Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > How To Lounge> Art & Culture > The future of tech-art is human

The future of tech-art is human

In the new chapter of tech-based art, poets, illustrators and others are using technology only as an enabler to highlight issues

'Hyve' by Varun Desai. Image: courtesy The India Art Fair
'Hyve' by Varun Desai. Image: courtesy The India Art Fair

Listen to this article

Varun Desai’s Kolkata studio is like a techno-den. There are a myriad tools—from synthesisers to 3D printers—which aid his practice, spanning music production, engineering, creative coding and immersive art. In recent years, his arsenal has expanded to include LiDAR scanning and iPad Pro, which he calls a flexible software sketchbook. On some days, he can be found animating lines; on other days, creating optical art GIFs and sound-mapping rooms.

Desai uses code as his primary tool, like a painter uses a brush, to talk about heritage, transition and different states of being. His latest immersive work, Dimorphism, is inspired by the scientific term used to describe sexual dimorphism—or how the males and females of a species have different characteristics. “If you look at the word itself, it means something that moves between two states. I am using this word artistically to express how human beings are morphing between material and digital realities,” he says.

In Mumbai, Mira Felicia Malhotra, graphic designer-illustrator and principal designer, Studio Kohl, is experimenting with Augmented Reality (AR) to make feminist themes accessible and palatable to people. Her illustrations draw the eye with their vibrant colours, incorporating references from alternative culture. In the latest series, Log Kya Kahenge, she taps into personal experiences as well as the work of psychologists Richard Schwartz and Salvador Minuchin on family systems to create layered narratives on gender roles. One gets to observe complex family dynamics in these animated videos—something a static illustration might not have been able to capture.

Also read: Pushpamala: The original disruptor

Technology is often considered cold and impersonal. And more so in the art space, where digital artists are perceived as these anonymous beings, hiding behind codes and programmes, letting the software and gadgets take over and creating a work of their own within certain set parameters. Who, then, is the creator—tech or human? This has emerged as a heated debate in the last two years.

However, as the tech-digital art space—spanning Virtual Reality (VR) and AR, immersive soundscapes, Artificial Intelligence (AI)—continues to evolve at a fast pace, newer trends and ideas are emerging within this field. Artists are now reclaiming their agency, using technology merely as an enabler, a tool. So you have poets, illustrators, philosophers, musicians exploring tech-based art to highlight very humane issues of gender, heritage, memory and erasure. In this new, and welcome, chapter of digital art, human intervention and the voice of the artist is adding an intimacy to the artwork.


Now there are residencies and platforms encouraging artists to express their distinctive voice while navigating the world of digital and tech art. Take, for instance, the India Art Fair’s first edition of the Digital Artists-in-Residence series, which showcases the latest work by Malhotra and Desai, and the poet-digital artist Gaurav Ogale. All the art has been made on iPad Pro in response to the theme, Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary, and is being shown at the ongoing edition of the Fair. The residency’s hybrid format has allowed artists to ideate and create on the move. Artists got to create between November-February, turning wherever they happened to be into a studio.

'Mewad Space Station' by Mira Felicia Malhotra. Image: courtesy The India Art Fair
'Mewad Space Station' by Mira Felicia Malhotra. Image: courtesy The India Art Fair

In 2021-22 , the Serendipity Arts Foundation started the Serendipity Virtual Arts Grant to support artists innovating digitally. The fifth physical edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival, held in Goa recently, had a wide variety of tech-based practices in projects like Somewhere Ethereal. An NFT (non-fungible token) exhibition concept by Mathieu Wothke/Somewhere Art presented six works from some of the most popular digital artists, such as Luna Ikuta, Snowfro, Six N. Five and Maalavidaa, who coexisted in the physical space and explored what NFTs could be—from CGI (computer-generated imagery) to generative art and digital art. “The support we are extending to tech-based art projects is both natural and deliberate as the concentration of such work will potentially increase in the days to come,” says Smriti Rajgarhia, director, Serendipity Arts Foundation and Festival. “The degree of diverse collaboration in digital and tech-based arts is quite wide, allowing artists to expand their creative universe and degree of experimentation.”

Also read: Lisa Ray’s new NFT platform promises to be your art sherpa

The Delhi-based Gujral Foundation too has chosen an AI-driven project by multidisciplinary artist Raghava K.K. to mark its 15th year. Titled The Impossible Bouquet, the solo show is being presented in association with the Dubai-based art gallery Volte Art Projects at 24, Jor Bagh till 16 February. It engages with the prompt, “Can we shape our collective futures using this disruption as a springboard?” While Raghava has used AI as a tool to create this ebullient series, he has harked back to his training as a painter to add artistic flourishes to the work.

