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SIMULACRA – interactive video installation / mental cinema

SIMULACRA is an optophysical experimental arrangement with which Karina Smigla-Bobinski succeeds to build a bridge between media technology and perception philosophy. At its heart are four LCD monitor panels, which are assembled in the form of a hollow square, and installed at eye level in the middle of the room. The ensemble appears internally gutted, overgrown and embraced. A tangle of cables and control devices pours out of the middle of the square. All around it several magnifying lenses dangle from chains. The imageless glaring ray of the monitors looks as if the images had fallen out of them. What remains is the essence of the medium: Light.

But the images are still in the screens. It requires only a small visual aid to recognise them. LCD-Monitors require several polarising films in front and behind the pixel layers to produce visible images. These polarising films filter the certain vibration directions of the emitting light. One of them is located on the surface of the monitor and can easily be scraped off. Thereby the monitor doesn’t display any more pictures, but shines with an intense white light.

If you hold a polarising film, as in SIMULACRA in a magnifying glass version, before the monitor, then the function is restored. It is an impressive, wondrous experience when images suddenly appear from the pure white by the mare glance through a seemingly transparent film. But if you turn the lens in front of your eyes, the polarising structure of the film creates wild colour shifts or even complementary negative images. In the interaction with SIMULACRA other visual experiences were discovered by the visitors: If you hold a magnifying glass in front of each eye and turn them differently, the result is a hologram-like image. Two lenses stacked on each other in a ninety degrees angle darken the picture completely.

The video images that run across the screens, Karina Smigla-Bobinski worked with the effect of an opaque glistening body of light: – hands, feet, long black hair press against the inside surface of the screens, making them only visible within the contact, before disappearing into the white nothingness.

„White Cube“ – Dr. Thomas Huber, München, 2014


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 a sex 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 models show 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.

In 2007 Henrik Ehrsson together with a group of neuroscientists at Karolinska Institutet induced out-of-body experiences, using virtual reality and an experimental set-up. This Institute makes so many great experiments and discoveries about the brain, the body, and our senses.

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). >

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25 Jahre Videokunst Förderpreis Bremen ein Fest

by Filmbüro Bremen

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Was ist für Dich Videokunst?

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.


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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.

Axel Feuß

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When the world in magnified – Discussion with Karina Smigla-Bobinski

by Ida Hirsenfelder > MoTA, Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana

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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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Simulacra by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, the elusive ghostly video by Alessandro Ludovico, Neural Magazin – Critical Digital Culture And Media Arts

The feedback we get from a video, or any cinematic artifact is continuous, as every frame reaching our retina alters the state of our brain and our interpretation of the source material. In Simulacra by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, there is a suspended apparatus made using four attached screens forming a cube without the upper and lower side. But the working screens seem to transmit only a plain white colour until we decide to use the attached magnifying glasses to look closer. Different content is then made available to us. The author defines it as an “organic, analogue mental cinema”, and in fact our default reaction is to think that the process is happening in our brains rather than in the lenses. An intimate relationship is then established that puts the spectator in a privileged position, recognised by the artist as the one chosen to access her ghostly secrets.


Simulacra, a Video Installation Revealed Through Magnifying Glasses by Peter Kirn, Create Digital Motion

It’s easy to forget that all video is illusion, a matter of perspective. In 2013 2s Simulacra, Germany-based artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, images seem to merge directly from light in the eyes of the viewer, pulled from space into being by magnifying glasses suspended from the ceiling. Even an element as basic as focus, then, is game for artistic manipulation.
Her materials are basic – think monitors and a splitter. But in this as in her other works, physical materiality is a common theme, playing with mapping and light, but also toying with space and objects. It’s interesting in this case that she leaves the jumble of cords intentionally exposed (which is not necessarily the case with all her work). That can look a bit raw, but at least here it reveals what people are seeing.


When the world in magnified – Discussion with Karina Smigla-Bobinski by Ida Hirsenfelder > MoTA, Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana

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.


Description > interactive video installation / mental cinema
Components > 4 monitors, video mini player, video, spliter, cable
Dimention > variable, most: 1 m long x 1 m wide x 3 m high
Premiere > 2013, November 27 > MoTA Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana / Slovenia

Supported by Goethe-Institut