Interview with Heleen Blanken: Introducing her new series stemming from the 'HABITAT'

Interview with Heleen Blanken: Introducing her new series stemming from the 'HABITAT'

The Abyss 2 & The Abyss 4, from The Expedition series on Sedition

In your practice you raise questions on how we contemplate ideas of nature. Could you please tell us how you speak of the relationship between the natural environment and humanity in your works? What are some of the recurring questions or themes in your works? 

Heleen Blanken :I try to explore the nuances and complexities of the relationship between humanity and the natural environment and how it shapes our understanding and our representation of nature. That we might have difficulties to deal with the wilderness and vastness because we question whether we are part of it. I find myself thinking about nature as something out of reach, that it seems we lost our connection with it. Even though we try to control it, wilderness and nature are not to be controlled in the end. 

The second theme would be if technology is actually part of nature. Humanity, nature, and technology seem deeply interconnected. We have always used technology to shape and utilize the natural environment to meet our needs, but in recent years, technology has advanced to the point where it is now having a profound impact on the natural world. Both destructive and fertile. The latter could open up so many possibilities to preserve the earth. 

I could argue that technology is an extension of human biology and therefore is a natural part of the world. But I am playing with this thought process in my work. I think that leaving all possibilities open creates a better way of perceiving the work. I believe that art should give examples for a wider perception, not dictate what is right or wrong, true or false.

HABITAT by Heleen Blanken, installation view at Nxt Museum

Your installation HABITAT, that is made up of data-driven projections have been exhibited at Nxt Museum, Forum Groningen, Sonar Istanbul, Dutch Film Festival Utrecht and many more. 

Could you please tell us about the concept and the making of the installation Habitat? What does it say about the connection between digitalization and nature? 

With the work Habitat I wanted to create an experience that came close to authentic depiction of nature, to shape this symbiotic feeling of being close to something wild and alive but build up from a digital abstraction of something that represents nature. And to suggest that this possibly could be the new way of experiencing nature, through archives.

The environmental crisis and the destruction of habitats force us to imagine a future in which nature can be remembered in digital form. Natural history museums aim to preserve nature physically by fixing it in time and space. How might the archiving of nature evolve in a digital context? Could digitalisation bring us even closer to nature? And would this in the end possibly be the only way we could experience nature, as a digital representation.

Together with Nap Labs we created a bespoke software built on the NAP Framework that gave us the possibility to play with an environment based on natural characteristics. The work raises ethical questions about the relationship between humans and nature, and the implications of viewing and preserving nature as an object, rather than as a living and changing ecosystem. And I was interested in how imagination functions based on these digital impulses. Does it evoke the same interactions

Biosphere 3, from The Expedition, by Heleen Blanken

Please tell us about the concept and the making of The Expedition your first series on Sedition? 

The works are an extraction of the ongoing HABITAT project. They are uniquely created landscapes, seemingly recognizable with a circular experience of time; there's no beginning and no end; not up or down; it breaks free from perspective. The sound is a layered composition consisting of distorted natural field recordings. 

I loved the idea of being an explorer in undiscovered landscapes. With the works I aim to reveal that characteristic of nature that we can’t fully explain. How could one capture a sincere experience of something that is beyond our imagination? I really enjoy exploring this on a deeper level through the creation of new environments. 

HABITAT, installation view

What inspired you conceptually or technically in digital art, in the recent years? 

I think the use of data and information visualization. And the use of digitized sensory input. In the generative HABITAT Installation, we implemented proximity and rangefinder sensors to investigate a sociological purpose. Data-driven installations often offer too much control to the spectator. HABITAT plays with this control, it does not immediately react to the spectator’s actions, instead, it reacts through delays. 

The result is that an action from one spectator could create a different visual outcome for the next. Or sometimes the parameters are changed in a way that you could doubt if it is embedded in the work or a result of your action. 

This interaction within HABITAT is symbolic of how humanity interacts with nature. It emphasises how humanity is not in control of nature and the fact that our impact on nature is not always immediately noticeable. And I find it interesting to work with those tools in a different way, not to provide this instant gratification, but rather use it in a way that people started questioning their need to control the work. In the end it illustrates that nature doesn’t exist to fulfil any imaginative purpose. It is not ours. HABITAT shows this paradox, it abolishes human agency.

Heleen Blanken

Alongside your installations and video works, how’s your practice relate to photography? 

Photography always has a prominent role in my work. I think photos of installations can become their own bespoke artwork and maybe function differently than the actual art piece because you get rid of the notice of the surroundings. With Nap Labs, we have created a unique tool for capturing still images in Habitat, which is not actually photography but is very close to it. As a result of this moment in time is captured, it creates an even greater distance from the environment, making it almost reminiscent of a Romantic painting. 

What’s next for you? Could you tell us about your future projects? 

Habitat is an ever evolving project, so I will be continually working on it by creating on new ways of presenting the work. Beside this I am in the process of creating a new visual scenography for Boston Ballet in collaboration with Nanine Linnings. And additionally, I am building an architectural installation on an island in the Netherlands because my practice is not media-fixated. Having the opportunity to explore my work practice through all these different media is very exciting to me.


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Heleen Blanken
Heleen Blanken
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