Earth in the Digital Age: HYPERPAVILION

Venice’s landscape is pallid and still as I cross a rusting bridge clinging precariously above the murky green waters of the lagoon. The crumbling red-brick surroundings of Arsenale Nord, Venice’s once industrious working shipyard, feel like a surreal juxtaposition to HYPERPAVILION – a multimedia exhibition describing itself as ‘a spectacular post-techno human immersion’.

Once inside the venue, the memory of an archaic Venetian landscape dissolves as the cold, 3000 square feet space has the sudden eerie presence of a spacecraft air hangar. I am first confronted by a geometric, chrome Jeep-like vehicle illuminated by bright white light – so angular it could have spawned directly from an early 2000s video game. The imposing piece Aram Bartholl by immediately gives me the sensation of the uncannily inorganic; something not crafted from human hands but code and machine.

Working through the colossal venue I soon learn there is a dialogue at play between the natural and the synthetic. Theo Triantafyllidis’ exhibit Isola displays a continuous projection of cgi-rendered mountainous, moonlit landscapes that seem both earthbound and alien. As the scenes transition, so does the music – a ethereal yet unnerving loop of choral digital soundscapes. Opposite this quietly haunting work, Triantafyllidis’ How To Everything is a contrastingly exuberant and chaotic experience. Viewers watch an endless loop of CGI animations interacting with one another against a backdrop of bright saturated colour. Hands, creatures, plants and weapons bounce sporadically and collide – a knife slices a watermelon, drones stutter above a clucking chicken before exploding. This continuous, hyperactive dance between images quite literally fighting for the observers’ attention feels to me like a still life for an age of data overload and distracted minds.

Though less aesthetically striking, smaller sculptural installations by Theo Massouler that line in the space reinforce this entanglement between worlds of technology and natural environment. Anthropomorphic Combinations of Entropic Elements poses a collection of small dinosaur figures melded to memory sticks and computer parts, while in Gaiartefacts, aquarium-like circular projections of coral and fossilised shells protrude from the walls.

These conceptual cues of ecocide and extinction versus technological advancement continue in the science fiction dystopia presented in Lawrence Lek’s 45 minute computer animated film, Geomancer. Set in a future Singapore submerged in flood water, where sentient AI sing their longings to create art, I cannot ignore the parallels between this eerie post-human realm and Venice’s unstable future amidst rising sea levels.

HYPERPAVILION offers us an engaging and diverse selection of artistic response to a world fighting between the human, the digital and natural dimensions. I reflect on my own position as a digital artist. Where is our progress really leading if a flood can short-circuit it all?