Being late to speak at the 7th Moscow Biennale, I try the Russian car service Yandex, rather than taking the ornate Moscow subway. My driver’s English is broken though clear. I complain about the Moscow traffic watching cars dart in and out jockeying for position at stop lights. I wish I were on my bicycle weaving the traffic with pedal power. My flights to Moscow and this car ride, perfectly frame my carbon footprint and the anthropogenic concerns for our planet evident in the Biennale.
With ‘Clouds ⇄ Forests,’ curator Yuko Hasegawa, proposes to bridge the younger generation’s internet “Cloud” space with the “Forest Tribes” of older generations, juxtaposing material and virtual. With ‘Clouds ⇄ Forests’ Hasegawa has succeeded in creating a new eco-system, connecting a multiplicity of human, machine and natural worlds by bringing together 24 countries with over 213 artists.
At the Tretyakov we are greeted by a monumental tree, Guardian of Baikal 2017, by Dashi Namdakov, making reference to the deepest lake in Russia. This modern representation of nomad and shaman mythologies connects us with natural and virtual forces. This installation, as with others, has a virtual component allowing us to see the tree in both physical form and immersive worlds as visitors dive into virtual space. Namdakov is concerned with the increasing environmental issues threatening lake Baikal, and I now feel guilty for the fish I ate from lake Baikal, the night before.
Works by Olafur Eliasson using elements of light, technology, and scientific theory cast prismatic light onto the walls. They seem to reflect the works of Russian artists such as
Aleksander Rodchenko, who is represented in the permanent collection of the Tretyakov gallery.
Daisy Ginsberg’s works are seamless visualizations of what is next as we move to the sixth great extinction with humans as the primary cause. She investigates synthetic biology’s potential to impact biodiversity and conservation. With drawings, 3D modeling, and rapid prototyping Ginsberg virtually brings new species to life. She asks, “can we tolerate ‘rewilding’?”
Her works are inspired by bacteria, invertebrates, fungus, and mammals. They are designed as a machining of a new ecology that can play a role in a future symbiosis with the voids humans have created. They offer a sobering if a sad solution to us, the real invasive species with human pollution and consumption as the planet’s primary disease.
Bazowska Natalia’s works blend soil, clay, moss, and bits of fur of various animals to surprise us with a new nature. These constructed sculptures and a video of a wolf breathing, perfectly juxtapose ideals of safe nature with disembodied characters. Here we see virtual and real woven together with care. We are induced into a dreamscape of form and motion not fully characterized, though suggestive of the forest and the trees.
An elusive work by Marie-Luce Nadal The Factory of the Vaporous 2014. Process works captured the essences of clouds and showed cycles and passages of time and its relation to our own existence and influences. In this intense action, extracts of clouds consist of small boxes that are filled with clouds collected by the artist from her Factory of the Vaporous. This collection of 10 boxes, in which little clouds recreate themselves continuously using “essence of clouds” is mysterious. A video nearby and a large sculpture with LEDs and cable ties seems to suggest how challenging it is to create and keep clouds alive.
The Factory of the Vaporous moves between industrial machines and utopic visions. It is the system the artist employs that is a laboratory for her to take samples of the environment. She captures particles of clouds with electric residues from thunderstorms, which are reduced to extracts and then appear in the cubes.
Justine Emard’s work Co(AI)xistence 2017 creates an artistic interaction between human and data as an actor interacts, face to face, with a robot. Based on an artificial life robot that was created by the Ishiguro Lab (Osaka University) this AI creates a unique way of understanding a non-human entity, as they interact through body signals. With body and spoken language, the robot learns from his experience as Japanese actor/dancer Mirai Moriyama and the robot dance together.
The Phobia of Tomorrow 2017 was an interactive work by Where Dogs Run an artist collective out of Ekaterinburg Russia. As you stick your hand in the box, the fear of the future offers a creative solution, by spray printing tomorrow’s date on your arm – transforming the “abstract tomorrow” into a “real today.”
Engaging the future again is Björk’s virtual reality rooms, which are immersive, forward thinking experiences. It brought back memories of how Björk pushed the technology of music videos with All is Full of Love under the direction by Chris Cunningham. Here she has taken on VR and realized its potential.
In one room, you can don the Oculus Rift headset, spin in black stools, and hear and feel Björk’s Stonemilker, a 360-degree experience with songs from the Vulnicura album. Filmed in Iceland by director Andrew Huang. Stonemilker presents Björk performing a haunting track as she melds with the environment.
In one of the last rooms, hand controllers correctly map artificial hands onto yours. The feeling is both familiar and strange, and you realize you are looking at a critical future for entertainment demonstrated with Björk’s application of VR for her music videos.
In this room Björk starts off small and her avatar grows over time glowing with streaming elements of rythmic light. The sound is deeply moving as her avatar dances around singing of death and disembodiment, as she eventually envelops your own body with her own. I found the experience deeply moving and such a work seems to suggest a spiritual moment of virtual spaces introducing us to the afterlife.
‘Clouds ⇄ Forests’ delivers the interchanges between real and virtual, machine and nature, art and technology, and a new eco-system does bloom at the 7th Moscow Biennale.
Yuko Hasegawa’s ‘Clouds ⇄ Forests’ succeeds on so many levels, confirming artists are the preeminent forces for creating and addressing new environmental spheres that impact the physical and emotional.
By Ken Rinaldo