Karina Smigla-Bobinski is an Open-Media artist and works with analogue and digital media on the field of proprioceptive art. Her themes move between science, intuition, expression and cognition. She creates and collaborates on projects ranging from painting, kinetic sculptures, interactive installations, art interventions, mixed reality objects, multimedia physical theatre performances and online projects. Her works contain the method of their making, they are direct art, which foregrounds the material, movement through time and impact on results.
Her artistic research also includes interworking with science, as well as theoretical work on the interplay between society, technology and the resulting cultural techniques. As Visiting Research Fellow and Artist in Residence at ZiF Center for Interdisciplinary Research Bielefeld University’s Institute for Advanced Study, she worked with two research groups of scientists, philosophers, art historians and legal scholars on the topics of the Ethics Of Copying and Genetic And Social Causes Of Life Chances.
Her works have been shown in 53 countries on 6 continents at festivals, galleries and museums including New Taipei City Art Museum (Taiwan), Chroniques Biennale in Aix-en-Provence (France), Ming Contemporary Art Museum in Shanghai (China), Mattress Factory – Museum of Contemporary Art / Pittsburgh (USA), Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris (France), Ithra – King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture / Dhahran (Saudi Arabia), Science Gallery in Dublin (Ireland), IPARK Museum of Art in Suwon (Korea), GARAGE Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow (Russia), ZERO1 Biennial in Silicon Valley (US), FILE Electronic Language International Festival in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), FACT Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool (UK), Busan Biennale (South Korea), Muffathalle in Munich (Germany), Bangkok University Gallery (Thailand).
Her collaborative performances have been shown at the Festival Montpellier (France), Grand Théâtre (Luxembourg), Festival in Kabul (Afghanistan), GoDown Art Center Nairobi (Kenya), National School of Drama in Delhi (India), Festival Caracas (Venezuela), Fadjr-Festival in Tehran (Iran), Art Festival (South Korea), Haus der Kunst in Munich (Germany), Berliner Festspiele (Germany) and Biennale di Venezia – Arsenale, Venice (Italy).
Once, the acclaimed Polish director Jerzy Grotowski was asked by a student doing a thesis on his work, he had spent five months following his rehearsals, in which every day Grotowski simply didn’t say anything, just looked and listened to his actors. Asked by the student how he did his directing, Grotowski replied, „Looking. I wait for the show to be done“. Obviously at some point he would act in a less passive way as a director, but what he intended with his five long months of observation exercise was to develop listening to his actors. An exercise of ample generosity, but also of a delicate intelligence, he intended passively not to cut, knowing that his observation fascinated by the expression of those bodies would give them the spontaneity of a genuine act. Not to interfere, not to direct, not to limit the actors to the banal act of his own conceptions. What Grotowski did was to open space with his observation.
There is something in ADA, by the German-Polish artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, that produces listening, something that opens space for spontaneous bodies. ADA observes. The work, already acclaimed and presented in more than 45 countries, is currently in the Pop Air exhibition at La Grande Halle de La Villette. An inflatable globe floating in a white room, with 300 equally separated charcoal pins on its surface that scratch the walls, floor, ceiling and its own manipulators in black as it is moved. The work makes from the youngest to the oldest visitors interact with it in this changing space from white to black during the entire period it will be on exhibition. ADA brings to life in an animistic sense, a spirit-object, when left in its floating gravity, presents a space to its visitors that allows them to listen to their own bodies. They dance. The first image I saw as I approached the room, which through its slightly transparent walls allows us to see from the outside in, was a visitor dancing freely while ADA was on the other side of the room watching. Karina creates a work, just like Grotowski’s listening, that opens spaces for our souls through our bodies, through materiality that finds in a magical gravitational play, beyond physical, freedom from our so heavy rationalities. Through the synesthesia of these floating bodies from black paint to white, the work points out to us that we are alive as matter in this world and spiritually vibrating our emotions, marked, scratched by our displacements. With each stroke seen in this space we see movements of thousands of visitors, ADA is there to testify that in a world consumed by virtuality, we still have bodies, that we still dance in a physical world and that the show is made by us.
*Gustavo Gelmini is an artistic director of dance and cine-dance. Brazilian, living in Paris, he has directed several performances and films that deal with the relationship between the presence of the performer and the audience. He is currently taking his master’s degree in dance at the University Paris 8 about dance and vulnerability and has held residencies at Le Centquatre-Paris and Cité International des Arts.
Optical and haptic entanglements: sensory encounters in Karina Smigla Bobinski’s artworks
Interview by Ana Teresa Vicente
Touch is a fundamental part of human development and well-being. It’s one of the first senses that humans develop in the womb, approximately around the eighth week of gestation. Several studies point out its reference to cognitive and emotional development in children and its lasting impacts throughout our lives. This awareness that we are living in a crisis of touch has already been present for a while: records show that social touch was already excluded from our lives and in a deficit way before the pandemic hit. Given the current Corona epidemic, physical distancing became the norm, and touch was simply pushed away from public space.
This conversation with the artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski approaches, precisely, matters of touch. These territories are embedded in Smigla-Bobinski’s practice in artworks such as ADA, a floating sphere that throughout the interaction with an active audience inscribes her presence in the limits of the gallery walls, or Kaleidoscope, a touchable lightbox with free-flowing ink, that endlessly forms new shapes activated by human contact. On this subject of touch, her work is in the tradition of artists such as Trisha Brown, Rebecca Horn, Marina Abramovic, Lynn Hershman Leeson, or Stelarc. The intimate and interactive nature of her work is, thus, a springboard to explore how these feelings of reciprocity and connection arise in her work in such a participatory way.
Ana Teresa Vicente (ATV): Your practice has a reciprocal quality where the viewer’s body interacts with the pieces themselves. There’s an active exchange. How do you see the importance of touch and its many nuances in your work?
Karina: This interplay between body awareness and the digital technology in which we are embedded nowadays, is crucial. We are already so much into the virtual stuff so that all the technical devices seem to push us apart from our bodies.
ATV: It’s like a collaborative involvement with viewers or participants. They’re not viewers anymore, they’re active participants, right?
Karina: Exactly. So, they switch from viewer to collaborative participant. Why do I want visitors to be active? Simply because this is the best way in this day and age. First, I prefer discussion, not a monologue. Secondly, I want to make an impact, but I also want the participants to make an impact on me too. That was one of the reasons why I decided to balance it back, by involving the body in the process. More precisely, the body of the participants becomes an active interface generating the art experiences. The classical artistic process starts with the artist in a creative process which culminates in an artwork, where the creative process ends. After that, the piece of art remains in this status in a gallery or museum, and the public can participate here only in a passive way. So, everything that happens next happens only in the head of the viewer. We call it Kopf-Kino (mental cinema). However, the mechanism of my work opens the process of creation to the public. I leave the artwork in an open state and invite the visitors to become a creative part of my installation and to fulfill the artwork. We call that Open Source, right? So, in this ongoing creative process, the participant is equal to me as an artist.
It was not me who developed the dance performance with ADA, but a dancer in Vancouver (Canada), who visited the exhibition and just started to dance by herself. After that, more and more dancers felt encouraged to try their own pas de deux’s.
It was also not me who got the idea to make music out of the ADA-sound, but a musician, who visited the exhibition in Munich. He discovered ADA’s acoustic quality and made us realize it.
I am looking forward to seeing where the imagination of the collaborators will take us with ADA next. I love the fact my art doesn’t exist without the participants putting their hands on it. Michelangelo is supposed to have said that “to touch is to give life“, and this is exactly what happens here. It’s the people who bring the installations to life. And this is what makes this art form so vibrant. One could talk for hours and you never will know how it is to pet a wet dog, until you let your fingers slide into the fur and you smell it, right? ;-D
ATV: In a way, that is exactly how we experience the world: with our entire bodies and not just with our eyes.
Karina: Exactly. The lockdowns caused by Covid have greatly limited our body experience for so many of us. For me, it’s even worse because this is the way I communicate. Touch is often the key ability for interaction and so for the experience. It can be so much more than the tomb smear on the mobile glossy surface. Touch can happen with your entire body. However, right now I’m doing my quick artistic research on The Future Of Touch. It starts with a small comment just after the first lockdown in March 2020. At this time, ADA was exhibited at OMM Museum in Turkey. Shortly after Turkey got under lockdown too I found a nice comment on the internet which said: “ADA will teach us to touch and to socialize again“. This small comment turned out to be like a butterfly effect. I spoke about it in a live video with the OMM Museum on Instagram. An artist duo, Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett from Canada took this idea and made an interdisciplinary Zoom as artist’s discussions with keynote presentations by an artist (me), a scientist, and a philosopher who work in that field.
Inspired by that I decided to make my own quick artistic research about touch before, in, and after Covid-19, as an exchange of ideas but also as a time document. It’s an ongoing project where I want to spread my tentacles to other artists or philosophers, writers, brain scientists, dancers, and choreographers to see the subject from many perspectives, like in a cubistic manner. This is about getting a bigger idea of what exactly touch is to us.
ATV: Interactive art has been a prolific artistic territory, expressively placing human bodies in the centre of a series of relations and connections. Do you consider that the pandemic will influence the way you make art, namely by changing the relationship between the viewer/participant and the artwork, or between the participants themselves?
Karina: I think yes. I think my approach will be better understood and appreciated now. All the time before Covid I was talking about these relations and explaining why I choose to involve the body and touch into my work. So, this is something that I really like about it. This crisis lets us feel how it is to be reduced to… to get stuck in virtual worlds. It looks like this was needed to recognize how important the body experiences are to us, our life, even for the development of thoughts and so for understanding the world.
ATV: At first, I thought that the pandemic would really change our relationship with the world and propel us to take concrete actions in order to deal with the environmental crisis. And I thought that a meaningful change would totally be possible, that we would actually become aware of what we are doing to our planet. But nowadays, seeing things opening up and everyone going on with their lives just as normal as possible, I’m starting to doubt if that is going to actually be true; if we are going to take the necessary steps to change that. Either way, the fact that everyone’s so acutely aware of the position their body occupies in space and how much we need to connect with each other, is already a step forward.
Karina: In “On Revolution” Hannah Arendt warns against changes that can backfire if they are forced but not followed by realistic and better alternatives. However, this time we need to act quickly because time is running out. For now, the jury is still out but it doesn’t look good for us. Anyway, the fact that everyone is aware of their body in space and recognizes how much we need to connect in person with each other, is already a small step forward. That reminds me of an installation I developed back in 2012. The interaction here is converted into an enormous balloon equipped with gloves that look like inverse tentacles. The outputs generate lighting patterns on the balloon’s surface caused by different types of touches inside of the balloon.
People have to squeeze the space between them, in order to reach each other’s hands and to create the light effects. Nevertheless, I think when people will join my installations now, they will do all these actions more consciously. Perhaps this could be my contribution as an artist to support positive changes, by encouraging people to be aware and conscious of their bodies and their actions, and of the consequences these actions have? The good thing is that people recognize in such experimental art spaces that his or her one action matters and that it can produce wonderful outputs. Patti Smith sings about it in “People Have The Power”.
ATV: This song gives me goosebumps! Yes, to keep people aware and conscious… and to be present.
Karina: Right, present! When you touch, you are in the moment, in the here and now. You cannot touch and be in the past or in the future. And the “now” is the place where we produce new knowledge through experiences. I think experience through the body in the here and now, is something that we cannot jump out of and stay human. So, this is why we want, and need, to go into it again and again and again.
What I also really love is… I understand and agree with the regulations of social distancing, of wearing masks, all the stuff we have to do, in order to keep ourselves safe and to protect others. I am already fully vaccinated. However, there were a few situations, like the anti-abortion legislation in Poland or the death of Mr. Floyd in the US, where many considered the mental health of society to be more important at the moment. Demonstrations on the internet don’t work, so they went out on the streets and demonstrated by being present together. Wonderful!
ATV: The pandemic exposed other problems that exist in our society in such a blatant way. I’m really grateful that people are not fearful and do not stay home close behind doors just to protect themselves, and they still fight for their beliefs safely with masks and physical distancing, for example. I’m so grateful that people are not just fearful of others.
Karina: Exactly. At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to read The Plague by Camus again. It was such a pleasure to read this book again. I have read it at school but at that time it was only a part of literature for me. However, an abstract story became real this time. It gave me comfort to read the brilliant descriptions of behaviour patterns… the fear, the superstition, the focus on numbers or panic buying, but also the courage of people, social commitment, and collaborations to support the others. I also discovered “Decameron”, by Giovanni Boccaccio. Every night I heard a chapter of the audiobook. Some of these stories are so funny, some are sweet, some horribly kitschy… I imagine that the comfort I felt listening to my grandmother’s fairytales is similar to the kind of comfort that the young storytellers in the novel expected on each of the nights they spent together. These are patterns that still exist. So, we humans haven’t changed a lot… sometimes I think we haven’t changed at all. ;-D
ATV: There is something in the way we relate that is fundamentally the same.
Karina: Yeah. After all these plagues, people just started to really enjoy life. So, I think this will happen soon too… for a while. 😉
ATV: Even before the pandemic, several strategies had been developed to bridge the gap of touch between people – such as the appearance of professional huggers, AI sex spot bots (which are mostly “enveloped” in female forms which is entirely another question), or the creation of simulacra or interfaces. I had given as an example, this device that resembles skin and that you have to squeeze and pinch. It’s a different way of interacting. Most of my examples portray unidirectional relationships. In some ways, this is an “asymmetrical reciprocity”, as Iris Marion Young puts it. Here, the word asymmetrical can be seen as a territory of active exchange, yes, but one where reciprocity is not always guaranteed: “opening up to the other person is always a gift; the trust to communicate cannot await the other person’s promise to reciprocate” (Young 1997, 352).If, as Giuliana Bruno states in her book “Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media” when we touch something we are touched back in return if there is immersion and reciprocity in the way humans relate to each other and the world, is there creation of a distinct connection when machines mediate this relationship? Is it possible to achieve an individualized but related, embodied relationship with machines? If this relationship or connection between humans and machines is not possible, what do you think is lacking in order to attain it?
Karina: ADA as an art machine does not need hardware or software… but we can say that the museum provides the hardware — the exhibition space — and I provide the software — the balloon with charcoals. The visitors are the users who give the commands.
However hard the visitor tries to control ADA, to drive her, to domesticate her, they notice very soon that she is an independent performer. ADA is constructed not to follow you 100% and can be gentle or not impressed at all or even rude. Once you set the balloon into motion it is pretty unpredictable, so you have to deal with it as a partner. Even though it’s obvious that this is a PVC balloon with willow charcoal on it, many people speak about “her” not “it”… even me.
I think the problem starts when the creators want to hide all the techniques to achieve an illusion of a human-like relationship with all those human-looking devices and human-acting AI. This is manipulation that withholds important information and robs you of control. Mostly a simple touch could expose them as such. However, if we do not educate our body perception with real inputs, we can quickly become confused and end up in a matrix-like reality. So, the problematic and unhealthy relation starts when the apparatus should let us feel they are conscious beings. You spoke about AI sex spot bots… I prefer asex surrogate than a sex doll. A toxic relation starts when the technology spies on us and when the AI creates a user profile, in order to predict and influence our behaviour.
A wonderful embodied relationship with technology begins by creating e.g. a prosthetic apparatus to replace missing body parts, to support our weak senses, or even replace them if needed. It is a perfect relation when a blind person gets an implant that lets them see again. It is also wonderful to get a bionic prosthesis you can control intuitively. The list is endless.
However, I also create art apparatus which provide an individualized and embodied relationship. But I won’t lie. I am more like a wizard, who totally openly shows how this magic works and how easily we can get confused by our senses.
The impressionists did the same thing almost 200 years ago. We are wizards, who openly show how light and optics work.
My work gets even further once the participants become wizards too. I always say: I dig the hole to the wonderland but jump into it, you need to do it by yourself. I make them realize how easily you can achieve this, but at the same time how difficult it is to fully understand what is going on. What is actually real and what is constructed by our body-mind relation. It’s not enough to pinch yourself to see if something is true.
Kant already reverses the relation between the world and humans: Not only do we orientate ourselves according to the world, but the world is shaped by the conditions of our senses and also by our thinking and cognition. When we recognise the world, we must always reflect on the fact that we imply something onto the things as well. Everything that surrounds us (objects/phenomena/passage of time) are things that do not simply exist in the world but appear as such in the world insofar as we co-structure this world through our senses and cognition. We are trapped in the black box of our body and have a few membranes through which we can see, hear, smell, taste… and touch. The exchange between the inside and outside happens through these few insufficient senses nature developed for us.
However, I think that the vision can be seen as a different kind of touch because when you learn about the evolution of the eye you know that the eye has been developed out of skin cells that have been specialized for light sensitivity.
When we look from this perspective we could think even further and so also hearing, smelling and tasting can also be seen as other different sensitivities of our biggest organ: the skin. Perhaps touch was not enough to survive, so nature had to develop further strategies of touch… something that could provide important information by indirect contact from a distance by smelling, hearing, or seeing. In German, we have the phrase “mit Augen abtasten” which means “to palpate something or somebody with the eyes”. In English, we say “it touched me” if something like a picture or a song makes you feel strong, like how you felt with Patti Smith’s song.
ATV: Mark Patterson in “Seeing With Hands Blindness Vision and Touch After Descartes”, describes an interesting situation: a patient’s first reaction after going through cataract surgery and thus recovering sight, was that the objects touched his eyes the same way his hands would perceive objects around him. His recovery was like nothing seen before, “a near-instantaneous collocation between tactile, auditory and visual sensations” (Patterson, p. 61). There was, however, across model transfer from touch to vision. The real world did not correlate with this idea after he was acclimatized to this new visual world in this and there was a disappointment in this: “it was the promise of correlating his tactile experience with his new visual abilities that most impressed him” (Patterson, p. 67). And I bring forward this idea of the relationship between touch and vision as ways of connecting with the world. If, in order to see, we need distance, in order to touch we must come closer (Barker, p. 27). Then there’s a connection between proximity and distance seeing and touching. Some of your artworks have this connection too, you need to come closer to interact with them but also some distance in order to see. How do you see this relationship unfolding, especially now that physical distancing is required? Will touch remain an integral part of your practice?
