Anastasia G: Do you have a story about the impact of your early experiences for the art you are doing now?

M.T.M.: My formal education is in science and math, while my knowledge and experience in the arts is completely self-taught. When I was young, most people would skip school to go drink and have fun, but when I ditched school, my first choice was to visit art museums and galleries. As for technology, that’s something which has always been very close to my work and indeed my life. I’m from the generation that has seen the whole digital age emerge. I built my first computer when I was a teenager as components started to become available on the grey market in the US. And later, through my university studies in biology, I was fortunate to have access to the latest computers and digital imaging equipment. That constant exposure to a wide range of technologies (from leading-edge platforms and systems to consumer-oriented videogames and devices) has deeply influenced my art because it’s simply part of who I am and what I do.

A.G.: How did it happen that you moved from a career in science to one in art?

M.T.M.: One thing that I have definitely carried over from my education is the scientific way of thinking. I just chose to apply it in a different discipline. In many ways the scientific process is like the artistic process; they are both creative, and about questioning and experimentation. In truth, art and science used to be much closer together. For example, in the Renaissance, great artists were often great scientists. In the late 1950s, the English chemist and novelist, C. P. Snow famously lectured about The Two Cultures, the schism between the arts and the sciences and how this arbitrary division was a detriment to wider society. Some scholars have written about my work as an example of how this divide can be bridged, which is gratifying because I do feel these areas are still far more separated than they should be and there is no reason why we shouldn’t return to the more holistic models of previous times.

A.G.: You chose to work with new media and other materials rather than the classic ones. In your vision, what is the correlation between art and technology? Is it a necessary phenomenon or an alternative for artists and art in general?

M.T.M.: Firstly, I think the term ‘new media’ is an unfortunate one, because all media at some point is new, and even traditional forms of media are based on technology. What we refer to and think of as ‘new media’ is just the latest iteration of technology used for art-making in a lineage that spans the course of human history. Within my practice, although I use a lot of leading-edge technologies in the production of my work, I also explicitly seek to merge such elements with traditional materials and processes. For example, I’ve employed laser engraving on hand-finished hardwoods, and digitally printed onto gold-gilded papers, real vellum, and other precious materials. Regarding the installation that I am showing in Timișoara, there are two projections and a soundscape that are algorithmic (i.e. generated in real time and always changing), but there is also a 4×4 metre architectural structure and a set of four physical art prints that are made from the finest traditional art materials. Like the majority of my work from the past 20 years, I’ve sought to blend the digital and the virtual with the analogue and the physical. My work is never only about the technology itself, and as such, I simply seek to use the right ‘tools’ – whether digital or analogue, traditional or new – that best communicate my ideas.

A.G.: Tell me about your work for the exhibition Invisible Cities / Imaginary Lands in Timișoara.

M.T.M.: The new work I was commissioned to produce for the exhibition is called Imaginary Landscapes – Timișoara. It is a large-scale installation depicting alternate, completely fantastical renditions of the city and its surrounding countryside that have been created using a combination of leading-edge neural network technologies (AI) and traditional digital image processing techniques. The piece and its various elements have been exclusively generated from a pair of historic 19th-century maps and high-resolution satellite imagery of the current location. The result combines old and modern depictions of the city into an endless series of unique, hybrid visions made possible through a recursive dialogue between myself (as artist) and the machine. In short, my intention was to show the people of Timișoara how technology can not only present the past and the present ‘truths’ of a place, but also a never-ending series of imaginary variations that have never actually existed. 

A.G.: In a preview of the exhibition Invisible Cities / Imaginary Lands, you mentioned that in the process of developing and producing your work you were thinking about “educating the public about new creative possibilities and social challenges of our time in this particular age”. What are these challenges? How do you think these possibilities could make a change in this regard?

M.T.M.: Well, let’s consider things like Big Data and AI that have become integral to so many parts of everyday life over the last decade. These technologies have been used for wonderful advances in fields like medicine and conservation, but conversely, they have also been used to suppress and control communities and individuals alike. So within my work, I try to show technology for what it is, focusing on the areas that are less understood or even outright hidden from public view. I want my works to be starting points for conversations where people can begin to gain a better understanding of how various technologies are shifting aspects of the world in which we live. The maxim ‘knowledge is power’ is so true in this context. If people don’t understand the core nature of a technological system, it’s not possible for them to make informed decisions about how it should – or should not – be used within their personal lives or wider society. Since it is often in the interests of governments and corporations to keep the public uninformed about these things, something else has to provide access to this knowledge. And given artists are often in a position to speak truth to power, I feel we can be part of the solution.

A.G.: Your projects are based on research, documentation, science, and technology. Where does this trend in art come from? Why does contemporary art have more than an aesthetic purpose?

M.T.M.: My favourite works of contemporary art are always conceptually based, but I also firmly believe in high production values. I don’t want to see paintings that are poorly painted or digital media installations that are badly produced. I respect artists that strive to master their materials, whatever they happen to be. Furthermore, and quite importantly, I’m drawn to projects that are socially engaged with the critical issues of our times. Although contemporary artists have little to no ‘power’ in the typical sense, we do maintain a privileged position in society where we have the chance to shift public perceptions, even if it’s only by a few degrees. With my own artworks and exhibitions, I never attempt to tell people what to think or believe; my practice is certainly not an activist one. Instead, I always seek to approach subjects in transparent and neutral ways (as much as possible) in the hope that I can provide opportunities for others to learn and see differently. At present, so many sectors in society are politically and ideologically charged, and therefore quite divisive. Art, however, still occupies a space where most people are willing to enter with open minds. So in this context, I strongly feel that artists should look beyond aesthetics and art historical discourse, and try to encourage socially-informed dialogue and understanding within their work.

A.G.: How do you see art in the future?

M.T.M.: Art and technology have always gone hand in hand. But as technologies change rapidly and are often used in ways that are quite far removed from their original purposes, it’s difficult to make specific predictions in this area. With that said, I’m confident that artists will continue to use the emerging technologies of their times to critique and reflect upon the worlds in which they are living. For myself, I certainly focus on the present, but I always seek to dialogue with the past and hope that what I create will have some relevance to future generations. And undoubtedly many of these connections across time will be framed through the lens of technology, because it is technology itself that gives us, as artists, the means to create our experiences and pose our questions.