by Alexey Sokolin
Lex Sokolin is a London-based digital artist, designer and entrepreneur. Raised in the cityscapes of Moscow and New York, he is interested in sequential art and graphic narrative as expressed through an abstract or urban aesthetic, and in how constructed objects create their own nature.
The underlying drive is to uncover “the Sublime” (per Edmund Burke) with modern and emerging media. Projects include architectural photography, interactive online video installations, traditional and abstract illustration, and creative coding / software art. Sokolin explores form, line and composition utilizing the concepts of layered collage, and connects the results through experimental narratives made possible by automated code and digital editing.
Sokolin is an editor of Ink Brick, a journal exploring the forms and interaction of comics and poetry. His work was featured in Over the Line, An Introduction to Poetry Comics(Sidekick Book), Abstract Comics: The Anthology (Fantagraphics Books, nominated for an Eisner award), and highlighted as a Notable in 2010 Best American Comics. His photography and digital art has been exhibited in galleries across the US.
I mention the concept of the Sublime, because in early art, the act capturing of something magnificent was a transformational moment. On the other hand, the capturing of the mundane – functional portraiture or even grand illustration – is today the duty of the camera. But finding something that overwhelms, or connects to, the human faculty for imagination is a thing apart. Looking up at the sky or at the ocean, at these grand expanses, relating that back into some divinity — is what the Sublime was all about.
Today, much of the original reading from that emotion is nonsense. Through science, data and process, we have learned how mountain ranges are formed from the mana of the Earth, where lightning strikes, and how stars rise and die. The waves of the ocean are as accurately modeled in a video game or a Transformers movie as they appear in real life – and that model is premised on physics, simulation and data, rather than feelings and brush strokes. Feeling is a human reflection made from hormonal fluctuations in response to the environment, rather than an imbued quality to the natural phenomena. So then, the question is – how do we leverage new technology and understanding to build with human hands what nature did to us in the past.
Walking through a city scape, we can find similar moments in particular angles, dances and accidental compositions of human construction. Like looking at an oversized bee hive or ant-hill, the construction has a beauty of both randomness and intent. Built environments are symptoms of intelligence, but intelligence is also a quality of the natural environment, and evolutionary forces that shape algorithmic survival. Accidental beauty that strikes in our hearts a feeling of awe, or some internal alignment to that object, is a reflection on a reflection.
In my more recent work, which engages with technology such as neural network-based styles, generative composition, three dimensional fractals, and glitch aesthetic, I am looking to explore ideas of artifice, nature, composition and randomness. Some of the elements are manually drawn or pre-rendered to be objects in a generative system that contains coded rules for layout and narrative, but takes random seeds for backgrounds and foregrounds. In other work, I leverage large fractals – which themselves are a metaphor for complexity, evolution and intelligence – and run them through neural networks that hallucinate visual styles. In this way, one mathematical deterministic art system is pushed through another probabilistic one, acting as an emotional bridge to connect the math to a human eye. Meaning, a person seeing something styled in a way that’s compelling to a person will feel more awe, while in the presence of a large mathematical algorithm. The Glitch elements in the body of work further play with these themes by degrading the output format. Outside of looking compositionally satisfying, they are conceptually satisfying by introducing an exogenous factor according to which the underlying systems change. Not everything comes from within.
Some of the works use language, which is abstracted from the already abstract images. I’ve spliced up excerpts from Franz Kafka’s The Castle, among other experiments, and written code to select the text as part of the overall composition. These quotations function on two levels. The first is that Kafka’s texts were very much about opaqueness, and the impenetrability of the thing itself. I want the work to refuse interpretation in some regard, in being larger than the question that is being asked of it. This is why it is a generative system – capable of infinite answers – and not a point solution to an emotional problem. And second, through my work with Ink Brick, I’ve learned that visual poetry works best when the text and the image stand apart. You do not want to merely describe an illustration, but to support and enhance it. In this way, the text is a third leg between the background and foreground, adding an orthogonal meaning to what could be seen as merely a geometry-filled digital canvas.
Some of the outcomes work, and of course some do not. In large part, that is the intent. When we stand today at the proverbial cliff and look at our technology – which I hope my work visualizes in its root emotion – we should feel awe, fear, wonder, and that sense of another, far larger world.