Blurring the Lines: eteam's Exploration of Art, Nature, and Technology

Blurring the Lines: eteam's Exploration of Art, Nature, and Technology

Sedition’s Community Manager Vladislav Alimpiev had the pleasure of asking a few questions from eteam (Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger) before their inaugural Sedition launch.

Q: Could you introduce yourselves and your artistic practice?

A: We are eteam, a collaboration of two people, working together since 2001. We use video, performance, installation, and writing to instigate and articulate encounters at the edges of diverging cultural, technological, and aesthetic universes. Working on the margins where the forgotten exists, we ask: "Forgotten by whom? Isolated from what?" This triggers diverse perspectives and the opportunity to trespass the divide. Sometimes a border is political, but how do birds or the flow of water perceive these borders? Sometimes the divide is societal, so we question the meaning of value. Sometimes the threshold manifests in terms of scale, and we look at phenomena from a great distance to see their abstraction and then move in very close to focus on the details. To operate within the margins, we rely on the newest and oldest technologies – in terms of communication, documentation, observation, logistics, protection, translation, etc. Therefore, the idea of technology is not just that of a tool we grab and use but part of us, another collaborator.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about the series you are launching on Sedition, Spirit World? What ideas did you intend to explore in this work?

Hajoe: Spirit World is part of our current body of work we call Our Non-Understanding of Everything, where we look at forms of energy that coexist within bodies of gaseous, fluid, and solid matter and how they influence each other. Trees grow their roots into the soil; our smart devices grow data into our subconscious. Jack o'Lantern mushrooms glow at night to attract insects; protesters in Hong Kong used flashlights on their phones to protest the political situation of their city.

Franziska: Spirit World is also informed by our encountering the Buddhist and Taoist traditions of the Hungry Ghost Festivals in Taipei and Hong Kong when people placed food offerings in front of their houses or shops to feed the hungry ghosts, who come and roam the earth in the month of August when the gates to the afterlife are opened. It’s a celebration to honor the ancestors by providing them with food and also entertainment, which means there will be performances of traditional Chinese operas or puppet plays that humans and puppets perform for the spirits. What fascinates us about this kind of performance is how it opens up the possibilities of two simple questions: What is a stage? and Who sees the performance? By initiating physical interactions between elements from the natural world and human-developed technologies, we are trying to widen our understanding of performance and increase the number of answers to these two very simple questions.

Q: What first drew you to explore the interplay between nature and technology?

Franziska: Until two years ago, we never had an indoor studio and always worked outdoors. For almost 15 years, we worked with pieces of land that we bought - sight unseen on eBay - mostly in remote locations where land was the cheapest. 1 acre in Utah, 10 acres in Nevada: we bought and worked with land in SecondLife and also with an allotment garden in a rural part of Germany. More recently, like most people, we spent a lot of time interacting and working with our digital devices during the pandemic, which was very helpful but exhausting to us. We were living in Taipei for part of the lockdowns, and one day we went to a wildlife park with many Tarot plants, which have very large, green leaves. Suddenly we felt the urge to give our phones a break, to let them rest. We turned the phone cameras on, laid them onto the strongest Taro leaves we could find, and observed how they took in the green of the leaves while swaying in the wind. When the camera function turned off and the screen went black, it reflected the canopy above, which was a beautiful movie to watch. Then we noticed a gecko who sat on a nearby leaf, then a snail, who had latched onto the underside of another leaf. We went back many times to place our phones on leaves. It felt good to take care of them this way and go beyond the idea of plugging them into the electrical grid when they needed to recharge.

Hajoe: On a smaller scale, a plant is technology, an animal is technology, a device is technology, a rock is technology, and we see all those as parts of nature, or better yet, what makes nature. A hybrid plant can be created by nature or be man-made; on a larger scale, the earth and its atmosphere are technology and create weather, climate, and natural disasters. None of them function independently of each other. In the development of our human-made digital technology, faster speeds are evaluated and promoted by task executions; technology outside the human-operated one proceeds at its own variable speed. There is no single goal; instead, it is an ongoing series of overlapping events.

