Digital Art of “One and Zero Makes Two” Brings Existential Principles to Life

The consumerist approach to the use of technology has entrenched the possibility of a new wholeness in production. The unbalanced effect of this materiality of production on the emotional existence of humans has highlighted the “nothingness” advanced by acts of abundance. The philosophical basis around the idea of ​​absence in the discipline of mathematics has been transcribed digitally with the numbers “0” and “1”. In other words, zero denotes emptiness and one denotes presence. With the advent of the digital coding system, these numbers were then put to good use to help the machine understand its precious meaning.Turkish new media artist Cem Sonel with his latest exhibition One and zero make two à Anna Laudel in Istanbul extends the investigation of these existential concepts of existence and non-existence with serial digital installations, mural art and graffiti art. Sonel’s practice is a response to the binaries, not opposed but complementary, absolute-abstract, absent-present, punctuating everyday life in the streets.




One and zero make two, 2022 Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


In an interview with STIR, Sonel shares how the relationship between forgetfulness and mindfulness is a topic he’s been considering for a while now. “What we consider to be-non-existence, to be-non-to-be, or 1-0, as opposites are in fact complementary to each other. This seemingly simple relationship in practice is a source of code that creates reality we live in and the sub-realities it covers. This relationship, which contains many deep meanings, has been created in such a way that it has worked on all levels of my life. In my own practice, I decided to research this relationship by visualizing it through a project I named Conquest Code,” he says. Having used a variety of techniques to create the works, exhibit them, incorporate them into research and experimentation, the visual artist explains that these have led to the emergence of a “series of works that I believe to be a representation of modern times, consisting of digital 1s and 0s on which today’s computer technology relies, as well as analog 1s and 0s generated with traditional methods that I create simultaneously on the same plan without denying the existence of the other, an existence that I call semi-digital.



Installation view, one and zero make two |  One and zero make two |  STIRworld
installation view, One and zero make two Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


A guided tour of the single exhibition might seem, as if the viewer were looking at the two different sets of works or experiencing both exhibitions at the same time: one devoted to mural and street production; the second dedicated to digital works. But the artist maintains that all the productions come from the street where he spends a considerable amount of time. Digitally used LED signs are a material used for advertising or as street signs. At some point, says Sonel, “I realized I could hack those traffic signs. This new field of application that I discovered outdoors aroused my interest. Just as a graffiti artist leaves their tag on the wall with spray paint, I too can leave my tag on a digital sign using a flash disk. We can consider the transformation you mentioned as a new generation of street art adapted to today’s technology.



Cem Sonel artist |  One and zero make two |  STIRworld
Cem Sonel Artist Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


The game of street productions and digital series could appear as polar opposites in appearance, but Sonel affirms it, “but (they) feed on this contrast without rejecting each other; considering the street as the ground – i.e. “zero” – and the fact that the exhibition is located on the “first” floor of the gallery by chance, I thought One and zero make two would be a good reference in all respects, and that is how he manifested himself.

Installation Data Tesseract, made of led panel, computer code, plexiglass, suspended from the roof of the art gallery highlights the visual explorations of an intellectual journey undertaken by Sonel. “Most of the time, instead of creating an image in my mind, I research what an idea will look like when viewed. For example, Data Tesseract is a visual experiment in an attempt to perceive what the fourth dimension might look like. I was only able to see the results of the reflections in the work after it was fully revealed. Results like these also open new doors for my future productions.



Cem Sonel, Loading…, 2020, LED, Neon painting on MDF, Plexi |  STIRworld
Cem Sonel, Loading…, 2020, LED, Neon painting on MDF, Plexi Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


Since the artist draws his inspiration from fields such as mathematics, physics, psychology and philosophy, he is aware of the fact that the works determined by these disciplines are not yet easy to perceive. Not just for viewers, but sometimes Sonel struggles to translate the science of numbers, balance equations, and the logic of philosophical concepts into a tangible art form. At this point, intuition and emotions come into play to communicate with the viewer.



Detail view of First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, LED- Neon Paint on MDF, Cem Sonel |  STIRworld
Detailed view of First Daughter of the Conquest, 2019, LED – Neon painting on MDF Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


“If I said that the works I create using dots are based on cellular automaton-like algorithms, the public would have to have pre-existing information about such algorithms. However, I want every viewer to feel some intuitive inferences like I felt on this journey. Sonel opines that if he had his way of mentioning the success of takeaways to the public after viewing his works, “I would say acknowledging science as a research method instead of art.”



Cem Sonel, First Daughter of Conquest, 2019, Led and neon painting on MDF |  One and zero make two |  STIRworld
Cem Sonel, First Daughter of the Conquest, 2019, Led and Neon painting on MDF Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel and Cem Sonel


Christopher S. Washington