Eternal Return 2019

Shortlisted for the 2020 Lumen Prize, Eternal Return (2019) is a choreographed multi-sensory XR collaboration between ScanLAB Projects and Lundahl & Seitl.

With the visitor’s body and senses as active medium, triggered through VR, hyperconnected objects and live performance, the artwork reveals how memory allows for a string of data to be passed through matter, across time. From Earth’s deep past as unicellular cyanobacteria, through to its post-anthropocene future, the living is tightly connected with geology: the surface of the earth, and matter stored within a lineage of objects and tools: the hammer, the piano, and the radio technology of Marconi.

Eternal Return by Lundahl & Seitl and ScanLAB Projects is accompanied by The Memor by Malin Zimm, a speculative fiction text and an expanded narrative framework. Objects and scenes in the installation thus take on a multitude of experiential modes: physical, virtual, narrative, emotional. The fiction expands as the art installation evolves, yet its parts can be read and experienced in any order as a non-linear envelope. As a piece of speculative fiction, the text moves from the old world to the new, weaving history and fiction together by picking up facts floating in the tide, and finding new use for them in the narrative. The narrative contains numerous references to demonstrate the method of “playing” the internet for facts and news, encyclopaedic knowledge and archives. The various references are composed together to form a new interpretation of the events in and around the world as it is presented to our senses.

The first encounter with the exhibition is seeing the choreography of other visitors already immersed within headsets. Visitors can choose from three parts of the exhibition when they enter: Stromatolites, The Memor, and/or The Fugue. On the inside: high-end isolating headphones cancel out all sound. There is a scent of petrichor (water and soil) and fresh cold air by an ozone scent. In the middle part of the installation: The Memor, the visitor sees a grid with digital objects - created with high definition point-cloud data; collected by a Lidar terrestrial scanner surveying different places, buildings, landscapes and even traces of moving people. The point-cloud environments are at times stable, appearing as solid interiors of digital buildings that the visitor can walk inside. If a visitor is moving close to an object, the grid of the object archive deconstructs and operates as portals to other realities. The grid can dissolve, implode or spurt out a room.

Once within the virtual world, the visitor can see the performers who interact with them by a virtual proxy: a moving and vibrating cluster of points with a voice projected inside the virtual space. By earning the visitor’s trust, in a process of negotiated agency and guidance, the piece unfolds as a series of encounters with physical and mental objects, augmented by the analogue touch of an unseen performer and digital code. The voice steers the way forward, but also listens and corresponds with touch, vibrations, scents, movement and other sensory additions to conjoin the virtual and physical worlds.

The visitors of the installation have total freedom of movement within the 7x7 meter area of each of the exhibition's parts. Yet, this freedom is only relative to the curiosity, trust and attention, carried by the resonance between performer and visitor exploring where the balance tips between this ’connection to’ and the ’influence over’ an environment. For example in The Memor; a piano workshop from Steinway & Sons’ legendary London workshop emerges out of a teacup, and the room spirals around the visitor until they are fully immersed inside it. When the visitor touches the workshop interior they simultaneously, from an outside perspective, also touch the sculptural abstractions in the physical installation of the work. The object materializes in the surface contact with the visitor’s hand. Letting go of the object collapses the world of the piano workshop into a dark void, where the small points of sea dust particles move in rhythm with the movement of waves under water. Inside the dimly lit piano-tuners’ workshop at Steinway and Sons, the visitor will discover an abandoned tool: a hammer (metaphorically, Heidegger’s Hammer). While the hammer will appear visually complete within the virtual environment, if the participant tries to pick it up it will physically feel incomplete; a negative empty space of the hammer is carved out of the workshop-table (visible in the physical exhibition). In this manner, we are composing a bifurcated self where the physical and virtual are conflicting with each other, yet it is ultimately up to the visitors in which realm they are most present.

Another moment stages the event of the visitor passing through the workshop’s walls. By first touching a solid wall and then being convinced it is made up by millions of subatomic particles, the visitor is instructed to walk straight through it. The friction of passing through is felt and heard through a vibration. On the other side, pianist Cassie Yukawa-McBurney plays Bach’s Fugue in A minor. The voice tells you that she is here, but YOU are not.

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CREDITS

Eternal Return by Lundahl & Seitl (SWE) and ScanLAB Projects* (UK).

STRP co-production.

The book Eternal Return - The Memor is written by architect and theorist Malin Zimm.

Script collaboration: Malin Zimm.

J. S. Bach’s Fugue in A Minor BWV 543 written for the organ, arranged by Liszt for piano, is performed by Cassie Yukawa-McBurney.

Dramaturgy by Rachel Alexander.

Performers: Pia Nordin, Lena Kimming & Sara Lindström.

* ScanLAB Projects team: Matt Shaw, Max ńĆelar, Soma Sato, Manuela Mesrie, Reuben Carter, Jacques Pillet, Will Trossell, Dorka Makai.

https://strp.nl/program/eternal-return

https://scanlabprojects.co.uk/

Download a copy of Eternal Return - the Memor by Malin Zimm

Lundahl & Seitl