A recent digital artwork captures my eyes and imagination immensely.
This is a first-timer in terms of creating a sense of one-chance-only-ness out of its programming stage. Ever Blossoming Life II – A whole year per hour, Gold, by Tokyo-based ‘ultra-technologists’ teamLab, employs incredibly advanced technology to reflect the tastes of the Edo period at the utmost contemporary edge. This concept is highly relevant to contemporary form where traditional ideas and the natural world often reach their audiences via screens. Deployment of VR/telepresence in this case also permits idealised visions, or literally anything imaginable as a matter of fact, to be felt and/or shared in time-space restricted living conditions in these days and age.
It is a collection of digital paintings (not video) that depicts the lifespan of cherry flowers, with an algorithm for the work that is ‘constantly recreating itself’ ‘in real time, composing new compositions for each individual viewer’ says curator Russell Kelty (Llewellyn, 2016). The transience of blossoming is resonated by the uniqueness of each visual, which conceptually also notoriously removes the repeatability of media artworks as they are commonly perceived. Kelty also says that you see something that is authentic and unique as the computer places things in such a way that a composition will never happen again, and it’s the kind of vision of how we look at the world and our relationship to nature (Watson, 2016).
Such uniqueness and authenticity only apply to the computer program itself, not the outputs though: according to Lev Manovich who explains how new media objects already allow for automation and variability due to their numerical representations and modularity principles (Manovich 2001). The never-seen-again quality of Ever Blossoming is simply following a specific algorithmic manipulation command. The ‘uniqueness’ that viewers expect to enjoy are limited to each of the individual ‘tailored’ viewing experiences, just as each personalised experiences media users are having referred to by Manovich.
Randomness and uniqueness are what one expects to see in our natural world, over which humans have very limited control. Scientific laws that govern how the universe works are definitely not random, just too complicated to be understood (details out of the scope of this discussions). Science and technology at the moment are not providing complete understandings nor processing powers to calculate all the results humans want or need, therefore leaving most of us living with unknowns and uncertainties, subsequently feeling powerless and fearful and inducing humanly responses (be they nil, negative or positive) that we are familiar with. Random applied in my logic here therefore only refers to human perceptions.
The true randomness from growth of life forms to humans (for the time being at least) comes from this formula:
Fixed genes (corresponding to point 1 below) x Random environmental factors x Controlled human interceptions (point 2 below) = Random development of a life form.
My blogs will explore this logic from a few different angles in the context of media art as follows:
- New ways to interpret the body created by fixed genes via interactive-bio-art
- Change our physical environment to line up with all our desires
- If point 2 is improbable or impossible, change the perception of the environment via experience (re)construction i.e. interactivity – resulting in possible illusion in short term and converting to a new religion if long-term
- If 3 is achieved, “our bodies as experiential apparatus” would change accordingly (like the case in Transforming Mirrors proposed by David Rokeby 1998) and can be considered as part of the natural human evolutionary process.
Roles of Artists in Science of Life
Like the Renaissance artists demonstrated the new objectivising gaze of the scientists, media artists envision complicated subjects like DNAs, cells functions, emotive/affective existence/presence and even life itself. Regardless how much and well scientists present research results, it is still artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo and Vasalius in the past, and many media/graphic artists today who do the work of illustrations – for fellow artists, medical practitioners, general public and any other interested parties. It is still the media artists who do the best illustrative works in all cases for they remain the most effective and articulate way of conveying the message/concepts (Zurr and Catts 2004).
One of the difficulties faced by practitioners who cross art with science is making aesthetic choices when combining the rigours objectivity and precision with distracting moodiness, lighting and sound effects etc. Contradicting concepts like immediacy-hypermediacy, disruptions of continuity, glitch, deterioration, and practical and ethical considerations in dealing with decay and even death must all be carefully juggled to achieve successful results. Here are two other examples how contemporary media artists depict life with high success.
Paul Thomas in collaboration with Kevin Raxworthy aims to examine life at a sub-cellular level through their Nanoessene project 2010. Demonstrated by the endless cloning of a single human cell, comparisons between life and death and thus what constitutes living are now quantified by nanotechnology and romanticised by media art. The most exciting part is when viewers can interface with the the visual and sonic presentation using one’s own breath, linking a biblical inception of life on the conceptual and metaphorical levels to any members of our society.
George Khut uses bio-sensing technologies to examine human emotive levels by re-framing experiences of embodiment, health and subjectivity. In particular, his Behind your Eyes, Between your Ears (2015, 2016) collection of intimate video portraits generates interactive soundscape and visuals that trace the dynamics of one’s attention between thinking and being.
Media artists have new responsibilities these day. As interactive artist David Rokeby descripts how he constructs experiences for the participants of his interactive designs, human-computer interface becomes the content by gradually educating and reinforcing the sensing/perceptual/conceptual systems of human bodies in direct response to the new conditions; and that learning via bio-feedback looping process is pushing human-computer relationship to a more intimate and inter-dependent level (Rokeby, 1998). Rokeby also causally predicts that new generations “are adapting from birth to the language of synthetic interfaces [such that] common virtual sense will be widespread” (Rokeby, 1998).
To extend on the common analogy that if ‘ nature loads the gun, nurture pulls the trigger’, media artist is re-designing the viewfinder of this bio-gun as we speak – even changing the mode of finding targets at times (using infra-red sensors, adding target tracking devices or just ask siri for examples). The gun (media users) might even need to be modified or upgraded or physically aided by the designer (like the diver in the picture) to suit the new external condition (the confronting alien green water).
Catts, O., Zurr, I., “The ethical claims of bio-art: Killing the other or self-cannibalism”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 2004 – Taylor & Francis
Llewellyn, J., http://adelaidereview.com.au/arts/visual-arts/ever-blossoming-life-ii-born-bloom-die/, accessed 24 October 2016
Manovich, L., The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001, Chapter 1.
Rokeby, D., “The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content”, ACM Press, 1998
http://visiblespace.com/blog/?page_id=122, accessed 27 October 2016
http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home/Exhibitions/NowShowing/Ever_Blossoming, accessed 25 October 2016
http://www.georgekhut.com/behind-your-eyes-between-your-ears/, accessed 27 October 2016