istanbul that influenced your interest in art and technology? 

Refik Anadol: Yes. [laughs] I think it's a beautiful point. I am so grateful. One day my mom completely randomly brought home a Commodore computer. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: [laughs] I love it, I love it! 

Refik Anadol: So she had no idea what she was doing in a in a way that like, the best summer, my first computer, games, editing games, changing the game plans and so forth, and the same summer, I think I was so lucky or something. She also brought home this cassette of Blade Runner, the movie that I believe has so much impact on sci-fi lovers. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Right. 

Refik Anadol: But what happened, I believe, yes, I was playing games and I watched my first science fiction movie, which is fascinating. But as a child we do not see dystopia even in the darkest movies potentials. We saw, as young minds, the beauty, the positivity, the possibilities, and so forth, right? I think the reason when I remember Blade Runner or anything in life in general, is always trying to bring what else we can do with technology. How can we see the beauty, positivity, hope, inspiration, joy, and faith? Just look for those patterns. I remember those memories is, to me, attest to this positive impact of both computers and one day as a friend, and the sci-fi as a child.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Was it a Commodore 64? 

Refik Anadol: And also 128. The 64 was my cousin, 128 for me. And. But I was the one, you know, making the like the head counting like moments for the games to get the perfect signal and so forth. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: You become a trained photographer. 

Refik Anadol: Yes. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And so tell me a little bit about that because you start with this fascination with computers and sci-fi and and so there is the creative Refik from an early age, isn't there? And quite literally the Refik who wants to create, who wants to kind of see futures clearly, anyone who can watch Blade Runner and not see it as dystopian has a special ability to see beauty. So I respect that very deeply, Refik. What brings you to photography? 

Refik Anadol: So it was a very beautiful memory of, like, I think my uncle and my father and even my aunt, I remember very clearly. And they had this photographic like machines that, you know, family photos, etc. Nothing like, advanced, maybe, but I mean, 35mm, medium format. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Right.

Refik Anadol: And so I learned about the Mamiya like photography camera so forth. So I knew that in my practice, I always want to start with the fundamentals of saving life. Like recording a memory. And that's how I found that, by the way. Also, I grew up with my aunt. So unfortunately, she lost her vision when she was 18 years old. So that I have to be, while growing up, explain everything to her. Like, what is this? What is this? Can you explain me? And I always had this. I became her eyes. And that was to me, a very powerful experience in life that. I think the desire of capturing life to explain or recording a memory in time and space, like there's this beauty in this idea. And in the undergrad, I was just thought that I just need to learn the fundamentals. So I learned 35 millimeter, medium format, large format. I appreciate the medium of recording and chemicals. And then, of course, I build on to like digital spaces and 3D and 2D and so forth. Computer graphics. But I really start with the basic of understanding the medium itself, not less in a rush digital space, because there's still a beauty in capturing a memory in time and space in a chemical. And that truth, that beauty. I feel just still very connected with this moment of a darkroom experiences. So there's so much value of understanding the fundamental medium. And then I learned videography and then, of course, non-linear editing. So the time concept come later. And I have this super deep respect to the medium itself and the heroes in that all these disciplines. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: You know, as you're describing the experience of being in a dark room and capturing an image on 35mm film. You remind us that in some ways, photography, like digital art, is using a medium that is…we don't quite…like chemicals. They exist as these things, right? As these compounds. And yet. In the right way, they allow us to capture image. It's very similar, isn't it?

Refik Anadol: Absolutely similar. It's just in a different dimension. And I think the fundamentals of literally recording a data with a camera, like on a, on a substance of a, like a chemical or recording a data set of like a multi-million image archive, you have just a different appreciation to the archive. And I think my obsession with archives always comes with this, you know, possibilities of like how to use data in life through a physical context. Because to me, what we use is collective memories of humanity in our work, like urban space, culture and nature. And I feel like this appreciation to data comes from there, understanding how it's captured, how it's made. But algorithms all have a similar behaviors when you train them or if you use AI to like sort the archive of images, let's say, you know, recently we are now working on this super advanced project called Large Nature Model, which absolutely requires to like go so advanced. We have half a billion images, just to be precise. You know, imagine that hard challenges of documenting nature, and then applying this sensitivity, I think. But there's so much beauty knowing that part of the world of creativity. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Refik, I am sure people do come at you and to you all the time and say, in an era of AI generated images, deepfakes, the blurring of lines between the apparently real and the apparently unreal, the question emerges for a lot of people, if art can be generated by algorithms, by software, where does that leave the the human being? You know, when we were young and we used to listen to like, electronica music like New Order, right? Or bands like that. We used to joke that this was music untouched by human hands, you know? And I wonder out loud, is the future of art untouched by human hands? 

