What’s behind my work
Part 0: The big picture.
Posted on May 17, 2021
A little background
After a proven record on data visualization and information design, first with my own studio, and then in a big corporation such as BBVA, one of the world’s largest financial institutions and a leader in digital transformation, I oriented my career over the last years on the search of new ways of communicating what’s beyond the algorithms we develop today. What is an algorithm?
I’m not a scientist, I am not an expert in data (or technology). I am neither a physicist or psychologist or anything that may make sense in there, but I am curious and I feel good making connexions between things. I had the opportunity over the last years to work with brilliant people from whom I’ve been able to learn and challenge myself.
Here and now
Life is not just about digital, or physical, and every experience shapes and prepares us for what is to come. Under that context , I started asking myself what if instead of trying to make technology more human, we use this capacity to understand ourselves better.
Science today is more present than ever in our daily lives. Understanding the way we interact with our context, the broad offer of products and services, the access to people or to ourselves by carrying intelligent devices, is about more than just a question of interpretability. It is about a dialogue. And we need to include people in that dialogue. Traditional communication and advertising need new channels and habitats. This means, instead of communicate, disseminate. Be more responsible, more sustainable and more generous.
First of all, because we deserve beauty. And it’s essential to do this work in a beautiful way. That said, because Art is a strong way to process what we see. Art observes, and most important, Art is generous on sharing those observations.
My biggest interest in life is people. What moves us to do what we do, what connects us, what is common and what is different. I guess that means my biggest interest in life is /Life itself/. But there are many questions we can not answer. This is maybe part of the Beauty, but I really believe we are somehow here to figure out what is this all about. And here comes the exciting part: each period has it’s own tools to get there, and ours is about broadening our capacities to understand. So let’s use this. And let’s do it taking advantage of what digital and physical can offer us respectively.
And I like to use the eyes for that.
Does the camera came to take the bread and the work from us? No.
Let’s think for a moment of a camera and it’s relation to the eye. We, as humans (as animals) we have eyes, so we can see things. We have also perception, cognitive habilites and neurons to connect those inputs to our brain and process all this information.
However, we still have limitations. We have our own zoom and focus ring. So if we are in front of a flower (using only our eyes)...Photography by @v2osk, Unsplash
we would see something like this:Photography by @danor_s, Unsplash
Having a camera, though...Photography by Vincent Riszdorfer, Unsplash
Would allow us to see more than that we saw with the eyes
And even more:Photography by @yoksel, Unsplash
So, should we think the camera came to take the bread and the work from us? Is this technology the main actor? No. The camera came to expand our capacites. And here is the role of combining different disciplines to bring meaning to all this.
While science can explain, organize and structure our context, the nature processes and our interaction with them, art can observe and inspire those ways of research. There’s no need to look any further than this discipline of machine intelligence: Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a scientist but also an artist, and the work he did on neural networks laid part of the foundation of what we do today.
He brilliantly managed to extract (by observing and with poetry) how would the neurons work.
He actually was right somewhere and wrong somewhere. His observation were more accurate in some cases and less in others, but the key point here is that he broke walls and created paths.
Today we are building huge systems of artificial intelligence. We are still far from being perfect on that, but still a few people along our history had the generosity to dedicate their time to bring us light on where to look at.
A few years ago, I was working on Data&Analytics, the data science center of excellence of BBVA, and I was asked to do a visualization to explain to our audience how do recommender systems work. Which algorithms we use and how are they fed with data. So I decided to go one step back: what does it mean to have suddenly access to all this information? How our life, or time, the distance between us and our context, between me and a book which I could like.. how all this has changed? And I decided to begin from physical: I took my motorbike and I did an experiment. I rode along all my city (Madrid) looking for the best restaurant for me.
It’s is actually what any of the platforms we have on our phone does in a question of seconds, but I wanted to feel the time spent of this search. Maybe tackling this gap: the one between the two seconds of having a result on our phone and the hours of doing that work by ourselves, that could maybe give some clues.
Distance: How close are we to things? Can we imagine a non physical distance? It’s maybe time
Towards the measurable
The books we buy, the songs we listen to, the places we visit, the distance we walk each day, what we spend our money on or don’t spend our money on, what we eat or what we don’t eat. This is all data which we collect daily with any one of our applications.
When you ask a friend for a book recommendation, this friend would unconsciously and almost immediately combine all the dimensions that he or she knows about you. Think of this dimension as a space. I mean, the space of the topic. You like drama, comedia, biopics… the space of the writer: you like classics, you like young writers… the space of the language? The space of whatever: you, me, as your friend, we are all made by a huge amount of different dimensions which live together at the same time.
These spaces or dimensions are non linear actually, they look more like this:
But let’s simplify a bit. So for the purpose of this post.
Let’s imagine those crazy spaces as simple planes. Let’s imagine we can put all the items as well as people on this intersections and let’s find which ones are closer to us. Not physically close, but conceptually.
The problem, as with our eyes is that we have limitations in envisioning more that 3 dimensions, but going back to what happens with the camera, now we have help: we have machines that can do this work for us. So yes, we can use this in order to find a restaurant, but we can think bigger: we can use this to understand us better!! And going back to that interest I have: people, and what moves us to do what we do, what connects us, what is common and what is different… maybe these new capacities can drive us on a good direction.Representation of high dimensional space through hyper spaces. Made with three.js. Thanks for the help Alex and Juan!
Here and now
This project and this process (and all the people that I had the opportunity to work with), led me to finally decide to start my own way from the freedom that only Art can bring. I realized I needed time to experiment and be able to fail, and here is where I am. Now.
I quit my job and I started a journey of three months traveling with the idea of finding leads and clues of how to make this transition and where to start from. I totally recommend to have a pause and stop every now and then, but I also noticed that it was not easy. The self imposition of how things should be, what is expected from us and lots of non really existent dilemmas were present at that time. And finally, once at home again, ready to start, a global pandemia came. So I spent the first weeks of the lockdown basically like this:
Until I got it. I would keep on this idea and break it into two main directions. How could I understand better this multidimensional space? Well, I have my own neurons but (and) so have the machines.
So first, I would step back to what does my background and history to shape my preferences. This means going through my roots, and this is Balkocc - the project in which I combine my Balkan stems, since I was born in Bulgaria, and my Mediterranean influences, since a grew up in Spain. And this is a lot of information for my brain.
Then, in the same way I got here, I asked myself: do the machines have their own roots? And this is Eras - the project in which I travel along the main Eras of Human Activity, from Prehistory to today to learn from how we get here and if there is any inspiration or learning from this, that we can bring to the machines.
To do that, I mix technology, plotting, painting and sculpture. First I explore through abstraction different patterns and ways of representation of organics and different types of life. At the same time I use GANs to go over the aesthetics of the Slavic culture. This leads me to combine those aesthetics with real Balkan and Mediterranean patterns, to finally set it all up on sculpture pieces of clay. Every stage of the project generates an independent collection of pieces.
This something will take me somewhere.
Here, and now and after all this!
My ultimate goal is to represent the multidimensional space I showed before as a physical sculpture. Could I represent in a single piece, in a combinations of spaces, where I am regarding all my context? With that in mind, I am building the first one based on my designs, but I’ll build the second one once I finished my process through Balkocc and Eras. Would it be different? I’am excited about this question :)
Todas las referencias van dedicadas a los que pensaron antes que nosotros, a quienes me enseñaron y tuvieron la paciencia de hacerlo, a quienes aparecen en los créditos de los trabajos que comparto y a quienes me habéis inspirado para meterme en este loco mundo del arte.
¡Empezamos! | започва!