As twilight gave way to dusk across campus, the thousand people gathered in concentric arcs in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden shared an awestruck silence. On a giant screen in front of them, wavelike forms shape-shifted into explosions of brilliant colors that danced in rhythm to the sounds of the sea and crescendoing strings.

The dynamic multimedia installation “Moment of Reflection” — created by UCLA alumnus and media artist Refik Anadol using millions of images of the natural world — invited attendees to transcend their surroundings and contemplate the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on their lives.

“There are times when the language of art can speak to us most deeply,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said as he addressed those gathered. The special evening ceremony was designed to allow members of the Bruin community and the public to take stock of the toll of the pandemic and remember those we’ve lost. “It can allow us to hear what is in our hearts, and it can help us understand what we need in order to heal.”

Block expressed gratitude for the diverse audience of students, faculty, staff and visitors and extended a special welcome to the families and loved ones of those who died during the past two years. Acknowledging that the pandemic affected everyone differently, Block encouraged each person to explore the ideas and emotions Anadol’s work provoked and inspired.

“I would not presume to know your feelings that you may have when you think back over the past two years,” he said. “Loss, gratitude, sorrow, anger, hope, determination, admiration. You may feel all, some or none of these things, but regardless of what you’re feeling, we want this space to allow you the space for reflection and renewal. We want this space to serve you.”

Anadol created the multisensory experience that commemorates the beauty of nature as something that could aid in our collective renewal through the power of art. Anadol and the team of artists, architects, data scientists and researchers (half of whom are Bruins) who together make up Refik Anadol Studio, created the data sculpture especially for the UCLA campus by feeding machine-learning algorithms a dataset of more than 300 million photographs of nature, including landscapes, flowers, trees, clouds, water, lakes and the ocean. These massive and publicly available data sets, which Anadol refers to as “memories of humanity,” are the foundation of what the artificial intelligence learns in order to “dream” of nature from an alternative perspective — or what the artist calls “the mind of a machine.”

“I’m very happy to say that at UCLA ... during these hard days, we find a way, a light, to interact with the challenges in life and create art that hopefully touches our minds and soul,” said Anadol, who earned a master of fine arts degree from UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts, where he currently serves as a lecturer. “Light — a theme in my work — can be seen as a universal symbol for hope and unity. And tonight I would like to lead our community in a thoughtful demonstration that plays on this theme of light and connection. You were each given a bag upon arrival."

As he said that, the guests removed palm-sized orbs that lit up, creating a sea of points of light.

"I would like to give a moment ... to recognize light and unity altogether as a community.”