In 2010 and 2011, Marcus Wendt and Vera-Maria Glahn, together known as the art and design duo FIELD, felt like they had never spent more time glued to the BBC broadcast. And there was plenty to watch. Between the Arab Spring protests, the tsunami-earthquake-nuclear meltdown disaster that was Fukushima, and the unrelenting financial crisis, the news stream comprised a gripping and sobering portrait of a world seemingly in meltdown. Then, just as Vera and Marcus watched in disbelief the social upheaval happening around the globe, the London riots brought it to their doorstep.
“It felt like the whole world was in turmoil,” says Glahn, “like there was a connection between all these events, that a fundamental shift was happening in very different areas of our lives and societies.”
Out of this feeling of ubiquitous turmoil comes a new project called Energy Flow, developed with support from The Creators Project. The ambitious new work is a generative film that links together 4-10 different story lines, each segment a metaphorical expression of the invisible forces and energies that shape our world.
“We see groups of people forming a movement in the streets, archetypal scenes of wild animals, infinite landscapes of computing centers, dice and cards are thrown, symbolizing the mathematical chaos that holds our world together,” explains Glahn.
A still from the dice sequence in Energy Flow.
Taking the flow and transformation of energy as its primary metaphor and pairing it with visual inspiration from modern painting and science visualizations, each segment unfolds as a brief audiovisual gesture, a graphically lush animation created by FIELD and an international team of collaborators.
Like many of FIELD’s previous projects, the generative nature of the work means that it goes through a process of transformation in real-time, right before the viewer’s eyes, evolving based on a series of algorithmic instructions that produces a new and different output each time. What results is a non-linear film experiment that is open to interpretation and, because of its abstract nature, will be experienced differently by each viewer.
“Every time you watch Energy Flow you’ll see a different sequence of events—it’s all about the interconnections you make in your mind, the synthesis that happens on an individual level,” explains Glahn. “The viewer’s blueprint of experiences and opinions shapes the experience just as much as the audiovisual content.”
When conceiving this animated mosaic, Glahn and Wendt were greatly influenced by the 1982 film KOYAANISQATSI. Directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass, KOYAANISQATSI is a kind of tone poem that juxtaposes a series of slow motion and time-lapse shots of American cities and landscapes with Glass’ complex musical score. Offering no narrative or explanation, the film conveys the concept of “life out of balance” by throwing its audience off-kilter. For FIELD, Energy Flow is their “KOYAANISQATSI through robot eyes.”
A stunning landscape still from KOYAANISQATSI.
“Energy Flow does not represent an opinion or a truth,” says Glahn. “One singular perspective is not enough to reflect the complexity of how things are connected in our lives today—the fragile equilibrium, the dependencies between economic, political, geographical and cultural factors.”
Stylistically, FIELD’s work has always been influenced by the creative coding community that they grew out of, hence the strong connection with data visualization. But they’ve always exhibited a singular and sophisticated graphic aesthetic that owes much to the work of contemporary painters and sculptors like Gerhard Richter, Yago Hortal, and David Schnell. Glahn cites these artists’ expressive use of color and ability to capture a whole process and story in one image as a big point of reference.
The final version of Energy Flow will take shape as an audiovisual installation that will debut at The Creators Project events this fall, as well as a mobile app experience. For now, we’ve got just a short teaser to give you a taste of what’s in store. Consider it a visual mood board for the experimental film experience that’s coming your way soon.