conversations – Interview by Margaret Murphy – 18.04.2023
LARS NAGLER: BETWEEN BAUHAUS AND AI
POST-PHOTOGRAPHY AND AI
Lars Nagler has been creating art for more than 20 years. His artistic journey took him from studying at Bauhaus Weimar to photography and, eventually, led him to working with AI. Nagler, however, doesn't stop there: by continuously adapting and re-imagining his visual language, the artist is a fixum in the NFT space.
Nagler discusses his career and artistic development, post-photography, and the promises of AI with Margaret Murphy, Head of Community.
Margaret Murphy: You’ve been having “art adventures since 1996.” What did those early adventures look like?
Lars Nagler: In 1996, I started with analog collages and photography. I set up my own darkroom and had my first experiences with various photo techniques. This direction was strengthened by the beginning of my studies at the Bauhaus Weimar in 1998. Nine years at the Bauhaus have encouraged me to keep my favorite work and process, namely intuitive and emotional, in various trades. Besides photography, over the years there have been narrative and abstract short films. Sound design and music were added later, and in 2005 I started working with 3D.
All in all, this resulted in various exhibition projects, music videos, short films, music albums, and commissioned works.
MM: How do these early adventures influence your artistic adventures in 2023?
LN: Not only did my first steps in creating art influence my current processes and dynamics, but my whole life so far. Every observation, every smell, every sound, every thought. Already before 1996, I started to absorb films, art, and music on a large scale. This formed my favoritism concerning attitudes and feelings. Much of it is very subtle, if not classically invisible.
For the current photographic AI excursions, of course, my cinematic/photographic eye comes in handy.
MM: Having been making art for nearly 20 years, do you find it hard to keep up with the rapid technological advancements of programs used in your practice?
LN: I have a lot of experience in the 3D field. However, a few years ago, I accepted that I would not be able to access the 3D program "Houdini". The difference between all the programs I had used until then was too big. That was the first time I had to make such a decision.
There are a lot of new dynamics that I would like to indulge in. The whole field of AI animation is time-consuming if you want to use different techniques. Almost every day there are new challenges in the AI field; for that, there is persistent curiosity and power.
MM: Curiosity is a significant part of your artistic motivation. How do you stay curious in a world where all information is at the click of a mouse or the tap of a smartphone?
LN: By basically calling a value system my own, which remains unaffected by the fast pace and value devaluation of today's world. Empathy is actually a great drive: the observation and questioning analysis of artists, people, and their works and drives.
I like to look back because every artist that I find interesting was an innovator in his or her time. And there is so much to discover just by looking back. I am far from the superficiality and synchronicity of the current time.
MM: When did you start working with AI?
LN: If I remember correctly, this chapter began in mid-2021. I received the first information about it and the idea of the broad spectrum that was already foreseeable at the time. I tested the first apps, got to know COLLAB NOTEBOOKS, and have been exercising every day since then. My first AI series, UNIVERSES, on Opensea was invisible for a long time and then minted out within half an hour. My DREA•M•ACHINE AI animation series is innovative for its time in terms of content and storytelling. This started in November 2021 and includes 16 pieces, 14 of which were collected.
MM: Your work has recently moved from being more abstract and surreal to being highly photographic. What prompted this stylistic change for you?
LN: I continue to serve each of my interests in working with AI. This also includes surreal and abstract directions. My photorealistic AI series is currently more visible. This has to do with the current technical possibilities and the great desire to finally be able to use them to implement my own pictures on a level that was not possible before.
A year ago, I was asked to create set designs for a TV series that was in preparation. At that time, I still implemented it using 3D. Now, I would do that immediately with the current AI tools. If you're a master of the prompt (I count myself among them; I don't retouch afterwards), you can now achieve any image goal. Phenomenal.
MM: Post-photography as a movement has captured the attention of much of the NFT community. Do you identify as a post-photographer?
LN: I was never a friend of "slogans", "naming", "artificial grouping," or arrogant claiming. At the end of the day, I'm a "multi-genre artist".
MM: When did you first start making NFTs? How, if at all, did the NFT community change your artistic practice?
LN: My NFT journey started in March 2021. At that time, 3D image series and 3D animation loops were created. I met a few artists, curators, and collectors in the NFT space who reflect similar values. This has to be described as a rarity in the great sea of NFT mediocrity.
My artistic practice has not changed, but a kind of additional engine has been started. The small opportunity to contribute to the small, real-quality part of the NFT space with your own work is empowering.
MM: Your series EMP-LAB is part of our exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI. The work shows human or human-like subjects testing, experimenting, studying and innovating in a futuristic time. What is the story behind the EMP LAB?
LN: EMP LAB is a glimpse into a large science complex that represents the big brain of AI. At least, that's how I imagine it. Many small groups are working in multidisciplinary ways to try to answer the question of the exhibition: What are the promises of AI? The AI draws from a great wealth of knowledge and imagines itself. There are young groups that playfully work on synthetic-organic interfaces. There are holodeck levels on which final haptic tests are carried out. There are sleep labs where mind expansion and awareness reign supreme. For md, working with AI is an alchemical process. Diverse and nuanced ingredients result in the expected or even more surprising results and artworks. It is supremely satisfying to take up a narration of your own.
MM: Alongside a scientific theme in EMP LAB, there also seem to be moments of quiet intimacy between the subjects. Where did this different kind of output spring from?
LN: I recognize in all the pictures in this series a deep concentration and sublime intensity of the respective work done. A lot of awareness, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of truthfulness. And if we see a kind of quiet intimacy, especially in the Sleep Lab images, then maybe the AI is processing the terminology of "finitude" in those moments.
MM: What are some of the promises of AI that you are intrigued by?
LN: I am fascinated by the rapid progress that you can hardly keep up with. Besides that, it's hard for me to imagine in a halfway comprehensive way how and where all AI will soon be visible and active.
Two months ago, I briefly thought about how helpful AI and related imaging might be for therapeutic purposes. I'm excited and curious.
Lars Nagler, aka LASSINGER (*1974) is a German digital artist working in the areas of AI, 3D, and sound. Beginning with photography in 1996, he has always worked with the large complex of "man-world-evolution" through traditional and innovative technical possibilities. His studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar broadened his thinking and piqued his interest in intuitive and free work. His concepts are always derived from a jumble of knowledge, emotion, and real-time.
Lars Nagler is part of the exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI presented at the gallery in Berlin in collaboration with VerticalCrypto Art, 18-23 April, 2023.
UPCOMING NFT DROP: EMP LAB (33, 1 of 1s) by Lars Nagler will be released as part of ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI on 19 APRIL at 6 PM CEST on verticalcrypto.art. Inquire about the work via email to email@example.com.