Karina: Yes and no. Under the lockdowns, touch became more a theoretical subject if we speak about my art because exhibitions were not taking place. But my art practice has become even more haptic. I tried to use this “free time” to put my hands-on work that had been waiting for too long to be done, like experimenting or creating new artworks in my studio but also writing down and illustrating my lectures on colour and composition to create a sort of a handbook for art students. For example, as a professional painter, you have to know about the theories of colour and composition.
However, the most important thing is to know how to express yourself. For this, you need to find your artistic language, your own colour palette. Therefore, you need to know what all the colours mean to you, what they feel like to you. And exactly for this purpose, I conceived exercises on what I call “subjective colour theory”. Synaesthesia is a crucial part of the procedure, where I break the visual sense and let them imagine being able to experience colours in a new way by hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching them. However, I don’t mean here to test yellow as a citric taste by that. Such superficial symbolic associations you have to overcome as an artist and dig deeper into yourself. It’s a scientific discovery on unconscious perceptions withdrawn from cultural influence.
ATV: We’ve been restricted to vision now because we were connecting just as we both are now, through flat screens. I feel that the sense of presence – that someone is present in the same room as you – is still very much lacking. Vision alone is not sufficient to establish a relationship with the world, right? it’s what we’ve been discussing so far. So, what other ways can we achieve or find to establish this active connection? I had seen these virtual reality meetings, they create this kind of illusion of presence and that, for me, brings forward these questions of mediation, and how technology can help us to feel the presence of other creatures, not only humans. How can we escape this “flattening” of our experience, for example, with this transition to online exhibitions where we see the artworks just as a flat representation on the screen? Some artworks do not translate very well to that medium. They may require that you really interact with the piece and that you experience it in a bigger space. So, documentation and this flattening of the experience does very little for rendering these works in a suitable way. So, there are two questions here, not only the illusion of presence that we may or may not be able to achieve with technology, but also how we can portray artworks in a better way and escape this flattening of our experience.
Karina: Yes, our communication with the world happens on so many layers. It happens in so many dimensions and I could imagine there are some we haven’t yet discovered. We just explore a mental map, a sort of a GPS, a comprehensive positioning system in our brain… or proprioception, also called kinaesthesia, the body ability which makes us able to move freely without consciously thinking about our environment. Super exciting discoveries!
When we just reduce our interaction into only two dimensions on the flat screen, how much less information do we get out of this? It’s like putting a river into a pipe.
But art can use it and can give a form to that “pipe“. I did it in my paintings and also in my interactive installations like WORMHOLE, SIMULACRA, ALIAS, or TÊTE-À-TÊTE. In ALIAS I use this “pipe” to implant an alien – the other – into you. It is not very nice but it’s salutary.
ATV: A bit like if they were Matrioshka shadows! We affect each other, even if from afar.
Karina: Yes, here standing in front of an illuminated wall one can see his/her own shadow filled with a person apparently watching him/her in return. The fact the participants meet the blueprints of their own filled out with a stranger is surprising but also disturbing. Exactly this makes the flat video-figure appear almost real. And so, the boundary between reality and illusion seems to blur for a moment.
In WORMHOLE, it becomes a communication tunnel throughout the earth. In TÊTE-À-TÊTE it transforms into a megaphone of your own dark site. In SIMULACRA this “pipe” turns into a spyhole.
However, it brings us opportunities too. Could you imagine how the situation under the lockdowns would be without the internet? It’s such a blessing to sit here in front of my laptop and talk to you… I still cannot really touch you… but we are “in touch” through sound and vision. A few days ago, I spoke with an art professor from New Hemisphere, who told me about his observations. He has to communicate now with the students through Zoom and this situation is terrible not only for him but also for most of the students. They terribly miss being together in a studio and discussing the matter relying on originals. But he discovered that some of the introverted students have overcome their shyness and are more easy-going now. So, there are people who really feel more comfortable getting in touch through this medium. Who knows, perhaps we will gain some knowledge out of this.
ATV: The pandemic also exposed the fact that we haven’t achieved in the development of our technology something that has this embodied experience through the digital medium. We already had holographic technology, for example, which kind of achieved what it promised in terms of “presence”. I don’t recall seeing that many artworks nowadays using that technology. So, there were some promises of having or feeling this “presence” of something or someone but then it never became true. Maybe this pandemic will push things into that territory?
Karina: Maybe. In my work SIMULACRA, I speak about the image of the body we create in our mind. How we perceive it and what happens when we transform it into a virtual one. The homunculus modelsshow in such an impressive way the ‘map’ of body areas in our brain and how out of these parts we create an image, a representation of our body.
In SIMULACRA on the white screen, you see through magnifying glasses also parts of a body, like hands appearing from the white space, then touching the surface and disappearing again into the white. Our brain makes sense of this by putting the puzzle together and producing an idea of a body swimming in a milky liquid. In reality these are light impulses going through the two small two holes (eyes) in front of your head and become a story of a swimming body in your brain.
Our brain is such a tricky wizard! It jumps between and mixes or even interchanges the real and the virtual worlds. We don’t feel that one is more important than the other one. In normal life, we don’t even recognize the difference between them… or do you feel the difference between, for example,the colour red and magenta? The body is our base, and an interface where everything meets together and consciousness arises.
ATV: That is not just rational.
Karina: Of course not.
ATV: There’s something else.
Karina: When the people interact for example with ADA, they cannot use the knowledge from previous experiences because this experience is totally new for them. At this moment, they just switch into intuition. This is one of the moments where your body leads you and you just follow. I think this is why the people feel relieved and mesmerized by that. This is such a wonderful experience to be one with your body, and to be in this moment in the here and now.
However, ADA seems to respond also to one of a very touchy human instinct. They seem to be driven by the same desire as the first human beings: the desire to leave a sign, as proof of one’s own existence.
A long time ago people left their marks in the form of negative prints of their hands on cave walls (e.g. La Castillo in Spain or Lascaux in France). It’s an incredibly intense experience to know that 40,800 years ago somebody put his or her hand on this exact spot on the wall. I feel really touched by that. For me, this is touch through time.
Similarly in ADA people left their marks in the form of lines on the walls, floor and scaling by touching and pushing the spiky balloon. These are coding memories of their body movements. If you scrutinize the drawing you can decode each line to comprehend what body behaviour had caused it. You can even go further and draw conclusions on the temperament or sometimes intention of the participant.
A dance performance at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh created a new coding technique of the movements and a new layer of memory by directly touching the walls. The dancers clapped their hands and feet on the scribbled walls and took a layer of coal dust away by that. These produced negative hand or food stamps, which remind me so much of the negative handprints from the Stone Age. Touch is an indigenous human capability.
ATV: This desire to leave a mark, to touch others, resonates with the Origin of Painting found in Pliny the Elder. When the origin of the representation is mentioned, in the episode concerning the drawing of the shadow of the lover who will be absent, highlights precisely the relationship between presence and absence, the symbolic character of the line and the marks, and the relationship between the passage of time and memory, through the representation of something that belongs to the past (Stoichita, 1999, p. 18). There’s not only the desire to touch but also to leave a mark. Together with that desire, the embodied relationship present in your works also speaks to this fundamental human trait: the desire to connect. In your work, both affecting as much as it is being affected by are mutually present. They constitute the sensory encounter each piece responds to and is reciprocated to, in an ever-evolving way. Although physically apart, our exchange through video chat over the course of this very particular year, brought to light the generative power of touch and its entanglements, both in the physical and virtual worlds.
Barker, J. M. (2009) The tactile eye. Touch and the Cinematic Experience. London: University of California Press. Young, M., Iris. (1997). Asymmetrical Reciprocity: On Moral Respect, Wonder, and Enlarged Thought. Constellations 3, no. 3. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers. Paterson, M. (2016). Seeing with the Hands: Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Stoichita, V. I. (1999). A Short History of the Shadow. (A.-M. Glasheen, Trad.). London: Reaktion Books.
*Ana Teresa Vicente is an artist and researcher based in Lisbon, Portugal. She holds a PhD in Fine Arts – Photography from the University of Lisbon, Faculty of Fine Arts, Centro de Investigação e Estudos em Belas Artes (CIEBA), with a fellowship by the Portuguese public agency Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT). Since 2005, she has presented her work through exhibitions, lectures, and publications. In 2020, she exhibited her work at Facing the Future | After Shot, Taipei Photo Festival, TW; SITUATIONS / The Right to Look, Fotomuseum Winterthur, CH; Selections from the Seagrave Museum, DAAP Gallery, USA; and Palimpsesto at Penafiel Museum, PT. In 2019, she co-curated with Professor Mónica Mendes the exhibition Timelessness at Ars Electronica Campus, and exhibited her work at the Athens Photo Festival, GR, and FORMAT19, UK. The previous year she exhibited at Binary/Non-binary, GESTE Paris, FR; Immersive | Imersivo, SNBA, PT; Failure is a Given, Archivo Studio, PT, and Face- Value at the Liverpool John Moores University, UK. She was a co-coordinator and researcher of the Post-Screen: International Festival of Art, New Media and Cybercultures (Lisbon). She received a Fundação Oriente Grant to pursue an AIR at Insitu, Hong Kong, 2020. Currently, she is a Professor at ESAD.CR (Caldas da Rainha, Portugal). > https://anateresavicente.webnode.com
After traveling the world, Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s ADA—a kinetic, fully-interactive art installation like no other—has temporarily come to life in Eskisehir.
On the second weekend of February, art lovers again flocked through the doors of Eskisehir’s Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM), as excited as they were for the museum’s opening last September. This time, they came for ADA, a kinetic sculpture comprised of a helium-filled balloon that leaves its mark on everything it touches with carbon spikes attached to its entire surface. This larger-than-life creation fills the walls of the entire room with sketches that add another dimension to this already complex concept. It’s been a decade since ADA was born in Munich. The artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, told The Guide Istanbul that she did not anticipate the continuation of the project in its current form. “When I first made ADA, I never thought I would be making her over and over again,” Smigla-Bobinski says. “A year later, I received an invitation from Brazil to show her for the first time abroad, which was the real beginning of the international interest.” ADA, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer developer, has so far visited 30 countries and counting. ADA’s constructional simplicity (she’s assembled from scratch for every showing by the artist herself), her almost infinite number of possible interpretations, and her fully-interactive character have dazzled audiences all over the world. The dimensions of the balloon are decided according to the size of the space in which it is exhibited, leaving enough room for people to play and experiment. Throughout the showing, it is never cleaned or repaired, symbolically ending its life cycle when each presentation comes to an end.
“It’s incredible to be able to experience the reactions of people each time in a different way,” Smigla-Bobinski says of her exhibitions. “Some of them are more interested in the act of play itself; others only want to leave a mark.” The artist admits that the unpredictable nature of the work, which cannot be fully controlled, makes some viewers uncomfortable. “In the last decade, I have seen many people who were not nice to ADA,” she says. “When people interact with her, they can’t rely on their knowledge, but instead need to tap into their intuition, which is the point where outcomes begin to vary.” “On the one hand, they experience a child-like state, which makes many people very happy, because they begin to remind themselves of how to behave like this,” she adds. “On the other hand, you might tap into a dark part yourself, especially if you feel the need to be in control.”
As ADA’s incarnations travel the world, Smigla-Bobinski finds that, in most cases, people approach her art very cautiously at the beginning. “I never explain to people how my art works. Often they start by walking around, looking at it, and just nodding,” she says. “Once they notice that the object is moving, they begin to touch it, creating their own drawing—and at that point, everything goes crazy.” Nevertheless, she believes she is understood by most of those who interact with her work. “I’ve never had an exhibition where the audience would just stay back and watch,” she says.
“Work in progress” On several occasions throughout the installation’s opening evening, Smigla-Bobinski emphasizes the importance of the audience as the driving force behind her work. She only provides a framework for the experience, she explains, which it is up to the audience to fill in. “I always say that, when you make art, when you’re ready to give it to the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore,” she asserts. This open-source approach has been embraced by artists of other disciplines as well, including dancers and musicians, who feel that, by interacting with ADA, the artistic message is somehow elevated. “It began when we were exhibiting ADA in Vancouver,” Smigla-Bobinski recalls. “I received an email from a ballerina, asking me for permission to share her images of dancing with ADA. When she visited the exhibition, she felt a connection to the piece and began to dance with it.” When the photos went viral, Smigla-Bobinski began receiving requests from other dancers as well. At her recent exhibition in the US city of Pittsburgh, as many as 12 performers danced with ADA. “I left that part completely to them,” she says. “I didn’t even know what they were going to do.”
ADA’s magic, it seems, has the power to inspire new ideas. According to the artist, people have continued to develop new ways of interacting with the floating work. “We started with an art installation, which evolved into dance performances,” she says. “Nine years later, I was approached by an artist who created music inspired by the sketching sounds of the balloon.” “As long as there are new ideas,” she adds, “this is still a work in progress.” ADA’s debut in Eskisehir was also accompanied by a dancer. When Smigla-Bobinski first saw Chinese performer Li Kehua dance, she hoped to arrange an artistic collaboration at the earliest opportunity. “Lico [Li Kehua] is an incredible dancer. We thought of collaborating on many occasions, but the timing was never right,” Smigla-Bobinski says, going on to point out that this was the first time she had made a personal request to an artist.
The strong connection between the two artists is clear when they begin finishing each other’s sentences while explaining the ideas behind the opening performance at the OMM. “Dance and drawing are my passions, and I love how they come together in my favorite color, white,” Kehua told The Guide Istanbul. “When you’re a dancer, you always have to strictly control your body,” she says. “What I like about ADA is that I can’t control her. I have no choice but to follow her—and this is what makes the difference in this experience.” Leaving the opening performance, I find Smigla-Bobinski surrounded by a group of young admirers who have come to see her work. “What I really like about Turkey,” the artist says later, “is that people approach you to simply share their thoughts.” As it has been in numerous other venues around the world, ADA has now been set up in Eskisehir, where she awaits curious locals to come fill her in with their own unique experiences.
Eskişehir’s Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM) hosts Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s “Ada,” an interactive kinetic sculpture and installation, welcoming the visitors to play with it. The opening of the exhibition and installation was presented with a performance by dancer Li Kehua.
The aim of the performance, which attracted many art lovers both from Istanbul and the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir is to show how an artwork is able to get in relation with the audience around it.
“Everyone can touch, feel and play with this installation,” said Smigla Bobinski, noting that “Ada” is a huge, free-floating interactive drawing tool that unearths the hidden creative talents of machinery and is controlled by humans. “However, it is producing its own autonomous language in charcoal marks across the white walls, ceilings and floors of the gallery space,” she added.
The artist’s aim is to let the audience to perform with “Ada” to find their own way to deal with this artwork. “And what I also wanted to do is to let other artists, dancers, performers to find what they can do with Ada,” she said.
Once, a musician was interested in Ada and told me that Ada’s noise while it is moving is magnificent, so he recorded the noise.
Creating “Ada” was a process full of inspiration. Smigla-Bobinski was inspired by the first computer programmer in history, countess of Lovelace, Augusta Ada King. She was an English mathematician and writer and she is still known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.
“So, we can say she was the first computer programmer,” said Smigla-Bobinski, noting that she was a pioneer woman. So, the artist played with the name “Ada.” Smigla-Bobinkski said Lovelace was the first to recognize that the potential of computers lay beyond mere calculation
Underlining how important she was, Smigla Bobinski said Ada King set out to create a machine that could paint and write poetry. Similar to Ada Lovelace, the installation ADA extends the possibilities of automation into a realm of creative generation.
The secret and beauty of “Ada” is that it is both controllable and not at the same time. The visitor may control Ada’s trajectory but how it is going to move cannot be calculated in advance. So, it is a free and also controlled installation letting everyone work with it.
Smigla-Bobinski’s “Ada” idea also coincides really well with the OMM’s being and identity. The museum’s urge to gather people is in parallel with Ada. While “Ada” welcomes everyone to play with it, so does the museum with its architecture and audience engagement programs.
Ideas and art
Smigla-Bobinski developed Ada’s idea, gathering many different approaches from history, technology and art. “We artists do not think just one way or in a horizontal line. Ideas move inside our heads and we collect ideas and feelings, and once in a while they crossover.
That’s when I discovered the idea of creating Ada,” she said.
The installation is a part of advancing OMM’s mission to promote projects that combine art, design and technology. The installation will be in motion at the museum through April 12, marking its inaugural appearance in Turkey.
During an opening ceremony to launch the installation, dancer Li Kehua directed Ada’s initial movements in dialogue with her body, creating its first tracks in the museum.
The OMM, designed with a synthesis of traditional Ottoman and Japanese architecture, opened on Sept. 7, 2019 in Eskişehir’s Odunpazarı district, covering about a 4,500-meter-square area.
The museum was designed by the famous Japanese architectural firm Kengo Kuma and Associates. The architectural design of the building draws attention as it consists of a group of square-shaped blocks that are surrounded by laminated-timber beams stacked on top of each other.
