UCLA Newsroom video

At 29, digital media artist Refik Anadol has already succeeded in manipulating the dimensions of space, imagery, light and sound to enthrall audiences with breathtaking, live audio/visual performances. The recent graduate of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture has used culturally important buildings as his canvas for outsized video projections that undulate, collapse, merge, morph and collide fantastically to an accompanying soundscape.

He did it first in 2009 as a visual design student at Bilgi University in Istanbul, Turkey, when he mesmerized a live audience with “Quadrature,” his first public exhibition. He projected ever-changing geometric forms on the rectangular walls of Istanbul’s SantralIstanbul Museum of Contemporary Arts that reacted to a pulsing, percussion-rich background of sound. Other visual spectacles followed, each more powerful than the next.

Refik Anado

Now Anadol is on the verge of creating another immersive experience — combining architecture, music, design and art inside Walt Disney Concert Hall — that was conceived, developed and refined at UCLA with the help of principal faculty mentor Casey Reas, professor of design media arts; a graduate student in architecture; and a cadre of undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Design Media Arts.

“It’s very, very exciting, super-exciting … too much excitement,” Anadol said, with a nervous laugh in a video interview with UCLA Broadcast Studio associate producer John Vande Wege.

On Thursday night, Anadol will dazzle an audience in Walt Disney Concert Hall with an explosion of images, projected in and perfectly aligned with the interior spaces. The images will respond both to music as it’s being played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and to the gestures and body language of conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, through motion-tracking technology. This extraordinary performance of Edgard Varèse’s “Amériques” will be repeated Friday evening.

“It’s not something that is prerecorded, but something that only can happen at that moment,” said Anadol , an idea that delighted Salonen. “He really enjoyed that his reactions are becoming visible in a very organic … [and] poetic, visual way.” 

When he came to UCLA in 2012 to enroll in an MFA program in the Department of Design Media Arts, Anadol already “had a strong body of work,” recalled Reas, one of many faculty members who contributed to the project. “It’s been a matter of honing it and taking it further while he’s been here at UCLA. Our faculty in the Department of Design Media Arts has a broad range of experience. So this idea of mixing projected imagery at the scale of architecture and installation is part of our culture here.”

The project has also provided a unique learning experience for a rotating cast of undergraduate and graduate students who have worked side by side with Anadol at their computers; 13 design media arts students worked throughout last summer with him.

“I did my best to teach them [about] the tools we are using and the advanced technical details that are necessary to create such high-end results. It was wonderful communication, and we had great energy,” Anadol said.

He found that “It was the perfect moment for them to learn how to use these tools in a practical way. I had great support from them because, otherwise, it would have been really hard to do.”

Anadol’s next “canvas” for his digital art may be the iconic exterior of Disney Hall. The concept of connecting images playing on the outside of the building with the music being played inside the building took shape when he saw Disney Hall for that first time. That project became the basis for his master’s thesis, “Ethereal.”

It could be the next step in his life’s quest to push the boundaries of perception.

The video above, by Vande Wege, explains and illuminates how Anadol plans to transform Disney Hall and give audiences a new cinematic and musical experience.