Refik Anadol: So it's a beautiful question and a beautiful answer in my mind. It’s just I do believe machines can do many things we will do and they can do, but I don't see the meaning of it. I don't see the purpose of just giving a value back to a machine does that. I think, still, I believe art and creativity should and must be in the hands of humans. I don't see a way just AI creating its own art. It can! And it can do that. And I think if we program it, it can all can do it. But what is the meaning of having machine doing its own thing? I don't see a value there yet. Can there be a day that we give a value and a context and discourse to a machine? Are we out of ideas? Did we finish imagination of art even? Like, why do we need that? I don't see that. And that's why technically, maybe. But practically, like, is it really needed at all? And is there any value? But the other question I am so inspired is, if one day, machine wants to create its own culture, and that culture creates own art, are we accepting this machine as a being or not? And that answer gives us a whole new perspective about how we perceive machine. But I know that answer is very challenging for many people in the world, and I completely understand and relate to it. And I understand concerns and, you know, and I, I am hearing every single perspective in that process. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: But you're open, Refik. That's what I'm hearing. I'm hearing you're open. You're open to the possibilities of new intelligences. 

Refik Anadol: Yes. Correct.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And as a human being speaking to those intelligences to expand the human experience. 

Refik Anadol: Absolutely. Because I think that's a very crucial part of the future we are going to. I think we are going to a new age of co-creation with machines. They will be everywhere, in every single step of our life. So I think they will just blend to everything we are doing, most likely. And that's where I feel that as an artist just, you know, demystify AI, show how it works. Explain it as good as we can so that people have a safe and secure understanding. Because I don't think we fear from something that we know. I mean, the fear is comes from the unknown. And I think the more we understand the systems and context, I think the more possibilities we have. It's a fascinating technology. It's a fascinating possibility. It's extension of the mind. And but, at the meantime, it's a mirror for humanity. So it's a beautiful, challenging environment. But I believe I don't see a value of letting only machine doing its own thing.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: You talk about the human element being meaning. In a way, what you're forcing us to do is to think about that part of us which is truly, essentially human, like what is the essential humanity that we bring to anything? And when you say meaning, that really makes me take a breath and stop. Because that speaks to me. That speaks to my sense of my humanness is to see the world and to create meaning. But you just said something else that I want to dig into just for a moment. That as this art is generated, that it deepens our own humanity and our understanding of ourselves. Can you unpack that for me a little bit? How, for you, is it expanding our self understanding? 

Refik Anadol: I think it's a beautiful question and a very challenging answer. And it's just is like, because to me, when I use AI, I feel that I'm using a mirror that mimics exactly what the purpose of the question is. And it's a fascinating place to be in front of a mirror and as a humanity, not individual thinking. As humanity. Because this technology is exactly mimicking who we are and our decisions, our memories, our culture, our belief, our, you know, problems and solutions, our science and spirituality all at the same time. And I think that's a fascinating place to try to challenge. What does it mean to be in human in 21st century? So that part to me is inspiring for the intellectual context. But also in the art making, when we use AI, especially as a studio, I just believe that we are not just creating pixels, but I believe those pixels can touch someone's mind and soul. So when I. I'm literally that thinking carefully when we make artworks. Because my motto is, since the beginning of art making, is art should for anyone, everyone, any age, any culture. And ultimate goal for me to use AI is to find the language of humanity eventually, if we can, in our lifetime. And I think that's a fascinating journey to like, explore archives, data, knowledge, dreams, hallucinations, or so forth. Like all type of reflection of the mind to the AI, to really reflect back us who we are and see possibilities. And I think that practice is, to me, is the fundamental purpose of why we use AI. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I have a small favour to ask you. If you enjoy this show, there’s a really quick thing you can do to help us make it even better. Just take five minutes to fill out a short survey. This is the Aga Khan museum’s first-ever podcast and a little bit of feedback will help us measure our impact and reach more people with extraordinary stories from some of the most interesting artists, thinkers, and leaders on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience. To participate, go to agakhanmuseum.org/tbhsurvey. That’s agakhanmusic.org/tbhsurvey.  The link is also in the show notes. Thanks for listening to This Being Human. Now, back to the interview.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: You approach language with such consideration, and I so appreciate that because as I'm listening to you, I'm also finding that you're opening so many doors of kind of intellectual spiritual possibility in what you're saying in ways that I actually wouldn't have thought that AI and these questions of technology could. And yet, Refik, you are comfortable working in these intimate spaces, in the museums, but you're also really comfortable working on big canvases. And recently you iterated these very ideas that we're talking about on one of the most zeitgeisty stages on Earth, the Sphere in Las Vegas. 