Art Between Atoms & Bits.conference talk by Karina Smigla-Bobinski INTERFERENCES .KIKK international festival of digital and creative cultures
The 6th edition of KIKK Festival is back from 3 to 12 November 2016 to explore the phenomenon of interferences. Whether we are talking about sound or light interferences, a wave is always the propagation of a disturbance. In physics, the superposition of two waves of a similar frequency result in what we call an interference. We experience it everyday. On the surface of water, in the reflection of a soap bubble, in the crowd’s hubbub, and so on. This phenomenon makes perfect sense, if you think about it; we’re immersed in a fabric of waves where each intersection is an interference. You only have to think about our world as a whole or down to the smallest detail of its organization; our system undulates as much as it breathes. We cannot conceive a still world that would exist without this rhythmically organized motion of nature: the orbits of planets, the ebb and flow of the sea, the oscillations of electric current, the duality of the binary system, the evolution of species, etc. We could sum it up in one sentence; our world is vibrations. Effects resulted from the interaction of waves have been thoroughly observed and studied in the history of modern physics. Far from only being an interest for physicists, interferences have always fascinated artists. A playground particularly stimulating and subject to esthetic experimentation. Playing with perception and tricking the senses, they are using the nature of waves and their ability to cause interferences to create optical illusions, auditory confusion, they compose with the unexpected and its permanent renewal.
KARINA SMIGLA-BOBINSKI works as intermedia artist with analogue and digital media and move between science, intuition, expression and cognition. She produces and collaborates on projects ranging from kinetic sculptures, interactive installations, art interventions, featuring mixed reality objects, multimedia physical theatre performances and online projects. Karinas works bridge kinetic art, drawing, video, installation, painting, performance and sculpture, her works contain the method of their making, they are direct art, which foregrounds the material, movement through time and impact on results. Her works have been shown in 45 countries on 5 continents at festivals, galleries and museums.Karina will explain what her working methods and inspirations are in general, also how her works between bits and atoms, such as‚ ADA, SIIMULACRA or KALEIDOSCOPE have come to existence, as well as her search for adequate presentation methods.
KIKK festival is an international festival of digital and creative cultures. Its interest lies in the artistic and economic implications of new technologies. The event gathers people of all backgrounds from all around the world. They are designers, scientists, makers, entrepreneurs, artists, architects, developers or musicians. They come to KIKK to tell you their personal anecdotes, to share professional experiences and innovative ideas, to present an artwork, a project or a product. You return home full of inspiration with plenty of contacts and new passions. This year, through a program of conferences, exhibitions and workshops, KIKK Festival will analyze how art and science collide in contemporary culture with new waves of artists exploring the physical phenomenons of light, radio, acoustic, magnetic, water or matter waves interferences. Interfering also means to come into opposition. Numerous activists, critical designers are scrambling systems to denounce intrusive practices or policies, others condemn mass surveillance and question privacy issues. Design and economy are also concerned by the subject: a disruptive product, practice or market, can be first seen as an interference before being considered as a new model of disruptive innovation.
Videokunst ist einerseits eine Kunsttechnik, die das Experimentieren mit Bild und Zeit zum Gemeingut machte und andererseits dürfen wir nicht vergessen: „the medium is the massage“, welches das menschliche Sensorium auf eine neuartige Weise „massiert“. Ich selber näherte mich diesem Medium durch meine künstlerische Forschung über Farbe und Form, die mich als Malerin beschäftigten. In der Konsequenz führte das dazu, dass ich sehr bald mit purem Licht und realen Raum zu arbeiten begann. So baute ich als erstes meine Malerei als eine begehbare Licht-Raum-Installation nach, die von Außen durch speziell dafür vorgesehene Bilder-Frames, als „bewegte Bilder“ zu betrachten waren. Diese Installation brachte den Faktor Zeit in meine Arbeit.
Filme und Videos schaffen mit der Aufnahme und Wiedergabe von 24 Bildern pro Sekunde den Eindruck von fließender Bewegung. In meiner Licht-Installation „Island“ benutzte ich das Wasser eines Sees als optisches Medium, um mich mit dem technischen Prozess des bewegten Bildes auseinanderzusetzen. Das Wellenspiel des Wassers fungierte als eine Art natürlicher Modulator eines einzelnen Bildes. Wo sich in der konventionellen Technik etwa ein Körper in der schnellen Folge der Einzelbilder jeweils nur minimal verändert, geschahen diese Veränderungen dank der permanenten, unkontrollierbaren Bewegungen des Wassers.
Das Video, in seiner traditionellen Form als Flachware, interessierte mich nur als Bestandteil von Raum-Installationen, zu denen auch die von Filmbüro Bremen preisgekrönte interaktive Video-Licht-Installation ALIAS gehört. Hier können die Besucher das Video, das sich in Gestalt von Personen manifestiert, deren Antlitze unterschiedliche Herkunft und Nationalitäten verraten, nur innerhalb des eigenen Schattens erkennen. Die Wahrnehmung ist hier mit zwei Arten von bewegten Bildern konfrontiert: Einerseits der natürliche Schatten, als elementares Abbild und Zeugnis der eigenen Anwesenheit in ihrer lebendigen Bewegung und andererseits die aus Licht erzeugten, künstlichen Abbilder körperlich abwesender Menschen, die sich die Gestalt des Schattens einverleiben.
In der Video-Installation WORMHOLE in der Seaside Gallery in Gwangalli Beach in Busan (Korea) nutze ich das Video zu Vortäuschung eines realen Raumes, der zwar logisch konstruiert, aber so nie erfahrbar sein wird. WORMHOLE zielt darauf ab, in der Interaktion mit den Besuchern das Wissen von Zeit und Raum mit der Idee des globalen Dorfes zu vereinen. Die Besucher in Busan schauen mittels eines Wurmlochs durch die Erde hindurch auf die Menschen und die Skylines von New York, welche durch eine Video-Collage vorgetäuscht werden In letzter Zeit erschaffe ich interaktive Apparate, die erstaunliche optische Effekte und ein bewusstseinsorientiertes visuelles Erlebnis erzeugen. Bei der Verwendung dieser Apparate kommt man immer wieder an jene Stelle, an der Wahrnehmungsprozesse, die normalerweise völlig im Unterbewusstsein geschehen, an die Oberfläche gelangen,greifbar werden und dadurch faszinierende Erfahrungen liefern.
Mit dem Medium Video als solches aber auch mit dessen Auswirkung auf unsere Wahrnehmung habe ich mich im Jahr 2013 in der interaktiven Video-Installation SIMULACRA auseinandergesetzt. SIMULACRA ist eine optophysische Versuchsanordnung, in der eine Brücke zwischen Medientechnik und Wahrnehmungsphilosophie aufgebaut wird. Das bildlos weiße Strahlen der Monitore wirkt, als wären die Bilder aus ihnen herausgefallen. Was bleibt, ist die Essenz des Mediums: Licht. Doch die Bilder sind noch in den Schirmen. Es bedarf lediglich einer kleinen Sehhilfe, um sie zu erkennen. Sobald der Besucher eine der Lupen vor dem Monitor positioniert, erhält er freie Sicht auf das Video, welches direkt aus dem weißen Licht der Monitore heraus in den Augen des Betrachters zu entstehen scheint. Dreht man die Lupen, erzeugt die polarisierende Struktur der Gläserwilde Farbverschiebungen oder sogar komplementäre Negativbilder. In der Interaktion mit SIMULACRA entdeckten die Besucher weitere Seherfahrungen: Hält man vor jedes Auge eine Lupe und dreht diese unterschiedlich, so entsteht ein hologrammartiges Bild. Zwei übereinander und in einem Winkel von 90 Grad platzierte Lupen verdunkeln das Bild komplett.
Was in LCD-Bildschirmen mit elektrischer Spannung funktioniert – die Veränderung des Lichts durch Bewegung der als Filter fungierenden Flüssigkristalle – wird in meiner neuesten Arbeit von den Benutzern mechanisch-physisch erreicht. In KALEIDOSCOPE verwandle ich die Gesetze der Optik in ein psychedelisches Erlebnis, bei demeine interaktive Placebo-Malerei als Video-Streaming auf der LED-Fassade des FILE Festival in Sao Paulo ausgestrahlt wurde. KALEIDOSKOP ist ein sehr großer und komplett begehbarer Lichtkasten, der als open framework funktioniert. Jede Art von Druck – sei es mit einem Finger, mit den Füßen oder mit dem ganzen Körper – verdrängt und verschiebt Flüssigkeiten in den „virtuellen“ Farben Cyan, Magenta und Gelb (CMY). Diese werden wiederum durch die Überlappungen der „echten“ Farben rot, grün und blau (RGB), die von menschliche Netzhaut aufgezeichnet werden können, erzeugt. Eine Video-Kamera nimmt von oben die Besucher auf der Farboberfläche auf. Dies bedeutet, dass die Ergebnisse dieses CMY-RGB-Frameworks
in digitalen Video-Codierungssystemen aufgenommen und aufgezeichnet werden. Die Aufnahmen werden in der reinen RGB-Codierung auf der riesigen LED-Fassade des Festivalgebäudes angezeigt. In KALEIDOSKOP wird nichts festgehalten oder aufgezeichnet, alles befindet sich im Fluss, nur der Augenblick zählt. Es ist die pure Freude an der Interaktion mit Farben, dem selbst-generierten „Farb-Film“.
Wo sind die Grenzen der Videokunst?
Wenn man die ganze Diskussion über die Grenzen von Kunst außer Acht lässt, zeichnet die Technik und die Kognition die Grenzen dieser Kunstart. Wenn die Künstler keine Aufnahmetechnik mehr zur Hand haben, werden keine neuen Kunstwerke entstehen. Steht uns keine adäquate Wiedergabetechnik zu Verfügung, gerät diese Kunstart ins Vergessenheit. Die letzte Bürde stellt das menschliche Gehirn da, indem die Bild-Abfolgen irgendwo zwischen der Sehbahn und dem visuellen Cortex verloren gehen können und das Kopf-Kino nicht entstehen kann.
Was ist die Zukunft der Videokunst? Und wo spielt sie sich ab?
Die nahe Zukunft bringt die dritte Dimension … die ferne Zukunft liegt im Dunkeln. Eins steht aber fest: abspielen wird sie sich, wie immer, in unseren Köpfen.
Wie stehst Du heute zu Deiner Arbeit von damals?
Sie war ein wichtiger Schritt in meiner künstlerischen Entwicklung.
Wie hat sich Deine Arbeit seit dem Videokunst-Förderpreis Bremen verändert?
Die Arbeit hat sich mehr dem Prozess und der Mitwirkung des Publikums zugewandt. Das heißt, der Informationsfluss passiert nicht nur in die eine Richtung Künstler > Werk > Besucher, sondern dank der interaktiven Art meiner Werke treffen sich der Künstler und der Besucher in einem Kunst-Werk, um etwas Neues daraus entstehen zu lassen. Ich grabe das Loch ins Wunderland … aber hineinspingen müssen die Besucher schon selber. Sie können dann entscheiden, wie tief oder wie weit sie in das Kunst-Erlebnis einsteigen wollen, abhängig von ihrer Fähigkeit oder ihrem Willen. Wie tief so ein „Rabbit Hole“ sein kann, erfährt man am besten am Beispiel von ADA.
Ähnlich wie bei Tinguelys „Méta-Matics“ ist „ADA“ ein selbstbildendes Kunstwerk under destruction. ADA ist aber auch viel mehr. Sie ist durch den Antrieb der Besucher eine kreativ schöpfende Künstler-Skulptur, ein selbst-schaffendes Kunstwerk, das einem silicon carbon hybrid aus der Nano-Biotechnologie ähnelt. Diese entwickelt genau solche rotierenden miniaturkleinen Werkzeugmaschinen, die einfache Strukturen erzeugen können.
„ADA“ ist sehr viel größer, ästhetisch auch komplexer, eine interaktive Art-Making-Machine, die mit Helium aufgefüllt frei im Raum schwebt, eine durchsichtige, membranartige Kugel, bespickt mit Stacheln aus Kohlestücken. Diese hinterlassen an den Wänden, der Decke und dem Boden Spuren, die „ADA“ durch den Anstoß ihrer Besucher selbstständig produziert, was der Kugel eine Aura der Lebendigkeit und ihren schwarze Strichen den Anschein von zeichenhafter Bedeutung verleiht.
Die in Aktion versetzte Kugel stellt eine Komposition aus Linien und Punkten her, die in Intensität, Expressivität und Strichverlauf unberechenbar sind, obwohl sich der Besucher alle Mühe geben darf, ADA zu lenken, sie zu zähmen und zu beherrschen. Was immer er mit ihr anstellt, er wird sehr bald merken, dass ADA eine selbstständige Performerin ist, die die anfangs weißen Wände mit Zeichen übersät und ein faszinierendes, immer komplizierteres Liniengefüge entstehen lässt. Es ist visuell erfahrbar gemachte Bewegung, die wie ein Computer durch einen einmal eingegebenen Befehl selbstständig einen unvorhersehbaren Output erzeugt. Nicht umsonst erinnert „ADA“ an Ada Lovelace, die im 19. Jahrhundert zusammen mit Charles Babbage die Vorstufe eines ersten Computers entwickelte. Babbage lieferte die Rechenmaschine und Lovelace die erste Software. Es kam zu einer Symbiose von Mathematik und dem «romantischen Erbe» ihres Vaters Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace wollte eine Maschine erschaffen, die wie ein Künstler im Stande wäre, Kunstwerke, etwa Poesie, Musik oder Bilder zu schaffen. ADA steht nicht nur in genau dieser Tradition sondern stellt auch Bezüge zuVannevar Bush, der 1930 eine Memex Maschine (Memory Index) baute („We wanted the memex to behave like the intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain“), einem Jacquard-Webstuhl der, um Blumen und Blätter zu weben, nur eine Lochkarte benötigte, oder zu Babbages «Analytischen Maschine» her, die algorythmische Muster extrahierte.
ADA entstand im heutigen Geist der Biotechnologie. Sie ist eine lebendige Performance-Maschine, deren Linienmuster mit der Zahl der Mitwirkenden komplexer wird und gleichsam Erinnerungsspuren hinterlässt, die weder die Künstlerin, die Besucher, geschweige denn ADA selbst entziffern kann. Trotzdem ist dieses Werk unverkennbar ein potenziell menschliches, weil als einziges Dekodierungsverfahren dieser Zeichen die Assoziation zur Verfügung stehen, die unserem Hirn am meisten entspricht – während es sich selbst konfiguriert oder wenn es schläft: die Wildheit unserer Träume. (nach Arnd Wesemann, 2011)
Welchen Stellenwert hat das Medium Video heute für Dich?
Es ist eine der vielen Techniken, die ich sicherlich weiterhin verwenden werde, sobald das Video mir das passende Medium zur Aussage erscheint. Außerdem ist Video für mich schon immer ein hervorragendes Dokumentationsmedium gewesen, um meine interaktiven Werke in der Aktion mit den Besuchern auf perfekte Weise festzuhalten.
Photos by Kathy Datsky Text by Katrin Bettina Müller
Tanz Magazine is Europe’s biggest and most respected ballet and dance magazine, based in Berlin (Germany). In New Westminster (Vancouver, Canada) the dancer Jadie Hill, shot by photographer Kathy Datsky created an experimental performance with ADA and shoot this summer in the New Media Gallery exhibition POPart. They created the shoot with no thought of an audience – they were just two young women with very creative ideas about how they could interact with a work of contemporary art and document this process.
Karina Smigla-Bobinskis schwebende Skulptur ist ein Spielball des Tanzes. Benannt nach der Erfinderin der Programmiersprachen, Ada Lovelace, entfaltet sie als Gegenüber unberechenbare Energie. Verführerisch leicht, so sieht das Spiel aus, zu dem ADA einlädt. Mit den Fingerspitzen scheint es möglich, diesen mit Helium gefüllten Ballon zu bewegen. Wer nach den Kohlestiften greift, die wie Stacheln aus seiner transparenten Haut herausstehen, bekommt schwarze Hände. ADA leistet wenig Widerstand, schwebt hierhin, schwebt dorthin, hüpft hoch, senkt sich herab, ein sanfter Tanzpartner.
Dicht und komplex aber sind die Spuren, die das Spiel hinterlässt. Denn Widerstand leisten die Wände, der Boden, auf den der Ballon aufkommt und von dem er sich wieder abstößt, schließlich die Decke des Raums, in dem die Skulptur von Karina Smigla-Bobinski ihren Auftritt hat. Ein Punkt, den der Kohlestift hinterlässt, hier und dort zuerst, ein Kringel, eine Linie, manchmal ein von einem Besucher kraftvoll gesteuerter Kreis, dann wieder nur ein Wischer, der dem Lufthauch, dem Zufall geschuldet scheint: All das überlagert sich im Lauf der Zeit an Wänden, Decke und auf dem Boden und wird zu einem Protokoll der Bewegungen.
So machen der Raum und der Ballon, die Begrenzung und das frei Bewegliche zusammen diese Installation aus. Hinzu kommt die Zeit, die Dauer des Auftritts, mit der Smigla-Bobinskis Objekt eben auch zur Performance wird. Unkontrollierbar ist für jeden einzelnen Teilnehmer, was am Ende entsteht. Und doch ist die Zeichnung an der Wand auch kalkuliert, das bezeichnete Feld durch die Raumgrenzen vorgegeben. ADA hat auch etwas von einem Globus, einer Weltkugel. Und ist tatsächlich seit einigen Jahren weltweit unterwegs. In London, in São Paulo und Belo Horizonte, im Silicon Valley, in Moskau, Slowenien und Japan war die interaktive Installation zu sehen, oft mit großer Begeisterung berührt und beobachtet.
Eine «post-digital drawing machine» zu sein, gibt Karina Smigla-Bobinski ADA als Kennzeichnung mit. Ende der 1950er-Jahre entwickelte der Schweizer Künstler Jean Tinguely die bis heute bekanntesten Zeichenmaschinen. In seinen «Métamatic» warf man Geld ein wie in einen Automaten, ratternd sprang die Mechanik an und zeichnete vielarmig auf ein Blatt Papier, während am anderen Ende der Arme Scheiben und Segel aus Metall auf und nieder schwenkten. Deren spielerische, tänzerische Bewegung war der Clou, die Zeichnung, die man mitnehmen durfte, zweitrangig. Tinguely öffnete damit den Prozess der Kunstproduktion, lud zur Teilnahme ein, eine demokratische und befreiende Geste, die am Beginn einer langen Geschichte der Selbstreflexion der Künste stand.
