In November, Studio Above & Below launched their first artwork on Sedition; Semi-Diurnal Spaces (Concept Sketch) stemming from their project Semi-Diurnal Spaces which was originally created together with sound artist Einar Fehrholz as part of the immersive residency at CultVR in Cardiff in the UK. We talked with the co-founders of Above & Studio, Daria Jelonek and Perry-James Sugden about the foundation of their collaborative practice, the concept of Semi-Diurnal Spaces and their projects which sit at the intersection of technology design, arts and science. Watch the short video interview or scroll down to read the interview and learn more.
"We think digital tools can inform, create awareness, provoke conversations and new connections and regulate empathy towards our environment, nature and society. In our artistic practice, we aim to use digital tools to augment overlooked or invisible elements in our environment, such as air pollution or soil quality changes – we think technology can help to extend our capacity of seeing and sensing." - Studio Above & Below
Dear Daria & Perry-James, could you tell us how you initially joined your forces and established Studio Above & Below? How did your paths cross?
Studio Above & Below: We both studied at the Royal College of Art. After graduating in 2018 we both had the desire to carry on working at the intersection of art, design and technology – founding our own studio practice. Our common interest of experimenting and working with cutting edge technologies, questioning their potential for society outside of commercialisation and its impact on our world have been leading motifs since day one. Interested in computational systems and code, we are interested in working with data, which we see as an interface of digital and physical materiality.
How do you think digital tools can help society to create positive changes in relation to our environment, nature, and society? And what are the things you view as the possible challenges in the digital world?
Studio Above & Below: We think digital tools can inform, create awareness, provoke conversations and new connections and regulate empathy towards our environment, nature and society. In our artistic practice, we aim to use digital tools to augment overlooked or invisible elements in our environment, such as air pollution or soil quality changes – we think technology can help to extend our capacity of seeing and sensing.
The biggest challenge that we see right now is the ecological footprint of digital tools, their use for production and distribution. We wish to not only reflect on our own projects, however we are also interested in creating future projects around this in order to generate and share knowledge, including green technologies and power consumption of digital art projects.
Aquateque, Einar Fehrholz and Studio Above & Below, 2020/2021
Most of your works revolve around the natural world and its habitats. Specifically, Aquateque, a short film and multimedia installation that explores the river through a variety of new media technologies such as AI tools. What were the main ideas behind this work?
Studio Above & Below: Aquateque is a shortfilm and Mixed Reality installation which uses visual AI tools and a number of 3D software tools. With the project we navigated a 200km river in Germany called ‘Ruhr’ through the lens of computer vision in order to explore the landscape in collaboration with machines. With the project we have been interested in exploring the term digital ‘material ecology’, originally coined by Neri Oxman. The process of Aquateque included to build a material dataset made of thousands of images and sounds which have been taken of the river, to process through two artificial neural networks to dream by working together (or against each other) and create new visual narratives.
The project aims to get the audience to think about how we will collectively work with machines and ecology in the future within the art, design and technology field. We wish to inspire and push how digital material ecologies and modelling of objects could be created and designed using popular artificial neural networks (AI tools).
We hope that viewers take away that machine-human-nature collaborations can be very enriching, and unexpected outcomes from software are as valuable as curated content, stretching our understanding of autonomous and non-autonomous systems in this context.
Who or what has inspired you recently? Could you name some of the artists/writers or philosophers that made an impact on your practice.
Studio Above & Below: The book and thinking behind Ways of Being by James Bridle has recently inspired us. With this book, and also in his general philosophical studies, he claims for new forms and new emergent ways of being and relating to our surrounding. The book explores the intelligence of different animals and plant species.
With an upcoming project, we are currently looking into human and non-human communication in the form of bioacoustics. We are interested in researching how communication technologies have purposely been built with a human centric approach, however we question what happens if we’d design those technologies to involve, listen, communicate and exchange signal with other intelligent species, other than humans. We will be using different CGI and AI tools and critical thinking to approach this topic.