Refik Anadol: Yes. Yes.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And for those of our listeners who haven't yet experienced the Sphere, a simple Google will show you that it is really becoming, in our moment, one of the most iconic buildings on the planet. And you were given the opportunity to make that building your canvas. It's this object from the future. It feels like it landed from another space, another time. How did you approach a project that, I mean, just from where I'm sitting, feels so big, so, so big? And you did it in a city that isn't easily impressed. [laughter] You know, Las Vegas isn't impressed. Las Vegas has got everything. And yet you did something that blew people there and around the world away. Tell me about that project. 

Refik Anadol: I'm so grateful for that truly like, surreal piece of engineering, architecture, marvel. It's a fascinating building. I mean, the building itself, the dream of the building, and the purpose of it. I feel like it's just a perfect canvas for the idea of the future of media architecture, the future of engineering, the future of AI. I mean, it's just perfectly just capturing that universe. But when the project came, I mean, it was just like dream canvas. It's this dream canvas. It's more than 9 million pixels around this orb shape, which is perfectly challenged to think differently about a canvas. It is a three dimensional data sculpture that is possible. And I was just okay, that's too good to be true dream. And we dive together with the superb team and wonderful team there. They are so happy to collaborate and they open their like amazing knowledge and we open our knowledge and we join the forces and generate the very first renders. Or creativities with AI or data and let this beautiful form of architecture turn into the world's largest AI data sculpture. So I’m so grateful.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: It's almost like this building was made for you. 

Refik Anadol: Truly dream canvas. But what was fascinating to me is it manifests this feature of architecture. And it was very challenging, too. I just want to say that because the-

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Tell me about that, Refik. I can only. I mean, I can't even imagine how challenging it must have been. 

Refik Anadol: So normally our works is our, you know, in many scales. Sometimes we are projecting onto the building, sometimes we do like, works in immersive environments, but we never did something literal, like a rectangular, like a world map. So we had to find a new technique that takes our data pigmentation and literally reconstruct this on top of this incredible 500 feet like a giant, incredible canvas. So it was a very challenging technique. So we have to find new algorithms, new techniques. But it was just worth it. It was a very challenging six months minimum. And then another six months for AI research. So in a year, we come up with this incredibly exciting collaboration.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And what datasets were you using to generate those images, Refik? 

Refik Anadol: So we were like able to work in three data sets. So the focus was Earth. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Okay.

Refik Anadol: Because, we thought that we can just bring the ISS from the telescope data about how the Earth seems. So that was one data set which was visualizing the Earth's surface for AI to dream. We also have Hubble, which is an incredibly important NASA JPLs, I guess camera recording the past and the future galaxies for us. Such an incredible machine. That machine memories, we use it. And the third was the wind patterns of the Las Vegas. So in three chapters. The blue scene was visualizing the wind data in visible patterns. We had the Hubble telescope data, the galaxy color space, and the Earth, like, in three pieces. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Wow. Audacious. It's audacious, Refik. 