Auch Choreografen haben schon Bewegungsprotokolle erzeugt, wie ADA sie hinterlässt. Für «Human Writes» ließ William Forsythe vor zehn Jahren Tänzer an Zeichentischen arbeiten, mit Kohlestiften an Händen, Füßen und anderen Gliedern. Sie beschäftigten sich mit den Buchstaben des Textes zur Erklärung der Menschenrechte, schrieben und zeichneten auf die Tische mit ganzem Körpereinsatz. So tritt ADA in einer Tradition der Berührung und Durchdringung von bildender Kunst und Performance auf.
An jedem Ausstellungsort beginnt ADA von vorn, in einem leeren, weißen Raum. Die Geschichte wird auf null gestellt, alles ist möglich. Auch den Atem anzuhalten und den Moment hinauszuzögern, wieder aufs Neue die Fäden des Lebens dicht zu verweben. Ein Augenblick von Erhabenheit.
How does a large inflatable ball embedded with oversized charcoal drawing sticks get included in a major exhibition titled “Robots and Avatars” ? What is more, why was this work one of the most popular artworks of all the technologically future-gazing works exhibited at FACT in Liverpool?
This work of all the robots and avatars, best tested our relationship to cybernetics. It is a contrast to works that stand in awe before technology, as many first generation media artworks of the nineties did, incorporating a modernism still celebrating technology.
Despite employing high technology, the significant practice of David Rokeby through the eighties and nineties took an early critical look at cybernetic systems and their relationship to people via surveillance. Foretelling serious concerns on privacy, data and technology. Yet many media works then and since have not moved beyond augmenting the experience with complex ‘interaction’ which if anything removes the experience further from the viewer. However ADA enacts an innate understanding of thought, cognition, mechanical action and effect. ADA asks us through play and tactility to engage directly in creating movement and mark making. Just like a hightech computer she is both art and instrument in one, and although she is a kind of a slave to our play, she escapes all voluntary action into unforeseeable movements. It is good art and like much of Smigla-Bobinskis art, performative and participatory.
ADA is a haptic drawing machine. A slave to our desire to move stuff about. Adept and accidental in making beautiful marks that might appear to have been produced by a computer. The origin of the term Robot, is derived from Slavic and Czech words denoting labour, serf-labour and slave.
This creature, ADA, amplifies our impulses and actions, it is a slave to our thoughts like many devices and tools, however this is an artwork intrinsically binding the audience, and in the process creates a spectacle for those observing the artwork being performed. When ADA is not played with, dormant, the audience focuses further on the marks, which over time become a continuous surface or pattern. With the mark-making ball absent and without video documentation present, the audience might struggle to work out how these marks were applied. By hand over a long time as an abstract fresco? Or by a computer assisted machine drawing algorithmically, across floor, ceiling and walls. And as with any “non-interactive” work, we, the audience, are left with our thoughts and ability to make our own meaning and draw our own conclusions. The cause of how the marks were made might seem irrelevant within the ontology and imagination of an artwork. But here the process, as in interaction between ADA and the visitor, the drawings on the walls and the ball itself merge into a transient state of art. It is an art-work in its most basic meaning: it is being worked on continually, from the creation of the ball to the last stages of ADAs life, when she rests used up by all inter-actors, surrounded by what they had produced together.
As John Dewey says in the Art of Experience, we know that without prior knowledge of art history or intellectual abstraction, art audiences can witness and be part of an artwork. As in everyday life we take meaning, where cognition and experience meet through direct interaction. Ontology here is this direct interaction, and the viewer, who is able to draw and be part of the production, becomes what we might call a pro-sumer (producer-consumer).
ADA is just one of Smigla-Bobinskis works which is perfectly well located in time based practice. Bridging kinetic art, drawing, installation, performance and sculpture, her works contain the method of their making, they are direct art, which foregrounds the material, movement through time and affect in mark making.
This is not to say that all artworks require a relationship with a third party to be complete, however, when a consumer is actually partially producing the artwork, through direct participation, completion is more avert. We see ADA in different states pumped up and buoyant – ready to bounce against clean walls – and tired, deflated after several weeks of ab-use from over enthusiastic kids. This image is as powerful as the work in motion. Kinetic and latent energy. And the beautiful drawing. The documentary photographs are explicit in showing the pleasure most of the audience found in the work, but maybe not all. Like clowns, for some this level of activity is obtrusive and crude, art might be viewed as a reflective mirror of inner quiet. But for an institution, it is gold dust, bringing together engagement, collaboration, participation and wonder, one that is social and democratic.
Prof. Mike Stubbsis the Director of FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, the UK‘s leading organisation for the commissioning and presentation of film, video and new mediaart forms. Jointly appointed in May 2007 by John Moores Liverpool University he is Professor of Art, Media and Curating.Encompassing a broad range of arts and media practice his arts management, curating and advocacy has been internationally acknowledged, he is currently leading a newcapital development, Ropewalks Square forming a creative and digital hub for the city of Liverpool around FACT. In 2010 he chaired the International Academic Media ArtHistories Conference, Re-Wire. He is honorary Professor at Liverpool University and the University of Technology, Sydney.Mike established the ROOT, Burning Bush and AND festivals and commissioned and produced over moving-image based exhibition programs and artworks, including: WhiteNoise, Stanley Kubrick, Pixar for ACMI, Australian Centre for Moving Image and SkInterfaces, Pipilotti Rist and Hsieh Teching, as part of Liverpool’s European Capital ofCulture 2008, the Liverpool Bienalle and the FACT programme. He is currently co-curating short films for Channel 4’s Random Acts series.An award-winning and respected moving image artist in his own right, Mike Stubbs‘ work encompasses film, video, installation and performance. He has won more than adozen major international awards including first prizes at the Oberhausen and Locarno Film Festivals, and in 1999 was invited to present a video retrospective of his work atthe Tate Gallery, London. In 2002 he won a Banff Fleck Fellowship and had solo shows at the Baltic Art Centre, Newcastle and EAF, Adelaide.
Halfway through her painting course Karina Smigla-Bobinski gave up the two-dimensional media in order to experiment with light and video installations. From then on space has been her favourite place in which to realise her art. She recognises the great potential of an active audience and thus designs the places where she works into collective spaces for active and creative participants. She regards her art as a medium of communication. Her works are materialised events springing from her observations and thoughts in the border area between art, science and philosophy. Karina Smigla-Bobinski lives in Munich. Anyone who wants to contact her will be more likely to meet her at one of the many art festivals in one of the forty countries and five continents in which her works are shown.
Karina Smigla-Bobinski was born in Stettin in 1967, and between 1986 and 87 she studied at the Academy of Pictorial Arts in Kraków. In 1993 she continued her studies at the Munich Academy as a master student under Gerhard Berger, which she completed with a diploma.She invited the general public to participate in her work as early as 1999 in her installation entitled SILVER SALT. When visitors enter the space which is completely covered in earth, their footsteps uncover mementos like photographs, locks of hair, ribbons and letters placed under plexiglass plates. Each visitor uncovers another piece of history for, according to Marcel Proust, the past hides itself “as soon as it has passed away, within a material object“ and not in the memory created in our minds (Contre Sainte-Beuve, 1954). The title of the installation refers to the materialisation of the past through the light-sensitive substances used in photography. The installation changes just as the stories change with every revealed memento. “A work of art no longer belongs to you once you have released it. Then it is a part of the world, influences it, and changes the world and itself through the confrontation with other people.” (Karina Smigla-Bobinski)Karina Smigla-Bobinski was born in Stettin in 1967, and between 1986 and 87 she studied at the Academy of Pictorial Arts in Kraków. In 1993 she continued her studies at the Munich Academy as a master student under Gerhard Berger, which she completed with a diploma.
She invited the general public to participate in her work as early as 1999 in her installation entitled SILVER SALT. When visitors enter the space which is completely covered in earth, their footsteps uncover mementos like photographs, locks of hair, ribbons and letters placed under plexiglass plates. Each visitor uncovers another piece of history for, according to Marcel Proust, the past hides itself “as soon as it has passed away, within a material object“ and not in the memory created in our minds (Contre Sainte-Beuve, 1954). The title of the installation refers to the materialisation of the past through the light-sensitive substances used in photography. The installation changes just as the stories change with every revealed memento. “A work of art no longer belongs to you once you have released it. Then it is a part of the world, influences it, and changes the world and itself through the confrontation with other people.” (Karina Smigla-Bobinski)
Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s early videos are also about the way we perceive human existence. In a break with conventional habits of seeing she installed the monitor for the video EMERGING in a recess in the floor so that visitors were permanently able to look down on a person emerging from the water in an endless loop. The video DREAM JOURNEY is a surreal journey into a world roughly the same size as a human life. “When people ask us who we are, we tell them stories about us”, explained Laurie Anderson when she was talking about her album Album Bright Red (1994), whose songs are responsible for the musical part. The video is a sequence of memory fragments and emotional states in the form of abstract poetic sequences in which the hands of two lovers touch each other and remove themselves once more, coloured drops of water fall into a watery surface, float past each other, come together to make up a duet and finally dissolve into blurry streaks. Photos of a little girl function as testimonies to the memory of her being swept away on a journey by her father. The sea horizon, reflections in the water and the movement of the waves underline the permanent fluidity of life and a life lived between dream and reality.
A whole presence of a person with his/her forms of interaction, strengths and weaknesses, also stands at the centre of the video ROUTES. A face made up of drops of water simultaneously emerging, distorting and flowing into one another is looking more inside itself than at the viewer: it symbolises isolation and the fruitless nature of passing life. Its different states make it a metaphor for the plurality inherent in individuals and all the different roles in a person’s daily life. Karina Smigla-Bobinski not only thematises aspects of a philosophy of being but, by using the artistic techniques of video and other different forms of presentation, involves her viewers in a discussion about people’s social status.
The role of individuals over and against other people is thematised in the interactive video installation ALIAS. Here visitors stand in front of running projectors to throw a shadow on a white wall: within the white wall can be seen life-size video projections of other people, mostly of other origins and nationality. Just as in Plato’s “parable of the cave” the projection surface becomes an object of discussion about one’s own reality, whereas the projections of the visitors’ shadows throw up questions about their relationship to other people.
The techniques of the artist are just as ephemeral as the expressions of life they document: video and slide projections are as ephemeral as the places in which they take place: images for performances on stage and situations created in public spaces. In 2000 she began work on a video set for a dance performance entitled SEE AND BE SCENE – A CATWALK BANQUET, that was created over a number of years. The show was directed by Helena Waldmann and based on motifs from the novel “Glamorama” by Bret Easton Ellis. Here three female Japanese dancers play out a drama of vanities on a catwalk. Karina Smigla-Bobinski projects their faces, mirrored in drops of water, on a screen hanging 6 metres above the stage. The performers wait for the drops of water to explode with the “horrified expression of prisoners shortly before their execution”, until the drop of water dissolves itself into a trickle. Once again the viewers are involved for they can only see the projection with the help of mirrors.
Karina Smigla-Bobinski also stages metaphors of memory in public spaces. In 2004 she installed three grass covered artificial ISLANDS in the lake of the Munich Olympic Park near the Olympia Hill, beneath which the rubble from the destroyed city was piled up after the Second World War (it has now been greened over). At sunset reflections of light revealed women sleeping in the depths: they could be interpreted as personifications beneath the park containing hidden memories of the war. The artist intended the natural movement of the water to create the impression of a video in which the women could be seen breathing and moving gently. Her work with video techniques originally goes back to her paintings studies at the Munich Academy, during which she engaged with the theory of colours and form, and finally with light and space. The reflections in the depths of the lake not only paraphrased the transformation of individual images in a film turned into motion by nature; the sleeping female figures could also be interpreted, as in classic paintings, as allegories of nature or of the women who worked so hard to reconstruct the city (Thomas Huber, 2014). In 2008, the artist used a similar projection entitled DEEP TREE on the occasion of the sculptural project Ciudad de la Escultura (City of Sculpture) in Mérida in the Mexican state of Yucatán. Here she installed a network of living bamboo canes corresponding to tropical vegetation. The work threw up associations with the mythological Earth Mother Pachamama, who is admired by the indigenous peoples of South America because she gives them life, nourishes them and protects them, is capable of ritual communication and today symbolises identity, social and political resistance, and the hope of an all-round structured life.
Whereas SEE AND BE SCENE (2000) and ISLANDS (2004) implied social, critical, historical and political aspects, the projects between 2005 and 2009 were expressly motivated by social and political considerations. Sensing in advance the dramatic development of refugee problems she was treating the sealing of the outside borders of “Fortress Europe” as early as 2005. Here she reacted to the extension of the border fence around the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla with her room installation 7 METRES, in which chain-linked fences and barbed wire fences prevented visitors from moving freely within the gallery.
The dance theatre show LETTERS FROM TENTLAND (2005 in Teheran) caused a political uproar. Here the director Helena Waldmann visualised the lives of the Iranian women caught between veils (symbolised by life-size tents) and liberation (symbolised by spoken letters to correspondents abroad). Karina Smigla-Bobinski was responsible for the stage projections featuring images and film sequences from everyday life in Iran. The production was shown in seventeen countries around the world. When a shift in power prevented the Persian protagonists from travelling abroad any more the production was moved to the West with a counter-title RETURN TO SENDER. Now exiled Iranians women from Berlin are living in the tents that have become a symbol of provisional housing: the letters spoken in Iran are passionate pleas for freedom. Alongside music, the video projections by Karina Smigla-Bobinski play a major role. She brings the Iranian world onto the stage with her stills and film sequences of family members of the dancers, urban panoramas of Teheran and lines in Persian writing.
Karina Smigla-Bobinski demonstrated her sense for dramatic and controversial developments once again in her multipart art project QUERY presented around St Luke’s Church in Munich. The project asked critical questions about the meaning of religions and their place in our lives […] Do we really still need places of worship like churches, mosques and temples?” The installation of a balloon with a printed question mark orientated on the form and colours of markings on Google Maps simultaneously put the church on the worldwide net and questioned its validity. An internet project offered users the opportunity to go online to express their own standpoints with regard to the questions put. QUERY thematised the split between people’s religious attitudes and global management and the role of the internet as an information platform that has been dictating the attitudes of the world for many years now. Karina Smigla-Bobinski is of the opinion that the fierce (and ever increasing) religious conflicts between Moslems, Jews and Christians completely contradict the globalisation on the World Wide Web that challenges the right of religions to rule the world. In 2008 she showed another work dealing with globalisation at the Biennale in Busan. The video installation, entitled WORMHOLE, showed two places at opposite ends of the Earth (Busan and New York) by means of a fictional direct visual link through a hole in the ground. Here people beneath the skyscrapers and skies above New York could peer through a wormhole down onto Busan. Thus modern technology was able to bring the world closer together.
The artist’s current works are closely linked to the development and understanding of state-of-the art technologies. In 2011 she created ADA, a writing machine in a white room consisting of a spherical outer skin filled with helium with pieces of charcoal on the outside. Visitors were asked to hit them, upon which they began to make quasi-spontaneous drawings on the ground, ceiling and walls. The work can still be seen in exhibitions and art festivals around the world. ADA is a reference to Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), a British mathematician and the daughter of Lord Byron, who laid down the basis for a mechanical computers to produce works of art. Thus it was also intended to work independently and develop something like its own personality. At the same time visitors were encouraged to involve themselves in an interaction: not simply to observe the work of art but also to intervene in the production process. The machine was dependent on how violently it was moved, but could only be controlled to a certain extent. The resulting drawings resembled nanostructures configured by nanoswitches in state-of-the art computer processors, that are also responsible for links in the human brain.
Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s “bridge between media technology and the psychology of perception” (Thomas Huber, 2014) was clear in her experimental setting SIMULACRA, that was shown for the first time in 2013 in the Museum of Transitory Art (MoTA) in Ljubljana. A cube made up of four white LCD screens with visible cables and control units initially seems like a conspicuous source of light. But with the help of visitors it can be brought to life with the help of magnifying glasses. These contain polarisation foils that have been previously removed from the screens, and which reveal the film running on the video screens once more. The body parts, hair and touching hands and feet seen on the film on the inside of the screen suggest that human beings are inside the apparatus. The general public is not only encouraged to try out new ways of seeing, for turning the magnifying glasses in different ways results in ever-changing optical effects. On the basis of debates that have been conducted since the 1980s on the flood of images in contemporary life, the apparatus also helps us to realise that, in an age of globally mediated electronic images, our image of reality is not created within machines but inside our heads. This is also similarly applicable to auditory experiences, as was shown in the same year by Karina Smigla-Bobinski in her sound installation CONE beneath the cupola of the historic Tophane-i Amire Culture and Arts Centre in Istanbul. Water that seems to be dripping continuously into the building through an opening in the vault is in reality coming from a loudspeaker over the film cone installed in the space above.
MORNING STAR, 2013 developed for the international exhibition “gast.freund.schaft – sculpture Europe” in Trier is surprising for its precise construction: the spherical sculpture consists of hundreds of arrows surrounding the “black hole” in a field of gravitation in the centre. The “shafts” (a pun on part of the German title) of the arrows link the deadly tips on one end of the arrow with the soft feathers on the other, two aspects of hospitality (“Gast.freund.schaft”“= guest.friend.ship or hospitality), that might be experienced in various attitudes both at home and abroad. The title of the work is equally ambivalent: it is not only another name for the planet Venus but was also a deadly war weapon in the Middle Ages.
The selection of works displayed here show that Karina Smigla-Bobinski is not fixed to any particular art form. Alongside classical room installations, she works with videos, stage shows, in specific situations and different places, with internet projects, installations in public spaces, and sound, not forgetting electronic and kinetic experiments. For her, technological and philosophical frames of reference are not ends in themselves but general means to present themes in an artistic manner. In 2013 she spoke about this in an interview with Ida Hirsenfelder: “For me the technical solutions are never only formal. […] When I use technical things, I like to use them in a very clear way. I need to use a simple language, because I am talking about a complex world.”
