The Body Beautiful

August 2012

Computer Art Image of the Month

The Body Beautiful

Click the image to enlarge

Credit: Kurt Hentschlӓger, still from Core, 2012. Audiovisual installation.

Copyright the artist, reproduced with permission.

Seemingly hundreds of human figures float, come together, cluster, drift in and out of focus, ever-changing, never repeated. Three-dimensional bodies, without gender or individual features, almost like clones, float in a zero gravity environment.

This is Core, currently on view in a former Victorian engine shop - Enginuity near Telford. The work of Chicago-based Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger, this is an unprecedented contemporary art show, a first for this commissioning body at a very special site, to celebrate a special year - the 2012 Olympics.

Some 33 meters long, the installation includes five screens featuring distinct groups of identical figures and an ambient soundtrack. The artist calls it ‘generative while also composed’- the figures are created using software to build up a library of movements and combinations in which the 130 bodies can interact, governed by a set of computer algorithms.

In this sense the bodies have their own lives. Kurt said ‘Sometimes they interact like a school of fish... and at other times like intricately choreographed modern ballet dancers. It is about a weird, impossible space where gravity can be controlled in all dimensions.’

The sound, which is of equal importance to the visual impact, is created by the movements of the bodies, rather than a looped composition. He further explains, ‘Each group is like a cloud of sound and each individual body is one instrument, so we have about 130 discreet sources of sound... that all adds up throughout the space to a symphonic, drone-like impression.’ This gives the work a meditative quality.

The immersive nature of Core reflects on the metaphor of the sublime and the human condition. Kurt is interested in exploring the ‘nature of perception and identity in regards to who we are inside, versus what we perceive as the world around us. The ephemeral versus the tangible. Our lust for technological enhancement, and immortality.’

Kurt was approached by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to submit proposals for their first contemporary art installation, on the occasion of the London 2012 Olympics. The Museum Trust, working with Arts Council England is embarking on a new phase of commissioning contemporary art as part of their overall program, which so far has been dedicated to preserving their industrial heritage sites and museums (the first iron bridge in the world, built in 1779, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Although initially somewhat hesitant because of the connection to the Olympics, Kurt realized that Core, which he had been researching and working on for three years, would be ideal. ‘It actually resonates quite perfectly with both the site and the Olympic idea of “uber” human bodies,’ said the artist.

Core was chosen by jury and Kurt commented that the Trust had been a wonderful partner to work with, ‘interested in projecting forward into the future what started back in the industrial revolution and so are focusing on artwork using contemporary technology as a production and presentation medium.’ Given this background it is particularly apt, but no less brave, for the museum to choose art that addresses contemporary humanity through the specific use of new technology and for this they must be applauded.

Kurt began working with computers in 1988 and recalls a ‘time when you had to do most things manually.’ The first machine he owned, a Commodore Amiga, ‘crashed pretty much every 15 minutes, so I always had 3 copies of 3.5” floppy disks around and still it was a constant battle with the machine’s “guru meditations” - what actually were its crash messages, in red ... lovely.’

Now he is a scripter; for specific tasks and processes he works with programmers, which in a project of this magnitude, he says ‘helps me keep some balance; actually I find it always eventually overwhelming and all consuming.’ This dedication to detail pays off in the beautiful craftsmanship evident in the finished work, which has a fluidity of movement that is seductive and mesmerising.

Kurt believes that times have changed and most new media are much more complex and aesthetically ‘preloaded’ than, for example, canvas and paint. According to him, in the seemingly widening disconnect between the more traditional arts and the so called media arts (a term he finds increasingly unfortunate) there is much self-indulgence on either side.

The overpowering market as the driving force on one end, in his opinion largely suffocates original, experimental creation, while within media arts it’s hard to ignore an often complete collapse of critical thinking and historical awareness; art is so ‘in love’ with invention, machinery and its promises, with little to no distance from the ‘system’ and thus less credibility of offering a wider and complex critical perspective.

He does see art in general as being in a state of crisis, ‘widely stuck in the aesthetic dogma of Twentieth Century modernisms and post modernisms, as well as in quite adolescent adoration of technology and its supposed omnipotency.’

It seems clear to me that in addition to an increased knowledge and understanding of media and digital arts place within art history, a greater debate is needed into the relation of and balance between the materials used and the content created with it.

Core runs until the end of September and is then planned to tour. Check the artist’s website (below) for details of venues as they are announced. This is one well worth travelling to see. 

Catherine Mason is the author of A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, published in 2008.

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  • 1
    Chris Day wrote on 17th Sep 2012

    I spent a mesmerising 90 minutes watching this programme running in July. Maybe not to everyone's liking, but treating it as watching algorithms in motion was really wonderful when they were being shown as the human form. And at last I now know the motion drives the sound and not vice versa!

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