Refik Anadol: Thank you so much. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I want to take us from the cosmic to the to the to the sinews of the human mind. In 2021, your Venice Biennale work was entitled “Connectome Architecture,” and it explored the mechanics of the human mind by actually creating an immersive, experience-based installation that used data from 4500 brains. [laughter] I don't even know what to make of that. But to imagine the workings and the imaging and the electrical connections in 4500 brains, and then to turn it into something actually feels kind of insane. Tell me about this incredible exhibition and installation. 

Refik Anadol: Yeah. So I think absolutely a very important piece. Thank you for reminding. First of all, it started, to me, about neuroscience eight years ago. Unfortunately, my uncle diagnosed by Alzheimer's and I unfortunately lost him a couple of weeks ago. So I had this very deep connection with memory and the brain. And I just feel that that's when I start to think about the brain, our minds, our consciousness, memories from that perspective. So learning that actually memories in that disease “melts away” is just where I felt that I just connected with this, our mind as a place to imagine and understand. So, the first project was “Melting Memories.” And thanks to Professor Adam Gazzaley from UCSF. Fascinating neuroscientist making games to cure ADHD in the young ones. He and his team teach us, my team, how to use brain signals, how to read fMRI, DTI, you know, images, how to look at neuroscientific data. So that's how I started working with and then with “The Sense of Healing,” which was for Unicef. Our project was sold €1.7 million as a gift to Unicef. So I've been always in this like a space of imagination with AI and neuroscience. And what I was dreaming so long is, could we live with our emotions? Like, can we make a school in the form of inspiration? Can we make a hospital in the form of hope? But how can we represent these emotions was a whole basic question. So I learned about Human Connectome Project data, thanks to Taylor Kuhn, our professor at UCLA, where I'm teaching, and thanks to him, he said, like there's a dataset called Human Connectome Project. It's open source. And if you want to, like, explore, we can have a look. And he's the liaison professor for the Human Connectome Project. Actually, at the end, we reached more than 6000 scannings from that amount of people. And 6 months to 96 years old, an incredible spectrum of scannings of the brain. So we basically let AI to look at this information and come up with possible, literally connectome structures, which are using DTI scanning that shows us neural paths in the brain in certain cognitive capacities, like while thinking or dreaming or singing or all type of conscious, or like cognitive capacities are represented in this archive. So we took the emotions, the positive emotions, and then try to turn them into this form of art, form of sculpture. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: You've mentioned the word soul a few times, as I think in your language, you've tried to capture the human elements, and the human co-creator, let's say, in your work, and your process. And, and, you know, I've already used words like mesmerizing and arresting to describe your work, but there's something more to it than that, isn't it? Because you use the language of soul. And when people gaze and gape and are filled with awe in front of your work, they almost enter into a meditative state. And dare I say, it's a spiritual experience and, you know. Is this work a spiritual project for you? 

Refik Anadol: Yes. So it's a very personal, maybe, answer. And again, art is so subjective and everyone is so unique. And all of us have a different perspective of life and expectation. But when I look at these works, whatever I feel has a huge connection with the final work. The setting, the canvas, the algorithm, the colors, the form, the speed, the data, and it just all connects together. So combining all them together is absolutely a spiritual journey. And I feel like, eight years ago, thanks to my partner and my wife. So she introduced me to, like, this incredible culture in Amazonia. And four years ago I also met with this wonderful people called Yawanawá. They are literally the people inspired the movie Avatar that we all know. But the beautiful thing is, the tribe is only 1000 people living in Amazonia in Brazil for thousands of years in harmony in nature. They preserve rainforest for us. They try to preserve their culture and language and so forth, and they can live 100 plus years. They're so happy. They are fulfilled. Incredible Indigenous people. So Nixiwaka, Chief Nixiwaka, the tribe spiritual leader, and his partner, Chief Putanny, became my mentors almost three years ago. So the more I connect with them, the more I understand the meaning of our work. When they look at our work, which they've never seen AI work in their life, but they were just so happy. They felt that, oh, this is like our dreams. This looks like this. Like what? Like, you know, really? They said, yes. And I said, how do you think about the AI? And they said, AI is for us nature. Nature is the most intelligent thing we have. You just as humanity, forget that. It was a very beautiful dialog in the core heart of Amazonia. It's a form of contemplation for them. They see a spiritual context in their work. And that's when I realized that actually, if our work can have an impact on a spiritual leader living in the forest, if an AI trained on nature connects with the person living in the nature, that's when I realize that maybe there's a new world that we can explore. And since then, as I mentioned, I always believe that our work is a pixel, sure, but it can touch someone's mind and soul. So I clean my hand, I clean my intention. I want to be sure. This is a work of art, as pure as I can imagine. And that's where I found that spiritual context is there.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I wonder, Refik, if the divine that speaks through nature or through moments of revelation also speaks through ones and zeroes. 

