Interactive Art is blurring the boundaries between digital and physical spaces through immersive experiences and intriguing visuals driven by the imagination the human mind.
Ansh Kumar, our next pathbreaker, works on bringing to life the magical visuals created on a computer screen by putting them into physical spaces and around sculptures, through interactive mediums such as Augmented reality.
Ansh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his first exposure to Interactive Art through a fully-funded Art Residency at a Tech Museum, Sensistan in Goa where he designed three Interactive experiences for the Museum.
For students, next generation technologies (AR/VR, 3D Visuals, Sensors etc), along with Art (Digital and Physical) are giving way to newer art forms and visual languages to convey difficult and abstract concepts !
Ansh, tell us about Your background?
I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad, Gujarat where I studied in DPS, Ahmedabad until class 8th and then shifted to Delhi. In Delhi, I studied at The Indian School.
My dad is an Acoustic Designer, designing creative solutions for better acoustics in spaces. My mom has been a teacher earlier, she was also into different art forms and now works for her fashion & lifestyle venture, Moh moh ke Dhaage. My elder brother is also an architect by education, currently working towards natural building techniques and exploring biomaterials through his adventure Tiny Farm Lab.
As a kid, I was quite active – playing football, participating in dances and cultural events. I was also into Pistol shooting at state level while I was in Ahmedabad. Though I enjoyed drawing and crafts a lot, I was never too good at it. Somehow, I was always trying my hands at something or the other just for fun. I remember getting those fortnightly Disney magazines, making cut-outs of characters and drawing from them. I was also a huge fan of G.I. Joe’s and happy meal toys. Disney & Pixar movies surely have played a huge role in making me believe in alternate realities and that I could create one for myself.
The Indian school gave me a lot of opportunities to express myself in terms of graphics and motion arts, starting small with designing magazines, short animations for annual days and events. I was also the head boy in the final year of school and as an introvert, it was something that helped me gain confidence and start to believe in myself. This is funny, but three of us geeks also began a tech club about gaming, visual arts and tech events. That gave me a brief understanding of what goes into creating experiential events. Looking back, of course, I think the content I generated was average, but I also understand it was important to do that, as it gave me the space to experiment, to put my work out there and most importantly to not care about failing.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
My graduation was in B.Arch ( Bachelors of Architecture ) from University School of Architecture and Planning, New Delhi. I haven’t taken up any post-graduation yet.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I see this more as creating a way of life for myself both as an artist and as an individual. I have loved creating artworks, be it digital or physical in form. As I mentioned above, my interest in motion design developed in school where I was given opportunities to work on motion films and design publications. The school had a few of us do internships in our class 11th. I did mine at ‘The Pioneer’ newspaper where I designed mastheads (the title bar of a newspaper or magazine at the head of the first or editorial page) for the sports editions for a few months. In school, the principal, Mrs Tania Joshi and Mrs Anu Singh always supported and encouraged me to pursue creative endeavours, even though there was a lot of pressure to score well in the board exams. For some reason, they weren’t worried and also helped my parents understand when I scored low in my pre-boards as I was preparing for NID(National Institute of Design), though i did not get through the entrance.
Bachelors in Architecture was the next option for me, as having seen my elder brother, I understood that one could get a wider perspective in terms of applying design as a medium to solve problems. While in college, I continued motion graphics, worked on a lot of competitions, did some freelance work and internships. During that time, I was selected for the ‘Adobe Mentorship Program’, where I was connected with a professor in Russia, Pavel Pisklakov, who reviewed my graphics portfolio and helped me understand the areas I needed to work on. I also won an open call (an audition, open to anyone wishing to try out) by 20th Century Fox for an alternative poster design for the film ‘ Paper Towns ’, based on the novel by John Green.
The architectural designs I created always incorporated motion to resolve issues and were in some ways unconventional, and hence not so practical according to the professors, but I think I wasn’t exploring and conceptualising for a practical world. It was for me, a way to go back to motion art in an experiential physical form.
Although there were a few professors that believed in my designs, the key people who did motivate me to tap into interests outside of architecture were mostly my Arts & Graphics professor, Mr Saurav and the dean, Prof. Rajat Ray. I did my dissertation with Prof. Rajat Ray as my guide. It dealt with the informal entities on the streets of Delhi and how we could learn from their ephemeral and frugal design solutions. The dean always inspired me to be true to myself and supported my creations, even if in disagreement at times, as I wasn’t much interested in the core architectural practice. This also led me to send my portfolio to design firms practising beyond architecture in the final year.
I did my internship in a firm called Typenraum in Stuttgart, Germany. My mentor there, Mr Joerg Becker, was previously a professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a brilliant guide for me to learn from, pushing my potential by presenting challenges that he thought I was capable of taking charge of. I designed a replicable visual language for one of Germany’s largest insurance firms AOK. You can learn more about it here. The time in Germany was a great learning experience for me both as a designer and through my travels around Europe. The people I met during my travels and the experiences those travels had to offer surely have added to me as a person.
