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In Conversation with Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez

by Jeff Davis

Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez is an artist interested in the concept of the total cognitive space of systems. He has worked on innovation and strategy at a handful of companies, from small startups to large financial multinationals, where he focused on the role of technological advances. He is also interested in fostering access to education, and has co-founded Databeers, an informal data literacy movement present in over ten countries. Marcelo writes occasionally on his personal website, iillucid.com, about art, strategy, and other random thoughts around these topics. I had the pleasure of getting to know Marcello better in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project Entretiempos.
Jeff Davis: Hi Marcello! I’ve followed your work online for a while now, so it’s great to learn more about your background. How did you first get into making art?
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez: Art has been a lifelong interest which I probably acquired thanks to my parents bringing me to museums and exhibitions since I was little. Our house hardly had any works of art, but it was built in a minimalist style with a prominence of geometrical basic shapes, which has influenced me aesthetically for all my life. An early exposure to all kinds of music, notably classical (also my parents) is mashed up in my mind with all that. Probably as a result, I always exhibited an interest in creativity in a broad sense: I wanted to be an architect, an inventor, or a car designer from early on. I became none of that and went on to study telecommunications engineering and signal processing (a precursor of what we call data science today). My entire professional career has since revolved around innovation and strategy, but with a certain artistic/different flair present in all my corporate work (writing, the way I delivered my presentations, my thinking, etc.). It found its way also in hobbies: I play the piano, compose my own music, have been doing photography for many years, did poetry, writing, etc. I took two sabbatical years from my corporate job, and I started exploring purely artistic creations. I went back to my job for another year and a half and left for good just before the pandemic. During the lockdown nights I retook my artistic practice, and for over a year now I’ve been dedicated full time to art.
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Rearrangements of coloured wooden pieces, 2004.jpeg
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Rearrangements of coloured wooden pieces, 2004.
JD: It brings me great joy to hear that you’re pursuing a career as a full-time artist now. It sounds like creativity is in your blood, and with your education in technology, it makes sense that you’d explore generative art. What was that journey like?
MSR: Somehow, I feel there was an unconscious start when I discovered the abstract painters from the beginning of the twentieth century. Kandinsky, Delaunay, Juan Gris, Picasso, and so many others whose names I didn’t know at the time. This somehow converged with other influences (minimalist music, for example, which filled my ears for hours in my teenage years) to predispose me to be interested in it. Back when I was studying Signal Processing I was fascinated by the aesthetics of signals. Plugging an oscilloscope to a circuit to see what was going on triggered a need to explore that world. In those days I used Matlab to do all my coursework, and I did small experiments. Later on, I toyed around with Processing (2004 or so) and I liked to do geometrical explorations in photography using a set of coloured wooden pieces that my mother gifted me once. But it was not until later on, while working in the field of data and analytics, that I started to consider the concept more deeply.
During my sabbatical I did some scattered experiments which tried to create works in the style of Eusebio Sempere, a Spanish painter who did some great geometrical explorations with line-based shapes in the 1960s and 1970s, from Twitter data using Python. The idea was to create some sort of identity from a given Twitter account, using several data points to inform the choices in the system. That was my first proper code-based generative work. I enjoyed this very much but when I went back to corporate, I stopped pushing this forward. Until mid-2020, when I started coding what is the ancestor of my Entretiempos system. I wanted to create a system that would recreate the style of Sonia Delaunay and  explore what happens when you traverse parameter space with that aesthetic. I had already painted an acrylic-on-cardboard tribute to that aesthetic in 2019, and I started to use that motif in several small pieces I enjoyed painting. During the lockdown nights, it was time to move this into the territory of generative art.
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, 2017. Early generative work..png
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, 2017. Early generative work.
JD: How would you say your creative practice has grown through all this exploration?
MSR: The most significant changes have happened in two different areas. On the one hand, the most obvious but probably less important is that I have refined my technical skills, mostly in coding, and have moved greatly to create code-based artworks. I used to play with ray tracers back in the 1990s, to try and emulate the awesome Siggraph pieces I caught a glimpse of in obscure special programs in Spanish national TV; I used to perform my own compositions and record multitrack pieces using traditional recording software on my PC, or I played for hours with Corel PhotoPaint/Photoshop/Gimp with my photographs. But the change of using third-party tools to code my own things has been an important one. To me it is very important to use my own set of tools, my code to allow me to express myself, to be limited only by myself and not by the thinking of someone else. Software encodes knowledge, a given process, a given train of thought, a given culture. If you want to create your own art, to transmit your own message, you need to do so on your own terms.

