The VIDA 15.0 Awards, the results of which have been published over the last few days, once again show the tenacious exploration of life through art. This year’s awards offer a wide variety of perspectives on the artistic exploration that takes place in a hybrid zone in which science, technology, society and thought meet.
This year, first prize was awarded to German artist Kerstin Ergenzinger for her sound sculpture Rotes Rauschen. The panel saw in this project a novel way to examine the information that exists in natural areas and the way in which it is recorded as part of our sensory experience. The artist has designed a space in which an ambiguous-looking central sculpture oscillates while suspended from the ceiling. When the spectator approaches, the sculpture starts undulating, seeming to want to envelop him/her in a hug. A seismometer marks the horizontal axis of the installation whose function is to collect low frequency sounds in order to return them to the space as a uniform and subtly perceptible soundscape. Rotes Rauschen designs modes of interaction inspired by our ability to perceive certain levels of “noise” that exist in nature and place them within a unified space that ultimately operates as a sense organ as well as a seismic musical instrument.
Nature and its phenomena serve as the thesis upon which some artists subject explorations which are sometimes combined with unique scientific frameworks to generate new fictions. This is the case with the artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis, who won second prize in VIDA 15.0, after developing Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility inspired by the book The Man in the Moone written by Francis Godwin and published in 1603. In this book, the protagonist Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon in a carriage drawn by a group of “moon geese”, a type of bird capable of making lunar flights. The artist reconstructs the fable in order to make the trip: on a farm in Polinaria (Italy) she breeds a colony of geese, training them to organise themselves and fly, and preparing a remote lunar habitat – a new MARS-500 for birds – to assist in the training that precedes the trip. These strategies support the somewhat “lunatic” desire of the artist to construct the pseudo-fictional Moon Goose project.
The VIDA Awards reflect on two of the key points on which contemporary art is based: on the one hand, creative exploration of new narratives derived from life, and on the other, an understanding of the work as a system which undergoes continuous variation and change. In this sense we can see in Effulge by Korean Yunchul Kim, the project which received third prize in VIDA 15.0, a unique aesthetic reflection about the use of the new dynamic materials. Using homemade nano material that is sensitive to magnetic, electrostatic and gravitational forces, the artist designs flat screens which show moving and changing shapes. Yunchul Kim’s achievement consists in having developed a visual installation based on unmistakably digital dynamic structures which nonetheless respond to the action of a sensitive material, rather than preset programming. Effulge demonstrates the importance of simulation and experimenting to bring us closer to the intrinsic nature of physical phenomena.
There is a trend among the prize winners in this latest edition to consider the artistic object as part of a process of alchemy that is not metaphorical but real, and that serves to show the artist’s desire to go beyond the limits of matter, and in many cases also beyond the limits of the code. In the Honourable Mention recipient, Shadow Fugue, the South Korean artist Sion Jeong creates a kinetic installation with behaviour that is similar to that of a living being, even though its movements fall within a simple mechanical design. Through minimal changes in the surface of the material from which it is made, the artist builds up a soundscape with unique and surprising lighting. Meanwhile, Thirty Three by the German artist Nils Völker has been conceived as a sound installation projected onto the interior of the Church of Saint-Saveur in Caen (France) which, using thirty-three structures suspended from the ceiling that collide with one another as a result of swings programmed in six hour cycles, manages to bring the tide cycles of the coast of Normandy into the space.
References to phenomena of nature, science fiction stories, the history of computing, and scientific theory are just some of the starting points of the projects receiving awards from VIDA 15.0 this year. Among the honourable mentions we can find some examples of this contemporary fascination with issues that are moving ahead of scientific fact. The work Le grand calculateur I by the artist Diane Morin chooses the science fiction novel Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem – in which the ocean on the planet Solaris is described as a giant entity making calculations – to design a structure inspired by the architecture of early computers. This mechanism executes arithmetic operations through water-filled switches via a relay system whose activity is exhibited throughout the gallery space.
From the field of robotics, one of the classic trends at the VIDA awards, having won prizes on numerous occasions, in this edition we can enjoy the refined proposal by Louis-Philippe Demers. In The Blind Robot, the Singapore-based artist explores human-machine interaction based on the philosophy of “social robotics”. This branch of robotics offers to connect us to thinking machines not in a utilitarian way, by allocating them domestic or industrial tasks, but rather in order to maintain meaningful social exchanges. The Blind Robot sees itself as a critical investigation of the scientific developments in this field and offers the viewer a reciprocal dialogue with a semi-autonomous robot with an astonishing level of sophistication.
The performative strategies that we borrow from visual culture to create situations of participation and debate represent a type of project whose influence in VIDA is increasingly palpable. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, launched by the couple Cathrine Kramer and Zackery Denfeld, establishes a zone of contact between the culinary arts and genomics in order to improve our understanding of food in the context of contemporary culture, biotechnology and ecology. Through activities such as smog tastings, fluorescent sushi, edible exhibitions and seed vending machines, the CGG aims to map the controversies surrounding food and offer prototypes for alternative culinary futures. Meanwhile, Stranger Visions is made up of a series of sculptural portraits generated from genetic material compiled by the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg on the streets of Brooklyn. The artist worked extensively in Genspace (a biology laboratory dedicated to collective and autonomous research) to develop the portraits by using techniques from current forensic medicine, which she uses to question the ethics of manipulating personal information through laboratory procedures.
The awards are expanding their thematic range with the appearance of new forms of artistic practice derived from experimentation with emerging technologies and the way these are incorporated into everyday life. Chromatographic Ballads by the duo made up of artist Ursula Damm and developer Martin Schneider investigates the extent of augmented reality in the perception of our surroundings. According to the artists, we experience this increasingly through layers of information that build up through our own experience, through data from our own mobile mechanisms or those of others or those registered in our immediate environment. With their complex installation, they invite the viewer to explore this phenomenon and recognise a near future in which advanced systems of perception will expose us to overlapping realities.
VIDA today allows us to highlight the current debate around the multiple concept of living things, in a way that shows the experimental lines emerging around ideas like vitality, systems, emergency, agency, performativity and behaviour. With the VIDA 15.0 Awards we remain surprised by the ability of artists to find new fields of research that are still unexplored in the wake of today’s information maelstrom. In this new edition VIDA would like to distinguish those new modes of intervention in art that propose innovative ideas to an audience eager for significant cultural references in a changing society.