Aleksandra Smilek: Creative Chemical Reactions
Why do we tend to separate business and art, technology and art, and science and art? Why do we need to choose either the right brain way of thinking and left brain way of thinking?
Aleksandra Smilek: Digital Alchemist
Smilek is a digital alchemist working with art and technology and the artistic director of EP7 the first digital art gallery in public space. EP7 is made of monumental LEDS screens on an architectural facade that shows digital art in the public space. In other words, EP7 is pushing the boundaries of art by inventing a new way to exhibit art. EP7 invented digital street art and create a way to connect the architecture and city. This new art gallery is opening new opportunities for the cities to interact with their inhabitants. Smilek is also a teacher at the American School of Art and SIVA University Shanghai and she used to work as a consultant for a brand in need of building a bridge between their heritage and our contemporary digital age.
-----For those who don't know you, please tell us about yourself.
I’m a digital alchemist working with art and technology. I’m the artistic
director of EP7, the first digital art gallery in a public space. EP7 is a digital building façade of large-scale LED screens that display digital art. EP7 is pushing boundaries with a new way to exhibit art. We create digital street art as a new way for people to connect to architecture and the city. This new kind of art gallery is creating new opportunities for inhabitants to interact with their cities. I’m also a teacher at the American School of Art and SIVA University Shanghai, and I previously worked as a consultant for brands seeking to build a bridge between their heritage and our contemporary digital age.
-----How did you start your creative career?
I started my creative career by studying art, philosophy, and international
politics. While studying those subjects I maintained an interest in working as an art director. The mix of politics, economics, art, and philosophy gave me a different perspective than most of the people involved in the art world.
-----You used to live in London and manage an art gallery. How did that come about?
One day, I received a text message from my director asking me if I would
accept the position of general manager of our gallery. It was one of the best
moments of my life. I always wanted to manage an art gallery, and for it to happen so quickly after I finished my studies was very exciting! At 26, I was managing an art gallery on London’s Brick Lane.
-----How do you generate synergies by combining technology and art?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that creation using technology is a creative collaboration between humans and machines. Technology is not just for engineers – anyone can work with it. I always say to my students that they need to find new ways to create with technology. Artists need to explore the potential interactions we have with technology. The artist can be attracted to the electronic system itself, to the blueprint that a technology proposes, or any physiological, ethical, or sociological modification it provides. A broad range of approaches exists to create with technology – you can draw with it, think of it, write philosophy… Most importantly, you must find a way to be creative with it. Technology is as much a tool than a state of mind. For instance, an author doesn’t need to construct a real spaceship to create the mythology of time travel – he can write about it. We need to open our minds to technology and see that anyone can find a way to think and to create with it.
-----You have developed different types of communities professionally and personally. What are common challenges or difficulties?
When I have a data engineer, a mechatronic specialist, an economist, and a street artist at the same table, I know that something interesting is going to happen. The unpredictable arises from multiplicity. I work with many different people – from street artists and hackers to politicians and engineers. Sometimes it’s a long journey to link different communities and make them understand and work with each other. Collaboration is one of the most exciting challenges. When I create, I immediately start to collaborate with a wide array of people. Part of my work is constructing the bridge that enables creativity in collaboration between different communities. Today, people have different levels of experience and comfort with technology – my work aims to mix those different levels of understanding and to look at how the multiplicity can help us generate new ideas.
-----You work with both business- and creative-minded people. How can we connect these two different world-views and how can business-minded people learn from creative-minded people, such as artists and designers?
Business can also be a matter of creativity. In business, you must show economical results, but in digital art and creative industries, the business models are not normative. When you work with artists, their work is unique and must be marketed alongside a uniquely personalized business model. That’s how you end up building an economical system from scratch. In other words, art helps you explore new economical models – it’s one of the most exciting things. You start to create, in an artistic way, new economical values and forms of exchange. That’s exactly what is happening to digital art with the use of blockchain. When we started with the digital facade of EP7, the end result wasn’t obvious. Every creation, every creator, because they are so unique, is pushing you out of your comfort zone and requires a tailored business model. That’s how creativity can extend the limits of the market and be a driving force for its transformation. In other words, the business side must be very open-minded to recognize a product and create the market for it. And to do this, it’s very difficult to rely solely on existing economical paradigms.
-----How do you define innovation and what is your approach to it?
When you move the limits of something you innovate. You put the limits into motion and shake them. When the limits start to be less believable and what comes next seems to be more realistic, you know that you are starting to innovate. An innovation needs always to ask the question: Why aren’t we doing it that way?
-----You speak at conferences and events, as well. What motivates you to share your experiences?
Sharing my work and my experience with people helps me understand what I have done, and most importantly, what I have given to people through my work.
-----You put an emphasis on the importance of beauty. Why is it important?
Beauty makes a connection between you and the world. You embrace something with a desire – you say yes to it. You don’t need consent to find something beautiful – it’s an independent state of mind! Everything can be beauty: a sentence, an object, a soul, a conversation. This universality of beauty makes me believe beauty is a key concept of my life. I’m constantly trying to surround myself with beauty.
-----If you can make a call to 20-year-old Smilek Aleksandra, what would you say?
Always try to make sense.