HomeNFTsImagining the Never-Was with Brendan Dawes’ Collisions Series

Imagining the Never-Was with Brendan Dawes’ Collisions Series


“The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

– Anton Chekhov

“I’m not trying to explain anything or provide answers; instead, I want to leave viewers with more questions.”

– Brendan Dawes

In Brendan Dawes’ Collisions #1, we see something like a half-dismantled Jedi spacecraft overwhelmed by outgrowths of Muppet-like fungus. Another, Collisions #5, might be the orgiastic gathering of the few remaining specimens of an undiscovered species of jellyfish. Collisions #3 might be a Lilliputian steampunk airship built on the inflated corpse of a pufferfish.  

Collisions #1 by Brendan Dawes

Despite being an artist who works with code and data, Brendan Dawes is not interested in reality. One of the core befuddlements that kickstarted his Collisions series was the head-scratching frustration of why artists and designers using AI, VR, and AR were simply creating snazzier versions of the world as we know it. In his words:

“It still baffles me that in virtual worlds, why the staircases? The promise of virtual reality is so much more than just replicating what already exists.”

Using code, Dawes literally collided imagery gleaned from “the pre-existent” of our world (as he refers to it in his artist statement) including bacteria and lichen as well as man-made technology to create manifestations of “the never-was,” a call to arms for artists working in the age of AI to use the full power of their imaginations and create the world anew while not losing touch with the natural world that sustains us.  

Collisions #5 by Brendan Dawes

As technology makes it a habit to completely disrupt our way of life every five years or so — like some new, more powerful presidential term — Collisions is an artist’s embrace of the future, one that doesn’t see technology as the answer to a problem, but uses it to ask the bigger questions of how we might start over again and again. We know disruption is coming, so why simply repeat what came before?

When we fail to question the oppressive structures that drive our progress, we become complicit in arming those structures with better weapons. Social media was dreamt up with starry-eyed intentions of bringing the world together, but the capitalism that fuels the locomotive also lays the tracks. To mix a metaphor, seeding anger and sowing division reap bountiful returns.

Collisions #3 by Brendan Dawes

The unique ability of humans to imagine sets us apart from animal and machine minds, and empathy — the ability to imagine what it’s like to be another person — is the ultimate creative act. Technology’s pernicious superpower to divide works in direct contradiction to these human intuitions and insights.

As we enter into yet another cycle of tech-driven upheaval, Collisions is a plea to hold fast to our uniquely human abilities to dream and to love. 

Collisions #2 by Brendan Dawes

Let’s not dream up a world in which we continue tithing to the coffers of technology lest we be “left behind” — a favorite tagline of the techno-utopians. Instead, let’s forget division; let’s allow disparate elements to collide and create something new, something unimaginable, something created by empathetic humans working together to create something new and better. 

Though technology might seem to have an active imagination, only we humans can collide in a way that is graceful, beautiful, and healing. 

Watch Brendan Dawes discuss Collisions with MakersPlace’s Content & Curation Manager Brady Walker:

Watch or listen to our full 1-hour interview with Brendan or check out our Guide to Data Art.

Hero image: Collisions #4 by Brendan Dawes

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