It’s not often you can say that you can actually affect the nature of a sculpture. In Johannes Girardoni’s first solo exhibition in the UK, entitled Sensing Singularity at London’s Lévy Gorvy Gallery, the viewer gets to be part of the action.
For the past two decades, the Austrian-born but California-based Girardoni has been exploring the limits of perception through material and light. More recently, he has added a third element, sound. So what exactly does this mean? He explains.
“We are now at a point in our culture where we are exposed to devices that really expand our way of sensing things, so even since the inception of the i-phone where we use navigation to get around the city or whatever, all of a sudden we’re beginning to outsource certain cognitive functions through these little devices that in a way enhance our perception of the way we read our environment and it actually has a cognitive effect. So I feel it’s critical at this point to ask, as an artist, questions like where are we at at this point in this context.”
To illustrate the idea that human perception and technology are at a point of merging, you need interaction with his works. I was speaking to Girardoni in front of a series of wall-mounted chromatic resin sculptures that resemble large pixellated dots, denser in the middle to draw the eye in. An app named Resonant Lens, which apparently anybody can download, maps the visible spectrum onto the sound spectrum in real time using an algorithm so that we can literally hear the colours. When we move around and the visible element changes, so the sound, a gentle hum, changes pitch. In effect, technology is providing us with something the human body is incapable of. Spooky.
However, Girardoni sees this extension of our natural perceptive properties as a double-edged sword.
“For me it’s a cultural criticism because in the experience of these pieces, once you interface with this work through the app, you are now stopping to look at the work, then you are containing or constraining your view of the work into this little device which is now in our culture. That’s how we are interfacing so it removes you from presence and puts you in the place of tele-presence and I guess the seductive nature of the technology is that it gives you something other than what you can experience by yourself and in this instance here it’s letting you hear the colour of this piece, so there’s a trade off.”
Even more interactive is the centrepiece of the exhibition, the Metaspace. This is a large aluminium pod that you can see in the top shot, inside of which is a bright white space with a large round light sensor in the ceiling. You’re invited in to rest on sun lounger-type cushions and you become immersed in what I can only call a colour soundscape. As you move, the light changes colour. You might have a gentle, soft pink, or a cool blue or, as you can see above, a bright green. In fact you can go through the whole colour spectrum which in turn alters the sound you hear. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic and it’s quite soothing as well as intriguing. I urge you to try it. You can even buy the Metaspace if you have half a million quid to spare.
“Metaspace is about trying to create a situation where you begin to interact with the sensory mechanism of the sculpture, so it’s a convergence of our own sensory mechanism with that of the sculpture. So when you’re moving around you’re actually affecting the behaviour of the piece.”
I should add that if and when you react differently to each colour, you are, in a sense, in a kind of sensory loop connecting you to the technology. Outside the structure, a pixellated surveillance video projects the colour changes onto the gallery wall.
In complete contrast, also on view are some of what Girardoni calls his Light Reactive Organic Sculptures. These consist of pieces of found wood sculpted into various identifiable shapes and painted in bright colours. They absorb and radiate light depending on the conditions. They embody, if you like, the seeds of the process that has developed into high-tech.
So where now for this artist whose art education was augmented by studies at the prestigious MIT, (Massachussets Institute of Technology) Media Lab? He’s collaborating with members of Caltech (Californian Institute of Technology) and some musicians on a kind of huge Metaspace that can take up to 300 people at a time. They hope to build seven across the globe. Perception limits will be extended even further.
Johannes Girardoni: Sensing Singularity is showing at the Lévy Gorvy Gallery, 22 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4PY until 15 September 2018
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.