The rise of technology in the 21st century has completely transformed the way we think and create. We live in a digital world now, and so the art world has been undergoing a change of its own. Artworks appear as digital simulations of reality and digital exhibitions are on the rise around the world. One of the great cities to follow state-of-the-art trends in the art world is surely New York. An artificial intelligence (AI)-driven immersive experience and nonfungible token (NFT) exhibition by Azerbaijani artist Orkhan Mammadov is the latest show to make a splash in the cultural capital of the United States.
Curated by Lara Binnet, “Revival of Aesthetics” was organized by the digital art company Blackdove in one of the city's leading exhibition halls, Lume Studios NYC. In the works displayed at the exhibition, Mammadov creates a unity between heritage and modernity by combining Azerbaijani carpets, which are a symbol of Azerbaijan's cultural heritage and mentioned in "The Book of Dede Korkut" – the most famous Central Asian epic of the Oghuz Turks spanning back to the eighth century – with the latest technological innovation of our time, AI. Invited by prominent collectors from New York and around the world, the show features the artist's nine works.
The epic tales of Dede Korkut are narratives of the mythical, pre-Islamic and nomadic heritage of the peoples of Oghuz origin who make up the majority of people living in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan today. The silk carpets of Azerbaijan, which are praised in the 12 books of Dede Korkut, have been famous since ancient times. These carpets, which started to circulate in Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries, have been represented in the paintings of famous artists of the period such as Flemish painter Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck.
Mammadov, who has weaved carpets and processed traditional patterns with AI in his previous works, has brought Azerbaijani carpets to the modern age in his works in “Revival of Aesthetics.” When I entered the exhibition, it felt like I was on a magic carpet ride. The display is very special as it is one of the first successful attempts to harmonize cultural heritage with machine algorithms. Azerbaijani carpets are really remarkable. Their ornament is a kind of visual language, making for a natural dance in the digital world. Culture and AI enthusiasts were also able to collect the NFTs from the exhibition with the Blackdove technology.
“Revival of Aesthetics” brings to life new, imagined rugs, broadening the scope of a “living” tradition, combining data painting techniques, thread simulation and color data. Mammadov begins a dialogue between rapidly vanishing cultural heritage and the proliferation of digital cultures. NFTs also present a solution for preserving cultural memory in this show.
Mammadov spoke about the known and unknown aspects of the new art form he represents: "We call this kind of art ‘new media art.’ It is a kind of traditional art, using unique technologies. The field I'm working on in contemporary media art is AI, and codes or algorithms are used in it. The works depicted in my latest show were created by AI with the use of 150,000 Azerbaijani carpets. After these carpets were collected from museums worldwide, they were analyzed by AI, and common values were revealed. Then I created new alternatives based on them. I want to show our culture and carpets all around the world with my show. The next stops for the exhibition are London and Moscow.”
Featuring the metaverse’s first carpets and rugs, the show aims to transcend Eastern heritage into the digital realm. In his work, Mammadov is lending a new meaning to patterns, merging its traditional association with machine algorithms.
In this radically new context, there is an enlarged dialogue not only between the tangible past and the digital present but also between risky data entropies, the limits of politico-historical structures and the exhausted epistemologies of modernity. As a multi-temporal knot, connecting many different simultaneous pasts, “Revival of Aesthetics” questions the role of technology itself as a form of memory and as a tool of power. Collecting the stories of traditional crafts is also at the heart of Mammadov's multilayered and multi-source project, bringing together storytelling and data processing, and leaving the question open about the boundaries between the two.