Getting In Touch with Studio Above&Below

IMPAKT Exhibition In Touch

Studio Above&Below is an art and technology practice founded by Daria Jelonek and Perry-James Sugden. Their work combines mixed reality experiences, digital art and data. Meditative Cohabitation is an immersive installation that explores bioacoustics and interspecies communication to look at future coexistence between humans and non-human species.

The work is an exploration of bioacoustic recordings and scans of Marais Wiels, a small marsh in Brussels. What drew you to this area?

Our bioacoustics, AI classifying tool, and non-human communication research took place in Brussels, as we were interested in exploring how we can use screen technologies such as phones and billboards to communicate with wildlife in cities, shifting the perspective towards incorporating non-human voices in technology developments, rather than creating technologies just for humans communication at the forefront. We soon discovered that exploring all of Brussels’s bioacoustics was beyond our resource capabilities. Through our local collaborator and bioacoustic expert, Yau Fan, we found the interesting artificially created site of Marais Wiels, which is a place full of extractive technology, in the form of new estate development machinery; however, it is also a place full of hope for regenerative biodiversity and cohabitation between humans and non-humans in cities. Marais Wiels is a place that was undergoing huge construction plans, which then stopped. Originating on marshland, the construction site filled up with water over time and created an artificial swamp which now attracts a lot of biodiversity, including 94 birds, 2 mammals, and 4 insects (as of 2021). This place seemed perfect to deepen our studies into bioacoustics in cities, because of its history and poetic elements it holds as a space.

As the name suggests, Meditative Cohabitation invites the audience to engage in meditation surrounded by the sounds of nature. How do you hope this combination of meditation and nature sounds will influence visitors?

In everyday life, especially in cities with a lot of noise pollution both influencing us and other species, it is easy to not hear any biological non-human voices, such as birds, insects, and mammals. Our installation gives visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the meditative sounds of this one specific place to listen and reconnect with non-humans, as well as put other species at the forefront of media art experiences. The work is concerned with how sound can play a role in how we share and cohabit city spaces.

In your work you often approach specific landscapes or surroundings. How important is it to work site specific, especially in times of digital media and digital spaces?

Immersing ourselves physically through our senses into places which we study is as important to us as looking at specific places through digital lenses, including through data, sound analysis, and volumetric scans. As artists, we work with digital media; nonetheless, we believe that no digital recreation, abstraction, or imitation can replace the full-body experience that one has when in a natural environment without any digital technology.

Nonetheless, in our artistic practices, we are immensely interested in conducting site studies to accumulate information, data, and the auras that specific places hold, and incorporate those findings and studies into the audio-visual experiences of our artworks. We are particularly interested in working with real-time data from specific natural environments, such as bioacoustics, water data, atmospheric measurements and soil quality data, which influence digital spaces within screen technologies, ranging from mobile phones and game environments to large-scale rooms and outdoor spaces. This is in order to bridge us humans, who are increasingly spending time with technologies, with the outside world, which can bring the unexpected, wildness, and softness into our sterile and extractive technological spaces. We hope the use of immersive digital technologies can be a catalyst for a deeper mental involvement with physical space.

Meditative Cohabitation deals with multi-species and interspecies communication. If you could talk with any species of animal or plant, which would it be? And what would you talk about?

Daria: “I would love to talk to a beluga whale, listen, and understand how whales talk to each other. I am also interested in how plants hold memories, and understanding and hearing how they perceive their own memories and time.”

Perry: “I would like to talk and learn from species including coral. I’m not sure what part of coral I would like to speak to or with what communication methods, but I would like to talk, ask questions and maybe learn how through design we can be more interconnected to Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological processes. Whilst also asking them whether we as species and our technologies are in sync with Earth’s processes?”

Both: “Nonetheless, we would like to stress that we currently see a third artificial non-human species evolving, which is technological by nature. This includes AI systems, bots, humanoids, and many more, all of which intrigue us regarding how our communication will evolve with and between other biological-nonhuman species.”

The other artists we are Getting In Touch with are Paula Nishijima, T(n)C, Me AndOther Me and Nadja Verena Marcin.

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