Welcome to the next installment of our series on technology as a mirror for humanity, the theme of our upcoming Escape Velocity convention in May 2019. This month, we interviewed Marpi, a digital artist from San Francisco, known for his interactive, scalable, and multi-platform creations.
High-Tech Art Creates New, Alternative Worlds That Stretch The Imagination
Mateusz Marcinowski loved dinosaurs as a kid. He was enamored with their shapes, their colors, the notion of existence as meat eaters and plant eaters. He imagined them living in their world millions of years ago. In his mind, the world of the dinosaurs was a vibrant, exciting land of intrigue and infinite possibilities.
This passion fueled Marcinowski, who now simply goes by Marpi, to transcend the art world with interactive, digital exhibitions that offer new realms of unbound imagination. His creations have made him one of the most in-demand tech-driven artists in the world.
Based in San Francisco now, Marpi was born in Poland and has lived and traveled all over the world. He just came back from Tel Aviv, Israel where he took part in the Print Screen Festival. In the past six months he brought his digital interactive installations to Genoa, Italy, Sao Paolo, Brazil, New York City, London, Toronto and Prague in the Czech Republic.
You’d think he’d be tired… but he’s not.
“The amazing thing about Tel Aviv was that the vibe was so good that I came back with more energy than less energy,” he said.
Maybe that’s why he’s taking on art commission projects for celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kid Cudi, among others.
His exhibition, “New Nature”, recently opened at ARTECHOUSE in Washington D.C. and is on display through Jan. 13, 2019. It has been getting rave reviews, with people going back multiple times because each experience is completely different.
It’s a world where digital pets – abstract creatures that respond to different movements of the visitors in the museum – allow patrons to be completely immersed in a world that is totally different, yet eerily similar to the one they know.
And that’s what Marpi wants.
“I didn’t come from an art background,” he said. “I grew up working festivals and live shows and events at warehouses where there was always a big gathering of people. What I am trying to do now is take that experience […] out of that location and environment and put it somewhere else by itself for people to see and feel. Allowing a group to be able to experience that together, I think that’s what inspires me the most."
Marpi is thinking more and more about the experience of his audience. He is energized by finding ways to connect with people and he wants his work to be user friendly and accessible to everyone, including children. "I want to make sure that anyone from any background, from any culture, who speaks any language can connect with it. What I’m doing is not for myself, I’m trying to make something for all crowds to take in together simply as humans.”
It's collaborative art driven by technology.
“New Nature,” for example, uses the movements of gallery visitors to activate its "digital menagerie of nature-inspired creatures and plant life." Visitors can interact with the ever-moving shapes and figures on the walls and floors of the space through a downloadable app. Using motion sensors and audio input, the app translates the kinetic energy of people present in the moment into experiences that are responsive and unique to them.
“The context of the exhibit is a big crowd experience and evolution, life, freedom, creativity, and fully being part of something,” Marpi said. “That’s why every piece I have at this exhibit takes your physical body, takes pieces of it, and puts it inside of the experience. You actually become part of this world, temporarily.”
It's art in the 21st century, and Marpi is at the forefront.
He wants to bring different experiences to everyday people because he feels that even though we have had incredible advances in technology, a lot of the same things we have been doing for years still happen today. He cites the New York subway system as an example.
“Before there were cellphones or wireless internet and laptops on trains, people used to sit there and read the newspaper,” he said. “So, when I hear people say the biggest problem with technology today is that people don’t talk to each other anymore, I think that’s crazy. We are talking more now than before, just in a different way… In the end, technology mirrors humanity both in ways we like and ways we don’t like.”
Marpi is always creating, but says he has no idea where his creations are heading.
“I just always wanted to create my own stuff,” he says. “I did it with games, I did it with websites. I did it with animation. Even the stuff I’m doing now, I don’t know exactly what I'm trying to do – and I never did. I only became a bit more self-aware about why I’m doing what I’m doing in the past year or two.
“The thing that always surprises me is how real it all feels. If I were to write into the code every single parameter, it would be boring. There’s enough of a variation and a mixing of it that I lose control of it and it becomes more real. I would love for it to eventually evolve and rebel and not need me anymore.”
That free form approach comes, in part, from science fiction. But not as you might think.
“I loved science fiction movies growing up, but I was always disappointed in them because after all this build up [in the movie], the alien would come out and it would have two arms and two legs and one head.”
In other words, it was stale.
But, everything changed, and Marpi became more excited and passionate about creating new art after seeing the 1988 Japanese anime Akira – a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk film.
“I thought it was really imaginative,” Marpi said. “And that’s when I realized, using certain mediums, there could be no limits to this imagination… the digital medium really had no limits. Making one version for me took the same time as making infinite versions.”
And the infinite versions of his digital installations have Marpi thinking bigger and better as he trailblazes new ventures in the art world. He’s never content with the status quo and always creates a personal challenge to not repeat himself. He’s always looking for something new. Something bigger and better. But what? That, he doesn’t know just yet.
“Where are any of us going,” he asked? “If we knew where we were going, it would be pointless…I’ve been following my gut for a long time now, and I think that’s a good thing to do.”
However, he did give a hint about some ideas he thinks are just around the corner.
“I’m kind of looking up to big cities and big buildings and public art. But I’m also looking at ways to augment nature with digital art… I’ve lived in big cities and done shows in big warehouses, and it’s just cold and damp and grey – it doesn’t have the feeling of moving into the woods, or the desert, or the ocean.”
He’s already begun experimenting with outdoor works, including a huge projection on a hillside, and an art piece the size of two soccer stadiums, requiring twenty minutes to traverse in its entirety. “So, you can see where I’d like to go next,” he says.
The woods. The desert. The ocean. Maybe, the stars?
“We’ll see,” he says with a laugh. “One place at a time.”
Also from this series, read “Morgan Gendel on Mars, the Moon, and the Intersection of Science and Science Fiction.”