An early testing space for playing around with proteins, the PDB (Protein Data Bank) has a wide, growing range of 3D models of proteins available for study and manipulation. I imported these structures into the design engine Unity and tried to visualize how they might interact with each other. I was thinking more about the ‘primordial pool’ concept- very early in the Earth’s lifespan, rock pools in and around oceans were hotbeds of organic chemical activity. With simulation being a new, important facet of my practice, I was inspired to try and get them colliding, to distill essentially what may have gone on in the pools.
Humans have been creating their own worlds from the dawn of their existence, externally or internally. It has become a key facet of our society’s disciplines and everyone engages with worlds and their creation in some shape or form. But before we can look at their construction, we can discuss a simple yet complex question- “what IS a world?”
What makes a world a world? Well, it depends on who you ask. A physicist will have a different answer to a fantasy fiction writer, and an artist might refute both of those things! Though there are definitions, when we take the recipes for these worlds, regardless of discipline, they all generally boil down to the same ingredients.
First, you need to have an observer. An artist has an audience, large or small. The audience could even be the artist themselves. Even if an image is created but unseen, there is an unseen observer. This may sound like a question about a tree falling in a forest when nobody’s around, but physics may (or may not) require some sort of observer. We know that observation is important yet confusing (especially in the quantum realm). We already have created observers of our own, with the advent of computers. As Carl Sagan wrote, ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself’.
Second, you need to have space. Whether this space is in one, two or three dimensions (let’s not go higher than that), everything requires space. Space is where things can exist and happen. Some artists engage in work two-dimensionally, but others engage in 3D, physically or virtually. All sciences require and make use of an understanding of space in general like the universe, but also on a microscopic scale. A habitat is a space for animals, according to biology. The quantum world is tiny, but it is a world nonetheless.
Third, you need stuff. Scientists refer to stuff, or things, as matter. Whether it is organic, inorganic, intangible, invisible, it’s there, and it’s matter. Stuff fills the spaces and forms materials, mediums and actors that contribute to our next ingredient- Events.
Fourth: Events. Things will happen in these spaces, and stuff (or matter) can influence that. It’s worth noting that events can happen with or without an observer, like our friend the falling tree. An event could be:
– A battle (historical, present, future) – Birth – An apple falling down – A chemical reaction – The formation of our universe. Whatever type of work you do, the events relevant to your discipline will vary, and the scale of them will vary too.
Fifth: Information. Information can be anything. Light, energy, genetics, bits, are scientific types of information. Colour, sound, structure and materials are artistic types. Some sort of information has to pass through these worlds, or else how would events happen? How would our observer observe anything? Again, this information does move without observation, but for humans, we generally like to perceive our information.
Sixth: Rules. Arguably the most important ingredient, and so we’ve saved the best for last. All worlds have rules. You may not like that, but they all do. Most of these rules we’ve covered, but what’s interesting is that some of these rules need not apply. One thing we can agree on is that these things exist because of one of two reasons: Either a rule was broken, or a rule was made.
We might assume that it would be best only to attribute this to fiction – physics defying characters, impossible landscapes, creatures that could not exist in reality. But artists also are frequent rule breakers or makers- they turn their unique lens on the world and so their rules may appear different.
Even scientists have to imagine broken rules- a great way to understand how something works is to imagine it working differently, or broken completely. Theoretical physicists imagine universes where the laws of physics are completely different to ours. How would these universes operate if there was no gravity? Astrobiologists imagine life on other planets, and how other planets may be able to harbour life, and what that life might look like.
All disciplines question these rules and push the boundaries. All ask “why?” but also “why not?”. We should all do the same.
So now that we know the ingredients, we can get going. But where do we start? Because a world has varying boundaries, it may seem that we might have to start in one place or another. But there is no set starting point. JRR Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, was a linguist. Through researching languages, he learnt that historical events and culture directly influence a language’s development. While developing his own language, he created Middle Earth, complete with histories and cultures to house such a language.
An artist is not a writer, but if an artist’s primary concern is aesthetics, then that is where we could begin. Artists some ways into their careers will already have built some sort of world- we like to call it artistic dialogue or language- even an artistic practice counts. We can apply these concepts or facets of worlds to our practice, and enhance or develop them. So what you really need to be asking yourself is what are the ingredients of my world?
1. Who is the observer in your world? 2. What type of space does your world exist in? 3. What type of things exist in your space? What is the relationship between the objects in
your space and the space itself? 4. What happens in your world? Does anything? What is the timescale? 5. What is the information conveyed through your world? Colour? Light? Form? Material? 6. What are the rules of your world?
