“Reality will always be more intriguing than digital representations of it in the long run”

In his virtual artwork Quantum Express, currently on display in the MAK exhibition /imagine. A Journey into The New Virtual, Alexis Christodoulou combines different scenarios and fictional landscapes to tell a visual story that viewers experience as if on a train ride. For the MAK Blog, the 3D artist provides insight into his spectacular work.

Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Energy) © Alexis Christodoulou
Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Energy)
© Alexis Christodoulou

You’re the 3D artist behind Quantum Express, the most seductive, surreal train ride the virtual world has seen yet. Do you like to ride trains?

Of course, I love to take a train whenever the opportunity arises. In South Africa we don’t have as well developed rail networks as in Europe so it’s always a real treat to be able to take long distance trains now that I’m living in Amsterdam.

Even the name – Quantum Express – promises an extraordinary trip. What is the idea behind the name, why a journey in the quantum field?

I felt at the time when I was making the collection, which was in the middle of Covid and we were quite restricted from travelling, that I would need to travel in a different way if I wanted to do it at the time. One almost had to experience the idea of travel in a personal sense in your mind, or through an escapist media. To me the idea of transcending reality and moving through space and time was quite appropriate.

Alexis Christodoulou, portrait © courtesy of Jordi Huisman
Alexis Christodoulou, portrait
© courtesy of Jordi Huisman

The routes of the Quantum Express are not Greece or Italy, but energy, distance, space, time and probability. Where do these ontological routes lead?

I think that’s the thing about these artworks, they specifically don’t lead anywhere. They’re stuck in loops – meant to be experienced in the moment. One of the most amazing things about a train journey is the feeling that you’re between two points and you’re powerless to the functions of either. So it seems like the point is you need to experience the journey without a departure point, nor somewhere to arrive.

Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Probability) © Alexis Christodoulou
Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Probability)
© Alexis Christodoulou

You originally worked in advertising and are a self-taught 3D artist. Where did you get inspiration for the design and interiors of Quantum Express, as well as for the passing landscapes? From reality or purely from your imagination?

Both. A lot of my inspiration would also come from not being able to see what I wanted to see either in real life or in imaginary worlds. So I set out to try and create what was in my head in a real world context, using the 3D design medium.

The Quantum Express seems hyperreal. Only the pastel tones don’t seem to quite fit the image of the train. Where does your preference for warm tones come from? 

Initially the preference for warmer tones came directly from my post-production process. I always preferred a more desaturated image when dealing with CGI or computer graphics as it sort of separates it from other images of the same medium and brings them closer to real life. Video games etc. are always very saturated and rich, much richer sometimes than the real world, or even photography. So it felt like a stylistic choice that matched my idea of creating hyperreal environments that could also be mistaken for the real world.

I often use film grades and presets designed for photographers to process my digital images.

Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Distance) © Alexis Christodoulou
Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Distance)
© Alexis Christodoulou

The train is one of the most revolutionary travel inventions of all time; today, the train doesn’t necessarily seem hip. Why did you choose the train in your work? You could have possibly beamed your virtual guests through space and time.

Again, this is something that’s done all the time with CGI and 3D. It feels like the medium does all the predictable stuff that the medium can do – space travel, futuristic ideas etc. But it really gets interesting when you do the things that haven’t been done before.

MAK Exhibition View, 2023 /imagine: A Journey into The New Virtual Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 © kunst-dokumentation.com/MAK
MAK Exhibition View, 2023
/imagine: A Journey into The New Virtual
Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022
© kunst-dokumentation.com/MAK

Quantum Express was released in 2022, in the transition to the post-pandemic era. We can travel again and no longer have to dream about it. Why the timing for this luxurious escapism?

I timed the release of Quantum express in the pandemic when we couldn’t travel. I don’t think it was about transitioning out of the pandemic. At the time of the release, we were all still quite unsure if the lockdowns would come back. Even now, I see a news article about vaccinations somewhere and immediately think we’re going to be flung back into lockdowns next week.

In your eyes, can reality still keep up with the virtual oases and blissful places of desire you have designed?

Of course. Reality will always be more intriguing than digital representations of it in the long run. Being able to experience something first hand is a much more rewarding and memorable experience than experiencing something through a screen. That’s until we have proper brain interfaces and can start to experience digital media in a more immersive manner.

Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Space) © Alexis Christodoulou
Alexis Christodoulou, Quantum Express, 2022 (Space)
© Alexis Christodoulou

The Quantum Express is also available as an NFT series. A slogan – you originally come from advertising – why you should definitely buy and experience at least one track section?

I think it’s not to be defined by why you should, but certainly by why you would want to.

The NFT collection sold out in a matter of minutes so I assume that people wanted to be a part of it at the time.

What are you working on right now? What is your next project?

Currently working mostly in AI image and animations alongside our studio projects with brands like De Beers, Polene and Kenzo.

What new development do you think awaits us soon in the New Virtual?

It’s moving so fast now with AI – it feels like we’re entering the digital photography phase of the 3D industry where the amount and ease of generating content needs to have creative and curatorial eyes to select what is really outstanding.

Opening of the exhibition /imagine: A Journey into The New Virtual Photograph eSeL © eSeL
Opening of the exhibition /imagine: A Journey into The New Virtual
Photograph eSeL
© eSeL

The exhibition /imagine. A Journey into The New Virtual will be shown in the MAK exhibition hall till 10 September 2023.

More text and information on the exhibition are available on the project website thenewvirtual.org

The interview was held by Judith Schwarz-Jungmann, head of MAK Press and Public Relations

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