This week we’re speaking to some of the artists involved in the Barbican’s latest exhibition, Digital Revolution. Running from today until 4th September, the landmark exhibition allows visitors to explore the ways in which digital technologies have impacted our lives, especially in the arts.
Nitipak ‘Dot’ Samsen from Umbrellium speaks to us about ‘Assemblance’, the interactive three-dimensional laser light field that explores notions of reality and community while also allowing participants to have a lot of fun.
YOU ARE A LARGE TEAM OF ARTISTS WORKING COLLABORATIVELY. WHAT DREW YOU TO WORKING TOGETHER UNDER ONE NAME?
Umbrellium is a new company that has brought together creative people from various disciplines. We have all worked together before on different projects, particularly myself and Usman, so we decided to come together with the desire to create participatory work that empowers people to transform their cities.
HOW WILL YOUR INSTALLATION DEMONSTRATE THE IMPACT THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION HAS HAD ON THE ART WORLD?
Assemblance is an exploration of participation, rather than a demonstration of the digital revolution. Our intention here, drawing on our backgrounds in architecture and the design of networked urban infrastructure, is to explore how people relate to each other and to their surrounding environments and how they can create and collaborate on building their own environments and experiences.
YOU FOCUS ON OBSERVING AND DOCUMENTING ART THROUGH SOCIETY’S BEHAVIOUR IN RESPONSE TO ITS SURROUNDINGS. WITH PREVIOUS INSTALLATIONS YOU HAVE MADE THE PUBLIC ENGAGE WITH THE CITY THEY LIVE IN TO CREATE INNOVATIVE ART INSTALLATIONS. WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION TO DOCUMENT SOCIETY COME FROM?
We aren’t ‘documenting’ society so much as building systems that help foster participation between people and their environments. With a strong background in architecture, we’ve long been interested in how people relate to each other and the spaces around them and so our works very often take place in public space and enable people to become players on an urban stage.
THE UPCOMING EXHIBITION CELEBRATES THE PROGRESSION OF DIGITAL ARTS FROM THE 1970S. WHAT DO YOU FEEL WAS THE MOST GROUNDBREAKING MOMENT IN THE REVOLUTION SO FAR?
We put people’s perceptions, experiences and collaborations right at the centre of the project because, particularly in the context of technological developments, that means people can now have an effect on the other side of the world almost instantaneously (for good or bad), intimate and hyperlocal participation becomes even more important and the question of our responsibility, and our culpability, towards each other is thrown up in ways that it hasn’t been before. At Umbrellium we are working to develop new ways to work together, rather than against each other, and ‘Assemblance’ is a particularly deliberate part of that process.
WHAT’S THE MOST FASCINATING DISCOVERY YOU HAVE MADE THROUGH THESE PROJECTS?
We’ve learned that people’s capacity to rescript what we thought they would do inside the boundaries of the project is almost boundless — they discover new ways of interacting with the artworks that we, as designers of the system, would never have imagined. People, acting as participants rather than just ‘visitors’ complete the work because essentially they perform it.
YOUR INSTALLATION ‘ASSEMBLANCE’ WILL BE YOUR FIRST PIECE OF INDOOR ARTWORK. ALTHOUGH THERE’S A SLIGHT CHANGE IN DYNAMICS, DO YOU THINK THE WORK WILL HAVE THE SAME IMPACT ON THE AUDIENCE AND PROVOKE A SIMILAR REACTION?
Working indoors will have a very different impact. In past projects, working outdoors in public space, especially with interactive lights and lasers, we often had to discard experiments that were too subtle to make much sense in the context of a noisy, messy, windy city. At the Barbican, however, the controlled environment of an empty theatre space would give us much wider scope to explore fine details of interaction and participation, as well as a generous production period in which to refine these. Two themes that excited us emerged very early on: first, the idea of using light as if it were a solid, material object; and second, exploring the somewhat blurry distinction between ‘physical’ and ‘virtual’ that is challenged by digital technologies.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL ARTS TAKING UMBRELLIUM?
We don’t tend to make predictions, but what we know, based on past experience is that it will always be focused on people and their experiences.
WHAT DO YOU THINK VISITORS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION EXHIBITION?
I’m not sure what they will take away from the exhibition as a whole because I can only speak for the work that we at Umbrellium are doing (there are dozens of other pieces) but I hope that, from our piece, they will take away a sense of accomplishment, wonderment and gentle contemplation.
Find out more about Umbrellium on their website.
Digital Revolution runs from 3rd July – 14th September at the Barbican. More info here.