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Annibale Siconolfi – the 3D artist known as Inward – talks about the inspirations behind his dystopian ...
2021-04-08 09:00:00

Imagining a Future
An Interview with Annibale Siconolfi

“Urbs 2.0” @Annibale Siconolfi
Imagining a Future
Imagining a Future

Annibale Siconolfi, also known as Inward, is an Italian 3D artist who fills his imagination with architectural, cinematic, literary and musical references to create some of the most poignantly beautiful and painstakingly detailed images of a dystopian future that you will find online.

Read in 10 minutes

Dariusz Kuźma spoke with Siconolfi about his artistic methods, real-life inspirations, and the potential of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Dariusz Kuźma: Your work is highly evocative and thematically multi-layered. When I come back to some of my favourites, I still notice new things. Tell me about your creative process – I bet there are dozens of ideas and inspirations that underlay it.

Annibale Siconolfi: Oh, you’re right, there are too many to mention, or even for me to remember. My lifelong romance with the world of art started in my early years. As a child and teenager, I really liked to draw and play the guitar, I loved to listen to futuristic stories, watch science fiction films, read books by Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. I experimented a lot with converging different images and sounds. To an extent, my 3D art is a sum of all the influences and inspirations I absorbed over the years. But the most important is definitely architecture. I studied in Rome, learned the rules of composition and many other useful practical and visual skills, including seeing the world in terms of what’s hidden beneath all those shapes and linear or non-linear structures. I think architectural influences are very present in my images, the works of the likes of Le Corbusier, Étienne-Louis Boullée, the spellbinding, futuristic designs of Antonio Sant’Elia, contemporary Japanese architecture. 

“The Last Civilization” @Annibale Siconolfi
“The Last Civilization” @Annibale Siconolfi

That’s quite a broad array of influences. Philip K. Dick’s reality-bending stories mixed with contemporary Japanese architecture

Sure, but why not? They’re all influences, something I process in my head, filter through my own ideas and experiences, and only then blend into my 3D worlds. I really like the minimalism of the Japanese designs, especially Sou Fujimoto’s House N project. The way he used glass and rectangular shapes just to create a living space that seems natural and man-made at the same time. There is a feeling of randomness in his work that goes well with the minimalist approach. As for Philip K. Dick, the most beautiful thing about his stories is the way he presents psychologically and philosophically the possible future in terms of the evolving relationship between the human and the machine. When I read Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or numerous others, I can imagine myself in a situation of, let’s say, talking to a robot, or being in this impressively designed world he created just with words. I see him both as a brilliant futurist and as a sort of Kafkaesque writer who meddles with my brain and makes me feel the surreal in the reality that surrounds me, if you know what I mean.

I do – and I also notice this kind of surreal realism quality in your imageries. It helps you to deal indirectly with some of the most urgent real-world matters. In The Hidden City, or even in Habitat, you depict a world in which some distant dystopian society has harnessed the power of gravity and started living upside down, while their monster of a city devoured the surrounding nature.

“Hidden City” @Annibale Siconolfi
“Hidden City” @Annibale Siconolfi

I’m glad you notice the existence of real-world matters in my work. This is actually important to me. In the case of The Hidden City, as well as in Habitat, it’s naturally all about the problem of overpopulation. People have built such structures to concentrate as many other people, possibly the lesser kind of citizens, in vertically-designed space, because their cities just couldn’t spread any wider. I think that concept was really born decades ago when the first skyscraper was built, after the industrial revolution in the US, when engineers and architects started to consider the spatial design of the developing cities in terms of future logistics. I simply took it and made my own extreme vision of what I think may happen, at least in a partly similar form, as the overpopulation problem increases over the years and joins global warming in making the future of humankind a bit blurry. That said, I’m really not interested in creating post-apocalyptic visions, or representing the way a possible alien form of life could change the Earth. I’d rather think about the planet in terms of the evolution of the human species.

“Habitat” @Annibale Siconolfi
“Habitat” @Annibale Siconolfi

Which can be both terrifying and beautiful, as you have shown in Eternal City, Fracture and Myst. These societies at least try to find a balance between the natural and the man-made, with greens almost fighting their way with the grey and beige of the concrete.

I definitely give a lot of attention to nature and presenting its uneasy relationship with humankind. Also because I live close to nature, in a small Italian village of just 800 people. I love the concept of green architecture, the idea of rebirth, etc. In fact, I often create daylight scenes because I really like the way the sun co-exists with the Earth’s nature, how its rays generate shadows and allow me to experiment with composition and contrasts.

Besides, I’m not that keen on terrifying people all the time with cyberpunk-influenced dystopias of extreme overpopulation. I’d also like to give them hope, because who says enormous oxygen-making machines, like the one in O2 Distribution System, will not become one of the solutions of the future? You see, nature will always remain, there’s no us without it, so it’s interesting to imagine how humankind’s symbiosis with it can evolve. I think we need such visions nowadays.

“O2 Distribution System” @Annibale Siconolfi
“O2 Distribution System” @Annibale Siconolfi

Is this the reason you use many circles and spheres in your work?

