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Curated Conversations: Eko33

SuperRare Labs Curator Paloma Rodriguez discusses Eko33's ArtBlocks "Neural Sediments" drop, inspiration from Alberto Burri and František Kupka, and the creative process behind "Terra Incognita 00."

Sep 12, 2023
1 min read

Curated Conversations: Eko33

Sep 12, 2023
1 min read

Jean-Jacques Duclaux, also known as Eko33, is an innovative artist whose career spans three decades and bridges traditional art forms with digital media. After gaining his first international recognition in 2004 at the International Media Art Biennial at the Seoul Museum of Art, Duclaux has since exhibited his work at prestigious events like Art Basel Miami and the Venice Biennale, securing his place in the global art landscape. He catapulted to prominence with his Art Blocks Curated release "Neural Sediments," an immersive digital series that confronts viewers with their own biases through algorithmically generated colors and forms. 

Duclaux's artistic trajectory is marked by an eclectic range of inspirations, from mid-century design, Harold Cohen and Ivan Bilibin's fantastical art to themes of environmental decay. His work often employs vintage computer hardware like the Commodore C-64 and coding languages considered obsolete in a conscious effort to juxtapose the past with the present. His artistry extends into the realm of custom algorithms, custom AI models trained on his generative art series, and custom-built hardware, capturing environmental data to use as a basis for his generative art. 

Whether presenting at Art Basel Miami, being featured in Forbes magazine, exhibiting at the Venice Biennale, or challenging conventional wisdom through his generative artworks, Duclaux continues to be a pioneering force, compelling viewers to question their perceptions and the mutable nature of reality.

About "Terra Incognita 00"

In the celestial tapestry of "Terra Incognita 00," you'll find an intricate dance of hand coded algorithms and AI aesthetics. This hypnotic reverie is a paean to the future and an ode to the past. 

It's as if Ivan Bilibin's illustrative genius of folklore and fairy tales has voyaged into the digital unknown, guided by the ethereal landscapes of Yves Tanguy and the color-rich symphonies of Kandinsky. Each stroke and pixel becomes a coordinate in this uncanny stratosphere, a mathematical lyric in a generative epic.

Echoing the methodological fortitude of sociological scholars like Durkheim and the disruptive inquiries of philosophers like Popper, "Terra Incognita 00" emerges as an immersive enigma. This artwork beseeches you to discard your cognitive maps and biases to embrace an unfamiliar terrain of pure, untouched objectivity.

But colors here are not mere visual elements; they are hallowed relics of a bygone era, algorithmically retrieved from the annals of art history's luminaries. Reconfigured with code and AI, they evoke a poignant message about our planet's endangered tapestry—equally cosmic and aquatic, full of life yet teetering on the precipice of void.

Much like the intricate borders often adorned Bilibin's works, "Terra Incognita 00" also reveals an underlying structural integrity, a brutalist core masked by a chaos of color and form. It isn't merely an artwork; it's an astral oracle—a magical-looking glass through which you may rediscover the universe and your very self.

TerraIncognita00_mint (1)"Terra Incognita 00" by Eko33, 2023. 

Paloma: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you first got interested in art and more specifically the intersection of art and technology?

Eko33: My initial foray into the art world was quite early in life, thanks to my grandmother who enrolled me in drawing classes when I was about 5 or 6 years old. However, my first significant milestone came later, in junior high, when I won an art prize for a sculpture I created called "onde de choc à Roland Garros." The piece was an exploration in capturing a fleeting moment in time, an endeavor that excited me immensely.

Academically, I majored in Cognitive Science, a field that inherently straddles the line between psychology and technology, while also studying Sociology and Ethnography. These disciplines have significantly shaped my understanding of human perception, biases, and societal structures, providing me a strong theoretical framework to explore these themes through art.

Another enduring influence has been my deep-rooted passion for mid-century design, particularly architects, furniture, and light fixtures from that era. I have an extensive collection of old magazines and books related to this period. You can probably see their influence in my work, particularly in the textures that resemble aged paper and the retro color palettes I often enjoy working with.

So, for me, art has always been about bridging gaps—whether it's between different academic disciplines or the seemingly disparate worlds of art and technology. My work aims to synthesize these various influences, combining the computational rigor of cognitive science with the observational nuances of sociology and the aesthetic sensibilities I've inherited from both my early drawing classes and my love for mid-century design.

P: You recently released a 300-piece series with ArtBlocks titled “Neural Sediments,” where you mention this interest in studying objectivity. Can you tell me a bit more about how this series highlights the complexity of our brains and the biases we have? 

E: Certainly! My series "Neural Sediments," which consists of 300 pieces and was released as a Curated drop on ArtBlocks, is a multidimensional exploration into the themes of objectivity, perception, and complexity. Given my background, I was drawn to investigating how our understanding of reality is shaped by our brains and the biases we carry.