Since 2005 she has been teaching and giving guest lectures and workshops in universities and cultural organisations around the world. Since 2013 she has been a member of DiBari Innovation Design in Florida (USA), a design studio, in which architects, artists and designers can work together on visions of future cities. At the end of 2015 she will work as Artist in Residence in the centre for interdisciplinary research at the University of Bielefeld, where she will cooperate with academics from different disciplines all over the world to research the “ethics of copying” and the” genetic and social causes of life opportunities”. The results will be shown in an exhibition.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of ZiF ( Centre for Interdisciplinary Research ) and art, dear colleagues,
Karina Smigla-Bobinski asked me to say a few words to you at the opening of her exhibition as artist in residence here at the ZiF. I consider this a great honor and am happy to comply with this request, because it gives me the opportunity to thank – first and foremost herself, Karina (and I’ll tell you what for in a moment), but of course also those who brought her here and made what you see here possible: the Art Commission and the management of the ZiF, the University Society and the Goldbeck Foundation.
All of You have already noticed how Karina Smigla-Bobinski has changed the ZiF: First of all, the building, the spatial arrangement of the foyer, in which we stand and whose spatial appeal – to walk around in it, to indulge in it – we are about to give in to, to follow. One wall has been removed, but the columns have become more. With these interventions, Karina sharpens our attention to the space in which we move, the ZiF. It is indeed a remarkable space, both architecturally and socially. All those who work in the ZiF, who come and go here every day, know this. And the guests who come here only on certain occasions, for lectures, conferences or, as tonight, for the exhibition opening, but who often like to come back, notice it also.
The change that Karina has imposed on the architecture gives us an impetus to perceive the space anew. The self-evidence with which it is available here as a passageway as well as a lounge, a reception room, a space for conversations and encounters, is interrupted for a moment. We have to re-orient ourselves. This way we notice some things that have perhaps been there all along – but we have never seen them like this before.
This upper foyer appears open in (almost) all directions. The primary access is the staircase through which one climbs up from the main entrance or the dining hall. If you have come up from Wertherstraße or even from the university via some of the stairs, you are quite happy when the climb has come to its end here. The destination for many guests is a conference room, usually the plenary hall, this evening the exhibition. But the first experience after the stairs is how the space widens. Here in the foyer, you are first welcomed. You look around, take a peek out the window into the garden, uphill into the forest, or to the other side, across the ZiF campus into the green, into the blue or gray, in winter down to the university.
The defining features of this room – apart from many details that one only becomes aware of upon closer examination – are first and foremost the wide window areas, especially the completely glazed front facing north, but also the south side with morning, midday or afternoon sun.
The transparency, however, can sometimes be too much. I don’t have to remind you of Heinrich von Kleist, who expressed his impression of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of the lonely monk by the sea under the immense sky in the words that it was „as if one’s eyelids had been cut away „1. Such an eyelid was the aluminium screen, ultra-modern-looking for the seventies, which the architects had placed to the right of the stairway, so that after climbing the stairs, the whole boundless expanse of this hall would not immediately assail the visitor, but rather the first view would be directed to the left, into the garden, and only in a second turn would the space open up, and after a further change of position, the view could go into the open.
The screen divided the space into different zones, passageways and retreats. In this way, the foyer was transformed into a lobby, entangling strollers in a varied game of viewing directions and spatial orientations. In addition, this wall with its implied niches was an exhibition space for small- to medium-format pictures that was used in many ways over the years; occasionally it became a sculptural object itself 2.
Karina has now, first put an end to that. This has already brought some unrest into the ZiF. Some of the colleagues got to know themselves and each other anew in their reactions to this change. Something like this can happen when you bring an artist into your house!
The second, equally far-reaching and striking change that Karina Smigla-Bobinski has made to this space is the multiplication of the columns. I am sure that you have already noticed it: There are more columns in this hall than before, more than would be necessary to support the ceiling. Karina has copied the concrete columns that belong to the ZiF and characterize this space. She has placed imitation columns alongside them, drawing on techniques that are common in scenery construction in the theater and were popularly used in the courtly art of staging ceremonial rooms in the Rococo period to simulate non-existent antique marble slabs: Paint and plaster on a wooden substructure.
The trick is that the mimicry of the concrete is extremely subtle here. At first glance, it might not be easy for most people to tell which of the columns play a supporting role here and which are merely decorative additions or, as you take it, fakes. I see them as temporary sculptures that fit perfectly into the framework of the ZiF, with a minimalist charm of their own and with a color scheme that is and of maximally restrained colorfulness.
The copy educates us to look closely once we become aware that in the seemingly indifferent there may be certain differences to be discovered after all 3. Like the original columns, the imitated ones are not perfectly cylindrical, but a slightly irregular quadrilateral, tetracontagon (if I counted correctly), with obtuse-angled vertical edges, somewhat reminiscent of the cannelling of ancient columns.Their surface is enlivened by traces of the grain of unplaned wooden slats. In the case of the concrete columns it is the imprint of the formwork, in the case of the imitated ones it is the texture of the wood of which they are made, covered only by a thin layer of plaster and paint. In the vertical, the columns, original and copy alike, appear rhythmized by rings of raised or sunken dots, which in the concrete columns are due to nails or screws used to stabilize the casing, while in the imitation ones the slats supporting the structure are fixed at the relevant points around a disc in the otherwise hollow core.
Special attention was paid to the base of the columns, the sleeve made of original ZiF carpeting, just a little fresher in hue than the already somewhat faded originals. Karina Smigla-Bobinski has placed her exhibition under the title „Blaupause“ (blue pause) and thus addresses the topic of copying, or rather copying, which is of particular interest to us in the research group on the ethics of copying. We must be prepared, however, that the title is not necessarily to be taken literally. You will look in vain for cyanotypes here. In general, the color blue is largely absent; it takes a „pause“. On closer inspection, the play with transformative copies and copying relationships to which Karina invites us does not have much to do with blueprints and the slavish reproduction of a model, despite her sometimes strongly mimetic approach to the models with which she deals. In this portico, which Karina found as a given of the ZiF and appropriated in her own powerful yet subtle way, we find a number of very different objects or installations distributed. One can appreciate and interpret these pieces each for itself as a remarkably designed object with pictorial added value. Individual pieces are also individuated and over determined by work titles. But they only reveal themselves when one sees the ensemble in its context. They are variations on a single, continuous theme, which is unfolded in very different configurations.
1. This theme is suggested in European art history by the picture of the slumbering Venus, which the Venetian Renaissance painter Giorgione painted a good 500 years ago and which has belonged to the collection of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie for a good 300 years. You all know it, and you have already recognized it at first glance in one of the paintings in this exhibition, a structure which, however, appears extraordinarily strange at second glance, and on which quite other paintings stand out which have little to do with Giorgione.
I will come back to this, but first I would like to say something about the iconographic and motif-historical context of this exhibition.
Venus by Giorgione, this image of a reclining young woman with closed eyes, lying unclothed on an artfully gathered white sheet in the shadow of a rock somewhere in the greenery, offering her flawless light-skinned body for uninhibited contemplation, precisely by not returning the viewer’s gaze, which has been extraordinarily effective in European art history and has been taken up and varied many times, is the key to this exhibition. Each of the exhibited works or objects here on the upper floor, each station of the parcours that Karina has set up here, refers to it directly or indirectly. To see this, however, one must have some knowledge of art history. Karina doesn’t rub our noses in it. Like this mysterious Giorgione, Karina addresses an educated elite audience, skilled in the subtle play of allusions and quotations. Like Giorgione, however, she knows how to shape her elite offer in such a way that those who cannot easily follow every allusion do not feel excluded, but invited and stimulated to further discussion. It is already an art for scientists and scholars – and thus exactly the right thing in the right place here place. Yet it is anything but cerebral; it is exceedingly sensual. With a cornucopia of delightful moments, it invites us to immerse ourselves in detail, and it rewards intensive examination with far-reaching insights. The time you may be willing to listen to me will not allow me to go into detail about each of the pieces, each of the stations that Karina has set up here, and of course each and every one of you will have to see for yourselves what there is to see here for you and what may occur to you about it. For your orientation, however, I would like to sketch at least a few key points of the motif-historical thread that the image of the initially slumbering, but soon awakening and in later versions quite offensively catching the viewer’s eye, unclothed reclining woman runs through from Giorgione to Titian, Velazquez, and Manet to the visual worlds of art, cinema, and advertising in our present day.
2. To the slumbering Venus – which was completed by Titian after the early death of Giorgione in 1510 – responds first Titian in a series of again extremely powerful Venus paintings; first and most directly in the „Venus of Urbino“ (1538), a picture of a stunning erotic aura that has deeply disturbed its viewers for centuries4.
In this painting, the divine young woman is no longer asleep; she is wide awake and looks her viewer in the eyes from her slightly tilted face, inviting and quite aware of her effect. She is also no longer lying in the landscape, but in front of a half-closed dark green curtain on a divan covered with red brocade in the conjugal sleep gemach of a Renaissance palace. And she is not alone; two servants are busy in the background with the lady’s magnificent robes.
Karina does not copy this image, just as she does not copy the other stages of the motif of the lovely reclining woman. There is no need to show us the Venus of Urbino again; we know it well enough. Karina merely picks out a detail from the background, usually overlooked, and gives it a new twist: The trousseau chest, in which in Titian’s work the maid seems to be looking for a garment with which the mistress could be decently dressed, has become a suitcase on its way through the centuries and now appears here in the exhibition, significantly, as a weapons case, the interior of which has been furnished as a mirror cabinet. This suitcase – the hall of mirrors in the suitcase of the Venus of Urbino – is, if you will, the complete exhibition in nuce. In terms of classical rhetoric, the procedure Karina employs here can be called metalepsis: The suitcase is introduced under the generic term of containers as a synonym for the trousseau chest, which in turn is to be understood pars pro toto as a synecdoche for the painting in which it appears, namely Titian’s painting of Venus of Urbino. No wonder one gets dizzy in the hall of mirrors of the crossing references! This mirror suitcase, remarkable as it is, does not, moreover, make the exhibition, in which we can stand and walk around, superfluous. For the exhibition offers by no means only reflections and repetitions of the same, but versions of the iconography, where, as always, it is the differences in the details that matter.
3. The mirror motif is taken up and reinforced in a series of paintings showing Venus in front of a mirror. Titian also inaugurated this branch of modern Venus iconography – the powerful pictorial reflection on forms and topoi of female beauty and erotic attraction5. Karina refers here primarily to a painting by the 17th-century Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez, created about a hundred years later in this tradition, the so-called „Rokeby Venus“ (1647-51) in London’s National Gallery6. It is essentially a back view of a reclining, unclothed, slender, light-skinned young woman, whose face the viewer sees only through the mirror, which a childlike Cupid holds up to the goddess, out of focus7.
And again, Karina does not copy the image of the reclining nude, but sticks to the secondary character, the childlike Cupid, who, as we know, often plays recklessly with bow and arrow, and whoever his arrow then hits has to see how he copes with it. In another metaleptic movement, Karina isolates Cupid from the pictorial context in which he appears topically bound to Venus, wrests from him the mirror as well as the arrows, and turns both against Cupid. We meet him here as a plaster copy of a baroque putto dancing with a skull – a vanitas motif: nascendo morimur -, in the back peppered with arrows like a target (or like Saint Sebastian), which, strangely enough, hardly seems to affect him. He floats above a circular mirror – on a column shaft in the style of the ZiF columns – and sinks blissfully into his reflection as Narcissus once did.
4. Similarly, Karina takes a similar approach to the painting of „Olympia“ by Edouard Manet, a reprise of the motif of the Venus of Urbino that had a frightening effect on many viewers in the 19th century and still does so in the 20th century, actualizing and profanizing it.
The goddess of love has become a professional prostitute who poses confidently on her upholstered bed and seems to both invite and appraise the interested person who confronts her, while she does not even glance at the black servant in the background or the bouquet of flowers she has brought from another admirer. The moralists, who were incensed by the immorality of Manet’s depiction of the sinful Olympia inviting sin, did not say a word about the social situation of the African-origin servants in the metropolis of the Second Empire. Karina now focuses precisely on this dark-skinned servant and sets up a monument to her under the title (borrowed from Mallarmé) „L’absente de tout Bouquet“: her, who is missing in every bouquet.
5. The history of fascination of the Venus figures, which Karina outlines in this exhibition, culminates in the floating figure, which is also depicted on the invitation card to this exhibition. Another young female figure in an overstretched, reclining pose, here in a strange state of suspension.
Karina found the model for this pose in the film „The Skin I Live In“ by Pedro Almodóvar (2011), in which the masks and „second skin“ full-body suits also already play a role. The black and white cube pattern evokes effects that seem paradoxical in terms of perception psychology. On the one hand, it is an absolute eye-catcher and makes the patterned body stand out from its surroundings. At the same time, however, it makes it difficult to see contours based on light-dark contrasts and to form an idea of the spatial shape of a body covered by such a patterned surface. This is why this design is also used in the automotive industry to mask prototypes in the test phase, the so-called „Erlkönigs“.
„Erlkönig“, we know all well from Goethes ballad, remains a very creepy and elusive being. Karina follows the lore of Erlkönig, which is derived from the Danish „Erllekonge“ or „Alberich“8, meaning the king of elves, anything but gentle, scary Albes, child-murdering (female) demons from the moor. A trope belonging to a very much older tradition reaching as far as the old greek Goddess Alphito9 and the old Babylonian myths and pictures of Lilith, first wife of Adam, who refused to obey her husband and from thereon roams the world as a child-murdering and men-seducing monster.10 Keeping this in mind, if I understand Karinas depictive argumentation right, the omnipresent image, in the flattered picture-culture of modern times, is the image of a erotic female, reduced to its sex appeal as a illusive promise of happiness11, makes us percept the forest of columns here at ZiF, even more spooky.
6. It is high time that we now approach on the main artwork at this exhibition. Just after the end of the stairs a strange light object is presented: silvery glimmering, illuminated by light bulbs, with white tangled cable protruding root-like into a carpet.
But this is only the backside of the piece. Its front view shows the key image of the exhibition: an enlarged partial copy of Venus by Giorgione. She is resting on her pillow, her sheet, but the background above her is cut out around the edges of her lying shape. The closer one gets to the picture, the more one discovers a terrifying swarm of birds, reptiles, insects and mythical creatures, which inhabit her body as well as the pillow, the greenery beneath her.
The copied image of a woman is superimposed and permeated by a microstructure of animal and demonic figures, illustrating with one stroke the ancient Greeks experience, which was summarized by Thales of Millet. that “everything“ is „full of Gods“12 or „full of Demons“13. But how did they permeate the picture? It is an effect which is almost autonomously created by a image recognition software by the name of Deep Dream.14
An artificial neural network was programmed to analyze features of a digital copy of a picture searching for distinctive patterns and statistically comparing the color, light and shadow distributions, which then is run through a data bank of previously known pictures and their patterns. The results are crucial for information processes like face recognition softwares.
Wherever the system finds in its database something fitting to the given parameter, the „known“ shape gets „recognized“ in an „unknown“ pattern15 somewhere and pasted in the relevant position again. This operation repeated frequently enough, leads such a psychedelic melee of images, like the one animated by Deep Dream, into the Image screen of the sleeping Venus.
This artificial intelligence demonstrates this way what, according to Goyas concerning insight about the human mind and especially, loaded with great expectations reason of society holds true: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos.16
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – The dream or sleep of reason – the dreaming reason or the dream of the reason – gives birth to monsters; a fortiori the dreaming artificial intelligence. The software and the images it generates give us a new opportunity to watch and maybe understand the process of creating the unnerving weirdness in the world.
Karina gave the name “Lydia“ to this piece and reminds thus on the tattooed woman, famous hundred years ago, unforgettably sung17 about by Groucho Marx in „At the Circus“ in 1939, belonging to a showman profession. „Lydia, the Tattooed Lady“, „Lydia the Queen of Tattoo, Lydia, the picture encyclopedia“, the old skin, on which everything is archived18, what matters, everything what entice, or frightens us.
Now, I have already spoken too long. Thank you for your patience and attention. I wish you and us and animating evening at this exhibition, in conversation with the pictures and one another and the art.
1 > Heinrich von Kleist, „Empfindungen vor Friedrichs Seelandschaft“ (1810), in: ders., Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, hg.v. H. Sembdner, München 1982, Bd. 3, 327.
3 > Vgl. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art, Indianapolis 21976, 99-111.
4 > Vgl. z.B. aus das kategorische Urteil von Mark Twain [Samuel L. Clemens], A Tramp Abroad, Hartford, Conn., 1880, p. 231: „the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses“. – Nach allem, was wir wissen, handelte es sich bei dem Bild, das der spätere Herzog von Urbino, Guidobaldo della Rovere (1514-1574) als Geschenk für seine minderjährige Braut bestellt hatte (Giulia Varano [1524-1547] war bei ihrer Hochzeit 1534 erst zehn Jahre alt), um ein Stück der éducation sentimentale, des Brautunterrichts in elementaren Belangen der ehelichen Liebe. Zur kontroversen Rezeptionsgeschichte und zum aktuellen Forschungsstand vgl. das Lehrmaterial zum Kurs „Art History 213: History of Italian Renaissance Art“ der State University of New York at Oneonta von Allen Farber (2014), http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth213/Titian_Venus_urbino.html (abgerufen 16. 5. 2016).