In the above link, the visual graphics that you see on the walls are outputs of the visual language I worked on. The space was designed by the interior design team and we worked on coherence. Here, it is a colour coded way of designing a system for better identification and mapping of functions throughout the office space. The orientation system was awarded the Focus Open Award 2020. The guidance system enables a higher-level and intuitive spatial experience by taking up the basic function of this idea: a living organism. A system of movement. One that reproduces itself steadily – in variation, in stratifications, branches, overlays, connections. Therefore: Five organic shapes with five colors for the five values as a transparent canon. There is an Activator around which everything modulates and moves.
My keen interest in Interactive art built along all this time via exposure to new media artists like Refik Anadol, Memo Akten, Team lab and other talented new media artists from whom I have learned a lot and find them to be a close part of the community. The intriguing visuals and the communication through the beautiful experiences they designed were what pulled me in. Most importantly it is an immersive experience for me as a learner to explore this field.
My friends and family have always taken steps to understand my work and support it enthusiastically.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
The approach that has always been a part of me is to keep creating and putting those creations out, be it on Instagram, Behance, for competitions, on mails to curators or just for friends. I did a lot of pro-bono work in schools and colleges, I was keen on creating and developing my skills more than earning money because I have been privileged to be supported by my parents.
During my internship with The Pioneer, they agreed to give me a byline in the newspaper as it was a journalism internship that extended into a freelance gig for a few months. It was exciting for me because I was creating graphics for events like the French Open, Euro Cup and Wimbledon. I have had a habit to always start the newspaper from the back because of the sports page and so it was lovely to see my artwork there.
A lot of my friends and family saw me do graphic work and asked me to design logos, brochures or animations. We have gone through rebranding exercises for a lot of our homegrown ventures, with me designing the identity, and eventually learning new skills. Over time, I also started making illustrations of my favourite tv shows/characters to sell as merchandise on different print on demand sites.
Putting all of this work out got me internships from different design firms, but it wasn’t always possible because of my extensive architectural submissions during college. I did take up some freelance work during summer breaks as they gave me the freedom to choose my own time and gave me a lot of creative freedom.
In the final year of college, we need to send out portfolios and complete 9 months of professional practice under an established Architect. I wanted to go abroad for exposure and travel. This took a lot of effort as I used to send almost 100 emails a day and wasn’t able to find something that paid fully for my expenses. I lost hope and joined an Architectural office, which made me understand in a month that the environment wasn’t for me as I remained more interested in the arts. So I quit the internship. I then got to know that I have been selected in a firm in Typenraum, Stuttgart. The funny and the irresponsible part was that I had got the selection email long back, my email storage was insufficient and so it never reached me until I cleaned my storage for some reason.
As I did explain above, thanks to my experiences and takeaways from my time in Germany, I was eventually offered a job in the same firm as a designer. I loved being there and learned a lot, but once I came back to India I chose not to take up the job for the simple fact that I wanted to first explore the things that I was never able to explore because I was moving on a linear path which I guess is the case with a lot of us students – College – Placements – Job and so on. I think it is really important to take a step back and understand what is it that interests you and how you would love to take it forward. Again, I do understand that I am privileged to have the option to take such a step and not everyone is in the same position.
I then had the time to experiment and learn different techniques and software to create interactive experiences. There is a lot of knowledge on the Internet, but it surely does get overwhelming. I have always been self-learning the skills as per the solutions needed for the idea to come alive. It is important to understand that the concept/purpose would always be the most important part of the project and the software or the people you need to collaborate with to execute it will fall in place.
The turning point for me came when I was called for an art residency based on the experiments I put out on Instagram. This fully-funded art residency was at a Tech Museum, Sensistan in Goa. While Sensistan created a safe space to explore, create and most importantly fail, I designed three Interactive experiences for the Museum. I took a lot from that space and have since been approached for interesting opportunities. You can know more about the installations here.
All of these forms can be broadly categorised as ‘Interactive Art’. As you could see via the links, all the works involve projectors, a physical interactive surface, sensors and a software that generates the visuals as per the user interaction, moving the sculpture(tones), touching the paint or objects on the wall (Reflections), or placing something on the table (Objet a petit). Some software and keywords to look for if you are interested in knowing more: Interactive art, Kinetic Sculptures, Touchdesigner, Data visualisation, Projection Mapping, new media art.
How did you get your first break?
My first Exhibition was through an open call on Instagram. I applied to the call without any expectations or even a completed artwork. I sent the mockups I had created to the curator and once it got selected I was somehow confident to be able to get it done for the exhibition.
Contours of Life is a series of interactive installations depicting life in forms of mycelium, growing as the network, an extraterrestrial creature or just a being. It stands for exploring how the ecosystem co-exists. With our own act we balance the ecosystem balances or disrupt it.
