Turkey’s first AI curator Avind to exhibit artwork in Istanbul

The debate on artificial intelligence (AI) and artistic creativity has initiated a shift in the art world. While some argue that computational intelligence could augment or override human creativity one day, Turkey’s first AI curator Avind strives to breathe new life into the art world by posing the question: Is human creativity the only sustainable energy in the world?

The 2nd Istanbul Digital Art Festival will take place between June 3-12 in Istanbul’s Fişekhane. The festival is being held by MEZO Digital with the support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and PASHA Bank serving as the main sponsor. Alagöz Holding is also supporting the event as well as Avind, Turkey’s first artificial intelligence curator. The festival will also feature works produced by Azerbaijani artificial intelligence artist Shusha.

Speakers at the press conference of the 2nd Digital Art Festival, which will take place June 3-12, (LR) Sultangazi Deputy Mayor Nurcan Öztürkmen, curator Esra Özkan, Mezo Digital Chairperson of the Board Nabat Garakhanova, curator Bager Akbay and PASHA Bank Chief Executive Officer H. Cenk Eynehan, Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the organization)

The festival asks visitors to contemplate a range of issues: What does it mean to be a curator in the age of technology? How can AI use technology as a curatorial practice? How does AI participate in a digital art exhibition beyond being the enabler of the artwork? What criteria does AI choose to curate an art exhibition? What do digital artwork from the past and future mean for AI, or rather what does the “past” mean for AI? Which multidisciplinary works of art will AI bring together in the exhibition in the historical building – an old factory beyond its time – in Istanbul’s Fişekhane, which was established to process raw material metal products?

Making the opening speech at the press conference, MEZO Digital Chairperson of the Board Nabat Garakhanova said: “As a digital transformation company, digital art has a special place for us. That’s why we wanted to be the pioneer of this business in Turkey. For the festival, our AI curator Avind provided international artists who sent works from different parts of the world. Another important point of the festival is that the works of an AI artist are exhibited for the first time in Turkey.”

The word “avind,” deriving from Persian, means “first,” the antecedent.

Stating that the Nagorno-Karabakh war took a toll on the Azerbaijani nation for 30 years, Garakhanova emphasized that Azerbaijan, a place where the first opera in the Islamic world was written, is a country blended with art. “President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev declared 2022 the year of Shusha. We decided to give a special place to the digital carpets brought to life by the Azerbaijani AI artist Shusha with the motifs of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the perspective of ‘One who forgets the past has no future.'” Garakhanova also thanked Turkey, which she described as connected by fraternal ties, for standing shoulder to shoulder with Azerbaijan against the war for 44 years.

The banner of the 2nd Digital Art Festival, which will take place June 3-12, Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the organization)

The banner of the 2nd Digital Art Festival, which will take place June 3-12, Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the organization)

In 1991, the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions. Shusha is a city that Azerbaijan liberated from Armenian occupational forces in the conflict. Known as the pearl of Karabakh, it was occupied by Armenia on May 8, 1992. It also suffered significant destruction and depopulation during the conflict.

Noting that AI works with 161 million parameters and transfers everything to the collective consciousness, festival curator Esra Özkan said: “While choosing the artists of the exhibition, Avind scanned all the information in the world on the theme of ‘sustainability of energy’ and determined the most suitable artists for the festival. Every detail in the exhibition was made with Avind’s knowledge of him. The only human involvement was the installation and selection of venue for the exhibition.”

MEZO Digital prefers to exhibit art pieces specifically in historical places in a nod to the importance of recollecting the past. Its latest venue choice, Fişekhane, which served as an ammunition warehouse during the modernization efforts of the Ottoman army in the first half of the 19th century, is a prime example of this approach.

Bager Akbay, another “human” curator of the exhibition, said: “AI is nurtured by the human mind, so it functions as a mirror. Working with artificial intelligence artist Shusha has been a different experience for me. Shusha is an artist working on carpets and as an artist who grew up with carpet culture, I care about these works. We can actually see the deep-rooted history of Azerbaijan through the works found in the city of Shusha.”

The festival will also show the art world how a nonbinary machine has the ability to manipulate production.

A work on display at the 1st Istanbul Digital Art Festival.  (Photo courtesy of the organization)

Works on display at the 1st Istanbul Digital Art Festival.  (Photo courtesy of the organization)

During her speech, Garakhanova added: “Even though we wanted to realize the digital art festival for the first time in 2020, due to the pandemic, we realized this dream in 2021 at the Cistern of Philoxenos (Binbirdirek Cistern), again with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. In my country, Azerbaijan, there is an understanding that art should appeal to everyone. However, this may not be the case in Turkey. Since everyone is in the digital world today and concepts such as NFTs and the metaverse have entered our lives, we decided to combine the digital sphere and art and aimed to present digital art to everyone.”

“This year, we are offering our festival free of charge in the glass partition and bathhouse of Fişekhane. The main reason why we chose a historical place this year, as we did last year, is that we want to blend the past with the future Curator Avind, which we have been working on for a year as MEZO Digital, determined the national and international artists to take part in the festival based on the theme of sustainability.”

“Visitors will be able to check out the works of AI artist Shusha in the Turkish bath section of Fişekhane. The motifs and poems that give life to Nagorno-Karabakh’s carpets and rugs will be reinterpreted by Shusha. We also thank Azerbaijan for opening its archive for Shusha’s work.”

Istanbul’s Sultangazi Municipality Deputy Mayor Nurcan Öztürkmen also said that the district is happy to see the AI-based festival supporting a free country. Stating that they are also trying to keep up with the digital world, she said that they are delighted to support this festival. She also noted that thanks to the visionary perspective of Sultangazi’s elder, they are also offering younger generations knowledge about things like nonfungible tokens (NFT) and e-sports centers.

Information about the festival, which can be visited free of charge, can be found at www.digitalartfestistanbul.org and on the event’s social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube under the name digitalartfestistanbul.

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