Semi-Diurnal Spaces is a site-specific immersive installation in form of a full dome which makes use of audio-visual materials such as local tidal and atmospheric data, collected from coastal sites of South Wales. Could you tell us a bit on how you came up with this project? How is Semi-Diurnal Spaces(Concept sketch), that is recently launcehd on Sedition, connected with the project?
Studio Above & Below: Seeing it as an interface between the digital abstracted data and the natural outside world, Semi-Diurnal Spaces was originally created together with sound artist Einar Fehrholz as part of the immersive residency at CultVR in Cardiff in the UK. We were given a large scale dome space with multiple projectors and surround sound system to create an artistic experience. We are often interested to work with local material and data, hence we decided to work with the local surrounding and therefore explore the coastline of South Wales and how a enormous water body, such as the ocean, is being monitored through different technologies.
We investigated into the physical and digital locations how we have found digital data points that monitor the real time tidal data of the tides going in and out twice a day, we visited those data points and corrected sounds from the different locations and weather conditions. Then, we created a digital generative system which is inspired by different wave patterns in a non-linear way. This resulted in the immersive installation which takes real time tidal and weather data, such as humidity, wind, temperature to influence a particle system which appears more harmonic or chaotic during different times. We have been interested to create a living sculpture with it, so people see their biophysical water body in a different way.
The piece we are selling on Sedition is the original concept sketch of this project, showing the two half spheres representing the hemispheres of our planet, ultimately being represented in the large scale dome projection. A digital particle system made in 3d software resulting in a CGI piece, can be purchased by a large audience to think about if digital particles surpass physical.
As a part of this year’s London Design Festival, you were one of the speakers at the talk ‘Design Responsibly: Designing a Better Future in Metaverse’? What are some of the key give-aways you’d like to share?
Studio Above & Below: Our main takeaway is: in order to design a better future or present of the metaverse, we should not thrive to replicate the physical world, but more use the digital and virtual world building process that we are currently going through to incorporate new solutions, new thinking and new productions in those spaces.
What if we create a ‘natureverse’ in the current idea of a metaverse in which we support more environmental projects, instead of commercialising assets and spaces?
What if diverse identities are a must in the metaverse to change our vision in the physical world?
What if the digital building and programming tools, which are necessary for this world building process, are naturally being taught to school children - the next generation builders?
We think critical design as an extremely important subject for designing a responsible future, in the bio-physical and virtual world. As artists and technologists we are extremely interested in pushing , which try not to replicate the physical words 1:1, but more to create unusual experiences.
We are especially interested in how material ecologies could be formed in those digital spaces to link to the living outside world, informing and influencing them in real time.
Personally, we are especially interested in how material ecologies could be formed in those digital spaces, so that the living outside world can inform and influence the virtual world in a balanced and healthy way.
Daria Jelonek at the talk ‘Design Responsibly: Designing a Better Future in Metaverse', London Design Festival 22
What are your thoughts on the future of art in the digital landscape? How do you think about the impact of NFTs on the digital world and the public?
Studio Above & Below: We strongly believe that artists who work with technologies, such as creating digital art, constantly enlarge the probability of how culture, technology, society and the environment cooperate with each other. Therefore, we think it is important to stress that the future of art will impact the wider culture and nature we will be surrounded and living in.
We think that digital art has a large platform in the future to thrive even more to interfere with other sectors of society and businesses. The phenomenon of the NFT boom in 2021 and 2022 is an example for this, however we also think digital art will fill more public and private, indoor and outdoor spaces. Other industries, such as science, education and branding will increasingly use digital art to bring knowledge through culture into the public space. We think collaboration between artists and non-artists is extremely important.
NFTs and the mechanism of smart contracts have the power to fundamentally change the way we produce art as artists and collect art as collectors. The transparency of tracking purchases and re-sales are extremely attractive for artists – we think this together with the ambition of creating art for this still unknown space is exciting and will continue to inspire artists across the globe.