Stirring the Imagination

3 October 2022

Digital art could play an important role in shaping our collective environmental imagination at a time of unprecedented destruction of the natural world. 

Patchlab Digital Art Festival

As humans, we are used to seeing the world as simple binaries: culture/science, humankind/machines, body/soul, art/technology… Yet the reality is so much more complex, it escapes simple categories – and all the more so given that we have vast volumes of information at our disposal. In other words, as our world becomes more complex, so does our vision of it. We have vast volumes of digital data including all kinds of measurements and statistics as well as recordings of images, sounds and other phenomena registered by electronic sensors. State-of-the-art technologies mean we can explore the world at scales from the subatomic to the planetary, and we have access to views of all groups and populations, from the dominant to the smallest minorities. 

This nuanced view of reality is explored through the programme of the 11th Patchlab Digital Art Festival, held under the banner of “_econtinuum”. This enigmatic title refers to connections between state-of-the-art technologies (denoted by “e”) and the natural world (denoted by “eco”). According to the organisers, nature and technology are not – or at least shouldn’t be – mutually exclusive. Digital devices are mainly used to control nature and to strip our planet of depleting resources regardless of environmental consequences, although other, more sustainable paths of development exist, focusing instead on coexistence and collaboration. The organisers reach for the concept of the symbiocene, coined by the environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe a new, still theoretical, era in Earth’s history when humankind will see itself as an integral part of the ecosystem and will work together to protect it.  

After all, we are members of the animal kingdom and our new technologies inevitably become part of natural ecosystems, shaping new relationships and dependencies between species. During the Patchlab festival we will learn how digital media is being used to build environmental awareness and to overcome our limited perspective by trying to see the world through the eyes of other living creatures, such as animals, plants and even fungi. We will explore a range of visualisation methods, including immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality and 360 degree projections.  

Installations using these technologies will be shown at the Immersive Garden exhibition at the former hospital at 15 Kopernika Street. They include the Hypha VR project by the Chilean artist Natalia Cabrera. The audience will be able to look at the world from the perspective of fungi used to remedy the devastating impact of pollution. The main part of the exhibition section presents the multimedia work Floralia by the Canadian artist Sabrina Ratté. It takes us on a journey to the future when all the plants we know have become extinct and all that remains are digital models in a virtual archive. This unique simulation aims to create a sense of nostalgia for what we have now and a longing for the fragile beauty of the world around us, and encourages us to take action to change the course history and halt the destruction of the natural world.  

Of course immersive technologies also include sound. Martin Messier presents his performance Field inspired by atmospheric discharges. He uses special electromagnetic microphones to convert signals outside the human hearing range into an audiovisual spectacle. Robertina Šebjanič’s Aquatocene immerses us in the world of aquatic sounds – the “acoustic landscape” of seas and oceans. The critical work reveals the impact of anthropogenic noise on aquatic fauna; this noise pollution may hinder communication between animals. 

The exhibition is accompanied by lectures and discussion panels prepared jointly with the British FutureEverything organisation, working at the convergence of art, technology and society to promote digital culture in Europe. Guests include Jay Springett, a pioneer of the solarpunk movement [more on solarpunk in the 2/2022 edition of “Kraków Culture” – ed.]. Solarpunk is the more optimistic – and (therefore?) somewhat less popular – cousin of cyberpunk, the latter being notable for its dark, postapocalyptic atmospheres best known from Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner and William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. As a political concept, solarpunk provides answers to some of the greatest challenges facing humankind, such as the climate catastrophe, extinction events, the migration crisis and depletion of natural resources by promoting using the latest technologies for the good of humankind and respect for nature, rather than the current capitalist drive for profits and limitless consumption. It looks to the future with hope and a belief in humankind coming together to work to mitigate these problems.  

The coming Patchlab festival will also look to the future with hope – but don’t mistake it for naïve optimism and escapism. The digital art presented in Kraków will encourage critical reflection and expanding our imaginations. Let’s hope it demolishes the famous claim by Mark Fisher, the British cultural theorist, that “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” and helps us believe that we can still save our planet and its myriad ecosystems. 

Piotr Fortuna
Cultural journalist, essayist and PhD student at the PAS Institute of Literary Research and the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology. He is interested in digital culture, state-of-the-art technologies and visual culture. He has been published in “Dwutygodnik”, “Magazyn Pismo”, “Gazeta Wyborcza”, “Kultura Liberalna”, “Widok”, “Przegląd Humanistyczny” and “Kwartalnik Filmowy”. 

Photo: Martin Messier, Field
photo by Elena de la Puente 

The article published in the 3/2022 issue of "Kraków Culture" quarterly.
More informations here: [click
] and on the festival website.




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