interviews
Interview
Digital

Antoine Schmitt

Programming as a material has marked a turning point in History, as important as Gutenberg inventing printing. For the first time in the History of Art, a material is active.

After having been a programming engineer specialising in human-machine relations in Silicon Valley, today Antoine Schmitt is an artist using computer programming as a raw material in his work. He is presenting Prévisible – hétérotopies#2 (2019) at CHRONIQUES, the Biennale of Digital Imagination.

Updated on 18/12/2020

5 min

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Antoine Schmitt
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Antoine Schmitt ©Antoine Schmitt

You graduated from Télecom Paris (formerly the école nationale supérieure des télécommunications), became a programming engineer in human-machine relations and are an artificial intelligence specialist, but today you are a visual artist. Tell us about your journey.

When I was I teenager I came across a material that I could relate to: computer programming. I started by programming video games and maths programs. I became an engineer and worked in Silicon Valley, in Steve Jobs’ company. I was interested in human-machine dialogues in the widest sense: graphic interfaces (windows, mice), artificial intelligence, etc. Like a designer has to design objects that can be used, an engineer must make software programs that can be used. It’s an ontological limit of the profession, which constrains creation. I encountered the world of art in 1994 through people I knew. I resigned from my job, came back to France and decided to become an artist! 

How do your past professional experience and affinity with computer programming influence your work as an artist today?

I program all my works myself. When I think of a work, I know how to produce it. I manipulate the program like a sculptor manipulates modelling clay. My scientific rigour also influences the creation. I tend to produce finished works rather than explore a creative process. Programming is a very versatile material. My subjects deal with movement processes and programming is perfect for that: there’s a real harmony between the material and the subject. 

What new fields of reflection do digital tools allow?

Programming as a material has marked a turning point in History, as important as Gutenberg inventing printing. For the first time in the History of Art, a material is active. It transforms the way we communicate between humans and shakes up our relationship with knowledge. We all have an active relationship with the world through our telephone, via apps that are programmed. The spectator is confronted with an active medium, which acts and reacts, like how someone using a smartphone is confronted with active media, as opposed to someone at the cinema watching a static work, from the point of view that it will never change. With programs, the material becomes active, it starts a dialogue with the viewer, interacts. This is radically new, both for the viewer and the creator. For the viewer, there is a physical relationship with the medium, anchored in the present moment experienced.

You’re described as a “movement artist”. How would you describe your work?

I’m interested in movement in the broadest sense: movement of the galaxies, particles, people, thoughts, crowds. What interests me in these movements is the relationship between what causes the movements and their forms: “why it moves, and how it moves”.

Being able to project yourself into the future and predict can modify current actions. As such I wanted to create an emotional link between the viewer and the future.

You’re presenting Prévisible – hétérotopies#2 (2019) at CHRONIQUES, the Biennale of Digital Imagination. Tell us about this work. 

Prévisible – hétérotopies#2 is an interactive and generative audiovisual installation that plunges viewers into potential futures of the earth’s climate. This work is based on scientific climate models produced by the GeographR laboratory, which is studying the future of the climate in the region of Aix-en-Provence, and particularly the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. The work is presented as a projection presenting the region in 3D relief. The viewer is invited to press a button in front of the screen, which starts time. The film lasts for two minutes, and launches the viewer into the next eighty years, sped up. The 3D relief deforms under the influence of temperatures and rain forecast for these dates in the future, according to the scientific climate models. 

How did your collaboration with GeographR come about? How do you want viewers to react? 

I was contacted by the M-topia association that puts scientists and artists in contact with each other to carry out collaborative projects. This is how the GeographR laboratory brought the studies on the future climate models to me. I’m interested in movement and what causes it. Being able to project yourself into the future and predict can modify current actions. As such I wanted to create an emotional link between the viewer and the future. 

How does the work Prévisible-hétérotopies#2 echo the theme of the Biennale Chroniques: Eternity? 

The work is anchored in the future and asks the question of another climate destiny, as well as a potential ending. The work is a little dramatic in that the planet never comes out unscathed, whatever model is used. But it’s a work that starts over permanently. It induces a sort of eternity, where we look into all futures possible.

Do you think that your work can have an impact on that of scientists or engineers?

I think that my work potentially allows scientific approaches to be more accessible to the general public. I presented Prévisible-hétérotopies#2 during the online Mitimpact symposium, the theme of which was: “The effects of air pollution and climate change on Mediterranean forests”, and the scientific audience were really interested in it. 

You have worked with other artists, such as the performer Hortense Gauthier on the ExoLove (2019) project, an interactive performance between a human and an artificial creature. How are your collaborations with other artists or scientists constructed? 

First of all it’s a question of intellectual affinities and encounters about subjects we share an interest in. As for ExoLove, we are continuing to work more with this piece, as the subject can be based on neuroscience. We are looking for scientists working with the subject of pleasure as a driving force of life. The idea is to take the opposing view to artificial intelligence and observe that the relationships between living beings are linked more to pleasure than intelligence. The idea is to design a machine that has artificial pleasure. This opens the door to empathy between machine and human.

What are your upcoming projects?

Beyond the ExoLove (2019) piece that I continue to go deeper into with Hortense Gauthier, I’m working on a new piece with the musician Franck Vigouroux, who I’ve already worked with on Chronostasis (2018). I’m also preparing a personal exhibition at the Charlot Gallery in May 2021 where I’m exhibiting new works that are more museum-like, as well as an exhibition at the “Les Eglises” Arts Centre in Chelles in May 2021, with three main interactive installations.

The Institut français and the artist

With the installation Prévisible – hétérotopies#2 (2019), Antoine Schmitt is programmed as part of Chroniques, the Biennale of Digital Imagination (taking place from 12 November 2020 to 17 January 2021). The Institut français is a partner of Chroniques with the Focus digital arts and creations. 

Find out more about the Focus digital arts and creations 

L'institut français, LAB