In this series, I employ generative algorithms and intricate visual designs to simulate how neural pathways in the brain interact with external stimuli. By doing so, I attempt to visually represent the intangible processes that occur within our minds, processes that are influenced by both innate structures and learned behaviors. 

The series utilizes a diverse set of parameters like cracks, topography, and sedimentation to metaphorically portray how complex the human thought process is—shaped by societal norms, individual experiences, and cognitive limitations.

418000000"Neural Sediments #0" by Eko33, 2023. 

The color palettes in "Neural Sediments" are also derived from a data-driven algorithm that considers the cultural and geographic contexts of specific artworks, which adds another layer to the theme of objectivity. These colors are not merely aesthetic choices; they interact dynamically, reflecting the subjective experience of color and how it's influenced by its surroundings—a theory profoundly influenced by Josef Albers and Carlos Cruz-Diez.

All of these elements combine to question the notion of absolute objectivity. What does it mean to see something truly "as it is"? Can we ever separate our perceptions from the inherent biases we use as heuristics, which are cultivated through our sociocultural experiences and cognitive mechanisms?

The nature of the series invites the viewer to confront these questions, providing a space to reflect upon the intricate dance of light, code, and perspective that forms what we perceive as reality. The series is not just a collection of visually compelling artworks; it's a challenge to delve deeper into understanding the complexities and limitations of our own perceptions.

What does it mean to see something truly "as it is"? Can we ever separate our perceptions from the inherent biases we use as heuristics, which are cultivated through our sociocultural experiences and cognitive mechanisms?

– Eko33

P: I am interested in the connection you draw to artists such as Alberto Burri and František Kupka. Specifically Burri with his "Cretti" series from the 1970’s and Kupka with his "Katedrála" painting from 1912. How does your work explore and push the boundaries of perspective and objectivity similarly and or differently from Burri and Kupka's work in a present day setting and medium? 

E: I'm delighted that you're interested in the connection I've drawn to artists like Alberto Burri and František Kupka, who have been significant influences on my work. The use of cracks and topography in my "Neural Sediments" series pays homage to Burri's "Cretti" series, which itself was a powerful exploration of texture and form. Burri's work broke away from the pictorial plane, inviting the viewer into a new dimension of experience. Similarly, my algorithms, which generate cracks and forms based on 2D Space colonization algorithms and the Stratiform Cliff Sculpting Algorithm, seek to transcend the limitations of traditional 2D canvases, even though the medium is digital.

Now, let's consider Kupka's painting "Katedrála" from 1912. His work is an abstraction that uses color and shape to evoke the spiritual and the metaphysical. While my work is rooted in the scientific—stemming from cognitive science, sociology, and ethnography—it also aims to evoke an experience that transcends the immediacy of the material world. My color choices, derived from algorithmic selections based on specific geographical and cultural contexts, aim to elicit this kind of deeper, almost metaphysical experience.

However, the critical difference lies in the medium and the interactive possibilities it offers. Both Burri and Kupka were limited by the static nature of their mediums. In contrast, the algorithms in "Neural Sediments" allow for dynamic interactions, driven by code and dependent on the viewer's perspective. Moreover, the incorporation of contemporary data-driven methods allows me to make the artwork more responsive to real-time cultural and environmental factors.

My approach to objectivity is more fluid, reflecting the evolving nature of our current understanding of reality, influenced by rapid technological changes and the growing awareness of the limitations of human perception. Whereas Burri and Kupka encouraged viewers to confront and question their perspectives, my work goes a step further by algorithmically generating art that changes according to viewer interaction, thus making the experience of subjectivity and objectivity more palpable.

In summary, while I draw from the legacies of these artists, I also contribute to the dialogue by integrating contemporary methodologies and technologies that allow for a dynamic, evolving interaction with the art—something that challenges and redefines the boundaries of perspective and objectivity in a modern context.

P: What inspired this particular artwork titled “Terra Incognita 00” you are releasing on SuperRare? 

E: "Terra Incognita 00" is a work that goes beyond the boundaries of traditional art forms. While it draws inspiration from historical artistic titans like Ivan Bilibin, Yves Tanguy, and Kandinsky, it also channels groundbreaking sociological and philosophical theories. Yet at its core, it's an abstract tapestry woven not just from artistic intent, but from meticulously crafted algorithms and code.

One of the unique facets of this artwork is its grounding in custom datasets that I've assembled from nature, using hardware that I personally designed. While these datasets do inform custom AI models to some extent, the real magic lies in the code. This code takes the insights from the natural world and weaves them into the generative aspects of the artwork.

