Transforming invisible things like sounds, data or abstract concepts into visible ones, and forming a chaos that blends lights, colours and sounds, Natalia Stuyk is, in short, a translator of soul and thought vibrations. Based in Granada, this artist explores the limits of our digital era, and if that were not enough, she’s creating her own mutant universe that bravely speaks for itself.
Tell me a little about yourself, how would you define your aesthetic and imagery? Your works evoke a real visual and auditory psychedelic experience, but I would love to know your own perspective about them.
Psychedelia comes up a lot to describe my work but I think I just like to transmit feelings of awe and wonder. Irrespective of the medium -whether I’m making an installation, a video, or an interactive experience- I like to create otherworldly spaces that invite you in. I’m interested in translating invisible things (sound, data, abstract concepts) into visible things, with the aesthetics of mathematics and chaos.
Do you remember what was your first contact with digital art was? And the moment when you understood that you had to dedicate yourself one hundred percent to it?
I was really into MTV’s 120 minutes and Specialten Magazine that came with a DVD full of wild videos and I spent a lot of time on the internet also. I started making weird animations when I was 13 or 14 and went on to study traditional animation and interactive media at university but I didn’t start making digital art until 5 years after I graduated. Some friends of mine in the music industry asked if I could make some low-budget music videos which turned into new opportunities which turned into commercial jobs which meant I could leave full-time work and go freelance.
I think it was drilled into my head that I had to follow a more conventional path so I tried working in the public sector and in advertising before accidentally ending up here.
Your pieces are very different but they all have the same essence. Recreations of spaces that blend lights, colours and sounds to concert posters or branding works. How has your career as an artist been? Where would you say you are right now?
I now see my freelance work and the work I do for myself as two separate things, whereas I used to think they were bound together. I think my career as an artist has been disrupted a lot by spirit-crushing commercial work that I had to say yes to so I could afford to live in London. Since I moved to Spain three years ago a lot of that pressure has been lifted and I’m more in control of my time but the conflict is that a lot of my inspiration comes from seeing new places, travelling, real-life experiences, and I had more of that in London. Right now, I think I’m still in between those two stages and not settled yet. It’s like I’m just now realising I have more freedom and I don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic but it’s taking a while.
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One of your latest pieces, Heliocene, is a real-time visualisation of the weather around the Sun, it works with the data received from satellites located millions of kilometres away from Earth. What was process of creating it like? What inspired you to do something like this?
Dateagle Art (Vanessa and Martin) got in touch with me in January 2020 about contributing to their annual group exhibition Control the Virus 03. I had been wanting to do a data visualisation project for a long time and I’m fascinated with Space Weather in general and how life begins and ends with the Sun. The main aim of the project was to create an aesthetic language that goes beyond the way we visualise scientific and or astronomical information: a visceral way of interpreting space weather, rather than an educational one (though I spoke to astrophysicists at the ESA and the Leiden Observatory to make sure my interpretation of the data wasn’t wildly off).
After I’d proposed it I had to figure out how to do it. I had a load of limitations: it had to update in real-time from six different databases, it had to be accessible online, it couldn’t be as intricate as my offline work, it had to look the same on mobile, it had to be quick to load. So, I ended up deciding on a node-based visual programming web tool called because it was so intuitive, with a really helpful community and took the pressure off of finding someone to code it from the ground up. It took me almost a year, but I did it.
I see a lot of my work as data visualisation in some sense, whether using the elements of audio broken down into frequencies, pitch and amplitude to drive real-time live visuals or a wider more artistic interpretation of text used to inform an artwork.
In the case of Heliocene, the uninterrupted stream of data is thanks to Open Data, an amazing and necessary initiative, made available by Space Weather Prediction Centre. I would like to do this again with Venus or Mars maybe.
You recently participated in MIRA Festival 2021 with your work I Believe You Into Being. You presented it as a result of an exploration of human consciousness. As a part of your pieces, you usually work with great reflections behind it. Would you say that art needs introspection in order to make sense?
I’ve always thought that the introspection is down to the viewer and have been reluctant to share what an artwork means, mostly because it’s not immediately apparent for me. With I believe you into being, I got around this by starting with an AI poem I generated with GPT-2 to create a text I could use as a backbone to the accompanying visuals. I’ve used this approach before with random text generators but GPT-2 allowed me to feed the AI prompts to keep it on topic. I cherry-picked the lines that sparked an image or that added colour to the world I wanted to build, without editing too much and keeping a lot of the unusual turns of phrase that make the voice nonhuman. I began the project with a few themes I wanted to explore visually - emergence, chaos, cellular automata - and the ‘great reflection behind it’ wrote itself, I think.
