The exhibition NEW ELEMENTS explores an unusual perspective on data and computation, centering on the physicality of information and its implications for how we make sense of the world. 12 works by artists from different countries show how to close the gap between data and the world.
“The idea that digital information is abstract and exists outside the physical world is a harmful myth. Since technology has entered all aspects of our lives, its material nature deeply affects us. Artworks at New Elements bring digital data back to reality and show how everything is interconnected” — Dietmar Offenhuber
NEW ELEMENTS consists of three parts — “The Autographic World”, “Material Computation” and “Digital Materiality” — and collects artistic approaches that deal with the physical aspects of information: in the natural environment, in technological systems, or in the inaccessible structures of neural networks.
The physical world is an analog computer. Everything that happens in the atmosphere, the soil, or the water inscribes itself into the world in countless ways. Polar ice, ocean sediments, and coral skeletons record the history of the global climate and aggregate it into physical patterns. But such autographic processes are not limited to the natural world; they also lurk below the abstract world of digital information.
New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin New Elements. Exhibition view Tretyakov Gallery Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation, 2022 Photo: Yuri Palmin
Physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach introduced the concept of “elements” to overcome traditional dualisms of body and mind, matter, and information. For Mach, an element is a physical event that can manifest itself both as an object and a sensation.
The seemingly abstract world of digital information, which governs much of our lives, is brittle — never safe from the countless intrusions of the analog. From benign glitches due to an overheating processor to cyberattacks, from chip shortages to the energy footprint of blockchains — the material world, with all its messiness and unpredictability, constantly lurks beneath the immaterial virtual surface.
“Studying the mutual influence of nature and technology, there are many questions, which can be answered in the dialogue of artists and engineers. This dialogue makes it possible to capture and understand the relationship between physical and digital reality. And new forms of art help to reflect the continuous interaction between live nature and the technogenic world” — Alexander Gostev, chief technology expert at Kaspersky Lab
The works in “New Elements” are propositions for closing the epistemic gap between digital data and the experiential world.
Three sections of the exhibition Material Computation
Thomas Feuerstein (Austria) POEM, 2010 biotechnological installation Thomas Feuerstein’s biochemical installation POEM captures a primordial “soup of life” from the air exhaled by exhibition visitors and distills it into drinkable alcohol. Referencing an experiment from the 1950s to synthesize the origins of life, Feuerstein shows that the boundary of the human body is blurry and spills into the surrounding space. When speaking, humid air escapes the mouth. In POEM these ‘humid words’ hit the cold metal of the microphone, condense, freeze and form ice crystals. This ice layer grows thicker with each spoken sentence until dewdrops start falling down. The condensed water is fed to the sculpture through a hose which triggers the functioning of a machine. Chemical processes commence; the water is heated to steam, pressed through earth, enriched with gases and electrically ionized. LA GROSSE DONDON, ‘the Fat Mother’, is the name of the part of the machine in which alcohol is produced without fermentation. Parallel to this process, another part of the machine uses the water to cook an Ursuppe (primal soup) where anorganic molecules are transformed into organic molecules in form of amino acids as the origin of all life. Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov (Russia) Exo-Ark, 2019 mixed media installation, video, 8′ Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov studies the relationships between man and nature, science and ritual. In order to document knowledge about nature, humans invented the technique of taxidermy to preserve animal bodies. The central element of exo-ark is the cast taken of a horse’s hide that has shrunk due to improper taxidermy. The dried hide began to gradually take on the original shape of the horse body — fibers, tendons, and muscles. The artist scaled this cast to the actual size of the animal as a monument to the horse and the memory of its body, which is trying to come together. Fedotov-Fedorov’s work poses the question of whether digital images of animals and plants continue nature or manifest its death. The artist looks for connections in the chain nature-human-technology, where each subsequent link emerge from the previous one, gains autonomy, and then subjugates and destroys its antecedent. Ralf Baecker (Germany) The Natural History of Networks / SoftMachine, 2020 video, 18’, video documentation of the performance, 5’ A Natural History of Networks / SoftMachine picks up a forgotten thread from the history of computation – Gordon Pask’s 1950s experiments with electrochemical computers that mimic how natural systems learn. Pask’s experiments are relevant again today, connecting with current research on biomimicry and programmable matter. At its core, a custom-built electrochemical experimental apparatus (SoftMachine) creates a dynamic fluidic microcosm that performs a continuous becoming of form, structure and material narrations. The performance aims to provoke new imaginaries of the machinic, the artificial and matter. A radical technology that bridges traditionally discreet machine thinking and soft/fluid materials that enable self-organizing behavior through their specific material agencies. We express our thanks to Samsung for providing interior TV Samsung The Frame TV. Ryoichi Kurokawa (Japan) Elementum, 2018 mixed media installation, digital print, pressed flowers and butterfly, aluminium, glass The elementum series combines Oshibana— the Japanese method of drying and pressing flowers dating back to the 16th century with modern digital printing techniques. Oshibana is closely related to the aesthetic of wabi-sabi – the Japanese worldview rooted in the acceptance of the transitory nature of things, which is characterised by three key concepts: mushin, anicca and mono no aware. Mushin, “no-mindness”, expresses the ability to let go and to free one’s