5 > Vgl. u.a. Tizians Venus with a Mirror (ca. 1555), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
6 > Oliver Waldherr, „Die grössten Vandalismus-Vorfälle der Kunst“, GoldeneAnanas.com (28. März 2015),erinnert daran, daß die Rokeby-Venus in der Londoner National Gallery bereits 1914 zum Gegenstand einerfeministisch motivierten ikonoklastischen Attacke wurde: „1914 brachte Mary Richardson eine Axt in dasMuseum und schlug 7 x auf das Gemälde ein. Später begründete sie Ihre Tat damit, dass es sie irritiert hätte, wiealle Männer immer auf diese nackte perfekte Frau starrten.“ <http://goldeneananas.com/?p=1020> (mit Abb. desbeschädigten Gemäldes; abgerufen 16. Mai 2016). – Wenn von den Spuren dieser Beschädigung an dem heute inder National Gallery ausgestellten Bild nichts mehr zu sehen ist, so ist dies einer gründlichen Restaurierung zuverdanken: Einer Kopie des Originals, mit der das beschädigte und geflickte Original überdeckt wurde.
7 > In der präzisen Abstufung scharf und unscharf gesehener Zonen des Bildraums erweist sich Velázquez einmal mehr als überragender Wahrnehmungsphysiologe und –psychologe: Sein Bild ist bereits eine ausgearbeitete Reflexion über den männlichen Blick und keineswegs bloß ein plumper Appell an die zu erwartenden Reflexe des Publikums.
9 > Göttin der Gerste, aber wohl auch des Mutterkorns, mit entsprechenden Zuständen; vgl. Schröder, ebd., gestützt auf Ailia Athena, „The Greek Goddesses“, http://www.paleothea.com/Goddesses.html (abgerufen 17. 5. 2016).
10 > Schröder, ebd., gestützt auf Robert Graves / Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Myths, New York 1964, 65-69; vgl. a. Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, Detroit 31978
11 > Vgl. Winfried Menninghaus, Das Versprechen der Schönheit, Frankfurt a. M. 2007. Rückseite von „Lydia“ im Foyer des ZIFs „Schlummernden Venus“ von Giorgione
12 > Vgl. Diels/Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Bd. I, Zürich/Berlin 111964, 79, Thales, A 22 (= Aristoteles, de anima A 5, 411 a 7): „pánta pl?re theõn“.
13 > Ebd., S. 68, Thales A 1 (= Diogenes Laertius I 27): „daimón?n pl?re“.
16 > Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Caprichos. Introduced and Edited by M. Mícko, London u. a. 1958, Nr. 43.
17 > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVBBxptpSY8: „Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopedia, Oh Lydia the Queen of Tatoo. On her back is the Battle of Waterloo. Beside it the wreck of the Hesperus, too. And proudly above waves the Red, White, and Blue, You can learn a lot from Lydia.“
18 > Vgl. Nikki, „Lydia the Tattooed Lady“, india ink elephant (May 14, 2011)., https://indiainkelephant.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/friday-ephemera-lydia-the-tattooed-lady (Abruf 18. 5. 2016)
Dr. Eberhard Ortland is a Fellow of the Research Group Ethics of Copying at ZiF Bielefeld. He studied Philosophy, Art History and Literature in Bochum, Berlin (FU) and Kyoto; Doctoral thesis on philosophical aesthetics as „Doctrine of Perception“ at the University of Potsdam. He was a research assistant at the University of Hildesheim from 2007 to 2014 and editor of the Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie.
Karina Smigla Bobinski ist für die Periode 2015/16 „Artist in Residence“ am Bielefelder ZiF: ein Glücksfall! Keine bessere Wahl hätte die Leitung des ZiF treffen können. Die Künstlerin soll – so die Idee – durch „Eigensinn, Widerständigkeit und Dissens“, unter Einsatz der Mittel ihrer Kunst, belebend einwirken auf das ZiF im Allgemeinen und be sonders auf die Binnendiskussionen zweier ZiF-Forschungsgruppen, an denen sie leidenschaftlich teilnimmt. Eine ist befasst mit der Ethik des Kopierens, die andere mit den genetischen und sozialen Ursachen von Lebenschancen.
Karinas Kunst und Können sind so vielgestaltig, dass ich an der Aufgabe verzweifle, sie auf kurzem Raum zu charakterisieren. Gern geht ihr das Wort ‚Interaktion’ über die Lippen. Ihre Kunst-Gegenstände – mit modernsten, oft elektronischen Mitteln erstellt – haben nur die halbe Arbeit getan; die andere Hälfte fällt dem Rezipienten zu, der sich vom passiven Beschauer zum mitspielenden Kollaborateur wandelt. Wie die Ballfängerin in Rilkes Gedicht, die nicht bloß immer „Selbstgeworfenes fängt“, sondern den Ball einer fremden fernen Mitspielerin: „Erst dann ist Fangen-Können ein Vermögen.“ Das bekannteste Beispiel ist ADA, der heliumgefüllte und Malstifte-bewehrte Ballon, der in einem leeren weißen Raum durch Stoß und Widerstand der Hallenbesucher die wunderlichsten, von keiner Absicht antizipierbaren Zeichnungen hinterlässt. Kunst ist „absichtliche Zufallsproduktion“, ha tte Novalis gesagt. Von ihm stammt auch der Gedanke, der Leser müsse der „erweiterte Autor“ sein. „Er ist die höhere Instanz, die die Sache von der niedern Instanz schon vorgearbeitet erhält.“
Ein anderer Lieblingsbegriff der Künstlerin ist ‚Intervention’. Intervenierend greift sie in bestehende Zusammenhänge ein. Ihr Wirkungsfeld ist nicht die entrückte Galerie, das tempelartige Museum, sondern der alltägliche Lebens- und Arbeitsraum, z. B. die Halle im ersten Stockwerk des ZiF, den sie von der hässlichen Trennwand befreit und mit dem Zauberstab von Copy and Paste in eine stoische Säulen- oder peripatetische Wandelhalle verdoppelt, die zu unendlichem Gespräch und Austausch zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst einlädt und von der sich das ZiF nie mehr trennen sollte. – Diese Manipulation passt nicht nur zum Gegenstand der Forschungsgruppe „Ethik des Kopierens“, sondern setzt auch die alte Einsicht ins Bild, dass „absolut neu keine neu geschaffene Form ist“. Sie findet sich in Schleiermachers Hermeneutik und macht uns aufmerksam auf die Unmöglichkeit, in unseren Kreationen auf absolut jungfräulichen Rohstoff zu treffen: Immer schon greifen wir Worte und Zeug auf, das andere schon benutzt haben; aber wir kombinieren es günstigenfalls zu neuen Fügungen und sagen, denken und bauen Dinge, die keiner zuvor gesagt, gedacht, erstellt hat.
Auch als einen Wald, z. B. den Zauberwald von Breziljan, kann man die Wandelhalle ansehen. „Wie man in ihn hineinruft, so schallt es heraus“. Und plötzlich öffnet sich der zweite Schauplatz der Ausstellung: Giorgiones unvollendet liegende Venus wurde von vielen Künstlern kopiert und ausphantasiert. Vielleicht stammt die merkwürdig plumpe linke Hand, die die Scham bedeckt, nicht von Giorgione, sondern von einem dieser Bearbeiter. Die Unförmigkeit dieser Hand verführt Karina, sie mit der herbeigegoogelten Fältelhaut und den zueinander gewanderten Glubschaugen von Plattfischen und anderen Kreaturen zu spicken. – Manets Kopie erregte Empörung, aber nicht, weil er der Venus eine rassistische Vorurteile bedienende „Negersklavin“ zur Seite stellte, sondern weil er die Venus als gewöhnliche Pariser Hure malte. Diese Afrikanerin löst Karina aus dem Hintergrund des Gemäldes heraus und versetzt sie ins Zentrum, ja lässt sie erstrahlen im Perlenglanz von Glaskügelchen, die ihr Gewand nach Art rückseitig beleuchteter barocker Perlenaltäre aus böhmisch-bayerischer Synergie eingelegt sind: eine äußerst durchdachte, anmutige und doch auch aufmüpfige Intervention in die Arbeit der Forschungsgruppe über genetische oder soziale Vorgaben von Lebenschancen.
Ich glaube, der „Widerspruch“ gegen Karinas Interventionen wird sich in Grenzen halten. Das ZiF und seine geistvollen Forscher(innen) und Besucher(innen) werden begeistert sein über den Glanz, in dem ihre zweckmäßig-nüchterne Halle diesmal erstrahlt, und sich nur wünschen, sie möge nie wieder in ihr alltägliches Aschenputtel-Design zurückfallen.
Science and art are systems of knowledge about the essential properties, causal connections and regularities of nature, society and thought, which are condensed into statements, theories and hypotheses, but which demonstrate themselves with different focus and form. Actually, both disciplines ask the same questions, they just have different perspectives on them. Both sides are curious and creative. From this point of view, I see artists as researchers and scientists as creative minds.
Our methods are: observation, abduction, refinement, deduction, testing and experimentation, confirmation or falsification, releasing. The differencies? Science work with objective logic and ask for replicability. Art is unlogic and look for subjective uniqueness.
However, we all try to understand what is happening outside the black box of the body. Sometimes we look outwards and position ourselves in relation to others. Other times we look inwards and examine our perception and consciousness. Based on this, I make art to create an osmosis with the world and to enter into a dialogue with others about it, where the flow of information happens not only in one direction (artist > work > viewer), but, thanks to the interactive nature of my works, influence each other (artist <> work <> viewer) and even let something new emerge from it. Therefore, my artworks are materialised stations / results of my thoughts and inventories of my interactions.
Therefore, I will not start my residency with a finished concept, but let the idea emerge and develop in exchange and dialogue with the two research groups. My head is full of ideas that are just waiting to be developed and realised. However, one thing in particular is the focus of my interest, it is the aspect of copying, which is relevant for both ZiF research groups and which has already been thematised from different perspectives in my works, such as ALIAS, JOSS, ADA, SIMULACRA or the recently created game installation „The Brain Game“.
I have already had the good fortune to visite Dr. Eberhard Ortland from the research group „Ethics of Copying“ and Dr. Jonas Rees from the research group „Genetic and Social Causes of Life Chances“ at the ZiF and I am really excited about how unproblematic, exciting and informative our conversation went! I can hardly wait to get started!
Why did you choose the installation as an expressive medium?
At the beginning of my artistic way I was a Painter. I used to work on 2D canvas surface, but very quickly I came to questions about color and form, as well as their movement on the surface and in the depth – the illusion of space. But what is color? It is a spectrum of light that reaches the human eye. And why should I simulate space when I can use the real one? So I decided to move from 2D to 3D and to use the light and public, theatre or exhibitions space as my space of art. On this way I came to installation. Working on this field I wanted immediately to involve the visitors because I saw its great potential and enrichment for my work. So that I transformed “my” space to “our” space, where all of us should be an active part of it. And I mean really active … not only to be present, but to use your body to get the idea of being a real part of it. Lot of my artworks are developed so that visitors complete the work of art. Prof. Mike Stubbs, the Director of FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool says that for an institution like FACT „it is gold dust, bringing together engagement, collaboration, participation and wonder, one that is social and democratic“.
From Jean Tinguely I learned that art should be IN the society and not outside of it and that the temporary factor and the big size of artworks protects against the annexation by the closed community of art dealers and collectors, who understand art as an investment. (This way almost all artworks disappear in the dark cellars of Art Depots.) So for me as an artist, it exempted me from the concerns about art market ranking and so on and allows me to make art, as I want to do. Art is my communication medium which opens me an access to direct exchange with wide audience. It is very important for me that the entrance into the practical experience of art is possible for everyone and that visitors may decide how far they dip into the art experience according to their ability or will. I dig a hole to Wonderland … but jumping into it? This, you need to do by yourself.
For example in my installation ADA I like the fact, that visitors are able to work with the intuition and use their body to explain how it works. The globe put in action by visitors fabricates a composition of lines and points, which are incalculable in their intensity and expression. The signs on the walls are recorded memories of the movement and thus the characters of the visitors. But ADA does not follow 100% “programs” or commands of people. However hard the visitor tries to control ADA, to drive her, to domesticate her, he would notice very soon, that ADA is an independent performer and sometimes she just works away.
Where do you get the inspiration for the creation of your installations?
My artworks are materialized stations or results of my thoughts. I’m an artist and my primary perception is a visual one. I think in pictures, and so I articulate myself in this way. It is logical that my (communication) medium is a visual one.
We live in this world and I try to understand what is going on outside of the black box of our body. Sometimes, I set my view to the outside and position myself in relation to the others. Sometimes, I set my gaze inward and examine our perception and awareness. Therefrom, I create art to get in dialogue with the others. The interactive artworks create an unhesitating connection, where information flows not only in one direction (artist > artwork > visitors), but influence each other and create something new, when meet in the artwork (artist > artwork < visitor).
Is there an artist who has inspired you?
There are a lot of them! … and not only artist! There are scientist, philosophers, writer, theatre makers … exactly, for example last week I saw ‘barbarians’ by Hofesh Shechter at Berliner Festspiele … He shows us what means human condition, honesty, synesthesia of body, music, movement … wow!
What is your favorite art work?
Art works are not trophies that I collect in a showcase. Art is not a competition! Art enters into a dialogue with people and meanwhile they can fight against each other or in turn build on each other, support, or influence one another, quote from each other… but never ever wants to be your favorite one! This do works that have been made to be sold … but those are more products than works of art.
DipART is a blog/platform that would like to give significance and importance to the artists who work with the big installation. The total installation concept was born in 1827 with Richard Wagner. DipART would like to analyse the trasformation of the immersive installations during the time.
Size intrigues when it appears atypical. The greater the distinction, the stronger the magnetism, forcing us to hold our eyes on to that something to assimilate the particulars, make sense of it and have it lodged in our minds. Profiling 40 artists known for their monumental sculptures and installations put up around the world, OVERS!ZE investigates how size functions as a delightful tool to make a statement, break the routine or shrink us — taking us back to a time where everything else was much larger than us. In the INTERVIEW section, we speak to some of the world’s most active big thinkers, to find out how they perceive space, public space and the merits of scaling up art.
OVERS!ZE – The Mega Art & Installations by Katherine Wong, Interview for “OVERSIZE” book project by Victionery based in Hong Kong
K.W.:What was ADA originally produced for?
K.S-B.: ADA is a result of my thoughts and inquiries about the fundamental idea of ‘computer as a machine’ that can remember and create works of art, such as poetry, music, or pictures like an artist. I have developed ADA without a client. After she was finished in 2010, curators Ricardo Barreto and Paula Perissinotto invited ADA, as the first, to FILE Festival 2011 in São Paulo, Brazil. Then came FAD Festival in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), FACT Foundation in Liverpool (U.K.), FILE Festival in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and ZERO1 Biennial in Silicon Valley (U.S.), GARAGE Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow (Russia), etc..
K.W.:What kind of influences do Ada Lovelace and Jean Tinguely have on you?
K.S-B.: I did the same by looking at “machines” today as an artist and building a post-industrial and post-digital “creature” that resembles a molecular hybrid (such as one from nano biotechnology) with the ability to produce artworks through an open source method. In connection to copy-right debate, there appears a very interesting question too — what is exactly the work of art? The balloon, the drawings on the wall or both? 🙂 On the other hand, Jean Tinguely was an artist who disapproved the commercialisation of art and had built kinetic artworks out of industrial age machine parts, of which some are generative, like Métamatics that could draw on its own. Some other of his artworks were designed to be self-destructive, which he described as “under destruction”, a creative force and structural transformation. I developed the idea of Jean Tinguely, where a kinetic artwork expanded itself by the action with which I entrusted the visitors. The visitors thus became the driving force responsible for the expansion of ADA. From every aspect, Jean Tinguely paved the way for me.
K.W.:With ADA, what kind of experience did you intend to bring to the public and the exhibition space?
K.S-B.: The normal, traditional way of viewing art is to go to gallery and look, but the participation is confined to looking and nothing more. All reactions occur inside the viewers’ head instead of physically to the piece. Interactivity in art stands out as a way to connect with the audience. This contact between art and the public creates a relationship that involves the viewer personally in the project. The best part of interactive art installations is when you can use your body which then turns you into a part of the art piece. When we talk about interactivity, we imagine it as a digitally-created, non-physical experience which computers and electronics have very often forced into the foreground. But ADA as a post-digital artwork does not need programming because ADA is an analogue interactive kinetic sculpture. Same as my other works, it is very important for me that the entrance into the practical experience of art is possible for everyone and that visitors may decide how far they dip into the art experience according to their ability or will. I like the fact that visitors are able to work with the intuition in my installations and use their body to explain how they work. Here, as ADA is put in action by visitors, she would then fabricate a composition of lines and points which are incalculable in their intensity and expression. By exerting control on ADA, constantly visitors would fall into some kind of a trance as they try to govern ADA’s drawing path. Sometimes people forget where they are and that ADA is balloon vulnerable to damages. They might sometimes get a little bit too rough with her.
K.W.:Do you consider ADA a machine or a being?
K.S-B.: ADA is constructed to have her own will. Once you set her into motion she just works away. What ADA produces is very humane because she seems to respond to some of a human instincts. The only method to decode these signs and drawings is to understand them as the intuitive association of our jazzy dreams and thoughts. It is a good feeling of having created a piece of art that is autonomous and that it would not be complete without visitors. Within the balloon-space-people relation, visitors are obliged to respond. That was my intention when I built ADA for the first time, but the reality got beyond my wildest dreams. Perhaps it is an intuitive reaction of the body that provokes us to stretch our hands to catch or push the ball and not let it drop. It floats weightlessly in the air and changes the perception. The more she is handled by visitors, the blacker she gets from the charcoal and thus seems more “alive”. Even I, who built her, sometimes get the illusion that she is a living thing. Already at her first public appearance in São Paulo, visitors asked where ‘uma bola com carbon (a ball with charcoal)’ was as they looked for ADA. But after they interacted with ADA, they referred to ADA using the name or “she”, so did the many English visitors at FACT Liverpool. So it happened that I use “ADA” or “she” now, too. Anyway the concept of ADA is a temporal “under destruction” artwork with her lifetime equal to the duration of an exhibition. Her age will progress with the number of people who visits her, their temperament and the galleries’ supervision on site.
