2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Arié Haziza

Wild Randomness

Canadian artist Arié Haziza heads the catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance company on the island. His 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Wild Randomness looks at situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate impact on our individual and collective lives.

As we navigate these uncertain times, his work felt like the perfect starting point for Stories – the Bermuda National Gallery’s new blog.

We sat down with Arié to discuss his work, which explores the lack of predictability in outcomes; a notion which we are all having to learn to live with in ways which seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

BNG: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

AH: I moved to Bermuda in early 2001 from Canada. I head the catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance company on the island. I regularly collaborate with Nassim Nicolas Taleb, author of the best-selling book The Black Swan, and Professors Galla Salganik-Shoshan and Tomer Shushi at Ben-Gurion university, on topics relevant to the reinsurance industry ranging from ‘fat tails’, ‘black swans’, cascading phenomena and decision-making under lack of knowledge and ‘convexity’. 

Apart from my family, I really have two passions in life – the mathematics of rare consequential events and art.  There is a saying that, in science you want to understand the world and in the business of infrequent events you want others to misunderstand the world. In my opinion, in art, you want to experience and share with others something about the human condition.  

BNG: Have you always made art?

AH: I have always had a deep connection to art.  For me, an artist is someone who has something new and consequential to communicate with the audience and, at times, in ways that have never been done before. I have attempted to develop a body of work that is closest to the way I perceive the world around me.

My main motivation is the exploration of the aesthetic representation of wild randomness.  How do you generate different meanings and images to different viewers?  While doing so, I also have had opportunities to revisit art themes from the past, to nurture a dialogue with artists through their work.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to be a part of the exhibition?

AH: I am very honoured to be part of the 2020 selection and sharing the walls with such a talented pool of artists.  The theme Let Me Tell You Something, inspired by the great Tony Morrison, connected to my experimentations with art.  I should also mention that, thanks to the Bermuda National Gallery, I have met over the years many artists whom I admire, including William Collieson, Edwin Smith, Graham Foster, Jacqueline Alma and Chesley Trott, just to name a few.

BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork is very prescient. When did you make it? What prompted it?

AH: The triptych was composed over a fourteen-month period culminating in December 2019.  For a long time, I had been struggling to find the best support possible for this type of work.  I experimented with various medias including works on paper, sculpture and computer-animations, before resolving to use mixed media on canvas.

BNG: Wild Randomness looks at the lack of predictability in outcomes – a very real situation which we now find ourselves navigating. Do you have any words of advice from your studies into this state?

AH: What we are currently experiencing is a severe unforeseen chain reaction of dependent events triggered by a virus outbreak. It is a kind of connect-the-dots situation.  It started with a local triggering event – a virus outbreak – that has in turn generated a healthcare crisis, first locally, then regionally, then globally. This in turn has generated an economic and financial crisis that may in turn be generating a political and conflicts crisis.  These systems also interact with each other via feedback loops to worsen the overall impact on our lives, activities and economies. 

The effects will be far reaching in scope and in time.  Circuit breakers (virus weakening or disappearing, stoppage of international air travel, quarantine/isolation, vaccine…) are key to stopping this chain reaction.

A previous catastrophic event that belongs to this class of cascading phenomena is the 2011 9.1 magnitude earthquake that impacted Japan.  The earthquake generated a tsunami that then caused the flooding of the buffer electrical systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant which in turn resulted in a significant nuclear accident.

I would argue that global climate change belongs to that class of cascading events and is a significant challenge for the future of the planet.  I often refer to global climate change as the mother of all cascading phenomena or in mathematical language as a “Factorial Cascading Event”.

BNG: Wild Randomness is a triptych. Can you talk us through the three pieces and what they represent?

AH: I am hesitant about “explaining” the three pieces, as I would like viewers to develop their own interpretations and images. But as you asked me, I will provide some insight.

On the left side –

This piece makes reference to those events that rarely occur but that result in significant impact.  If you look closely you will notice oscillations similar to what you would see on a seismograph used to record an earthquake.  The red “lollipops” are a tribute reference (a clin d’oeil) to a magnificent gouache by Alexander Calder that you can see in one of the ballrooms of the Hamilton Princess Hotel.

Centre piece –

I invite the viewer to read a few lines of numbers on the canvas and experience the kind of vertigo one would experience on a roller coaster. This piece presents a large number of computer-simulated numbers from complex algorithms used to model the emergence of extreme events (hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics…).  The vast majority of the numbers are small, reflecting our day-to-day experiences, when nothing really intense occurs.  But rarely, you get to see a huge spike appearing out of nowhere.  This one occurrence will account for 99% of your total experience.  An analogy I like is going out at sea in the hope of seeing whales.  The vast majority of the time you keep waiting and nothing happens; suddenly you see the tail of a whale for just 10 seconds.  That very moment will be the most precious memory you bring back home!

On the right side –

My intention was to use a basic chart to summarize data, the type of charts we all get to look at and use in our daily lives, on social media or at work.  Certain viewers who have looked at this piece mentioned that they feel some sort of repulsion triggered by the violence of that very negative red bar which was preceded by a long, positive and stable experience.  For many of us, this piece will resonate with the on-going crisis.  This piece is also my contemporary interpretation of a genre of still-life paintings developed in Europe in the 17th century paintings called Vanitas, filled with symbols of death, that reminded the viewer of the fragility and briefness of life.

The three pieces together compose a window into the world of wild randomness.

Wild Randomness (Triptych), 2020, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 36 x 2 in.

Artist’s Statement:

Randomness, the lack of absolute predictability in outcomes, is inherent to the human condition. One can make conjectures or rely on the most sophisticated predictive tools available, yet no one can tell with certainty what tomorrow will be made of.  My body of work evolves around the investigation and aesthetic representation of Wild Randomness, which corresponds to situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate impact on our individual and collective lives. 

Wild Randomness is the domain of non-linearity, discontinuity, abrupt change, instability, divergence, cascading effects, feedback loops, crises and dislocations.  It is a domain where the more data and information you collect about a subject of interest, the less you understand it.     

I consider myself a collector of wild randomness, designing elaborate mathematical models to generate and record millions or even billions of simulated extreme behaviors data samples.  I invite the viewers to experience for themselves the vertigo of navigating through random wild data, and to generate their own images which are of infinite variation.