According to Feroze Gujral, founder and director of The Gujral Foundation, the world is at a curious, playful stage when it comes to technology-driven art. However, there are niggling worries about issues of dissent and consent, discrimination, marginalisation, copyright. “The biggest worry is that we have created this monster and how do we control it. I think the human element will help rein that in,” she says.

In The Impossible Bouquet, the artist has created works and offered them to AI to respond with variations, alterations and unusual inputs. “You have to look closer to understand where the artist begins and where the AI intercepts. If you ask an AI something in language, you get a response in the same. Here, Raghava has fed visuals and got a visual response. I know that the larger conversation is about being for or against technology but I think a lot of it depends on how an artist uses it. Raghava has enhanced the AI response by adding paint to the artwork,” says Gujral, who likes the idea of pushing artists, inspired by her late father-in-law Satish Gujral, who was never hindered by boundaries.


How can you bring concepts, which have so far remained in the academic realm, into everyday discourse? For Malhotra, AR offered the perfect solution. “However, I wanted to use the medium correctly, as opposed to as a gimmick,” she says. Malhotra looked at three nuclear families to understand how individual expression is suppressed. The AR contains clues to what the families are going through, leaving a lot to the interpretation of the viewer.

Also read: Creating the ground for Dalit queer art

For this, Malhotra researched family systems theories, concepts of enmeshment, gender bias, of feeling trapped. “But these are not presented in a formal way. The works almost trick you into coming closer and then observing the behind-the-scenes. In one AR piece, you see a newly married couple. Though the mother-in-law has passed away, she is present in a frame at the back, completely enmeshed with her son. Meanwhile, his wife remains afraid of the ghost in the frame,” explains Malhotra. “In another one, parents become so focused on a child’s achievements that they don’t even realise that their son has faded into the background. At one point, he is solely present as noise, with only his trophies sparkling.

Memory and nostalgia have emerged as strong themes in this new phase of tech-based art. It is quite interesting that something as futuristic as technology is being used to examine the past. This aspect is particularly evident, for one, in Ogale’s practice. Shapes, smells and objects of his childhood, spent in Mumbai and Pune—his grandfather’s geometry box, a photograph of his grandmother and sister—inspire his digital collages. “Everything that you confront or fight for as you grow older is rooted in the past,” explains Ogale, who is now based in Mumbai. Memories often stay with him, dancing in and out of his consciousness in tactile forms. Technology allows him to translate those feelings with the texture, sounds and smells intact.

“It was not like I woke up one day and decided to use technology. It happened so organically that it now fits seamlessly into my practice,” he says. He often sketches on his iPad Pro, using the Apple Pencil and software such as Procreate and Adobe Suite. During the pandemic, he started collaborating with artists such as Jim Sarbh, Sheena Khalid, Zoya Akhtar and writer Manu Pillai on multimedia creations. “With Sarbh, for example, Gaurav created a visual world of William Carlos Williams’ poem Danse Russe, a favourite of the actor, with outline drawings of the actordancing to the voice-over of Sarbh reciting the poem,” states a note by the India Art Fair.

'Fugdi' by Gaurav Ogale
'Fugdi' by Gaurav Ogale

For the Digital Artists-in-Residence series, Ogale has created the digital anthology Bestsellers, reimagining the extraordinary lives of ordinary people as book covers. “Who decides which stories deserve a gold-embossed cover? Why are certain books showcased with such prominence in stores? It is to question this that I am telling stories of six ordinary people, that I see on the street, at signals and more,” he says.

Desai too taps into memory—that of a city—albeit in a different way. Using LiDAR, which allows you to scan big objects in a range of 5m and 3D-print them, he started archiving bits and pieces of Kolkata—facades and corners he knew would crumble into oblivion in times to come. Desai started tinkering with the Apple Pencil by animating lines that he observed during his rambles. “When you code and scan, you know that the resulting product has been created by technology. It looks so processed. But I wanted to bring in something human, so I started drawing flowing lines, which are not formulaic and algorithmic,” explains Desai. “In AI art right now, noise is processed in creative ways by computers. When you do things intentionally as a human, it makes a difference.”

