Digital art of 'One and Zero Makes Two' brings to life existential principles

Cem Sonel with his exhibition One and Zero Makes Two at Anna Laudel, Istanbul, inquires into existential concepts of existence and non-existence with his practice.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Mar 26, 2022

The consumerist approach to the use of technology has anchored the possibility of a new plentitude in production. The lopsided effect of this materiality of production on the emotive existence of humans has put the spotlight on the ‘nothingness’ advanced by the acts of abundance. The philosophical underpinning around the idea of absence in the discipline of mathematics has been numerically transcribed with the figures “0" and "1". In other words, zero denotes a void and one indicates presence. With the onset of the digital coding system, these numbers were further put into good use to let the machine understand its valuable significance. The Turkish new media artist, Cem Sonel, with his last exhibition One and Zero Makes Two at Anna Laudel in Istanbul extends inquiry into these existential concepts of existence and non-existence with the digital-based serial installations, mural art and graffiti art. Sonel’s practice is a response to the binaries, of not opposites but complementary, absolute-abstract, absence-present, punctuating the daily life of streets.

One and Zero Makes Two, 2022,Cem Sonel | STIRworld
One and Zero Makes Two, 2022 Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

In an interview with STIR, Sonel shares how the relationship between oblivion and mindful has been a subject he has been contemplating for a while now. “What we consider being-non-existence, being-not-being, or 1-0, as the opposites are actually complementary to each other. This seemingly simple relationship in practice is a source of code that creates the reality we live in and the sub-realities it covers. This relationship, which contains many deep meanings, enabled to create itself in such a way that worked at every level of my life. In my own practice, I decided to research this relationship by visualising it through a project I named Code of Conquer,” he says. Having used a variety of techniques to create the works, put on display, embedded with research and experiments, the visual artist explains these led to the emergence of, “a series of works that I believe to be a representation of the modern-days, consisting of digital 1s and 0s on which today's computer technology is based, as well as analogue 1s and 0s generated with traditional methods which I simultaneously create on the same level without denying the existence of the other, an existence I call semi-digital.”

Installation View, One and Zero Makes Two | One and Zero Makes Two | STIRworld
Installation view, One and Zero Makes Two Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

A walkthrough of the single exhibition could seem, as if the viewer is looking at the two different sets of works or experiencing the two exhibitions at the same time: one dedicated to mural and street production; the second dedicated to the digital works. But the artist maintains that all the productions come from the streets where he spends a considerable time. The LED panels utilised digitally are a material used for advertising or as signposts on the streets. At one point, Sonel says, “I realised I could guerrilla hack these street signs. This new application area I came across while outdoors stirred my interest. Just like a graffiti artist leaves their tag on ​​the wall with spray paint, I too can leave my tag on a digital sign using a flash disk. We can consider the transformation you mentioned as a new generation of street art adapted to today's technology.”

Artist Cem Sonel | One and Zero Makes Two | STIRworld
Artist Cem Sonel Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

The play of the street productions and digital series could appear as polar opposites in appearance, but Sonel affirms, “but (these) are fed by this contrast without rejecting each other; considering the street as the ground - that is "zero" - and the fact that the exhibition is located on the "first" floor of the gallery by chance, I thought One and Zero Makes Two would be a good reference in every respect, and thus it manifested.

The installation Data Tesseract, made out of led panel, computer code, plexiglass, suspended from the roof of the art gallery highlights the visual explorations of an intellectual journey undertaken by Sonel.  “Most of the time, instead of creating an image in my mind, I pursue what results in an idea will yield when visualised. For instance, Data Tesseract is a visual experiment in an attempt to perceive what the fourth dimension might be like. I could see the results of the reflections in the work only after it was fully revealed.  Results like these also open new doors for my next productions.”

Cem Sonel, Loading…, 2020, LED, Neon Paint on MDF, Plexi | STIRworld
Cem Sonel, Loading…, 2020, LED, Neon Paint on MDF, Plexi Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

Since the artist draws inspirations from fields such as mathematics, physics, psychology and philosophy, he is cognizant of the fact that the works determined by these disciplines are not yet easy to perceive. Not just for the viewers, but at times Sonel finds it hard to translate the science of numbers, equations of balance and logic of philosophical concepts into a tangible art form. At this point, intuition and emotions come into play to communicate with the viewer.

Detailed View of First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, LED- Neon Paint on MDF, Cem Sonel | STIRworld
Detailed view of First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, LED - Neon Paint on MDF Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

“If I were to say that the works I create using points are based on cellular automaton type algorithms, the audience would be required to have pre-existing information on such algorithms. However, I want every viewer to feel certain intuitive inferences just as I felt on this journey.” Sonel opines if he had his way to mention about the successful takeaway for the audience after watching his works, “I would say recognise science as a research method instead of art.” 

Cem Sonel, First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, Led and Neon Paint on MDF | One and Zero Makes Two | STIRworld
Cem Sonel, First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, Led and Neon Paint on MDF Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel

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