Illuminated lines forming geometric shapes in blue, yellow, red, and green on a black background.

Zach Lieberman, Network (still), 2023.

Commissioned by Hyundai Artlab, © Zach Lieberman

Code, text, and visual art are the core fulcrums artist Zach Lieberman leveraged to create Hyundai Artlab’s latest Digital Commission. Artlab’s Editors sat down with the artist who discusses how working as openly as possible offers opportunity for decentralized thinking, making invisible connections visible, and the importance of sharing joy.

How did you begin working on your Hyundai Artlab Digital Commission?

When I started this work, I was thinking about how to capture the function, energy, and ethos of Artlab. A decentralized network diagram popped into my head, and I wondered if I could show the movement of color and energy from node to node. I also thought about how Artlab serves as a source of energy for a community. Artlab drives culture forward through their Commission series, and connects the dots across networks of artists, writers, and creative practitioners. I wanted to make an animation that feels like a sun with rays pushing out from a center core.

You share a lot of in-progress work on your Instagram. Do you find sharing pieces this way offers feedback—or even changes how you view or direct the final work?

I try to work as openly as possible, which often involves sharing work in progress on social media. I think of this process like a diary: I want to make and share things, but they still feel personal to me, so I try to be careful about the energy I send out and receive back.

In general, I absolutely love to see what other people see in the work. That is perhaps the greatest gift. I also really enjoy when people tell me about an artist or technique my work reminds them of, which can help make connections I had not previously considered. So in that way, I appreciate feedback. That being said, I think the most important voice you can listen to as a creator is your own, so I do a lot to silence other voices. I ultimately want my choices to come from my own intuitions.

Diagram representing different network patterns: centralized, decentralized, and distributed.

Paul Baran, On Distributed Communications, Memorandum RM-3420-PR, 1964.

This archival drawing inspired Zach to build his first iteration of his Hyundai Artlab Commission.

You’ve also mentioned before that your visual work “comes from nothing but words.” How does this process or interaction between word and visual unfold?

I write code to make my work—usually C++ and shader code (GLSL). Although the output is completely visual, I write pages and pages of code, or text, that function as instructions to the computer to draw or calculate certain things. Sometimes I will write code, hit play, see the results, and then go back and forth between text and image. Just like writing code, this kind of work takes a lot of tweaking, so I find myself adjusting numbers all the time.

I’m curious if you consider teaching at the School of Poetic Computation a part of your practice, and if so, how collaboration and education informs your visual work.

Teaching is a core part of who I am. Currently, I am a professor at MIT’s Media Lab, and back in 2013 I helped start the artist-run School for Poetic Computation alongside Taeyoon Choi, Amit Pitaru, and Jen Lowe. The School for Poetic Computation helps students explore the intersections of code, design, hardware, and theory—with a focus on how art can intervene and reinterpret technology. It’s really a hybrid school, residency, and research group meant for thinkers looking for a community to realize their individual and collective dreams. To me, teaching is a third of my practice alongside my commercial work and artistic projects. They are three legs of a stool that provide me with a creative balance.

People lounging on bean bags, observing kaleidoscopic abstract images projected onto surrounding walls.

Zach Lieberman, Frieze installation, 2019.

Image courtesy Lifewtr.

It sounds like building an ecosystem of feedback is important not only to the path toward a finished work, but is oftentimes the work itself. You’re building systems for communities to take and play with. What moves you toward making interactive work?

One thing I cherish about interactive work is seeing the creativity and playfulness people bring to it. I often want to share the joy I feel making this work, and interactive pieces allow people to become a part of that emotional experience. The work ends up transforming into a positive feedback loop, or even an ecosystem sometimes. In my Artlab Commission, I tried to reflect that sense of connectivity, feedback, and joy in the piece, and am excited to see how people respond to the piece.

You’ve mentioned before that you draw inspiration from digital and physical networks. What led you to your interest in networks? Was it a school course, an experience, or something from childhood?

I really love images. As a child, I would poke through my parents’ books, fascinated with the drawings and diagrams I found. To me, a diagram is like a physical version of a thought or an idea. I love to doodle, and it was only later in life when I started to code, and make art with coding. This is my way to bring drawing to life.

Do you have an upcoming exhibition or project you’d like to share?

I am working on an installation for ARTECHOUSE in New York that considers typography, which I am really excited about. I’m also making visuals for a book related to a movie that I really loved this year, where I’m interpreting the film’s soundtrack in visual form.

A smudged, kaleidoscopic print leaning against a wall, featuring gradient swirls of color.

Zach Liberman, cone gradients #3 (Giclée, full-bleed print on smooth matte 330 gram paper, 8.5 x 11" / 17 x 22"), n.d.

Image courtesy Zach Lieberman.

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