Q: Are there any recurring themes in your creative practice? How has your practice evolved over time?

Franziska: Time itself has played an important role. Our projects became longer and longer, from one year to three years to six years. Now we are slowly letting go of measurable timeframes and instead consider our work as part of daily practice rather than projects.

Hajoe: In the last years, we talked a lot about disappearance and invisibility in private - and in the form of lectures and workshops. We created Space Delay, Waypoint, Follow, Orbit, Focus, Track, Pan; and The Line. Observing the impact of mass surveillance and virtual hyper-connectivity, our interest is connected to social inequality, access, and control. We looked at camouflage and cultural and aesthetic modes of blending in and studied images promoting cloaking products, such as camouflage patterns or cloaking devices presenting half-visible models or (un-) intended imperfections to prove functionality and truth. The visible, the hidden, the shadows, the light, the interconnectedness between opposites that give rise to each other and sometimes get out of balance.

Franziska: We often feel shaken out of balance, together with the world perhaps. Tilted to extremes, we wonder how to apply a counterweight to the abruptness of current shifts. What stories carry the most weight right now?

Hajoe: We started thinking about the construction of narratives, motivations, and methods. How much clarity and how much ambiguity is appropriate? What about using real events, real people, and real places in the creation of fiction? What is a body? What is making? What is hand-made, and what is man-made? How are stories being told, and how is the body connected to the storyteller? This thinking has led us to the question that drives our current research: can codes of an old, traditional craft coexist with and influence the new code of digital devices, interfaces, storytelling, image- and sound-making? We believe that connecting analog and digital technologies, their languages, stories, and operating skills can show the ways the old and new depend on each other, engage with our minds and bodies to provide insight into our intricately varied and constantly evolving humanness.

Q: How do you envisage the future of art in the digital realm? 

Hajoe: Twenty years ago, we lamented about the use of slides to present our work as costly and limiting. We tried to send digital images on CDs instead but were told “No,” so we took a slide photo of the digital image on our screen and submitted those instead. Looking back, the resolution of those images is like a wall of pixels distorted by the curvature of the cathode ray monitor. Now screens can have higher resolution, and terms such as retina are being used to describe the disappearance of pixels; monitors are flat without curvature.

Franziska: We will probably become more aware of how non-humans will perceive art and ask ourselves what effects that creates. How does AI perceive digital art? What can it learn from it? Can it become a better AI by scanning digital art? What does a caterpillar perceive or experience when it crawls over a smartphone that displays NFTs; will it change its path? Does generating and looking at digital art evoke different feelings and ideas when we know the work is powered by wind and solar instead of oil, nuclear energy, or coal? How does wind interact with digital art? Can exposure to digital art make the surface of an indoor pond ripple? It’s hard to imagine any technological future disconnected from the global specifics that are happening due to climate change.

Q: What are your thoughts on technologies like NFTs and AI and their influence on art?

Franziska: AIs can be tools for humans to realize unprecedented visions and ideas, be an audience for human-created art, and help and challenge humans to see art in different ways. They can become art creators, art collectors, and sellers, or the audience for AI-created art, that only an AI can appreciate, which will challenge us to understand and feel out their algorithms. In terms of minting NFTs, I think it should be done only using reusable energies. It’s like the food we eat. Do you want it full of fertilizer and pesticides, or is responsibly grown food healthier – for our bodies, the people who grow it, and the environment? Same with AI. In order for AI to develop and evolve, they need to learn. How do we teach them? What do we feed them, literally?

Hajoe: Energy consumption is an issue for both NFTs and AI. Like with all resources, the biggest challenge will be to restrain ourselves from wasteful use, just because it’s there, but still be able to explore and push boundaries.

Q: What is next for you? Any exciting projects/exhibitions you’d like to share?

A: We are working on a video series, Our Non-Understanding of Everything: non-verbal narratives about animals and plants interacting with our tech devices. In the fall, we will show some of these videos as multi-channel installations at Create Gallery in Catskill, NY, and at PS122 Gallery in NYC.

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