This is what I started experiencing when I coded weird ways to solve exercises at the university with Matlab, and that I continued with minor experiments with Flash in the early-2000s. The other change, and to me the most important one, is the change in mentality. What has more profoundly changed is that now I believe in myself as an artist. I believe that what I can do may be relevant, not just a nerdy experiment with Matlab, Flash, Processing, or any other tool. That if I want to create some work and have some thoughts around the subject of the artwork, that work and those ideas matter. I don’t know if they matter to everyone, but they matter to me. Acknowledging that is a milestone that probably defines the change from “I’m an engineer working in innovation and strategy who likes creativity” to “I’m an artist.”
JD: I’ve found that NFTs have been a catalyst for that way of thinking for a lot of artists. How did you first discover NFTs?
MSR: I had been increasing my exposure to artists online from mid-2020 onwards, and by late December I saw a considerable number of tweets around a Beeple auction that had been pretty big. That’s when I first read about NFTs. I had been following the blockchain somewhat from my work in innovation and strategy at a large financial institution but hadn’t followed up much and this was new to me. What followed was three months of non-stop research and exploration, reading articles, following relevant people on Twitter, delving into marketplaces, and so on (including some test mints of early iterations of some paint systems), and I thought I had an idea of what this was about. Along this exploration it was great to see artists I was already following, like Dmitri Cherniak, were releasing works in this medium. The vast land of crypto art showed great promise and variety and felt alive with an energy like nothing I had seen before.
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Entretiempos Ropsten #48, 2022..jpeg
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Entretiempos Ropsten #48, 2022.
JD: Alright, let’s get into your Art Blocks project! What was the inspiration for Entretiempos?
MSR: Sonia Delaunay and her amazing works where she uses circles, juxtapositions, geometrical shapes, color! During this past year and a half, I have had the chance to dedicate more time to reading about artists in her period, to visiting their works, to research. There is a connection between Entretiempos and those painters from the first half of the twentieth century, geometrical, theosophists, abstract, cubists, orphists … I still know so little about those currents, I’m pretty sure I’m mixing things here (apologies!). However, there is a clear, recurrent aesthetic that I like that ends up showing in what I create. Most of my generative work is deeply geometrical. Entretiempos emerges from the intersection of concentric rings and the shapes that are formed therein, as an approximation to some of the elements that Sonia Delaunay used in her paintings. While developing the system I started thinking about the time scales that a work is born from. How I saw the system at given moments in time versus how it advanced some weeks or months later. This brought about many thoughts about how the timescale point of view that we choose or that we live in influences completely our perception of reality, which in turn made me add several interactions that let the viewer pause the artwork, see how it paints progressively and by parts, etc. There is also a slight exploration of what happens with the emotions that the artwork may trigger, when the produced image has human-like imperfections or when the image retains all its geometrical purity with machine precision. Potential machine consciousness and emotions are a topic that interests me much: what would a machine feel with these generative works? Whatever “feel” may mean for a machine. I have written a longer piece explaining the origins and thoughts around Entretiempos, in case any reader is interested.
JD: What would you like collectors look for in your Art Blocks project as the series is revealed?
MSR: Most importantly, something they connect to. They can look for the most direct renditions of Delaunay’s work, when the system behaves between certain parameter ranges that yield artworks that more closely resemble those of Sonia, to understand the original motivations behind the project. They can explore the painting-vanishing mode (activated pressing “r” followed by “y”) to see how the artwork is created within small time-scales. They can look for broader expansions of the original concept, when there are small space scales operating, and a tapestry of intersections develops in front of the experimenter. I find it amusing to let the works evolve in front of me as they paint progressively. Sometimes I’ve spent hours looking at the outputs from the generator, pausing in some of them, reloading them, enjoying the paint process. Ah, there is also a hidden Easter egg in every work. There is a hint at that in the article I mentioned where I explain the system in detail.
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Contrapuntos #5, 2021..jpeg
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez, Contrapuntos #5, 2021.
JD: Nice, gotta love Easter eggs. Anything else people should know to better understand your art?
MSR: I must say that I don’t understand very well what I’m doing! So if anyone finds a meaning in all this, please get in touch! Jokes aside (not a joke actually—or just slightly), my work moves all the time between a need that I have for my work to have some aesthetic appeal (to me at least) and the thoughts that come to mind or the inspirations where they come from. Somehow I end up tying some concept to every work I’ve done: from the Delaunay and time-scales concepts in this work, to a series of works that explored how shapes and spaces are generated from pure straight lines (what I called my string theories series), to portraits of emotions (again, the concept of machine emotions, whenever they may come), to musical counterpoint (Contrapuntos, my first long-form generative artwork). So my work is a mixture of all that.
JD: And what’s the best way for people to follow your work moving forward?
MSR: Twitter (@msoriaro), and possibly my website, although the updates are far more frequent on Twitter. From those two sources, my portfolio in different sites is easy to access.
 
First published on 10 February 2022: In Conversation with Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez

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