What are the urgent conditions, responsibilities, meanings and future-directed objectives for a cultural institution functioning in the future? By attempting to consider these concerns along with questions of efficiency, ecology and sustainability, SALT’s 2017 program provisionally titled "What If…?" was to be composed of a series of changes to internal working practices, accompanied by five artistic interventions/architectural gestures that reconsider and reinvigorate the spaces, the ambitions, and the constituent relations of SALT Galata.
The question was: What if… we implement a range of changes within the institution that introduce ideas we often talk about but that seem too extraordinary, too spatially absurd, too virtual or quite the opposite too practical to be considered exhibition programming? What if... we imagine that 2017 is the future?
For "What if…?" the Ottoman Bank Archives and Museum—a central collection of artifacts and documents held by SALT—would be presented as if in the future, when the objects themselves have somehow become redundant or lost due to effects such as climate change, conservation and economical instability. How can we dream of an archive in new ways to multiply its layers of meaning and accessibility?
Commissioned to work with SALT Research collections, artist Refik Anadol employed machine learning algorithms to search and sort relations among 1,700,000 documents. Interactions of the multidimensional data found in the archives are, in turn, translated into an immersive media installation.
Shortly after receiving the commission, Refik Anadol was a resident artist for Google's Artists and Machine Intelligence Program where he closely collaborated with Mike Tyka and explored cutting-edge developments in the field of machine intelligence in an environment that brings together artists and engineers.
Developed during this residency, his intervention Archive Dreaming transforms the gallery space on the first floor at SALT Galata into an all-encompassing environment that intertwines history with the contemporary, and challenges immutable concepts of the archive, while destabilizing archive-related questions with machine learning algorithms.
In the exhibition, a temporary immersive architectural space is created as a canvas with light and data applied as materials. This radical effort to deconstruct the framework of an illusory space transgresses the normal boundaries of the viewing experience of a library and the conventional flat cinema projection screen into a three-dimensional kinetic and architectonic space of an archive. The result is an immersive installation that reframes memory, history and culture for the 21st century, through the lens of machine intelligence.
Archive Dreaming, which was presented as part of The Uses of Art: Final Exhibition with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union, is user-driven; however, when idle, the installation "dreams" of unexpected correlations among documents. The resulting high-dimensional data and interactions are translated into the architectural immersive space.
The Archive Dreaming exhibition reached 20,000 people in only 40 days. Even though it's a media art project, post-doctorate students used it as a tool in their research on defining the library environment in the 21st century.
"The technology in this exhibition presents not only wild potential to expand the experiential design industry but also an opportunity to enhance the field of research."
"The video for this piece gave me a glimpse into the future. To then understand that this installation actually exists? The future is finally here."
"This installation took my breath away, pushing limits to bridge old and new, physical and digital, present and future. The complexity of accessing, processing and making connections hidden deep within an archive is beautifully visualized and explored in a fully immersive context. Bravo!"
"Immersive design, interactive design, exhibition design and data visualization...it's rare to find one project that can do so many things so well."
Refik Anadol, Raman K. Mustafa, Toby Heinemann, Nick Boss, Kian Khiaban, Ho Man Leung, Sebastian Neitsch, David Gann, Kerim Karaoglu, Sebastian Huber
SALT Research: Vasıf Kortun, Meriç Öner, Cem Yıldız. Adem Ayaz, Merve Elveren, Sani Karamustafa, Ari Algosyan, Dilge Eraslan
Google AMI team: Mike Tyka, Kenric McDowell, Andrea Held, Jac de Haan
SALT Research museum team