mind from the search for perfection. Anicca can be translated as “impermanence”: everything is destined, sooner or later, to perish; acceptance of this reality is part of a wise and serene attitude to existence. Mono no aware, or empathy for objects, denotes a profound pathos in all things: by accepting and understanding the natural process of degeneration, we become capable of truly appreciating beauty. Reconfiguring flowers that have lost their original vitality, Kurokawa further enriches these arrangements with a digital elaboration of the images on glass. By uniting these various elements, the work brings new life to the flowers through enhancing the process of decay. AKI INOMATA (Japan) Think Evolution #1 : Kiku-ishi (Ammonite), 2016-2017 video, 1′58’’ After prospering for 300 million years, the ammonites disappeared when the dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago. From shell structure and fossils, it is assumed that the ammonite is closely related to the squid and octopus. The octopus has thrown away its shell in the course of evolution, but it is known to use tools such as coconut shells and bivalves to protect its soft body. Inspired by this evolutionary story, I began a journey of thought experiments to restore the shape of an excavated ammonite shell and arrange an encounter with octopus. Provider of CT data: White Rabbit Corporation 3D CG modeling support: Yuji Osagawa Tomás Saraceno (Argentina) Printed Matter(s), 2018 prints with ink made of black carbon sequestered from the air of Mumbai on eight-gram handmade paper Printed Matter(s) is a series of photo giclée prints made with black carbon pollution sequestered from the air in Mumbai, printed onto eight-gram handmade paper. The carbon particles constitute what is described as PM2.5 dust pollution — particles smaller than 2.5 µm in diameter. PM2.5 is the most common pollutant in urban environments and is especially harmful as the particles are small enough to travel deep into the lungs. The prints reproduce images of cosmic dust particles from a NASA Cosmic Dust Catalog – like polluted air, cosmic dust touches every person around the world, but on vastly different timescales. In these prints, the particles material with which the air has been poisoned becomes a tool for the air to communicate, reminding us of its ever-present agency even in the face of efforts to destroy it. Theresa Schubert / Ivan Taranin (Germany) ooze, 2021 audiovisual biotechnological installation Commissioned by Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation Supported by Kaspersky Inviting observation, meditation, experimentation and playful action, the audiovisual installation ooze uses three different kinds of algae to investigate visual metaphors of network dynamics. The installation integrates the hyperorganism of a forest with a server farm, representing the networks that underpin our digital and carbon lifes. 3D scans of these two infrastructures are controlled by the living sculpture of an algae bioreactor. Together they form a hybrid ecosystem and a techno-organic collage of a world where nature, culture and the digital continue to become increasingly intertwined, even inseparable. The microalgae living in the installation are monitored via sensors and introduce disturbances into the system—as it also happens in real life. Responding to its growth and metabolic activity, the organic interface acts as an analogue random number generator driving the images and sounds of the installation. By shining their cellphone lights on the algae cultures, visitors will help them grow and produce more oxygen, which is measured by the sensors in real time and fed as parameters into the point clouds. This allows visitors to become part of a world of computation where the digital and the natural dissolve into each other, and where human presence leaves traces and noise in the system. Programming and Sound: Ivan Taranin Sensor Programming: Sarah Grant Scientific Support: Institute of Biotechnology, Bioprocess Engineering, Technical University Berlin; Institute of Plant Physiology, Russian Academy of Science Additional support: Neu Start Kultur We express our thanks to Samsung for providing premium TV SamsungQLED. Digital Materiality
Anna Ridler (UK) Proof of Work: The Shell Record, 2021 installation, video, shells, archival materials “Proof of Work: The Shell Record” takes us through the entire spectrum of autographic phenomena. The British artist collected shells from the foreshore of the River Thames to create a record of history of the river – some of the shells have gone extinct and no longer live in the river, others are invasive species that are the result of globalisation. This piece shows how she catalogued, photographed, and feed them into an artificial neural network, creating an infinite variety of simulated shells. These synthetic traces are then recorded on the Blockchain as a bespoke NFT token, embodying the energy used to create them. For Ridler, it is significant that the shells, historically used as a form of currency, have been collected near the City of London, one of the financial centres of the world. The Shell Record NFT was part of Sotheby’s first NFT auction. Calligraphy: Natalia Toropitsyna We express our thanks to Samsung for providing premium TV SamsungQLED. Memo Akten (UK) All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, 2021 video, 1’58’’ Taking its title from the late American poet Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem, “All watched over by machines of loving grace” is a short experimental film about our obsession, fetishization, and deification of technology. In our ongoing race to optimize and computerize, to ‘move fast break things’ in devotion to our holy missions of ‘growth’ and ‘progress’, we often fail to see – let alone to foresee – the undesirable consequences of our misjudged narrow intelligence. As the boundaries between ‘nature’ and ‘artificial’, between ‘human’ and ‘technology’ are imaginary, non-existent, our efforts to tame nature and subdue her to our will, are in fact an endeavor to tame and imprison ourselves. Technology alone cannot save us. Salvation does not lie in submission to technology. Neither is it in a rejection of technology. There is no either/or, as there is no divide between humanity and technology; technology is human, and thus natural. Rejection of technology is a rejection of humanity. To break out of this false dichotomy, we must adapt a holistic approach – to embrace not only technology, but all of humanity, all of nature – including technology. We express our thanks to Samsung for providing interior TV Samsung The Frame TV.