The algorithmic underpinnings of "Terra Incognita 00" handle everything from the structural integrity that echoes the bordered complexities found in Bilibin’s pieces to the algorithmically curated color palette that serves as a poignant reminder of Earth’s fragile state. Through code, I've been able to intricately layer these various influences and data-driven insights to create a work that stands as a confluence of art, technology, and nature.

It's in this coded structure that the series finds its true voice. Every pixel serves as a coordinate in an uncanny stratosphere of pure, untouched objectivity, inviting the viewer into a realm that defies preconceived biases. So, while AI does play a role, it's the complex algorithms and coding that truly drive the narrative and thematic foci of "Terra Incognita 00."

In summary, this artwork serves as a multi-dimensional, generative epic that invites viewers to reconsider, rediscover, and reimagine their place in the universe. It's a product of a unique blend of past artistic influences, contemporary sociological and philosophical theories, and cutting-edge, eco-conscious technology, all fused together through intricate algorithms and code.

Through code, I've been able to intricately layer these various influences and data-driven insights to create a work that stands as a confluence of art, technology, and nature.

– Eko33


P: The title of this artwork is "Terra Incognita 00," which translates to an unknown or unexplored territory. Can you explain a bit more why you chose this title?

E: "Terra Incognita 00" is a multifaceted concept. While it serves as a metaphor for the exploration of the mind's complexities and societal biases, which I've touched upon in my past works like "Neural Sediments," it also hints at uncharted territories in other domains.

One such territory is the exponential growth of AI research and tools. We are on the cusp of a future where technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace, adding layers of complexity and potential to every field it touches. "Terra Incognita 00" serves as a cautionary tale and an invitation to grapple with this future. It's a nod to the ever-evolving landscape of AI, asking us to be conscious navigators in this "unknown territory" that is shaping our tomorrow.

The title also encapsulates the natural elements embedded in the artwork, captured via custom hardware and integrated through code. These aren't just technical details but a part of the narrative, stressing the importance of our symbiotic relationship with the Earth.

So, in essence, "Terra Incognita 00" aims to be more than just an art piece; it's a reflection on where we stand today at the intersection of technology, society, and the natural world, and poses questions about the direction in which we're headed.

Monster+luck+00"Monster Luck #00" by Eko33, 2022.

P: How do you typically start your creative process for each artwork? How long does it typically take you from start to finish?

E: My creative process is deeply rooted in both artistic tradition and modern technology, drawing inspiration from pioneers like Vera Molnar and her "ordinateur imaginaire," as well as Sol LeWitt's systematic approach to art.

Similar to Molnar, I start with sketched ideas, laying down the basic framework and guidelines for what the piece will become. These sketches act as a road map, providing a foundation upon which the ensuing layers of complexity are built.

Once this conceptual phase is complete, the project transitions into a more systematic stage, reminiscent of Sol LeWitt's drawing instructions. I lay down clear rules and guidelines that govern the artwork's creation. These aren't just aesthetic choices but fundamental constraints that will later be implemented into the code. It's an intricate process that requires a deep understanding of both artistic principles and algorithmic logic.

The next step is coding, which brings these conceptual guidelines to life. This is where the synergy between art and technology truly shines. Here, custom-built datasets, gathered from nature through hardware I've personally constructed, are integrated. 

These datasets train custom AI models that function within the coded algorithms. The code itself is less an AI-driven process and more an algorithmic series of instructions, finely tuned to generate the artwork as per the defined aesthetic and conceptual parameters.

Typically, reaching a point where I'm proud of the results is a long-term commitment. It takes between 3 to 9 months of full-time work to achieve a satisfactory outcome, sometimes it even takes more than a year hence the reason why I tend to not mint very often. I also systematically involve collaboration with my assistants to handle some technical aspects.

Finally, there's a phase of parameter identification. I must deeply understand the space of possible outcomes the algorithms could generate. This involves having a systemic approach, adjusting parameters and rules until the generated work aligns with the initial artistic vision.

So, from conceptualization to completion, it's a meticulous process that can span several months and sometimes more than a year.

P: You often discuss this idea of life and decay within your work. Can you tell me a bit more about how you use color and form to explore these visual messages within "Terra Incognita 00"?

E: The themes of life and decay have always fascinated me, perhaps stemming from my early interests in sociology and ethnography. In "Terra Incognita 00," these themes find a nuanced expression through color and form, the two most fundamental elements of visual language. Color, in particular, serves as an emotional signifier, guiding the viewer's emotional response. The colors are algorithmically curated, yet they bear a poetic randomness, mirroring the unpredictability of life and its various stages. The hues might echo the vibrant colors of Yves Tanguy or Kandinsky but they also reflect Earth's fragile state, reminiscent of the impermanence and decay that life is subject to.