The iPad Pro, with its folio keyboard, enables him to be more mobile, allowing him to sit at a coffee shop and write code based on the sights and sounds around him. He also managed to add a layer of music using the gadget. “One of the softwares I use is tape machine emulation. I collect sounds of the city, put the field recordings on the iPad Pro, and use my fingers along the tape to create musique concrete, which is a very important practice that employs sound as raw material and has been used by everyone from The Beatles to Frank Zappa,” says Desai. He also uses apps for sound collaging and synthesising. All this comes together in a digital interface to reflect his unique ideology.


Moss, a Goa-based eco-sexual artist, uses technology as building blocks in their practice, spanning sound, film and browser-based art. They are interested in sense perception and the intelligence of trees, insects and beings which are not human. “Oracles and magicians, people from different intelligences, have been saying that trees have life for aeons. But it took technology to prove these ancient concepts and bring them to the fore,” they say.

A lot of artists are now pushing technology for technology’s sake. That is not what Moss does. They are interested in taking technology back to the ground. “Data by itself is not bad, it is information. If one is to think of textile as a metaphor of tech, we buy a piece, go to a tailor and get something stitched for ourselves. This is the form we are going to move towards. We are in a very early stage of the networked world. Once technology becomes as simple and accessible as alphabets, it will be fascinating to see what tech can do as language,” they say.

Moss spends their days making sound compositions, creating a spatial sonic world of forests, synthesising and coding. In March 2022, they were the artist-in-residence at Hertz Lab, ZKM, Germany, where they created a spatial insect orchestra by coding noise. In September last year, their audio platform, Fieldness V.2, was invited to be part of the show Disturbing The Balance, at BASE in Milan, Italy.

The question—how does one translate a sound in space?—informs Moss’ work. “This one sound should be able to come close to you from a far distance, move back again, go around in circles, and up and down. My practice is about producing these immersive environments,” they say. During their residency at ZKM, Moss created a 35-minute compositional journey through the forest at night, complete with the insect orchestra. The lights were dimmed in a hall and people were invited to lie down and immerse themselves in a psychoacoustic space.

“There was no recorded sound. Everything was synthesised from noise—starting with a single insect and moving on to multiple insect sounds. That’s my technical expertise—to synthesise and code sounds,” explains Moss. “The experience was like being suspended in one’s own psychic space.” At the end of the experience, an old lady walked up to them and said she had felt like a little insect in a rainforest. Moss found the response deeply moving.

Their engagement with technology stems from a very different relationship with ecology. “Of course, the direct meaning of eco-sexual is to be driven to a feeling of attraction and tranceness by nature. I am interested in both trance and trans,” they say. Moss is intrigued by the fear that spending a night in the forest produces. That feeling has the potential for generating a lot of transcendental reactions. “It is hard to find a word for it—what it means to stay with that fear. I express it through my tech-based work,” says Moss, who divides their time between Goa and Bengaluru and identifies as trans-non binary.

Also read:Art Special: what the tombstone caption hides


Viewing digital art can often be an isolating experience since it may involve viewing collages, sound works and AI-based art on the phone or laptop. However, efforts are now being made to convert this into an immersive experience, powered by group energy. For instance, in The Impossible Bouquet showcase, The Gujral Foundation has allowed for other elements such as the moving image, immersive spaces and AI prompt text to be added to the experience.

Desai too creates an immersive sound environment. “Because the showcase is in a room, I get to put people in a real-life digital reality. As of now, Virtual Reality headsets have not reached a point where multiple people can experience something together. But I wanted to create a space in which groups could walk around,” he adds.

Aside from showcasing their works at the Digital Residency Hub, Malhotra, Desai and Ogale are also engaging with the viewers by leading their own Today at Apple sessions. Today at Apple offers free daily sessions, available at store locations around the world, that offer educational and inspirational ways to unleash customers’ creativity and explore the myriad uses of their devices. This is the first-ever in-person event for Today at Apple in India in the fair duration .

So, what is the future of tech-based art? Artists firmly believe it is human-led, powered by meaning rather than mere algorithm. Both artists and art platforms are keenly watching where this genre goes from here—with actual artists having something to say rather than merely tinkering with technology for the sake of it.

“So far AI, with little artistic voice as input, has created banal images. But in the right hands, it holds immense possibilities. For instance, it is an amazing tool for the differently-abled. How about using tech to imagine women reclaiming public spaces? What would that look like? These are the questions we should be asking,” says Malhotra.

Also read: India Art Fair 2023: Debashish Paul 's sculptural dresses reflect his inner worlds

Next Story