The Autographic World
Tuula Närhinen (Finland) Drop Tracer, 2011 mixed media installation, photoprints, slides, objects, video 49’20’’ Tuula Närhinen engages historical scientific methods for measuring elemental processes and explores the physical and conceptual underpinnings of pictorial representation. She constructs experimental visual interfaces that connect the observer with the fabric of the world. Images that emerge from this interaction unravel the inherent pictorial potential in naturally occurring events. Re-adapting methods and instruments derived from natural sciences, Närhinen facilitates the transcription of movements of different natural phenomena, such as water and wind into visual plots. The tracings and photographic recordings are created by the agency of nature itself– trees scribble and waves dash down their signatures. Närhinen constructs simple low-tech devices and uses various (photo)graphic techniques that enable us to move beyond the explicit and grasp the unfurling of a world invisible to the naked eye. Drop tracer is a visual record of a raindrop’s collision with a soot-coated glass slide. A contact microphone catches the sound, and the captured process is shown on the screen. Erich Berger (Finland) Autoradiographic Examination of a Landscape, 2021 color print, mounted on dibond Berger says about his work: During the last two years I conducted intense field work in Finland, exploring sites with heightened natural radioactivity. The radioactivity originates from the decay of natural uranium and thorium mineralisations in the rock. I collect data which allow me to portray the gamma radiation fields which protrude from the radioactive base-rock as intricate but intrinsic features of the landscape. Invisible but present, the constitution of these fields are part of the innate processes of our planet in deep time, conforming to continental drift, the biogenic accumulation of oxygen in our atmosphere, the folding of mountain ranges and their weathering; they follow the carvings of geophysical forms which produce the features of the landscapes we observe around us. I refer to these bodies as spectral because their presence is ghostly and can only be detected via extra-sensorial means, but then they are also spectral because they are fields of light, of photons, although located in a part of the spectrum not visible to the human eye. Photographic film allows those fields to register themselves, resulting in autoradiographs witnessing the ever ongoing decay. Deep time, deep futures, innate and human made landscapes, the nuclear contemporary all these notions manifest in Spectral Landscapes. Forensic Architecture (UK) Cloud Studies, 2021 videoinstallation Whether in the courtroom or in the science lab, the concept of evidence implies aesthetic experience. Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary investigative group of architects, filmmakers, and citizen journalists that reveals evidence of human rights violations through spatial, visual, and experiential means. Documenting traces plays a central role in forensics, based on the basic principle that every contact leaves a trace. But clouds and gases often leave no trace — they transform and dissipate, which complicates the documentation of environmental pollution, chemical warfare and toxic releases. The Cloud studies series examines the precarious production of evidence and through a series of investigations in different geographical locations. Forensic Architecture Team Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator), Samaneh Moafi (Researcher in Charge), Robert Trafford, Martyna Marciniak, Lola Conte, Lachlan Kermode, Mark Nieto, Leigh Brown, Sarah Nankivell, Christina Varvia, Amy Cheung, Shourideh C. Molavi Originally commissioned by ZKM Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe Andrey Glazovsky, glaciologist Glaciers of the Altai, 2021 archival photos, 1897–2021 Glaciers are one of the most sensitive and visible indicators of climate change. They disappear when they lose more ice than they can accumulate with new snowfalls. If it happens more rapidly it means the warming level is more high. We have collected photos of the same Altai glaciers, taken from the same angle at the same time of the year, but with a difference of several decades. This is a vivid visual confirmation of real climate changes, which are progressing at a pace comparable to human life. In the twentieth century, Altai glaciers were disappearing unprecedentedly rapidly: over 70 years their area has decreased by 40%, and in the last decade, the decline has increased by 1.5-2 times (from 1040 km² in 1850 to 880 km² in 1952, and 820 km² in 2003). Mountains change with the climate. Photos are not the only evidence of this. Glaciers write their own history with the footprints they leave in the landscape. Their former dimensions are imprinted in the form of rocky ridges and hills, the direction of movement is in the scars on the exposed rocks. This natural chronicle goes back into the past and tells us that 20 thousand years ago these glaciers were very extensive, but 10 thousand years ago they were even less than the present. We express our thanks to S. A. Nikitin and the Archive of images of glaciers of Russia for providing the materials.
As a part of a public educational program of the exhibition the international
was held. It aimed to bring to the forefront the current issues of new artistic practices that redefines the relationship between digital and analogue computational processes and systems. You can watch all the sessions and performance by Ralf Baecker ‘A Natural History of Networks (Soft Machine)’ on our symposium ‘New Elements’ YouTube channel.