Form, on the other hand, serves as the skeleton upon which these thematic muscles are laid. Much like the bordered complexities in Bilibin's pieces, the structural aspects of "Terra Incognita 00" hint at a brutalist core, an unyielding structure amidst a chaos of color. This solid foundation of form is meticulously generated through code and algorithms, manifesting the rules and constraints that govern all life forms and their eventual decay.

To bring all of this to life, I employ a blend of custom datasets from nature and algorithmic patterns. This gives the piece a semblance of organic randomness within its structured geometry, making it a visual metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between life's fleeting beauty and its inevitable decay.

The layering of these elements serves as a playground for objectivity and perspective, inviting viewers to grapple with their biases and preconceived notions. So, while the artwork is a technical feat made possible by code and algorithms, at its core, it's an exploration of the eternal themes of life and decay, refracted through the prism of contemporary art and technology.

portraits_01"Untitled Series: Portrait #1" by Eko33, 2022.

Q: You describe the experience of this work as “a magical-looking glass through which you may rediscover the universe and your very self.”Can you tell me a bit about your background in studying sociology and psychology and how it has shaped some of the themes raised within your work?

E: My background in studying sociology and psychology has been instrumental in shaping the conceptual underpinnings of my work. One of the most significant paradigm shifts for me was delving into the Epistemology of Science, particularly the writings of Max Weber and Karl Popper. Their ideas challenged me to critically examine the foundations of knowledge and the role of objectivity, themes which have found their way into my artworks. Weber's concept of "Verstehen" or empathetic understanding, and Popper's emphasis on falsifiability and the tentative nature of scientific theories, have deeply influenced how I approach the human experience in my work.

These intellectual journeys have led me to create pieces like "Terra Incognita 00," which I describe as “a magical-looking glass through which you may rediscover the universe and your very self.” In this work, I invite viewers to confront their own biases and preconceived notions, akin to how Weber and Popper invite us to scrutinize the assumptions underlying our understanding of the world. By creating an interactive experience that challenges our sense of reality, I aim to offer a renewed lens that not only reshapes our view of the external world but also prompts a deeper introspection into our own psyche.

P: Can you tell me a bit more about how you incorporate AI within your creative process. I read in an article that you used to rely a bit more on drawing and have since shifted to integrate AI within your process. Can you tell me a bit more about this shift?

E: The integration of AI into my creative process has been a transformative journey. While I initially relied more on traditional mediums like drawing, particularly in the prototyping phase, the evolution of my work has been heavily influenced by my own custom AI tooling and models. This isn't to say that I've abandoned drawing; rather, both methods now exist in a symbiotic relationship within my workflow.

A significant shift has also been my renewed focus on homemade electronic sensors. These are deployed in various locales I travel to, particularly in environmentally endangered areas. I gather a wealth of data points from these sensors, which are then funneled back into the AI models I've trained. This data-driven approach has profoundly influenced my work, adding new layers of complexity and meaning.

The "Terra Incognita" series is the first to fully incorporate this multi-disciplinary methodology. It doesn't just draw from algorithms and aesthetic sensibilities; it's also deeply rooted in real-world data that reflects the precarious state of our environment. So, in essence, the shift towards AI and data collection has allowed me to deepen the thematic elements of my work while also expanding the boundaries of what's possible in the realm of digital art.

P: What excites you most about blockchain technology as it relates to art?

E: What excites me most about blockchain technology in the context of art is the manifold ways it intersects with both the philosophical and practical aspects of my work. At its core, blockchain introduces an epistemological shift in how we understand value and authenticity, resonating deeply with my background in sociology and cognitive science. Its transparent and immutable nature offers each artwork an enduring existence, aligning beautifully with themes of life, decay, and the passage of time that recur in my pieces.

The technology isn't just a marketplace; it's a community builder. It provides a transparent and secure platform for artists to engage directly with their audience, transcending traditional barriers and fostering a tapestry of meaningful interactions around each artwork. This adds another layer of richness, enabling each piece to be openly verified, appreciated, studied, and contextualized across generations.

The revolutionary aspect of storing code-based digital artworks on the blockchain cannot be overstated. This feature opens up an exhilarating dimension in art: the capability for artworks to be 'alive.' With the use of smart contracts, artworks can interact, adapt, and even evolve over time, according to pre-set or real-time conditions. Imagine a piece that dynamically changes based on data from endangered ecosystems or one that evolves in response to sociopolitical events. This approach brings an unparalleled dynamism, especially resonant in my "Terra Incognita" series where data from the natural world and AI models are foundational.

This creates an intriguing prospect: digital artworks are no longer static entities but living, evolving organisms within the blockchain's ecosystem. It's a whole new frontier for artistic exploration, one that is perfectly aligned with the complexities and thematic concerns of my work. So, the blockchain doesn't just offer a new way to perceive art; it actively expands what art can be, offering both creators and viewers avenues for engagement that were previously unimaginable.

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