And how were you able to translate all those thoughts into colours, three-dimensional shapes, lights and sounds? What’s the relationship between your thoughts and the materialisation that you gave them?
Chaos underpins our universe and all its beauty. It is unpredictable, noisy and imperfect. I wanted the approach to the project to also be those things, and to inform each stage of the process. Each of the lines of the poem was picked because of the visual it invokes. I use the text like raw data to inform the trajectory of the visual, like bounds that contain the conceptual possibilities. To create the visuals I also used different generative and AI imaging approaches, forming mixed media collages with techniques that are usually used singularly. The best way to put it is I just see what I want to create in my head; then I try my best to make it a reality.
Do aesthetics dictate your symbolism or do you have a different approach?
I think all art inevitably means something, whether it be intentionally or subconsciously. In my case, I think it's probably more the latter and I find the process of identifying the meaning quite difficult sometimes. I don't consider the meaning literally when I create a piece of work. The aesthetics come first because that's the way I communicate.
I've heard that you will be part of the second edition of 2x20ac, what has led you to participate on it? Would you say that “del club a la galería” (from the club to the gallery) also defines you?
I started working with Lava Art Project (Belinda Martin and Paula Ramos) a few months ago and they kindly invited me to take part. I’m not sure I’d say it defines me, but they’re the two places I tend to show work and I like the juxtaposition of enjoying art and enjoying music as for me they’re interchangeable.
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What other aspects would you say you share with this initiative? Are there any clues you can give us about what you are going to present?
I have contributed a short video loop called A Garden for your TV - using CLIP Image Captioning and GPT-3 to create meaning and a title for a work that was created solely for aesthetics. The video is a seamlessly looping never-ending scroll through abstract vines in a dark digital forest with the distorted sound of birds in the background. The AI that analysed it determined it was a sad piece that depicts a ‘lost soul crying in the rainforest’ and ‘the concept of one’s joy in life dying out.’
On the other hand, you have your own profile in Foundation and another one with Mssingno where you launched a serie of three works Reap, Mirada and Ult together. How has your experience with NFTs been?
It’s been fairly mixed. I was invited to Foundation when it launched (by the legends Sara Ludy and Lindsay Howard) but I was a little uncomfortable with the amount of self-promotion and explaining you had to do to sell your art as this doesn’t come naturally to me. Some of my NFTs sell and it’s really cool when it happens. However, I am mostly enjoying being a lurker and watching the culture evolve.
This social network has raised debates in relation to their purely commercial objectives, are you one of those who see its positive or negative side? I mean, do you consider that digital art is starting to have the importance it deserves or Foundation is just another way to commercialise it and turn it into decoration?
Foundation takes 15% of all sales, which is a little too much in my opinion, but at least it’s not masquerading as a company that’s trying to change the world. There are plenty of other alternatives that allow you to mint on cheaper and faster blockchains, but even if the ethos of those platforms puts artists front and centre, at the end of the day you’ll never actually know their true intentions. Although these platforms will only do well commercially in the long-term if the artists are happy.
To draw a comparison to the music industry, there’s always been a way for musicians to sell their work, such as physical records, digital mp3s, merch and live shows etc., whereas this hasn’t been the case for digital artists. The majority of us either get commercial jobs or we share our work for free on social media hoping that it gets us commercial jobs. Now there’s another avenue that’s opened up to support digital art (whether that’s the intended outcome or not, no one will ever know) that will hopefully evolve to be more accessible to more people in the future. Basically we all want to be paid for our work, in this sense the commercialisation of digital art isn’t anything new.
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Another great object to discuss now is the upcoming arrival of the metaverse, what do you think it will mean for the digital art world? Maybe it will be one more way to bring people closer to its beauty and importance…
Maybe I’m missing something but what I've seen so far is underwhelming. I feel like the metaverse should be different from our world with different rules. I want to see digital art installations that couldn't physically exist in real life and sensory experiences that exploit the technology. Not just videos or jpegs on the walls in a blank 3D room or that intensely mediocre rave where you couldn’t even dance. I also think that VR hasn't taken off in the way people hoped so it's not going to be that fun yet. I look forward to seeing where it goes…
Any other projects in mind?
I have several live visual performances coming up this year for a range of musicians and a big commercial project (non-spirit-crushing thankfully). In my spare time, I’m learning to program my own tools to finally get away from Adobe and to translate the techniques I use to make art into real-time systems.
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