Refik Anadol: I hope so. I really hope so. But what I know is happening, I know nature is communicating with us. I know that plants, the birds, the water and flowers. I know that they communicate with us. And we are in the same dimension. We are alive together. We are here right now. I mean, but nature needs a voice, maybe. Maybe that voice is hidden. And that's why we forget how important nature is. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And in some ways, your algorithms are giving them voice. 

Refik Anadol: I truly wish from my heart. We dedicate our latest AI research to nature, a love letter to nature, because we don't hurt something we love. Super simple. And maybe we need that new voice for the nature that talks through art, that maybe will bring more attention, hopefully to preserve and protect it. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Refik, tell me about a joy or a meanness that came to you recently as an unexpected visitor. 

Refik Anadol: That's absolutely one of the most special time that I had again with Yawanawá family. I want to remind them because they are so special people that I feel I'm a family because I have a special name given by them. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Oh, that's amazing. What an honor.

Refik Anadol: And that's a hugely unexpected memory that I remember when I talk with the tribe members and receive that name, that was really special. That was something that I felt that, oh, this is a whole new world. There's a whole new name, a naming ceremony. And that was very special. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Refik. This has been a joy. Speaking to you has been a joy. 

Refik Anadol: Thank you for inviting and for the beautiful conversation, for the depth. Much appreciated from my heart. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): You can see examples of Refik’s mesmerizing art at www.refikanadol.com. This Being Human is presented by the Aga Khan Museum. Through the arts, the Aga Khan Museum sparks wonder, curiosity, and understanding of Muslim cultures and their connection with other cultures. This Being Human is produced by Antica Productions in partnership with TVO. Our senior producer is Imran Ali Malik. Our associate producer is Emily Morantz. Our executive producers are Laura Regehr and Stuart Coxe. Mixing and sound design by Phil Wilson. Our associate audio editor is Cameron McIver. Original music by Boombox Sound. Shaghayegh Tajvidi is TVO’s Managing Editor of Digital Video and Podcasts. Laurie Few is the executive for digital at TVO.

Ep descript:  

This week, Turkish-American new media artist and designer Refik Anadol joins host Abdul-Rehman Malik for a compelling conversation about his journey, inspirations, and the impact of his groundbreaking work on the global art scene. Anadol's projects consist of data-driven machine learning algorithms that create abstract, colourful environments. They  discuss his cultural collaborations and the impact of his work on global art narratives, all while contemplating the evolving role of artists in our technology-driven world.

In this episode, Refik talks about….

  • His early days in Istanbul to his advanced studies and creative endeavors in Los Angeles
  • The formative experiences that shaped his pioneering approach to digital art.
  • His projects such as "Machine Hallucination" and "Virtual Depictions," 
  • How he transforms abstract data into immersive, sensory experiences that challenge traditional notions of art and space. 


“I do believe machines can do many things we will do. But I don't see the meaning of it. I don't see the purpose of just giving a value back to a machine does that. I think, still, I believe art and creativity should and must be in the hands of humans.”

“I do believe light is a divine material. Light is what we need to survive. It's particle, it's wavelength. I mean scientific, spiritual, emotional.” 

“How can we see the beauty, positivity, hope, inspiration, joy, and faith? Just look for those patterns. I remember those memories is, to me, attest to this positive impact of both computers and one day as a friend, and the sci-fi as a child.”

Learn more about Refik:    
You can see examples of Refik’s mesmerizing art here 

Follow Refik on Instagram 

To share your feedback on this episode, click here