The algorithmic art is based on mathematical functions and forms derived via interaction.
You can check this video .
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Believing in oneself.
This has been the biggest challenge for me as I didn’t know a lot of people who could guide me through until I understood that there is no one right path, one must truly believe in and work towards the path they choose. I learnt this from my mom, who picked up a completely new art form, self-learned it and got so good at it and now she has started her venture, showing up every day to do what she loves.
This is surely a challenge a lot of artists face as it is difficult to earn from a new art form that is yet to be fully understood and accepted. I have been taking up commercial Graphic Design, animation projects to be able to pursue my passion for the arts.
It is important to understand that whatever we do is just a part of us and not our soul identity. So, giving time to other hobbies, family and to explore the world is as important. The Idea does get blurry when you are completely immersed in what you do. Taking breaks between projects and being with family surely helps.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do
My brother and I have moved to a small village in the hills, 30 minutes away from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. We have rented a small space to experiment with Natural building, Biomaterials and most importantly to try out the life in the mountains that we have always been wanting to explore. The idea is to design a Cob (a natural building material made from subsoil, water, fibrous organic material) house on borrowed land, hunting for mushroom species, helping out villagers and also learning from them.
On a typical day, we wake up around 6:30 am, have some coffee while we enjoy the mountains that cover us from all 4 sides, go to our site, work on experiments like testing mud, designing the house by placing rocks and dried grass or building a stone wall. By the time the sun is on our head, we come back, have an early lunch, and rest for a while. I then work on my Art, Digital experiments, and do meetings through the afternoon. In the evening we go back to trying our hands on-site. Some days we put up films for the kids in the evening. Currently showing the Harry Potter series.
I am in love with all of it. This lifestyle is surely what I would love to develop further and keep creating while being surrounded by nature.
How does your work benefit society?
New media studies is a discipline that explores the intersections of computer-generated art, science, the humanities, and the visual and performing arts. Technically it does involve a lot of 3D visuals, coding, knowledge of sensors, lighting, projectors – but does not always have to. As I have mentioned earlier, these are all tools, mediums, to realise the creations that one wants to produce. I also like to work with just physical sculptures and art that is independent in itself. So I would say, this art form is about creating new forms for ourselves, what we love doing or things that we would like to convey in our own way. As for simplifying what I do, it is more about bringing the magical visuals created on a computer screen and putting them into physical spaces and around sculptures. Yes, I also work with Augmented Reality experiences. The most basic example of an augmented reality experience would be the Instagram and Snapchat filters people use and the game Pokemon go.
Interactive experiences help me understand human behaviour. How people interact with the artworks is the most satisfying part of the whole experience. The art form helps me generate a creative perspective towards human interactions, humbly and playfully through a layer of digital experiences. My interests and research is directed towards a canvas that acts as a catalyst to celebrate human traces and their implications. With my work, I like to explore the space amidst digital and physical entities by creating a composite relationship between the void (space) and visual art. As a visual artist and an architect by education, I like to present my beliefs and engage people to interact with the space and the art within.
Furthermore, representing data in a form that would help people understand larger issues is a very important factor to pursue this art form. There is far more research and development happening in the field. It is surely a welcoming community to be a part of.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
One of the art Installations I did during my Residency at Sensistan was Tones, a representation of the mind and how it is both, the darkest and the most vibrant/creative part of us. It is a kinetic sculpture that came out as a result of research in colour and origami. You could read more about it here.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I would just say, never go too hard on yourself as everything eventually works out. Take small steps to know yourself, to stay healthy, to understand what you enjoy doing, and for that, you must try new things, explore new worlds and travel as much as possible. Not to take this as an excuse to be irresponsible and ignorant. You will eventually give back to the world with your own unique potential.
I once saw this quote on a billboard that stuck with me “ Be heard, not herd”. It is very easy to go in the direction everyone else is moving towards, but you must stop whenever you get a chance and ask yourself if you would like to go forward on this path, would it give you the joy to put in the hard work.
Of course, read a lot, be aware of what is happening in the world, gain knowledge in whatever form to add to yourself, because that will give you the power to make your decisions stronger. You will get a lot of advice in this world, but how to make use of it is completely up to you. There is no rush, always remember, “slow and steady…”
I am currently working on a few new styles and light sculptures and experiments with biosensors. Reading up the history of visual art. I would like to give time to more experimentation. Life in the village is anyways slow and relaxing. I explore something new every day.
Currently, I have an ongoing exhibition through June in Paris that involves Augmented Reality – Digital Art Month
I am still applying to residencies and working on some collaborations with artists in the community. I try to create something every day, even if it comes out to be not as planned, I make sure to put it out, it gives me a regular motivation to create and helps me to connect with very talented and creative souls.