Definitely, the circle is a perfect shape, pure shape, when it’s done right. That kind of simplicity works well both in futuristic visions and in strictly architectural designs. For example, I like the way Étienne-Louis Boullée used circles, especially the sphere shape, because he found a true beauty in mixing them with the surroundings. But he lived in the 18th century – how much he would have loved the visual opportunities that arose with modern technology! I mostly use circular shapes and spheres to represent the human attempt to co-exist with nature – not only to try to control it – but I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust the visual potential of circular structures.

Like in Urbs and Urbs 2.0, two distinct visions of a generic human city that tries to co-exist with nature.

This is an interesting example. You see, sometimes I start with a vision that makes no sense, but then, after hours of experiments, I suddenly realize what the precise message I want to put in it is. This was the case with The Hole, a kind of abstract idea of humanity’s merge with nature in the form of a technological, man-made circle that somehow fits with the natural world. Or at least it doesn’t deny it. Sometimes I get the message I wanted to put into an image after I publish it online.

“The Hole” @Annibale Siconolfi
“The Hole” @Annibale Siconolfi

I try to trust my instincts and imagination, even if I don’t know where they might lead me. This was certainly true of Urbs, in which a city is built under and adjacent to the natural world, a kind of extreme way to co-exist but who knows, right? One problem many people seem to have with my work is that it doesn’t represent real-world possibilities. Just possibilities, surreal as they may be, to make you think about what you see, or to engage someone in a discussion, which is always a good thing. A number of architects wrote to me basically saying I’m crazy to create such impossible designs, but I don’t mind because it’s art. I try to follow my own path, try new things, experiment with different styles and structures.

 “Urbs” @Annibale Siconolfi
“Urbs” @Annibale Siconolfi

This may be my Eastern European upbringing talking, but I sense a touch of brutalism in your work.

You’re definitely not mistaken. Brutalism is one of the many schools of world architecture I take my inspiration from. I must say that I find it quite beautiful, because brutalist architects didn’t try to cheat anyone, they used materials like concrete or cement in their pure form. No colour on it, just the bare material. Almost like in a wooden house where you see its wood-ness. I also like its rationality. It may not be that visible in my art, but I’m a big fan of rational architecture, of linearity, symmetry, mathematical organization of space. I think that there were mistakes made during the evolution of contemporary architecture – which tends to hide or edit out the rationality, as well as the ways of the old masters. In my opinion, if we don’t reference the past, if we don’t make a connection with what once was, we will not be able to create the future we could if we did just that. But that’s almost too philosophical for our talk. All I have to say is that I try to make that connection.

How do you prepare for creating a new image? Is it all in your head, or do you research, read scientific journals, etc.?

It’s mostly my vision. Sometimes it’s surreal; sometimes it gets political in the way I try to show the legitimacy of the fear that many of us feel while observing how extreme modern civilization is becoming. Anyway, I start from a general vision of what I want to show, then I begin to shape it through some kind of software. I tend to experiment every time with techniques, methods and software, because I don’t want to get too comfortable in what I do. Every idea I choose grows organically through the use of the tools that seem the most appropriate to bring it into digital life.

How do you know if it is finished, that this is what you want to share with the world?

When I realize it’s similar to the vision I had in my head. When all the details are precisely where they should be. There are times I can produce a fully rendered image in five or six hours, but it mostly takes a couple of days, a week maybe. It depends. Sometimes I get artist’s block and I have to leave one project and start another just to clear my head, so it all blends.

“re-cities” @Annibale Siconolfi
“re-cities” @Annibale Siconolfi

You said you live in a small Italian village, surrounded by nature. How do you keep up with the modern world on both a personal and professional level?

Very well, I have to say, but it did require a lot of hard work, even some sacrifices. I moved here five years ago to make a change. I was definitely afraid of it, especially that I had always been a city dweller, so who was I to live in rural Italy, right? But I felt I had to do something about my life. In Rome, I barely made ends meet, I worked my butt off and nothing particularly interesting happened. I worked to have enough money to work some more. When I got here, everything was different, but not scary-different – just different. I got used to this new way of life, to the new-found time I could dedicate to creating the digital images I wanted. I became Inward, a digital 3D artist with a growing social media fan base and clients who liked what they saw and commissioned designs from me. It took months, even years, obviously, but I had the passion and the will to do it. I’m in a really good place right now, as I have a satisfying number of loyal clients and also because of the revolution of the NFT. I intend to use the time and the space I have here to focus on my art.

How did the NFT [i.e. non-fungible token, a new type of cryptocurrency that helps to commodify digital creations – author note] revolutionize your world?

Not only mine, it has revolutionized the world of digital art as such. An NFT gives your non-physical art a certificate that makes it a valuable item. And there are a lot of collectors out there willing to pay good money for good digital art. Beeple, whom I have always admired for his creations, recently sold his Everydays collage for $69 million! He changed art history, and made the whole community of artists who weren’t treated correctly by traditional collectors a force to be reckoned with. It is only the beginning of this movement and it has already claimed an awesome community of artists and collectors.

“Upper City” @Annibale Siconolfi
“Upper City” @Annibale Siconolfi

Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

You can view more of Annibale Siconolfi’s art on his website.

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Dariusz Kuźma

is a film journalist, translator, regular contributor to the Camerimage film festival and one of its selectors. He has a degree in English Studies and American Studies. He is passionate about world cinema and unconventional television series. His articles have been published by numerous Polish magazines and online media.