There is a portal on Park Avenue, pried open by lights, sounds, and strange objects, that bridges our world with the amorphous and undulating digital dimension. Blown off course in pursuit of a new paradigm, nearly 1,000 years ago, Leif Erikson broke waves between the Nordic countries and what would come to be called the New World. Tomorrow, amid the ebb and flow of an uncertain future, 10 Nordic artists will chart their course into the transitively unfamiliar tides of software and technology for the first-ever media art-based group show at Scandinavia House: Voyage to the Virtual.
"Our mode of expanded perception today concerns an encounter with an image that is virtual, an interface to hyperspace and which we are living within," writer and researcher Tanya Toft explains to The Creators Project. Invited to curate the first video, light, and interactive art exhibition at Scandinavia House, Toft has assembled something of an avant-garde orchestra of Nordic artists working at the intersections between our world and the emergent digital. The resulting show immerses visitors in a succession of expansive, unfamiliar dimensions, featuring 10 artworks that range from Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's Fivefold dodecahedron lamp, a standing source of light that projects a polygonal pattern on the walls of its surrounding space, to Jette Gejl Kristensen & Peter Møller-Nielsen's Hyperkinetic Kayak, an interactive installation that invites visitors to paddle into a virtual 3D landscape inside the sea craft of its namesake.
"Today, the journeys we embark on are as much virtual as physical, and the voyage has come to also encapsulate our perceptual spatial journeys, also into the space of the digital realm," Toft continues. "The concept of Voyage might suggest a perceptual journey, and the concept of the Virtual an aesthetic experience by which we might expand and question the fabric of our consciousness. The exhibition highlights the changing nature of perceptual experience in our current fabric of reality."
One such work that seeks to challenge viewers with the realities of climate change through virtual exploration, Toft explains, is Hyperkinetic Kayak. Originally commissioned for the 2009 RETHINK Contemporary Art & Climate Change exhibition in Denmark, Jette Gejl Kristensen, in association with Peter Møller-Nielsen, created the work to "challenge the body and, what I would claim, its inherent, hyper-intelligent navigation capacities," Kristensen tells The Creators Project. Developed through her upbringing on a farm in Western Denmark, Kristensen's close relationship with nature has a major influence on her practice, providing inspiration for new works, and revealing fresh ways to involve the audience in her pieces. “I’m very aware of, and make use of, the potential of the unconscious reflections of the body in its meeting with the surrounding world,” she explains. “This potential is not connected to Scandinavia but is universal for the body, yet this particular work takes place in a Scandinavian setting.”
"I think we travel to understand ourselves and each other better," Kristensen continues. "This experience cannot be replaced by a virtual meeting for exactly the reasons I try to discuss in the work Hyperkinetic Kayak: the full intelligence of the body will be hard to fully imitate or replace—so far. The way we perceive the world through our body is extremely advanced and manifold." While the concepts behind the work may sound complex, Kristensen simply hopes that participants can interact with the artwork in a playful way while keeping in mind its thematic seriousness.
Tanya Toft is careful to specify that Voyage to the Virtual isn't a survey of contemporary Nordic media art, but rather, one focused around explicit explorations into virtual worlds. "The show was never intended to be a complex software art show, showing the advancement of Nordic art practices with digital media today; nor to be a retrospective of new media art from the Nordic region." Instead, contemporary works of light, super 8 film, and software projects that challenged the “human perceptual experience” were chosen. Artworks including A.K. Dolven’s change my way of seeing I and Ann Lislegaard’s Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany) keep the show from stagnating in singlemindedness by breaking Scandinavia House into separate spaces.
Ultimately, Toft hopes that "visitors will achieve moments of 'expanded perception,' or at least experience that their perceptual apparatus will be challenged." She suggests visitors immerse themselves in their artworks, and question what feelings and consciousness arises from experiencing a work with all senses, not just vision.
Last, but definitely not least, "Don't be shy," Tanya Toft advises prospective Hyperkinetic Kayak riders, who might intimidated by the idea of a one-of-a-kind virtual reality boat trip inside an art space. "Take advantage of the opportunity to kayak in the seascape surrounding Greenland."