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Five Questions to Albert-László Barabási

Albert-László Barabási is a scientist and a brilliant personality with a great scientific vision, but able to combine it with that of the artist in a deep and complex interweaving that gives us an absolutely original point of view. Having him at MEET and being able to ask him what the art of connections is all about was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.
Here is what Barabási told us during the interview.


MEET – The art of connection. What does it consist of? Of art, we can say in a nutshell, that it is a symbolic system of representations from which we want emotions. To have brought out the form of relationships is exciting?

Barabasi – Do we really need art to invoke emotions? Does Sol Lewitt’s formal work, or much of the minimalist movement achieve that? How about conceptual art? Cubism? Dadaism? There are many ways to approach art, and only one dimension is emotional. So let us not box the artistic experience. The art of connection captures something much deeper, one that is essential to human existence, one that in fact precedes us. It captures our biological existence, the roots of consciousness, and even the biology of emotion—they emerge from an interplay of too many elements for us to truly comprehend and control. Connectivity is what makes life and emotions possible, and they are all just imprints of complexity.

MEET – Let’s try to define the beauty of this aesthetic of relationships. Perhaps we find it in the voices that narrate their connection, making alive and exciting the subtle threads that bind them to each other?

Barabasi – Our work can be explored as an esthetic journey, but it appeals just as well to the rational. If you are willing to go beyond the form, you discover another layer of content.

MEET – What I see in the art of connections is the ability to transform the relationship not only into a form but into a story, a kind of crystallization of storytelling. In this transformation in my opinion memory plays a very important, both as an exercise (I feel a strong influence from reading the essay “the Art of Memory” by Frances A. Yates) and as a container of information.

Barabasi – Connections offer context, and art is simply meaningless without context. Humans tend to approach this complexity through story telling. Story telling is particularly relevant to my work, and its medium ranges from research papers to books intended for a wider audience, and art. All these mediums offer a different way to tell the same story. Much of my life I have been interrogating data to unearth our story, and then use the best medium available to reveal it.

MEET – Does the art of connection create 3D objects that we can consider tangible forms of memory and somehow objectify it?

Barabasi  – These are mementos of relationships, linkages that drive our existence. In some networks, like the brain, these connections are the carriers of memory. In others, they carry other a wide range of events and relationships, that together gain meaning.

MEET – The forms created by networks of relationships, remind us of the hypertext networks that have characterized the web. Parallel to your work on information networks, I was reminded of the work on text done by Graziella Tonfoni, a language scientist and founder of Computational Literature, where a specific three-dimensional form was associated with a literary form the novel, the manual, the biography) creating a “textual object” that gives a specific form to the content. Do the organization of data and their relationships in space create forms that can be encoded into shapes that highlight the meaning of their content?

Barabasi – Hypertext is just one example of networks. And three dimensions is just one way to display relationship—one that is dear to us, as we humans tend to perceive the three-dimensional space through experience. Yet, I am more interested in universality, and networks offer a visual and conceptual language to capture relationships in a universal fashion, that is not pulled down by disciplinarity. But make no mistake, networks are infinite dimensional objects, and the tension lies the fact that we attempt to squeeze them into the forms of perceptions that human experience relies on. The tend to exist in a different dimension.