K.W.:What was it like creating and building ADA? How did ADA conceive its unique form and look?
K.S-B.: While Ada Lovelace’s idea of a machine laid the grounds for ADA, in the new post-industrial age where the Web is born of a desire for speedy and open access to information and nanotechnology comes from a desire for speed and miniaturisation, ADA becomes the common ground for both nano-switch networks and human brains, which explains how she generates marks like when a switchnetwork configures itself to create “quick routes”, in the structure of a synapse. If, in this very serious scientific world, we could follow the White Rabbit and fall into the world of art, we might imagine that it makes no difference whether ADA is alive or not when we consider ADA as a nano creature. As Scottish physicist James Gimzewski concluded, together with Masakazu Aono, the creator of the first nano-switch, and Argentine neurologist Dante Chialvo, the basic mechanism of the brain is the same as the basic dynamics of nano-switches. Knowing this and inspired by Ada Lovelace’s poetic way of thinking, I took the idea of the nano-machine which then I manipulated on the scale against the standards with silicone, helium and carbon. I created an art machine, an independent creature capable of claiming the whole room for itself and eventually along with visitors.
K.W.:How do size and scale matter to ADA?
K.S-B.: Size and scale decide our perception and how we deal with the interactive artwork. The relation between our bodies and the artwork is crucial. If the artwork is smaller than we are, then it is subjected to us and thus, be absorbed or rejected. And if it is equivalent to our size, then it will mutate into a counterpart which we have to act toward. But when the artwork is bigger, much bigger than us, then it will become a superordinate which we are compelled to absorb and be subjected. We would have to respond to it, arrange ourselves or leave it. For ADA, the last two conditions apply. Relatively equivalent in size, visitors would perceive ADA as their counterpart. As for the drawings which covered the entire gallery space, the lines would exert influences on the visitors, whom simultaneously become part of the work.
K.W.:What do you expect the audience to take away after interacting with ADA? Is it necessary for them to understand why you built ADA?
K.S-B.: In all exhibitions with ADA, I observed and spoke with the visitors (ranging from children to NASA employees). To those who reflected on this work, their ideas seemed to go with my thoughts. This is like a controlled free fall into the hole of the White Rabbit. Similar, for example, to the experience of the still life paintings from the 17th and 18th century, the concern of a painter was on the one hand to grasp the nature and objects of everyday life in their beauty and play, and convey a hidden message or a mental content on the other hand. To read these coded messages (then as now) you have to dip deep into the art experience. However, those that remain on the surface, they also can find satisfaction in the aesthetics of visual experience (beauty of the presentation). There were also those who ignore all that and create his own reading mode and meaning. In this case, it was interesting for me to know their thoughts.
K.W.:Where would ADA go after the exhibitions?
K.S-B.: After the ADAs are back, they remain in the boxes in which they are returned to me. ADA is “under destruction”, meaning they will not be washed or repaired. For a new exhibition, I build a new ADA and each ADA has only one life. I will rather continue to drive the destruction as I have in mind the decomposition of ADA into its individual parts and the parts might create small documentary sculptural objects as mementos of the interactions.
K.W.:Among all the interactive projects you’ve been involved, which one do you enjoy most and why?
K.S-B.: The first artwork that comes to mind is ADA because it is the current project, but also ALIAS which can be understood as a metaphor for the dependency of art — without a viewer or visitor it is trapped in an incomplete existence. The visitor are alienated in an intimate situation. The strange confrontation with the personal shadow and the appearance of a stranger inside creates a tension between individuality conceived within one’s own silhouette and the presence of an image of somebody else.
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Perhaps it would not be fair to say that the following discussion – taking place during Sonica Festival 2013 at the end of Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s artistic residence at MoTA, Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana – is an interview. It would be far more accurate to call it a transcription of storytelling by the artist herself. Most importantly and most decisive for her artistic processes, narratives and contents, mediums and techniques, as I came to understand, is her overwhelming passion for art which is taking her to places she has never imagined, always embarrassing new experiences and manifestations of beauty, revealing paradoxes of society with artistic language with the gaze of a child and the brain of a mathematician.
Ida Hirsenfelder: You are an artist with a long and versatile career. It is quite interesting for me, that you started using video and making video installations despite the fact that this technologies were quite unavailable in Poland in the 80s. The artists who at the time thought about video processes were mostly using film in a videastic manner. How did you start? Karina Smigla-Bobinski: When I was in elementary school, my father had an double 8 mm Russian film camera and he was very fascinated with making films. At that time it has really never occurred to me that one day I will be an artist working with this kind of medium. Nevertheless, this was an extremely important experience. The double 8 mm camera tape had a really peculiar characteristic. After shooting for few minutes, the tape needed to be turned around in the dark room, so images could be recorded on the flip side of the tape. So my father actually used a scarf to cover the film and flipped it. What I still find very curious is that he was not making family portraits or films of people, but taking long and quite abstract footages of cars and time passing by.
IH: Do you still have the tapes? Did you ever exhibit them? KSB: Yes, I still have the tapes. I never exhibited them, but I might do this one day. It is not yet the right moment. And you know I also have his camera that he gave me, when I was still only painting.
IH: Until when did you only paint? KSB: Until the middle of my studies in Munich actually. It was strange how I came to art. As I was little, I was mostly good in natural sciences in physics and mathematics, only when a teacher showed us a Malevich painting, something moved in me. Much later when I was already at the academy in Munich, I set myself a research about painting. I asked myself a question: What exactly is painting? Painting is colour and form. I examined both of them, but the world of colors really fascinated me. And hence I came to exploring the qualities of light and space. This discovery also brought me to light installations and to video.
IH: Are you still connected to the Polish art circles? KSB: I am starting to establish the communication once again, now. After over ten years of living abroad in Munich, I was back to Poland, when I was invited to install an exhibition in Krakow.
IH: In the past few years, I saw a number of installations like “Morning Star”, “Cone”, “Ada” in the context of media art exhibitions. Before this pieces, you were maining light installations, a lot of video installations and also some intense work on theatre scenography. Are you still making theatre or are you completely dedicated to media art now? KSB: After working in the theatre for a number of years I was doubtful whether I can still make art by myself in my studio. This mood overwhelmed me out of several reasons. The theatre piece was very important, informative, and we got to travel with it all around the world. Each time the performance would stop, we would get an enthusiastic applause and appraisal, people saying how beautiful it was. But when the piece is made, after the first premier and a few reprisals, you yourself as an artist do not have to do anything creative anymore. You start to enjoy the applause and start to feel far too comfortable with rewarding situation. This triggered an alarm in me. I though, I have to keep my focus on the work and specifically on the work alone. At the certain point in 2008, I decided to quit the theatre collaboration in order to develop my own artistic language. Soon after, I was invited to make an installation in Olympiapark in Munich which I called “Island“, an light installation in public space. This park was built on the ruins from the second world war. When the debris of the war was cleaned from the city, they piled it at its edge forming artificial hills which had concealed all the horror with neet and artificial slopes.
IH: Like a repressed traumatic memory. KSB: I was wondering what would have happened if I was to cut this hill at its foot, place it on the water and make water reflect what is hidden inside. I installed hill-like shaped islands in the middle of a large pond seemingly floating on the water. I covered them with grass and they looked very natural to a casual observer. No one had thought that this was an art piece during the day, but during the night one could see a reflection of sleeping naked woman in the water. For the piece, I only used a large diapositiva on each of the islands and plexi glass that was placed at the bottom of this floating islands. This was not a projection on the water, because this is physically not possible. It was a reflection and thus gave an optical illusion that the women are deep in the water.
IH: Conceptually it also makes a lot of sense to reflect the historical memory and not to project it. KSB: Yes but also the idea of video itself. In any of my installations video was never just use as a moving image. When the body of a dancer or the surface of the water was moving, I would rather use a still frame than a moving image. In the case of “Islands” I only used a single dia image and then let the water became a generator of movement and produce the other 23 frames. The water made the sleeping body look like it was breathing.
IH: Very often, you would also address hidden political or social agenda in your work, at the same time your installations came off as very formally clean, also monumental in a way. You also often work with large scale. What reasons are behind your decision to produce monumental and formal and seemingly formalistic works, and how does this correspond the social questions that you are addressing. In “Ada” you also used scientific and neurological explanations… KSB: This all depends on what I want to communicate to the people. I search for form, which is very present, which the people can comprehend, feel immediately and I think there is a better way to communicate. I believe, when you have a very strong emotion, you need to have something very subtle to mediate it. Or even better, you cannot say anything about the light without the shadow. In the aesthetic sense this comes out as something clean. That is how I work with the installations. Another example would be mysticism. I know that in our society there is a lot of interest in getting in contact with spirituality, but a lot of people make a huge mistake, when they are over-emphasising it and they start to be esoteric, they fail to recognise the importance of the material world. … I like to speak about polarities.
IH: Another very intriguing layer of our work is your approach to new technologies. You often produce a piece, which would not be possible without computers and laboratories, but you do not directly use computers. In fact, you even cal “Ada” an analogue interactive installation. You used a similar principle in “Morning Star” in which you built a rhizomatic structure with arrows. There was no new technologies only new vision of the physical. KSB: I want to address people’s fear about the digital. I dislike the paranoid approach to the digital world that suggest that it takes our reality away from us and that we become less alive when using them and somehow become lost in the virtual space. Come on! A century ago with film and photography a lot of people were saying that that will be the end of painting, the end of culture. Why are we afraid of new technologies? The question is not technology in itself, the problem is how we use it. One thing is for sure, it is very wrong to be afraid of it. I wanted to take the fear out of the people and to prove that understanding the digital is simply exploring my understanding of the world.
IH: It is interesting how a lot of artists were working with virtual reality at the beginning of 2000, but now no one talks about virtual reality and real reality because we constantly live it, it is not something separated anymore. KSB: The idea of fractals by Benoit Mandelbrot was first a mathematical question. If we can make a shape, can it be endless? Yes. It is not such a complex procedure. You have a line, you cut it in half the middle, you cut it again in half and again and again and this story never ends. You get deeper and deeper. It seems absurd, but it is the beginning of the virtual. You may only imagine this shape existing in our head, it does not happen in the physical reality, but it tells everything about the way we see the world now.
IH: It is interesting how through the history of art and also through your own artistic history we came from abstract art to infinite art. Virtuality basically is the possibility to think in the infinitum in the same sense we may thinking of the universe as an endless expansion until we cannot think about it anymore, but it still continues. It is really interesting how you play with this notion of virtuality in your latest interactive video installation “Simulacra”. You place a body into a compressed space where the body itself cease to exist. You find a lot of times a very technical solution, yet it is crucial for the content of the work. KSB: For me the technical solutions are never only formal. You have to understand, when I was a small child, everything for me was living, the chair, the stairs, my puppet. They were not dead. When I started to use mechanical and technical objects in my work, I approached it in the same way as a living matter. That is why it was so important for me to learn about the research of Masakazu Aono, the creator of the first nano-switch, and Argentine neurologist Dante Chialvo who showed that in the nanoscale it does not matter if something seems to be living or something seems to be not living. When I use technical things, I like to use them in a very clear way. I need to use a simple language, because I am talking about a complex world. If I was to use very complex language for complex things we would get lost very quickly in this problem. I use a visual language that people can instinctively work with and they should also feel touched. And I try to prevent that people become afraid of technology.
IH: In “Simulacra” the effect of the polarised screen was very magical or as you say, I felt touched and emotionally addressed by it. Prior to looking through the magnifying glass with the polarised screen I never thought about the physical characteristics of an LCD screen or that only this polarised screen enables the picture to be visible. The stark white empty surface of the LCD without the polarised screen and the image that was visible only through the lense was a new discovery for me and I’m always thrilled to learn something new, but in a sense it was much more important for me, what it actually made me see once I got over the pure fascination. The person in the cube in the video seemed to be in a very claustrophobic place, a very enclosed space, like it would be reaching out of the box and wanting to become physical. In this sense it was very emotional to see this digital person, trapped in the digital world wanting to get out. What this piece also tells me is that the observer finds oneself in an opposite position. We want to become digital and limitless. I see a lot of people who willingly post their intimate stories online through social networks. I think this may be very beautiful not just an act of an exhibitionist. We are trapped in the physical space and we love to be online, on a smartphone, clicking through something far less limited than our physical existence. We love to be in the digital space, it does not just trap us like some technophobes might propose. KSB: The way I try to do my art is to mediate it directly, so that the public does not need knowledge, does not need to read a long text in order to understand what is happening there. I believe art does not need to be only for intellectuals, but for everybody. I want them to feel immediately addressed. But then it depends on the person viewing, what they are thinking about, what they have read or know or how interested they are to find out. I do not want to push people, so they decide on their own how far and how deep they want to explore what is in front of them. But I do think of all this layers, so I make the installation in the way that it allows for discovery of deeper layers of meanings. One of the key ideas behind “Simulacra” was also the fact that today lot of creativity or fantasy happens on the surface. In this way, connected to the screen, we are already in the matrix. What I wanted to do is to cut this illusion away … like a Red Pill from „Matrix“. Saying, no, that what reaches your eyes, what you see are only different optical light pulses. The process is happening in your brains, it is organic, analogue mental cinema. The claustrophobic figure trapped inside the screen in “Simulacra” is telling us a story of how it already exists in our heads. Hitchcock, one of the best filmmaker worked on this notion of virtuality, showing a shadow, so that the viewer would produce the story and the fear in one’s head. The biggest fear comes from the unknown, from something that has not been lived through yet. You cannot show the feared, you have to stimulate people to produce the fear by themselves … mental cinema. What I did it I removed the fantasy from the surface and placed into the minds. Virtual is what happens in the people’s heads.
Ida Hirsenfelder (1977) is a Ljubljana, Slovenia based media art critic and curator for media art. She is a collaborator of +MSUM Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova for Network Museum online aggregator of contemporary art archives. From 2007 to 2013 she was an archivist at Digital Video Art Archive, DIVA Station, SCCA-Ljubljana. Archives and their disappearance are one of her interests, resulting in lectures dealing with media archeology and the history of Internet. She is also an advocate of free and open source software. From 2010 to 2014 she was a curator at Ljudmila, Ljubljana Art and Science Laboratory. She solders small electronic noise gadgets, driven by the love for machines, electronics, devices and noise/drones as a member of Theremidi Orchestra and collaborates with media artist Sa?a Spa?al on a series of sonoseismic installations produced by Kibla, with Sa?a Spa?al she also co-initiated ? IPke – Initiative for Women with a Sense for Technology, Science and Art. Her fem alter ego Frau Strapatz performs in Image Snatchers techno burlesque.
by Cornelia Kleÿboldt, translation Rosmary Romanek
„The sensory impression of colour in humans originates when light of a certain wavelength or mixture of wavelengths falls onto the retina of the eye. Colour is therefore a sensory perception and not a physical characteristic of a body. This sensory perception is activated by „Light that enters the eye and is converted there by specialised sensory cells into a nerve impulse, which for its own part is then transmitted to the brain and which then, in a way not yet quite clarified, enters human consciousness as colour.“ (Definition of colour according to DIN 5033)
Karina Smigla-Bobinski, she regards herself as a painter. However, she has expanded her range of art utensils, which are traditionally allocated for the use of colour on a painting base. Her „art utensils“ can be both colours and light in the form of projected models. Her „painting base“ can be a canvas but also the surface of water, a shadow on the wall, or any other projected bodies with reflective properties. Her „painting techniques“ and „painting tools“ respectively are reflections or projections in which manual interventions or rather operating rules, and especially objects functioning as lenses, take over the transformation of a perceived model into an artistic reality.
As a consequence of her extended understanding of traditional painting, Smigla-Bobinski’s artistic works take place not so much on canvas but more within the framework of spatial installations, utilizing or combining different artistic mediums. Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s artworks can be a matter of space installations or the projected components of a stage setting.
Alongside the application of film or picture projections and object installations, the observer himself can become part of the artistic reality, i.e. the picture, as an active agent or as a participant. At the same time – in addition to his role of observer – he can slip both into the role of the „painting base“ and into the role of the „pigment“, thereby calling awareness to their active characteristics traditionally perceived as passive.
While the precise appearance of the installations repeatedly and flexibly adapts to the specific circumstances of the production or the field of action, it remains obligated, however, to a fundamental idea and/or perception of the artist.
The artist’s subject is and remains the real, visible world – whether stage-managed or stumbled across. Within conditions, elements and things of the world, moods or emotions seem to be mirrored and contained. Observations, perceptions and momentary circumstances inspire the artist in the expression of her artistic creation.
Karina Smigla-Bobinski is less an inventor than an observer. She works like a variable lens, transforming the observed – registered and condensed by the respective characteristics of the lens – from one into the other. As the same time as being an absorbing lens, she also functions as a “painting base” with transforming characteristics. The artist’s role and self-image are not only visible in the conceptual understanding of the work, but they also emerge as transformers and/or recording and projection lenses in her work itself. They are tangible components contained within her artwork, in particular mirroring and/or reflection, as well as the permeability or rather transparency of matter in the form of properties being able to register a picture of the world like a lens, transform it and pass it on further.
As a transformation artist she abducts her audience. She lets the world see her artistic impressions as mysterious, unexplainable, nocturnal magic theatre, only to baffle them finally with the soberness and simplicity of her basic principles and avenues of approach. Where a passageway into the depths seems apparent in a pit in the floor there is only a monitor, and the supposed space behind it is merely a filmed reality running beneath a glassy surface.
It is as if her pictures were „real pictures“ next to or within the so-called „reality“, and ultimately this very coexistence lures one towards illusions. Karina Smigla-Bobinski makes the poetically combined, tapered conversions or rather transformations of her observations and inner recordings appear to look like magic.
