DigitalFruit- Michael Mesiats

DigitalFruit is an interview series from Adafruit showcasing some of our favorite digital fine artists from around the world. As we begin this new decade with its rapidly changing landscape, we must envision our path through a different lens.  Over the next few weeks we’ll feature many innovative perspectives and techniques that will inspire our maker community to construct a bold creative frontier.  The only way is forward.

1. Where are you based?

I am based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

2. Tell us about your background?

I was born in 1989 in Belgorod, a small town in central Russia. My parents were not artists but they were kind and caring people, for which I am very grateful to them. I was an introvert and preferred to spend time in imagined worlds of Lego, my drawings and toys. I always liked to explore the world around me and see how everything worked. So in school, I was passionate about chemistry and later entered a local university to study chemical technology.

At first I was really passionate about science. But it turned out that real science is an endless reading of boring articles in scientific journals and a repetition of monotonous experiments that lead nowhere.

During this period, I also studied music, traveled a bit, met creative people and discovered a completely different view of life. 

While I was in graduate school, I worked part-time as a sound engineer. Later on, I worked in a nightclub, where I engaged in lighting and was partly a VJ.

During this period, I often had a desire to quit graduate school, but I managed to finish my dissertation in between work and receive my Ph.D in Technic.

At this point, I was able to fulfill my old dream and move to St. Petersburg, a city that attracts creative people from all over Russia. By chance, I met my friend, the technical director of a small company, who needed a person who could be a VJ and also understand the technical side. From that moment, I started to incorporate creative work into my main profession.

Back in the days when I started to become involved in video and lighting, one of my friends told me about the Quartz Composer visual programming environment. In the beginning, I just created a funny glitches. I used to shoot flowers and various objects. I tried mixing these images and generative graphics to give my artwork the feeling of a living organic being. Later on, I went deeper into generative visuals and began to perceive myself as an artist with my own unique style.

In the past, when I lived in Belgorod, I had my own small house outside the city, surrounded by nature and a garden with flowers. When I started with lights, I experimented a little with photography and did a series of work with flowers and plastic objects in LED light.

Later, when I experimented with Quartz Composer, I used photos as a source material to my full-length generative artwork called “Perception Vortex”.

In 2018 at the St. Petersburg Light Festival I made graphics and sound for 3D mapping. Then I participated in several more festivals and exhibitions. From that moment I started my career as a video artist. I already had serious work experience and I got a job at the world famous Mariinsky Theatre as a video engineer. I was surrounded by art with two hundred years of history: classical operas and world famous ballets. I worked on dozens of performances and I saw how the video in theatre was made, and I understood the technical and creative details.

My environment inspired me to participate in the Digital Opera competition, where young video artists had to create a work using sketches of scenery for a baroque theatre. I did the multimedia performance Remember Me, based on the baroque opera Dido & Aeneas, and although I did not win, my work was highly appreciated and noticed by famous theatre directors and then I received an offer to completely create the graphics for the ballet at the Mariinsky, which I could not even dream of. The premiere of the performance took place on March 13, 2020. Soon after that, quarantine was announced in Russia due to coronavirus and we were all locked at home.

3.  What inspires your work?

This is a difficult question that I figured out myself not so long ago. I watch a lot of visual content and if something catches me, I look to see how it’s done: learning new techniques and watching tutorials. But inspiration only comes if I have enough creative energy. Therefore, I love to walk around the city or spend time in nature. I am always inspired by nature, organic forms, especially flowers. It charges me like a battery and even the most difficult issues are solved and new ideas come by themselves. That’s the whole trick.

4.  What are you currently working on?

Since the beginning of quarantine and for 4 months now, I have been working on the Flowerspace project together with the dance group SDVIG and the composer Symphocat. We set an ambitious task to capture the dancers movements and transform them into the shape of a flower blooming in space. Nowadays it is quite difficult to show video installations in a traditional format in a specially designated space on a large screen. I think we will use augmented reality technology or XR to reach our viewers.

At the same time, every few days I try to make several generative sketches and post them on social networks.

5.  Describe your process and what tools you like to use.

As I already wrote, I like the visual programming node systems. I used to work with Quartz Composer but it’s deprecated and no longer supported on newer operating systems. I found a replacement for it with Touchdesigner. This is an amazing program! I can work with graphics, sound, interactive systems and sensors, all in one environment. Touchdesigner is quite beginner-friendly, but when I mastered the built-in Python scripts, really fantastic opportunities opened up for me. In my last project, I focused on the connection between different media and how dance affects the graphics, graphics control the sound and the sound moves the dancer.

I’ve also been making music with Ableton Live for many years now. I have used several MIDI controllers, but now I mainly use a compact Keith McMillen k-board. I went through a lot of virtual tools and chose from them a few that I liked. They make up my virtual studio, so everything I need is within my laptop.

6.  What does your workplace or studio look like? Do you work in silence or listen to music while you work?

Ever since I got my MacBook back in 2014, I’ve started to value mobility and the ability to work anywhere. My studio is a laptop and headphones. I can work at home in the bedroom, or in the theatre, while I have free time. Although, I am not the type to hang out in Starbucks with a coffee and a laptop- I cannot work in crowded or noisy places.

Music is very important to me, so I cannot take it as a background for work. I usually listen to something related to the current project, or choose silence. Very rarely do I improvise without a special purpose in Touchdesigner and listen to something from the old IDM or ambient.

7.  How has technology shaped your creative vision?

Technology has radically changed my life. I remember the time before the Internet: it was very boring. The Internet has expanded my ideas about art and music and connected me with interesting people. Without a computer, I would be like an classic artist without paints. All that I would like to do would remain unfulfilled in my head. I am very glad that now is the time for people like me. We don’t need canvas, workshop, studio or showroom. We can create our works anywhere in the world and instantly share them with people who are really interested in it. I am delighted with technology, but I am often afraid of the capabilities of AI: what kind of power it represents and whom this power will belong to.

8.  Any tips for someone interested in getting started in the digital art form?

Now is a truly magical time- learning new things has become incredibly easy. You can find an endless number of tutorials on any topic. It is impossible to immediately learn any program or tool. Just learn enough to start playing with it and have fun. Look for something that you’re in love with and out of this, your style in art will form like a mosaic.

9.  Where do you see generative and digital art heading in the future?

I think in the future all digital art will be more or less generative. With the development of artificial intelligence and neural networks, artists will have more and more convenient tools that will perform technical work much better than humans. I think there will also be new interfaces that will make new forms of creativity possible, which we cannot even dream of now. Maybe the combination of these possibilities will give us a new digital reality, in which the entire creative process will take place.

Michael Mesiats



DigitalFruit is curated by Adafruit lead photographer- Andrew Tingle


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