Final Hyperessay: Key Work Selection | Archive Dreaming

Archive Dreaming (2017) by Refik Anadol is a data visualization work installed at SALT Research in Istanbul, Turkey. It was presented as part of The Uses of Art: Final Exhibition with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union. Being a public art installation, the work was conceived as an alternative method for members of the public to peruse and engage with the document collections of SALT Research. The research facility comprises a specialized library and an archive of both physical and digital sources. Their collection includes visual and textual sources on art history, the development of architecture and design in Turkey, as well as documents dealing with the transformations in society and the region from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. Due to the significant age of most of these documents, large parts of the collection are housed in specialized, pressure and temperature controlled rooms; causing most of the physical sources to be as easily accessible.

Architectural diagram of ‘Archive Dreaming’

While other attempts at a such a project might have led to the creation of a simple photographic database, Archive Dreaming takes the concept of an interactive archive much further. The most obvious and significant aspect of this work is in its use of physical space and architecture. The installation is designed to be a spatial experience. In the words of Anadol himself, the work is described as an effort to “deconstruct the framework of an illusory space [that] will transgress the normal boundaries of the viewing experience of a library”. The work was specifically conceptualized with the notion to significantly transform the experience of accessing a knowledge repository. The work was to be a “a three dimensional kinetic and architectonic space of an archive.”

One of the browsing modes of “Archive Dreaming”

The other aspect of Archive Dreaming that sets is apart from a simple digital database is the flexibility that it provides users of the system. The work allows users browse the 1.7 million documents in the archive in a number of possible ways; each drawing different associations between the documents through the various viewing modes. This assists the viewer to draw relationships with the documents in a way that is suitable for their individual needs. In this way, the installation “intertwines history with the contemporary, and challenges immutable concepts of the archive.”

Such a system is only conceivable with the aid of Machine Learning and AI that have the capabilities of looking at, understanding and organizing all of the content found within this large set of documents. All of this processed information is then easily controlled by visitors from a touch sensitive console at the center of the installation space.

A user accessing the central console to interact with the archive.

Machine Intelligence also takes center-stage for the final aspect of the installation. Getting its name from this process, the installation enters into a standby “dream mode” when no users are interacting with the archives. The system uses the knowledge gained from studying and classifying all of the 1.7 million documents in the archive to “hallucinate” new ones that might possibly exist in the archives. In a post-truth era where “facts” are constantly challenged and called by other names, this process calls into question about how much of our shared history is “real” and how much of it is to be trusted; a challenge that historians and documentarians constant face and grapple with. It also postulates the idea of a brave new world where creativity and creation might no longer be just in the domain of humans and perhaps, machines might play just a vital role in shaping the art histories of the future.

Final Hyperessay: Artist Selection | Refik Anadol

About the Artist

Refik Anadol is a contemporary media artist that works across a large variety of digital media. Born in Istanbul, Anadol is currently based in Los Angeles, California in the United States where he is a lecturer and visiting researcher in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts. He holds a master of fine arts degree from University of California, Los Angeles in Media Arts, master of fine arts degree from Istanbul Bilgi University in Visual Communication Design as well as a bachelors of arts degree with summa cum laude in Photography and Video.

“Virtual Depictions – San Francisco”

Much of Anadol’s works focus on site-specificity, choosing to create digital works of public art that leverage and accentuate the surrounding architecture. He works with projections (both indoors as well as outdoors)  and large scale screen installations to create immersive environments that seek to transport audiences into an imagined space. As a media artist, designer and spatial thinker, Refik Anadol is intrigued by the ways in which the transformation of the subject of contemporary culture requires rethinking of new aesthetics, technique and dynamic perception of space. His works aim to create visually agnostic depictions that form a visual language capable of appealing to varying groups of people; despite cultural backgrounds or aesthetic preferences. Due to their public nature, Anadol also caters his works towards eliciting the reactions and interactions of passers-by  within unconventional spatial orientations.

“Wind of Boston – Data Painting”

By embedding media arts into architecture, he questions the possibility of a post-digital architectural future in which there are no more non-digital realities; a future whereby all human made surfaces are informed in some shape or form, by the digital footprint that mankind leaves behind. His works invite viewers to visualize alternative realities by presenting them the possibility of re-defining the functionalities of both interior and exterior architectural formations. Anadol’s work suggests that all spaces and facades have potentials to be utilized as the media artists’ canvases.

A large percentage of Refik Andols works and creative process is deeply influenced by and based off of technology – specifically generative data. We as modern society are profligate with our creation of new data. Just within the last two years, the human race has generated about 90% of all the data output ever made within the life-span of our species. The concept of smart cities and embedded sensors all over our built environment have contributed towards this exponential explosion of data-generation. We now live in living, evolving, self-aware cities bristling with input devices that are providing feedback of various kinds . We ourselves produce large quantities of data, be it through our self-expression via social media, or simply the communicative data we send each other. Often times, all of this data rarely sees the light of day; relegated to internal uses within the companies and government bodies that process these information.

Melting Memories: Data Processing brainwaves to create visual depictions.

Through his works, Anadol questions how our experience of space is changing now that digital objects ranging from smart phones and embedded sensors to urban screens have all but colonized our everyday lives. How have media technologies changed our conceptualizations of our everyday spaces, and how has architecture embraced these shifting conceptualizations to accommodate these changes? These are the three main questions that Anadol tackles in his works; not by simply integrating media into built forms, but by translating the logic of media technologies into spatial design itself.


Refik Anadol is a good case study to research and explore for the purposes of this hyper essay as he represents a growing trend of multimedia artists whose works are heavily dependent and influenced by data. As much as the impressionists used paint and light as their mediums, this burgeoning group of media artists to which Anadol belongs to, are using data as a medium to develop their works. The added spatial qualities of Refik Anadol’s pieces begs us to question the role spatiality plays in the experience and consumption of media art, as well as how this new phase of media art harks back to the roots of the pioneers while also carving out a new path for itself.