Once you answer these questions, you can dissect your practice better. If you want to make a new world or develop into a new practice, these questions still apply. Scientists are taught the ingredients, and so know them from the beginning. But art operates differently. Your world grows, matures, realigns itself, destroys itself, and recreates itself throughout your career.
The final work for the Unit 1 show was primarily about manifesting the translation of physical objects to digital objects,…
Postmodernism died as soon as public internet access became commonplace, and bolstered by the abundance of smartphones. Media generation is so easy it is reaching a nigh auto-generative state (Tik Tok), and I believe this is an attribute or symptom of the next era (for better or for worse).
The looming threat (or golden age) of automation is already here, with the heralding of AI, Machine learning Neural networks, 3D printers and quantum computers, but these technologies are not yet at the same stage as smartphones are. Most of these next generation technologies require professional education and research in order to master, but editing one’s appearance for posting on social media has become so user friendly that programs like Photoshop are no longer required for the average individual. I would point to Hito Steyerl’s “Duty free art in the time of planetary civil war”, which makes reference to the current generation of mobile and digital cameras that auto process images in order to give the person behind the camera the image they probably want, and not the image that they actually took.
The next era will follow with artists who either engage with this exponential technological development directly by making, using and mastering said technology, or artists who use the user friendly versions to create discussion about it. Both are valid in their own ways and are a matter of taste in the same way as the advent of photography, or, arguably, even the switching of temperas that brought forward the Renaissance. Another example would be glitch-art, which came from cross wiring screens and circuits to produce odd results, to damaging image data on the computer, to lines of code that damage images, to OpenGL apps which require no knowledge of glitch art and what it is. Some may call this a tragedy, losing a segment of art history and technical knowledge, but adaptation is necessary in order to move forward. New types of glitch art have and will continue to emerge, as the old types become over saturated. This example should apply to other techniques, technologies and materials.
The debate lies within the artist’s engagement and execution. Media such as painting, sculpture and printing are lauded due to the mastery of technique and craft. Many digital technologies do not require such mastery, and can seek to mimic artistic practices achieved within physicality, only behind an electronic screen. We can only look at so much blue light, blue light being the color of light emitted by standard computer, phone and television screens. On the other end of the spectrum lies computational art, though exciting, can get lost in technicalities upon technicalities so that the artistry is buried far underneath layers and layers of code. Balance is key.
The merging of humanity with technology has long been a subject of discussion, and transhumanism will herald art of this new condition. It is worth noting that some consider us already well on our way, that psychologically we are already cyborgs, online/virtual presences being how this phenomenon manifests.
Perhaps the reason I withheld pop culture and media references from my practice dialogue is the fact that I considered them a subconscious, subtle influence and not an integral part of my identity and practice as an artist. Part of building an interdisciplinary practice is the removal of boundaries and so I am removing the boundaries between media influences and artistic influences.
In Yuval Noah Harrari’s Homo Deus , Harrari writes that our descendants (post/transhumans, the future for humanity in terms of biological reengineering and cybernetics) will be godlike, but not in the sense of omnipotence, but closer to Greek gods or Hindu Devas:
“Our descendants would still have their foibles, kinks and limitations, just as Zeus and Indra had theirs. But they could love, hate, create and destroy on a much grander scale than us.” – Just as we would be considered by our ancestors.
“The average person now moves and communicates across distances much more easily than the Greek, Hindu or African gods of old.
To circle around, this brings to mind Ballas, a character from the video game Warframe; an executor of a hyper advanced, post human civilization in the future, having life forms of his own design rebel against him. Immortal, vengeful, lustful and envious, Ballas embodies mythology retold in a contemporary context and is supported by Harrari’s dialogue about our descendants. Additionally, the popularity and enduring nature of mythology from a myriad of cultures supports the permanence of human nature and universal struggles, triumphs and downfalls. The myths we tell in the contemporary era achieve popularity for the very same reason.
In creating a post-internet, transhumanist dialogue in my work, these contemporary influences are relevant and important. The study of ancient cultures lies in conjunction with old, non omnipotent deities and their mythos.
I can’t help but notice the references to transhumanism in pop culture. My question is as to whether or not it delegitimatises artistic inquiry into the area. I am aware that much of pop culture is skin deep and so should be considered as such in its criticality but I still feel like the ideology gets tarnished by insincere bandwagoning. I am also aware that I hold my work and research close to myself which is why I may misconflate shifts in trends to insincere dialogue. The real simple question lies with whether or not it particularly matters. A genuine inquiry into any subject will always be more impactful and nuanced than a fleeting glance.