Danish artist Jakob Kudsk-Steensen merges together the natural world with technologically orientated forms of art. Combining richly mapped landscapes with augmented and virtual reality additions, the multidisciplinary artist brings together the real and the imagined.
In an ongoing exhibition hosted by London’s Serpentine Gallery, the Dane treats his audience to an audiovisual exploration of the world through his eyes. His piece, The Deep Listener, epitomises his approach to creative work. In it, the audience can make their way through the city’s Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, their own hearing augmented by the artist’s implementation of technology.
Traversing the landscape, the audience, through use of their phones or smart devices, can engage with certain points of interest in these locations, gaining information and seemingly superhuman hearing to help understand numerous species of London’s ecology. These include London plane trees, bats, parakeets, azure blue damselflies and reedbeds. Accompanying the sounds is a sort of expressive and surreal animation, otherworldly shapes that react with the sounds.
Drawing on scientific research, field recordings and science-fiction, Kudsk-Steensen generates ‘slow media’. That's art with the purpose of making people slow down to become fully immersed in their surroundings. Much like the ways that iconic video game Pokémon Go got people outside, this artist ramps up the visual iconography of the natural world by creating his own mythology around the species he highlights - all the while offering his audience with an enriched understanding of the natural world.
The purpose of his works is to help us engage with the everyday in a far deeper and more meaningful manner, giving us senses more acute than we could have imagined. His own fascination with the natural world can be understood throughthe lens of his choice of one of the species, the London plane tree. In the downloadable app, the artist details these as, ‘an early form of bio-architecture’.
Elaborating on this species, the Serpentine Gallery website informs us that, “The tree can withstand extremely polluted conditions and the bark absorbs pollutants to protect the tree itself and clean the air we breathe. The bark becomes an archive of particles and pollution that connects our bodies to the species that cohabit the park.” This sort of hybrid form of nature, where the ancient warps to find a place in the modern world, helps establish a foundation for the philosophy of his digital creations.
By utilising the natural, Kudsk-Steensen incorporates his own narratives, made possible through the inclusion of innovative tech that enables him to bridge the limits of the natural world with the infinite possibilities of digital - limited only by his own imagination. His own artistic practice is less like a traditional artist and more like a scientist. Working with researchers, scientists, NGOs and other artists, he orchestrates the crossover points between these seemingly disparate worlds.
Virtual simulations are increasingly popular in art, but Kudsk-Steensen’s goal is particularly admirable. We spend a lot of time with our head in our phones, missing some incredibly powerful, delicate and scientifically ‘perfect’ natural occurrences. What if the phone wasn’t the distraction, though? What if the phone could be a portal to understanding the world around us in a way that’s hitherto been impossible? These are the questions that this Dane keeps working towards through his art.
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