Code, vision, infinity: An interview with Pavel Karafiát

Pavel Karafiat
Pavel Karafiát (1982) is a digital designer and developer who also works in the field of media art. He is based in Prague, Czech Republic. With a background in engineering (Master degree from University of Applied Science) and philosophy, he is trying to fill the gap between computation, interaction and aesthetics. Multidisciplinarity and „antidisciplinarity“ are important aspects of his work. For several years, he has worked with the development platform vvvv for creating real-time graphics, light projections, interactive installations and software prototypes. He is also part of the Prague Lunchmeat collective. He was nominated into SHAPE by MeetFactory, where he is presenting his installation Landscape between 3 September and 31 October 2015.

I read that you are into multidisciplinarity but so called “antidisciplinarity” is also important for you. Can you explain it?

Pavel Karafiát: I don’t have an artistic background. I studied engineering and now I try to overlap more fields together – technology, science, design and art. I like to do interactive installations and put together very different disciplines. It doesn’t mean that I do everything. I like to stay on the border of these disciplines and remain open-minded.

Could you describe some of your works in more detail ?

PK: One of my interactive installations is called Little Boxes. I’m cooperating on it with Bego Santiago, and I’m responsible for the development and visual part. This installation is made of visual hi-res loops from real artists-actors, 3D interactive projection and space. Another installation I made was together with Tomáš Vavříček. We are interested in sacral spaces and religion and made an installation called “Plice”, which means “lungs” in English. This installation works with empty spaces which we are filled with light from projectors. Everything is controlled by the human breath, it is a very intimate installation.

Are you also interested in the philosophical and spiritual side of this? 

PK: I studied philosophy of science for two years. The influence of philosophy is indirect, you can’t see it in the work itself. Spirituality and a certain spiritual view are important to me. The topics of numinosity, infinity, the unknown and extraterrestrial are important inspirational sources. I believe that valuable inspiration doesn’t come just from surroundings, but also from the depth of one’s existence.

You start working from the conceptual side then?

PK: I´m not working in the field of conceptual art, but I like it if the things I’m working on have some more background and meaning. It’s also the reason why I like to work for galleries because it is possible to do more complex things.

What would you say is the driving force, the main thing that pushes your work?

PK: One is aesthetic. I really like to do aesthetic design, the second influence is technology. I’m working with a very special development environment called vvvv, a hybrid textual and visual language for creating generated visuals, interactive installations and physical computer visions.

Also the code is something that seems crucial for your work.

PK: Yes. The important term here is generative design, it means that I don’t use classical mechanical or digital tools, but a code, set of rules and algorithms.

Do you think that anything is possible with a code?

PK: The code in design is primarily good for repetitive tasks, in fields, where manual labour wouldn’t be possible. The code is useful if you want to do something unusual, from the very basics, and do it completely differently than usual. It enables you to better understand the principles, on which, for instance, computer graphics are built upon. In many cases, you are only coming up with something that has already been done before and as an individual, cannot compete with the complexity and precision of ready-made software.

You start from the code, which is as if you started from the text, from which the artwork appears. Lot of people do not have this intermediary. I guess it’s a different way of working.

PK: And also a difficult way of working because you really have to split your mind and work process and waste time with mathematics and coding, trial and error. Then if you create something, you have to turn on your aesthetical mind and find what is working and what is not. It’s a totally different and huge area which you have to move in.

But for you, this is a more satisfying way of working?

PK: Yes, I like this way of working because I’m not trapped in a box or some conservative way of thinking. I like to explore new areas and this discipline is really good for this.

Do you think that one day everyone will be able to create everything for themselves and write code?

PK: I don’t think it’ a good idea because I like the fact that people are totally different and everybody is good at something else. And this is why it’s good to collaborate because everybody can put some piece together to make the whole thing more complex and human. But with or without code, the creative process is much easier than ever before.

Would you say there is a community of audiovisual artists in Prague?

PK: In Prague and the Czech Republic, there are many interesting artists. I mostly know those who work with digital media and light, and in this field, Dan Gregor and the former MACULA are inspiring, as is Prokop Bartoníček, David Vrbík, the group Moire and Dušan Urbanec, the live coding group Kolektiv, Andrej Boleslavský and CIANT, Richard Loskot, Michal Puštějovský, Jan Šrámek, Jakub Nepraš, former MIMO-TV and others. Important for me is the local collective Lunchmeat, because the shared background and mutual confrontation always pushes us forward. Jan Matoušek did an excellent overview of this scene in the publication Město jako médium (The City As a Medium). In the past few years, David Beránek was also organising events called Bulva Fabula. The good thing about Prague is its location close to Berlin and not far from London either. And thanks to this, the most interesting artists of the field are able to come to Prague to events like the Lunchmeat or Signal festivals.

Your installation Landscape, which you will present at MeetFactory in Prague, revolves around artificial worlds. Could you talk in more detail about it?

PK: The installation Landscape can be seen at MeetFactory between 3 September and 31 October. Due to the small space, I decided to rework the installation. Instead of a quadrophonic sound and massive projection, I set the result into virtual reality. Glasses and headphones will become the gates into a different world. Thanks to a technology called Oculus, this relatively science fiction like experience will become something accessible to public. The landscapes, which I could previously only show in traditional framing, now encircle you in the field of view.