APEIRON: The Code of Our Universe
When Genco (Gulan) asked me to curate the seventh edition of the Web Biennial he founded in 2003, I must admit I did not expect we would be able to accomplish so much within such a short period of time, especially considering the pandemic and its particularly demotivating effects on creative professionals. Yet, I was thrilled to see how the majority of the artists I contacted from around the world reacted to my invitation with utmost enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate. Similarly, on the side of the open calls, we have received numerous high-quality applications, which filled me and my teammates with even more enthusiasm and motivation.
Our initial discussions around the biennial’s title centered around the ideas of perception and endless possibilities, two concepts related to the discourse surrounding the nature of the digital medium. And yet my level of excitement truly went sky high when Genco offered Apeiron as our main theme, and for two reasons: first, the father of the term, Anaximander, lived in Anatolia, home to us and to some of the most magnificent ancient cities from where emerged some of the greatest thinkers in human history. Both Genco and I agreed that it was a perfect moment for paying tribute to this amazing heritage that we admired, embraced and cherished in the name of all humanity. And second, it offered me a great analogy to work with in relation to the digital medium that currently sustains our civilization. Let me explain why.
As one of the leading pre-Socratic philosophers, Anaximander used the word Apeiron, i.e. “infinite, unlimited or indefinite”, to refer to the originating cause of all things. This common ‘texture’ of everything is not something we will ever be able to fully grasp; it is both everywhere and beyond our reach. Its dual nature is also manifest in the term’s meaning: on the one hand, it points at anxiety-provoking uncertainty, whereas on the other, it implies an infinity of possibilities. And the current state we live in due to the pandemic could very well be approached with the same dual mindset: it is indeed a source of overwhelming anxiety, but it can also be heard as an urgent call for new ways of thinking about and relating to the world that could open up new horizons for a more sustainable future for humanity.
Another aspect of the Apeiron that made it so appealing to me is the analogy that can be drawn between its characteristics and those of the digital medium. With its reliance on a diffused network structure and an assemblage of technological apparatuses involving both physical and virtual components, the digital environment also resists a consistent definition, and the nature of its existence remains rather indefinite; it is based on the duality of zeroes and ones, and everything generated in it originates from the variations of this basic dichotomy. It is theoretically limitless, unbound by the time-space constraints binding the behavior of physical matter, and it involves a constant flux, a continuous motion, where anything that dies returns to its essential state and is reborn as another. Therefore, it shall not be a coincidence that some contemporary scientists think of our universe as a simulation with an underlying algorithm, or suggest that information is the main building block of the cosmos and not time and space. In other words, our Apeiron might indeed be the code, and the digital medium might be much less different in essence from our physical reality, after all.
In addition to this ‘universal element’ binding together all the artworks in the exhibition, there are still certain characteristics that are more highly pronounced in some works compared to the others. This is why I decided to arrange the exhibition into four main galleries, namely “The Experience”, “The Experiment”, “The Survey” and “The Action”.
The works in “The Experience” manifest a wide range of digital storytelling approaches involving alternative aesthetic and narrative vocabularies, whereas “The Experiment” contains those works either based on a generative approach or presented as the output of an artistic experiment. “The Survey” presents the works based on data collection and processing aimed either at describing, understanding or tracking a phenomenon, while “The Action” features those works necessitating the viewer’s intervention to reach completion. Of course, this is not to say that these categories are mutually exclusive; still, I believe some characteristics need to be particularly underlined in relation to some works so that they can be better contextualized and appreciated.
This is a proposition to facilitate the visitors’ entry into the exhibition, who will certainly build new connections and develop new insights as they will proceed, and evidently, this is the most exciting part of it all. Finally, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all the artists who joined us in this humble endeavor of ours and made it into the global event it has now become and still promises to grow further. This has been an outstanding expression of an artistic solidarity that will hopefully inspire many others to come.
İpek Yeğinsü, Curator
Istanbul, May 2020
Özcan Saraç, “For your own safety / Kendi güvenliğiniz için”, 2020