*Cover photo by Daniel Garcia @el.suchi
-Culture, Art and Technology-
Marpi is a Polish born San Francisco based Digital Artist. His artworks are interactive, scalable, and multiplatform, giving anyone the ability to shape them, and create their own. By building windows into the same universe Marpi provides an empty canvas where the art does not exist until people create it.
Marpi’s creative work revolves around building 3D environments, digital beings, creating immersive AR/MR, Virtual Reality experiences, interactive art events, and nonlinear storytelling.
Growing up on festivals and drawn to the audiovisuals, Marpi was able to escape to this other place with the thralls of the crowd. Somehow, for the price of a ticket, everyone at each festival was taken far away from the here and now to the somewhere else.
The ability to transport people to this magical place has been a constant theme in Marpi’s work. How can he use the digital to bring people together, to interact with the world in a new way, and to be transported to that magical place?
Until holograms become a much more accessible and advanced technology, Marpi uses a mix of projection mapping, LED screens, and interactive digital media, with the goal to immerse his audience in an opportunity to find that other place, and to explore the merging of the natural and digital world.
As Marpi developed his skills and as tools changed, his work progressed from polygon based shapes to more refined, delicate and subtle art that naturally took on more organic formations.
Combined with machine learning, AI, and a range of defined program behaviors, these organic structures began to take on a life of their own.
“I have versions of my creatures where I can talk to them and they talk back to me and this is fucking crazy. Really crazy. Because then I can touch them and a couple times they tried to try to touch me,” said Marpi.
At first, he programmed simple tasks with a point-based reward system. For example, when the digital creatures ‘see’ something, they should move towards it. When someone approaches, the creature should ‘react.’ Then, this end reactive behavior is assigned points based on whether or not the interaction worked.
As a result of the point-based system, certain behaviors (or operations) were encouraged. Setting the parameters for interaction in this way allowed Marpi to select a range of program behaviors that reflect the variation we find in humans. Suddenly, the digital creatures took on a very familiar, animal-like behavior.
“They found their own ways to do it. Like randomly shaking until it made sense,” said Marpi. Of course, this only means the creatures were acting within the parameters of their program, but with an open code (range) concept that yielded some unexpected outputs.
“One of my programmer friends, he had a baby, and he said that’s exactly how babies learn. At the beginning they randomly wiggle their hands until they realize the pattern. It’s completely random until the brain realizes that this is [what happens] when I send this impulse. This is what it does and this is how all the learning starts. So this is kind of where we are in terms of the programming of this,” said Marpi.
Working in a new medium with new technologies, there are no rules yet about how to navigate this new canvas. Just as the radio should not be played on TV, TV should not be played in VR, and digital interactive art should also take on a life of its own. “The medium is the message,” said Marshall McLuhan. Whatever the medium, this influences how the message is perceived, and therefore also how it should be created.
Cyber v Solar (Punk)
As long as history can remember, art is a reflection of the times, and of the future. What we see in the canvas today, may be the window of tomorrow.
If any readers closely follow numerous daily render posts from digital artists around the world, there’s a strong theme of darkness, destruction and 1984* like depictions of the future. This genre, cyberpunk, is full of neon lights and Blade Runner 2049 like destitute and sparsely populated, if not entirely depopulated, settings. Cyberpunk is a combination of low life and high tech in a futuristic society that is on the verge of social disorder.
Cyberpunk artwork by the Miro Shot Collective
“I don’t want to live there,” said Marpi, but thankfully art has also come up with an alternative: solarpunk. This genre imagines a future based on renewable energies and community built in harmony with the natural world.
“I don’t like many versions of the future, but this one is something I would be happy to live in. I already see parts of Europe looking like that,” said Marpi.
Just as we see in his art, solarpunk is about working with organic structures. It’s a future where nature can flourish, and we can still be surrounded by highly advanced technologies. “Instead of fighting nature, kind of augmenting it,” he said.
As a non-native English speaker, Marpi is also drawn to digital art as a common language that is understood cross-cultures. “The reason I don’t like language in general is because it simplifying things a lot and puts hard boundaries and rules on all these things that are extremely fluid and subjective,” he said.
With his artwork, the audience bring their own knowledge to the experience and become active participants in the art itself. How they interpret it will be subjective, and passes the boundaries of language. In a world that is still only in its early days of globalization, digital and interactive art crosses the boundaries that still exist: space, time, and language
Looking back to this series intro, remember the quote by Canadian journalist Marshall McLuhan: “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”
Here, we have the opportunity to explore the future before it happens, sensing, and preparing for, change.
Characterizing The Digital
“Any type of future that already happened, before it happened, it was scary, and before it happened, it was weird. It was complicated. People didn’t want it,” said Marpi.
Today, our society has come to accept digital as the norm, but this doesn’t mean that it should be treated with disregard. We have so much more to learn about how to use social and interactive technologies, and how they affect our behavior in return.
And this is why Marpi wants his digital lifeforms to feel foreign, like an encounter with an animal in the wild. For example, you are on a trail, and there’s a creature ahead, and you’re looking at it, and it’s looking back at you. Do you give it food? Does it pull back? What do you do? There’s a real interaction taking place where one is discovering and testing the other.
“So whatever your feelings are according to them [the digital lifeforms], they won’t be like the feelings you have toward a dog or some other human, it should be their own class of feelings,” said Marpi.
Digital Life v. Real Life
The familiar is comfortable. When pushed out of the comfort zone, such as with Marpi’s reactive digital creatures, we are encouraged to be critical of their nature, and of the nature of the digital. It’s easy to be the frog in a pot of boiling water, but just like the boiling water, technology has implications on the future of our society. Experimenting with digital art in this way is a precautionary tale for the future.
As we see in the variations of cyberpunk and solarpunk, and also in the behavior of Marpi’s digital creatures, there’s a wide range of possibilities for what the future may hold. With interactive digital art, we are able to explore what it means to be us, and what it means to discover the digital with which we may have become too comfortable.
That other place that has inspired Marpi’s digital art may one day become an inescapable future. If so, let’s make it just as magical as that other place is today.
By Anne McKinnon
*CATSeries: Culture Art and Technology Series. Fun fact: cats are the common language of the internet after all 🙂
*1984- George Orwell’s 1984