The „make-believe“ of her pictures opens views and perspectives on an artistically transformed reality whose possibilities as enrichment and communication prevail next to the reality of the observer. They project reality as assumedly „alienated“ into the area and bring previously unperceived possibilities into play as their representation. It is almost as if an equilibrium between art and reality is created, between an artificial reality and real art with the common denominator being the „appearance“, a visibility totally dependent on light.
Again and again the artist uses water as a „lens“. The movement of the water represents to her materialised time with which the mirrored object is called to life. Instead of the usual 24 pictures per second, the single pictures mirrored onto the water surface are a way of creating moving pictures and stories. Whereas one person dreams about the city of Atlantis, sunk under water or rubble, or dives in search of it, she turns the germ of life of a new home into a breathable reality as a sheltered water reflection, close enough to seize. Beneath the water surface there opens a seemingly magical, living underworld whose slow movements reveal tracks in which time condenses itself.
The artist dreams dreams and nocturnal truths that withstand the light of day. She creates appearances in a world of appearances. She conjures up her observations, feelings and longings right into the middle of the world, like newly emerging islands that imminently, full of respect for their surroundings and extremely fertile, communicate.
The undertaken manipulations, changes or alienations of perceived realities in their artistic implementation are based on the simplest of means and techniques: movements are slowed down or accelerated, running directions are altered in opposition to the force of gravity, measurements are distorted, enlarged or reduced, the relationship between action and reaction appears reversed. Thus, for example, a drop of water on a glass surface runs, greatly magnified, upwards. The face pictured on it, behind it, barely recognisable due to the extreme enlargement, is grimacing in “slow motion” on the form of the drop. While it is the drop of water that is constantly changing, it looks very much like it is the face that is changing. One has to look very closely to recognise that it is the water as the bearer of the reflected picture that lends the reflected picture breath, growth and life.
The means are very simple; their effect – the enchantment – seems in contrast all the larger.
The possible role swapping of the components of an artistic work and/or “multiple allocations” increases its complexity and thus eludes a definitive analysis. Ultimately, it is also and above all the observer himself who, once conscious of his adopted observation method, will become an important component of the artworks due to the uniqueness of his manner of observation. In discourse there is always just one way to go; in Smigla-Bobinski’s art, however, one finds a mind-boggling diversity of interlaced interpretation methods.
Sometime or other, as an observer face to face with Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s art, one no longer wishes to clarify anything but rather wishes to give oneself over to the fascination and beauty of a seemingly phantom world made of light, which is actually completely real having been transformed and reproduced merely by the properties of a lens. The artworks of Smigla-Bobinski are thus re-translated pictures – reflected or projected back into the habitat of the observer.
Dreams are ultimately nothing other than a form of reality: appearances in a world of appearances.
Man and Medium – Philosophy and Art by Dr. Phil. Tatjana Schönwälder-Kuntze
by Dr. Phil. Tatjana Schönwälder-Kuntze
Man and Medium
Central to Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s art is a human being. All mankind is meant by this, the viewers of art and the artist herself, although obviously these two categories occupy different positions. By implementing varying and various media, especially contemporary electronic and digital ones, the differences between these positions are accented and the works of art engage, involve the viewer, thus completing, indeed perfecting the experience, the process.
Although the artist sets the stage and is a key player in the initial trajectory of the process, providing ideas, discovering thoughts and their connections, she views the spectators not only as recipients but active co-creators which alter her work. It is through and with the audience that the works arranged and then „left“ in the exhibition rooms develop and experience their creative fulfilment.
„A work of art no longer belongs to the artist, once he has released it. It then becomes a part of the world, effects it, changes it, and is itself in the process of confrontation with others effected, changed.“ (Karina Smigla-Bobinski) The delicate task of appropriately and adequately mediating between the content, which Karina Smigla-Bobinski has conceived and presented, and the audience is given to the medium specifically selected to accommodate this purpose. The importance of balancing the scales between the content and form of the medium with its artistic function as well as its direct and appropriate, indeed almost symmetric correspondence with the audience requires that neither outweigh or overpower the other. Neither can the artistic engagement in the mediating interaction between the medium and audience be inappropriate or asymmetric.
The video installation „TÊTE-À-TÊTE“ clearly demonstrates what is meant by this: the fundamental idea is to show „our“ shadows. To stand opposite one’s own self as a reflection produces always and only the same image. In this installation however the shadow of one’s self is consistently created anew, changing each time a new viewer enters the scene. In this way the entire work is renewed, updated, personalized through the presence of the different visitors, while simultaneously and immediately engaging, involving the viewers, including the artist herself.
Philosophy and Art
Not only does the question of humankind and the human condition with its unique form of being, its interactional forms and necessities, its weaknesses and strengths occupy a central thematic focus in art, but also in philosophical discourse. The artist’s personal artistic goal is to articulate this philosophic discourse not in words and concepts but works of art. Therefore one could draw a parallel conclusion that her work is dialectical art, since it is through its to- and fro movement between the artist and audience, mediated, contained, guided by an appropriate and adequate medium, that this momentum originally develops and is developed.
In philosophy „dialectical“ refers to the enrichment of ideational content and this mutually beneficially altering process which is occurs by being embedded in ever more complex, varying application contexts. Incrementally comprehensive understanding takes place when this process is originally perceived and the different aspects, which although apparently antithetical, unified (conflated) in a new whole, a synthesis constituted by these very differences, united in and through its dynamic tension. Another dialectical process is revealed when the creative process itself is consciously studied: the artist selects an insight, a problem, a situation from its environmental embedding. This „extraction“ becomes a new idea, a new thought, which in the artistic process of selection experiences alteration and which experience in turn alters its context, that is to say: is released as a new, efficacious thought into the world. This is how art alters the world in mirroring it.
The „Routes“ demonstrates how „single-ular“ an individual qua single drop is. Because the drops are in motion, the faces they represent and reflect alter themselves and this speaks to a kind of plurality in singularity, perhaps the different rolls lived in daily life. This „single-ular“ individual is nevertheless a part of society, for there flow several, indeed many drops. When one carefully observes these drops, it becomes evident that the faces in the several other, the many drops are actually all one and the same face, which underscores the singularity and particularity, the „single-ness“ of the many. Since however not all drops flow at the same pace, the singular, the individual timing of each individual is addressed.
Observing this installation engages, involves the observer and enable him to observe and thus comprehend the dialectical movement between the individual and society, the single and the many, back through the observation and in the process of observation. This observation is a kind of seduction, because it moves thinking and feeling into a particular direction. The discovery of this direction, this dialectical movement and dynamic tension does not take place in the intellect, but in and through the evocation of feelings, spontaneous associations and as such it remains preverbal.
Maximal momentum, vivacity, approximation and evocation of all that is alive is achieved through Karina Smigla- Bobinski’s interactive video installations, which from Socrates to Hegel, Heidegger to Sartre was and remains a prerequisite for philosophy. On the other hand, installations by their very nature are ephemeral and illustrate the character of life in its ultimate dialectical antithesis: death. To grasp and enjoy the essential, the eternal in art as in philosophy means that we comprehend its ability to communicate the complex interplay between becoming, being and dissolving as a dialectical process and not a final result.
München, im März 2004 Dr. Phil. Tatjana Schönwälder-Kuntze Department für Philosophie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
2023 New Taipei City Art Museum / Taipei (Taiwan) Balloon Museum / Madrid (Spain)
2022 L’OSOSPHERE / Strasbourg (France) Ballon Museum / Milan (Italy) Grande Halle de la Villette / Paris (France) Times Art Museum / Chongqing (China)
2021 OMM – Odunpazari Modern Museum / Eskisehir (Turkey) Times Art Museum / Chengdu (China) Times Art Museum / Beijing (China)
2 0 2 0 Studio Theater in Moosach (Germany) Kunsthalle Karlsruhe / Karlsruhe (Germany) OMM – Odunpazari Modern Museum / Eskisehir (Turkey)
2 0 1 9 Exploratorium / San Francisco (USA) Ithra – King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture / Dhahran (Saudi Arabia) Town Hall / Middlesbrough (UK) Pavillon Carré de Baudouin / Paris (France) Ming Contemporary Art Museum / Shanghai (China)
2 0 1 8 Kunsthalle / Bratislava (Slovakia) Mattress Factory – Museum of Contemporary Art / Pittsburgh (USA) Fundacion Telefónica / Lima (Peru) FILE Festival / Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) TIFF – Toronto Int. Film Festival / Toronto (Canada) FILE Festival / Belo Horizonte (Brazil) MUFFATHALLE / Munich, Germany (Germany)
2 0 1 7 OMSI MUSEUM / Portland (USA) Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil / Brasilia City (Brazil) Le Tetris / Le Havre (France) Frost Museum of Science / Miami (USA) KIKK Festival / Namur (Belgium) L‘Ososphere Festival / Straßburg (France) Pop-Up Museum / San Diego (USA) VIA Festival / Maubeuge (France) FILE at SESI Art Gallery / Vitoria (Brazil) Mois Multi Festival / Quebec (Canada) Maintenant Festival / Rennes (France)
2 0 1 6 Filmuniversität Babelsberg / Berlin (Germany) IPARK Museum of Art / Sowon (Korea) Science Gallery / Dublin (Ireland) Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery / Nottingham (UK) SIMA Singapore Art Museum (Singapore) NV Zebrastraat / Gent (Belgium) Grande Halle de la Villette / Paris (France) FILE Electronic Language Int. Festival / São Paulo (Brazil) ZiF Center for Interdisciplinary Research / Bielefeld (Germany) VIA FESTIVAL / Maubeuge (France) The Game Science Center / Berin (Germany) Maison des Arts de Créteil / Paris (France)
2 0 1 5 Kunsthalle an Hamburger Platz / Berlin (Germany) The Lowry / Manchester – Salford Media City (UK) WRO Media Art Biennale / Wroclaw (Poland) New Media Gallery / New Westminster, Vancouver (Canada) FIBER – Interdisciplinary Festival / Amsterdam (Netherlands) CURRENTS – International New Media Festival / Santa Fe (USA) SpeculumArtium – New Media Art Festival / Trbovlje (Slovenia) Gallery of Artists, BBK / Munich (Germany) A MAZE Festival / Berlin (Germany) International Kinetic Art Exhibition InMOTION / Lodz (Poland) Polish Institute / Berlin (Germany) 28. Filmwinter – Festival for Expanded Media / Stuttgart (Germany)
2 0 1 4 FILE – Electronic Language Int. Festival, Curitiba (Brazil) Microwave International New Media Arts Festival, Hong Kong (China) FILE – Electronic Language Int. Festival, São Paulo (Brazil) PDC Participatory Design Conference, Windhoek (Namibia) FILE – Electronic Language Int. Festival, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) ROBOT – Digital Paths Into Music And Arts Festival, Bologna (Italy) FILE – Electronic Language Int. Festival, Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
2 0 1 3 MoTA Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana (Slovenia) SONICA Festival of Transitory Art (Slovenia) Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw (Poland) MSGSÜ Tophane-i Amire Culture and Arts Center in Istanbul (Turkey) GARAGE Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow (Russia) KIBLA Portal in Maribor (Slovenia) TUFA Culture & Communication Centre in Trier (Germany)
2 0 1 2 AltArt Foundation / Cluj-Napoca (Romania) PLAY – Centro Cultural Universitario / Corrientes (Argentina) FACT Foundation for Art and Creative Technology / Liverpool (UK) FILE Festival / Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
2 0 1 1 IV Festival of Video Art / Camaguey (Cuba) FAD – Festival de Arte Digital / Belo Horizonte (Brazil) COP17 / Durban (South Africa) FILE – Electronic Language Int. Festival / São Paulo (Brazil) 4 Elemente +1 – Pilotraum01 / Munich (Germany) Videoarte en mOvimiento / Lima (Peru)
2 0 1 0 “Cultures of Economics”, Radialsystem / Berlin (Germany) HEP / Geneva (Schweiz) / Haukijärvi (Finland) / Cannes (France) Cultural Center Sapinho Gonçalves / Benedita (Portugal) QUERY in situ and online art project – München & Web Hermannshof / Hannover
2 0 0 9 Jose Malhoa Museum – State Museum / Caldas da Rainha (Portugal) Paradise Loung – Galerie im Höhmannhaus / Augsburg (Germany) QUERY in situ and online art project – Munich (Germany) & www Optica Festival / Córdoba (Spain) / Paris (France) Sguardi Sonori Festival of Media and Time Based Art – Rom and Benevento (Italy) Festinova – International Festival of Contemporary Art / Georgia International Videoart Contest / Landau (Germany) Ceramic Museum – State Museum / Caldas da Rainha (Portugal) Int. VideoArtShow / Valladolid (Spain) / Rom (Italy)
2 0 0 8 Museo al Aire Libre / Mérida (Mexiko) Lange Nacht der Museen / Stuttgart (Germany) Videoakt – International Videoart Show / GlogauAIR / Berlin (Germany) Staatstheater am Gaertnerplatz / München (Germany)
2 0 0 7 Int. Exhibition of Video Art and Cinema / Lecce (Italien)
2 0 0 6 Laznia / Krakau (Polen)
2 0 0 5 Bangkok University Gallery / Bangkok (Thailand) Galeria Edgar Neville / Valencia (Spain) Ein Zentrum in der Peripherie, Sudhaus / Tübingen (Germany)
2 0 0 4 ‚Zwischenwasser“/ Bad Aibling (Germany) Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst / Bremen (Germany) Subterraneale / Munich (Germany)
2 0 0 3 “IMPARK#1“/ Olympia Park Munich (Germany) The 12 th Bremen Award for Video Art 2003 (Germany)
2 0 0 2 Swiis Re Germany / Unterfoehring (Germany) Scharfrichter Haus / Passau (Germany) Kunst Park Ost / Munich (Germany)
2 0 0 1 arte TV / www.arte.de / Strasburg (Germany) Kunst Park Ost / Munich (Germany)
2 0 0 0 Maximilianforum / Open Art / Munich (Germany)
2 0 0 7 GoDown Art Center Nairobi (Kenya) Staatstheater Oldenburg (Germany) Creative Forum Alexandria (Egypt) Gomhoriya-Theater Cairo (Egypt) Theater im Pfalzbau Ludwigshafen (Germany) Contemporary Dance Festival, Ramallah Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Lisbon (Portugal) 4. National Theatre Festival Kabul (Afghanistan) National School of Drama Dehli (India) Ranga Shankara Theatre, Bangalore (India) Waters Edge, Colombo (Sri Lanka) Cultural and Congress Centre, Ljubljana (Slovenia) Theaterhaus Jena (Germany)
2 0 0 6 Festival International de las Artes, Salamanca (Spain) Théâtre Grammont, Festival Montpellier Danse (France) Festival Infant, Novi Sad (Serbia) Göteborg Dance & Theatre Festival (Sweden) Kunstfest Weimar (Germany) Radialsystem Berlin (Germany) Teo Otto Theater Remscheid (Germany) Tafelhalle Nürnberg (Germany) Grand Théâtre de la Ville Luxembourg (Luxembourg) Tanzplattform Deutschland, Theaterhaus Stuttgart (Germany) Bregenzer Frühling, Festspielhaus (Austria) Posthof Linz (Austria) Fundateneofestival Caracas (Venezuela) Alaz De La Danza Teatro Bolivar Quito (Ecuador)
2 0 0 5 Fadjr-Festival, Dramatic Arts Center Tehran (Iran) Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele (Germany) Julidans Festival, Amsterdam (Netherlands) ImPuls Tanz, Wien (Austria) Biennale di Venecia (Italy) Theaterspektakel, Zürich (Switzerland) Teatro Sesc Anchieta, São Paulo (Brazil) Biennale nationale de la danse, Vitry (Frankreich) Seoul Performing Arts Festival (Korea) Schaubühne, Berlin (Germany) Tanzhaus, Düsseldorf (Germany) International Theaterfestival OWL Bielefeld (Germany) Mousonturm, Frankfurt/Main (Germany) Bühne im Hof, St. Pölten (Austria) Burghof in Lörrach (Germany) Kulturamt, Idar Oberstein (Germany) Theater, Pfalzbau in Ludwigshafen (Germany)
2 0 0 4 Dance 2004, Haus der Kunst, München (Germany)
2 0 1 9 Exploratorium / San Francisco (USA) Ithra – King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran (Saudi Arabia) Carnegie Mellon University / Pittsburgh (USA) Quaker Valley School District, Pittsburgh (USA)
2 0 1 8 Graduate School in History and Sociology, Bielefeld (Germany)
2 0 1 7 Hampshire College – School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, Amherst / USA
2 0 1 6 Filmuniversität Babelsberg / Berlin (Germany) Conference: Culturo – Futuro! / Wroclaw (Poland) KIKK Int. Festival of Digital and Creative Cultures / Namur (Belgien)
2 0 1 5 UdK – University of the Arts / Berlin (Germany) Polish Institute / Berlin (Germany)
2 0 1 4 Retune Interdisciplinary Conference / Berlin (Germany) Microwave International New Media Arts Festival / Hong Kong (China) IED Istituto Europeo di Design / São Paulo (Brazil) FLAG creative companie and educational institution for robotics / São Paulo (Brazil) UdK – University of the Arts / Berlin (Germany) PDC Participatory Design Conference / Windhoek (Namibia)
2 0 1 3 Center of Art & Innovations at the Fine Art Academy / Wroclaw (Poland) MoTA Museum of Transitory Art / Ljubljana (Slovenia) ZERO1 BIENNIAL / Silicon Valley (USA)
2 0 1 2 A plus A Slovenian Exhibition Centre / Venice (Italy)
2 0 0 8 Goethe Institut / Colombo (Sri Lanka) Universität Kabul (Afghanistan)
2 0 0 7 CCF Kabul (Afghanistan)
2 0 0 5 Silopakon University / Bangkok (Thailand) Bangkok University / Bangkok (Thailand)
selection of print publications and online sources
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