Robert B. Lisek is an artist, mathematician, and performance artist who focuses on the artistic development and design of calculation systems and processes, as well as on their application in analysing biological and social phenomena.
His creative output extends over such fields as conceptual art, hacktivism, tactical media, software art, sound art, noise, bio art, art&science, as well as critical and intervention art. Projects and research devoted to bioengineering, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence systems, and transhumanist philosophy occupy a special place in Lisek's practice. As a scientist, he concentrates on complexity theory, category theory, and theory of partially ordered sets.
Lisek is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. He received his diploma from the workshop of Prof. Konrad Jarodzki in 1996. One year later, he also completed his studies at the University of Wrocław, where he defended a thesis written at the Faculty of Logic, under the supervision of Prof. Jacek Hawranek. In 2015, he received a doctoral degree from the University of Arts in Poznań (advisor: Prof. Jarosław Kozłowski).
Lisek has received numerous awards, for instance at ARCO Art Fair in Madrid (for the project NEST) and at ACM Media Festival in Tokyo (for the installation Flextext). He has had solo shows in, among others, Germany, the Netherlands, United States, Spain, Japan, and Poland.
As the artist writes:
My main area of interest is comprehending how the human brain functions. I also work with evolving biological systems, such as viruses and simple organisms with a nervous system. I am interested in the mutual relationship between mathematics and art. Some of my projects are concerned with collective intelligence, i.e., a space where values are not generated by a single subject, but by a large number of players, for example, the stock exchange. I develop methods of analysis and processing large sets of data. In my projects, I use various techniques of machine learning. This category also includes projects that test the issues of security, terrorism, and emergence of social conflicts. I ask questions about activity, control, and power in societies in which the flux of data and people plays a dominant role.1
In his practice, Lisek often applies his programming skills, which in his hands become hacktivist tools. His projects NEST (2008) and CRASH (2010) were based on his auteur software, which downloads and analyses data from open access databases.
The focus of NEST – a Citizens' Intelligence Agency – is an analysis of collections derived from very diverse sources, which are later visualised in the form of multidimensional graphs. This process reveals links between individual persons, groups, or documents reflected in the retrieved data. NEST may be perceived from both the perspective of tactical media practices and social critique. In this project, Lisek provides his audience with a tool allowing the investigatation of issues of security and privacy in a network society, and at the same time makes a reference to systems employed by secret intelligence services.
CRASH, on the other hand, is based on actions of an Internet bot designed by the artist which surfs the web in search of information relating to accidents and disasters. Next, the program generates visualizations revealing hidden connections between individual events, presenting complex correlations between political and economic facts, and natural disasters, in the form of graphs.
Biotechnology and tactical media
Lisek also employs biotechnological tools. As part of his project SPECTRUM (2008), he biologically created an Escherichia Coli bacterium which was able to rapidly reproduce and spread in water. During an exhibition at Leto Gallery in Warsaw, he presented the possible scenario of a bioterrorist attack on Warsaw, featuring the new bacterium, which was to populate across the water supply and sewerage system. In this work, he clearly hinted at lab-based practices, which – when used in a specific way in a real life situation – pose a threat to human life on Earth. In his piece CAPITAL (2011), on the other hand, Lisek fused his own DNA, retrieved from his saliva, with a genetic code of various viruses, thus creating a new code of a hybrid, non-living organism.
Robert Lisek is particularly interested in random processes, which he uses in constructing artificial intelligence prototypes and concepts or unbreakable encryption keys. QUANTUM RANDOM GENERATOR (2015) is a work essentially based on the unpredictable process of a radioactive material's decay. Through his interpretation of the quantum mechanics formula, Lisek creates the concept of a possible perfect cryptographic key. After extracting a particle from a lead container, he evaluates the gamma radiation generated by it, with the use of a Geiger counter, thus receiving an unpredictable random sequence of numbers. He then encodes them and sends out an undecipherable message to different headquarters of foreign intelligence agencies.
All of Robert B. Lisek's works present a critique of contemporary post-technological culture, guided by a variety of political and economical processes. While applying programming tools, but also strictly mathematical concepts, the artist tries to unveil dangerous situations that emerge in a networked society, in which specific technologies and scientific achievements are often hidden from the society by political and economic powers.
author: Michał Krawczak, transl. AM, April 2016
1 Robert B. Lisek, “Jak działa mózg? Uwagi o matematyce i sztuce,” in Sztuka i technologia w Polsce. Od cyberkomunizmu do kultury makerów, ed. Agnieszka Jelewska (Poznań: Wydawnictwo UAM, 2014), 207. URL: http://hatcenter.amu.edu.pl/publikacje/art-and-technology-in-poland/