Born in 1976 in Istanbul, the artist acquired a dual degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering (BS) and Art Theory & Practice - Painting (BA) at Northwestern University. He completed his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Ali Miharbi creates work that takes a variety of forms that range from photographic, graphic, sonic or sculptural pieces to dynamic systems driven by live or stored data. Games with changed rules, machines that scratch, whip, tickle the walls of the exhibition space, or sighing, groaning, whispering air flows are some examples that viewers of his work can encounter. Navigating among social, technical and historical perspectives in a seriously playful manner, Miharbi explores the emergence and evolution of complex systems, our symbiotic relationship with artificial objects and the materiality behind information. He lives and works in Istanbul.
Air Looms consists of frames on which infrared bulbs with local heating features are mounted, and each bulb is adjusted to emit light and heat at different intensities. Each frame creates a distinctive, low-resolution, motionless silhouette of a body through the red light emitted by these bulbs, which are placed like pixels within the frame. The viewer's body is heated to different degrees at different areas depending on the bulb's intensity as it encounters the frames that are dispersed across space.
Air Looms is named after the machine that a patient named James Tilly Matthews believed in the existence of, which was allegedly able to control thoughts and emotions remotely, triggering the patient to see images, as described by John Haslam in Illustrations of Madness dating to 1810. With this case, which is considered to be the first modern form of schizophrenic paranoia, technological advancements, and concepts of the 18th century such as “pneumatic chemistry," “magnetic rays," and “hypnotizing rays” replaced the theological elements of the previous eras. The machine, which was later generalized by Viktor Tausk as the “influencing machine” and reshaped by the social and technological anxieties of the patients, turns into a metaphor for mass media from the mid-20th century onwards. These influencing machines, which are “an awful lot like television”, as pointed out in Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of the Television, evoke the Internet and social media platforms that determine and then aim to direct the users’ emotions, gender, age, locations, etc.
The design and functioning of the work are based on a completely different point of view, using topological maps that relate the body and emotions with cognitive functions linked to emotions, which emerged from the recent findings of a research group in Finland (Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari K. Hietanen). Their conclusion that consciousness and bodily functions are highly intertwined conforms to the intuitions that have been accepted for thousands of years, as notably expressed in poems. The head, chest, and abdomen are where emotions are most intensely staged. The light intensities of the lamps in the frames were adjusted based on these topological maps so that each frame was matched with an emotion. One reason why heat was chosen as the element for this interaction is the link between information and heat: Shannon's Information Theory, which is used today in information technologies, and the theories of Thermodynamics developed in the 19th century to design more efficient steam engines, have an affinity that initially appears to be a resemblance in formulas or analogies, which in fact indicate that computation and erasing information from memory need to emit heat. It is possible to establish similar links between consciousness and the body. The transhumanist dreams of Silicon Valley futurists like Ray Kurzweil to digitize and immortalize our consciousness may seem rational at first, but according to John Gray, they are not much different from the gnosticism of ancient ages. That said, there is research on how the mind functions together with the body and the environment through approaches in neuroscience and philosophy, such as the embodied cognition, extended mind, or enactivism. In addition to all these, heat as a fundamental form of perception, informed the use of the infrared lamps.
In summary, departing from mass media and the manipulation of emotions, Air Looms has been designed with a minimal approach, adopting an open-ended and slightly ironic sensibility instead of commenting directly on the aforementioned concepts.
Air Looms is produced with the support of SAHA Association, within the scope of SAHA Studio program.