Benjamin Weil: “Elastic Reality describes the complexity and instability of the real”

For a better understanding of the exhibition Elastic Reality, we interviewed its curator and director of LABoral, Benjamin Weil.

Published: Apr 29, 2013
Benjamin Weil: “Elastic Reality describes the complexity and instability of the real”

Benjamin Weil

By Montaña Hurtado (@zapatosrosas)

On 15 March, "Realidad Elástica" [Elastic Reality] opened at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón. This show coproduced by an Asturian centre, Le Fresnoy and CAC in Vilnius, Lithuania, is framed within the project "Beyond the Exhibition. New Interfaces for Contemporary Art in Europe".

Elastic Reality brings together ten works by young artists born during the 1980s, and for the most part, digital natives. Mobile technology and the internet are their tools and they reflect on concepts such as geolocalisation and biotechnology.

For a better understanding of all these proposals and the exhibition as a whole, we interviewed its curator and director of LABoral, Benjamin Weil.

How would you define the concept "Elastic Reality"?

BW: We live in an increasingly complex world. Our perception of what we call reality has changed a great deal with the communication tools that we all have – at least in most parts of the world. For example, smart phones that we use to send and receive messages, photos, sounds, and listen to music while we move around the city or travel to unfamiliar cities. And many other things have changed our relationship with time and space. We do not live in a single space/time: we already had the telephone to find out what was happening elsewhere and the media as well. What has changed is the perpetual flux of messages, news, all sorts of information, and also, the origin of these flows and the mix between personal and official information with no hierarchy.

The concepts of augmented reality and virtual reality already exist: elastic reality is a state of reality combining all these layers, and one which describes the complexity and instability of the real. We are able to understand the world in a much more sophisticated way and, at the same time, we deal with an amount of information that sometimes overwhelms us.

In what way have the social changes caused by the internet and mobile devices influenced artistic creation?

BW: Artistic creation always reflects the present world.  It is a system of representation. The changes we are experiencing in our way of living and understanding the world form part of the elements which artists use. The works that we present in the exhibition have a physical presence in the space, but they also “feed on” the network and information flows. The work by Véronique Beland receives information in real time from a telescope that observes and interprets data received from space. The theme of data interpretation and visualisation has a key role in this project. It attempts to reflect how we manage these information flows influencing our lives. The project by Dorothée Smith deals with the evolution of human relations that we maintain through the networks. These relations are disembodied presently, but perhaps these limits will disappear with data-transmitting intelligent suits that enable us to have a physical relationship with someone who is far away.

Veronique Beland

Dorothèe Smith

Do you think that artistic proposals like those in Elastic Realtiy may help us to better understand these changes and how new devices are having an impact on our daily lives?

BW: I think so. For me, good art works in this way: it provokes reactions and thoughts which make it possible for us to see day-to-day life through other eyes. I hope that the projects presented in this exhibition achieve this.  The theme of perception, of what is physical and what isn´t, the transformation of our understanding of what an image is, interactivity (that is to say, objects that react to our presence or our comments) and information reception systems are things we experience every day in the most common actions of our lives.

The exhibition is composed of ten works out of the 48 produced in 2012 at Le Fresnoy. How was the selection process made? On what basis did you choose the featured works?

BW: There were various reasons. It wasn´t possible to bring all of the works produced at Le Fresnoy last year to LABoral. Each work selected for this exhibition is conceptually placed in a specific aspect of Elastic Reality.

They have different interfaces, some interactive, others not; they are concerned with the way we understand the increasingly subtle difference between what is fiction and what is real; or they reflect on the ever more complicated state between the visible and the invisible. In a way, the data flows that materialise on our screens travel like radio waves which we are unable to see until they reach a terminal capable of making them visible.

All of the works share in common experimentation, an ephemeral nature and some even approach concepts of biotechnology, geolocalisation and video games. Are they proposals which are easily understood by the public?

BW: Every day we operate touch screens, electronic devices of all sorts, or video games with rather complicated interfaces. In an increasingly evident way, we use social networks to communicate, websites to buy objects and services, and none of this seems that complicated to us. This is why I can´t imagine that viewing or interacting with art works conceived in the same way would be more difficult – quite the opposite. What is possibly more complicated is in understanding that these new artistic forms invent a new way of thinking of what art is and how it functions within our lives.  It is clear that presented works need a new focus, another way of enjoying art. Yet, at the same time, these interfaces are already well-known: GPS is something we use without thinking, which is why is it shouldn’t be so complicated to understand the research by Maya Da-Rin, for example.

Maya Da Rin

Some of the works on display are interactive installations and need the active presence of the public to activate and, we could even say, to exist. How are they received?

BW: If we take the example of the work by Vincent Ciciliato, people who know how to operate video games have a greater capacity to enjoy it than others. Other works such as the one by Zahra Poonawala or David Rockeby are more accessible to the general public.

Vicent Ciciliato

Zahra Poonowala

David Rockeby

Most of the artists in the exhibition were born throughout the ´80s, and accordingly are digital natives, but digital art still causes some reticence among the public. Do you think that a change in this trend is in sight?

BW: The artists were born in the 1980s yet an increasingly large share of visitors was born in the ´80s, ´90s and in the 2000s. What might seem avant-garde now for certain sections of the public will be less so as they become more comfortable with the new interfaces in daily life.

The works in the exhibition have been produced by Le Fresnoy, a line of work which you are also developing from the Production Centre at LABoral. What importance does the production of work have on the part of cultural institutions during a time of crisis such as the one now?

BW: The economic system of classic art is based on the principle of the sale of objects. Nowadays, a growing number of artists produce installations and, as you said earlier, they are ephemeral forms that are always changing. This is why the role of institutions like LABoral is essential. It allows these artists to continue researching with the financial support they need to work. Collaboration between institutions with the same programme areas is very important because it allows them to develop complementary production centres that complement each other. Not only should we produce works, but also invent a way to maintain them for the public to enjoy and consider as well how they could be presented in the future.

The exhibition is coproduced by LABoral, Le Fresnoy and the CAC in Vilnius (Lithuania). What importance does collaboration and networking have in the cultural and museum context?

BW: We live in a world where globalisation is constantly increasing. It is vital to develop networks among institutions in order to share the vision of artists from different cultures. For this reason we are working ever more closely with other institutions. The economic factor is also important. A travelling exhibition costs less; it reaches a wider public and makes it possible to obtain significant contributions from bodies, such as, in this case, the Culture Programme of the European Union.

Could you single out a work and an artist in the show?

BW: The truth is I couldn´t: I love all of them. I look forward to seeing the next step in the work by Dorothée Smith who will come to present a performance and modify the installation this summer.



Collaborating Patron:

With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

European Union

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