Two hybrid artworks

On Project Stargaze & The Great Idle

Last May, IMPAKT became a space for hybrid experimentation. That month, two artworks were presented in our exhibition hall. Project Stargaze was hosted in the third weekend of May, and the performance The Great Idle took place a week later.

Both works can be understood in line with IMPAKT’s recent programming, continuing to explore new hybrid formats and ways to make these hybrid experiences as engaging as possible. Even after the restrictions during the pandemic, exploring how (partially) digital visits to art spaces can be developed remains important. By continuously providing this space for experiments, IMPAKT prioritises access for different types of visitors and encourages artists to develop their creative experiments and share them with an audience.

In this report, Esther van Zoelen presents her personal experiences of these experimental works. She guides us through her physical presence in the space as a visitor, one that was expanded with a hybrid digital component in both cases.

When I walked into the entrance hall of IMPAKT, I was greeted by someone in a white suit of loose fabric covering them from head to toe. Their shoes were protected by plastic covers, they had a notepad in their hands and a serious look in their eyes. ‘Hi, I’m Derk and I will be your host for today’. They asked me my name and told me to wait in the hallway, where other participants for Project Stargaze had started gathering as well. Derk was to take on the role of an instructor. In order to participate in Project Stargaze, the audience had to adjust their newly-defined, physical self. Participants were instructed to wear an elastic band around their waist that functioned as a phone holder, causing the players’ phones to dangle on their butts. Then, the “online minds” were connected to the physical bodies via a video call. The online companions became the physical bodies’ eyes and minds. Thus, the perfect hybrid body was formed.

In the initial adjustment period, the players who were physically present at IMPAKT showed the art space to the online minds they were carrying on their backs, firstly by following the lines drawn on the floor, later by showing flashing colored lights in the corners and by circling around as well as following a straight line, backwards. Once left was clearly defined again from right, with everyone feeling properly adjusted, the game could begin.
A video introduced the idea of the ‘Homo Nexus’ in a serious but sarcastic, documentary-like voice. Humankind was bound to be adapted and evolved, turning into a unity of physical bodies and online minds. Then a series of minigames began. Soon chaos occurred, with players in the physical and online realm trying to communicate instructions, the physical players in the room watching out for one another, and flashing colors and sounds mixed with strict instructions provided by Derk. This brought a lucid charm with happy albeit slightly stressed players.

The Great Idle promised to be less stressful: a day before the performance took place, I received an email asking me what I would do with an endless amount of time. And when I visited the event, I entered a different setting altogether. IMPAKT’s exhibition hall was already filled with people seated on pillows or chairs. My attention was drawn to a mesmerizing video environment projected on the wall. I took a seat and waited for the story to unfold. Artist Benjamin Pompe shortly introduced the interactive performance artwork. This time again, our phones were needed. Instead of dangling them from our body, the audience used it to go to a website.

The performance was carried out by a live performer wearing a motion-capture suit that translated his actions to a digital character on the screen. Through the website, we were able to influence the physical and, as a result, the digital performers’ behaviors. When the performer in front of us raised his hands, the digital double raised his hands, and when he crouched to the floor, the digital double did so too. This realization was magical for the audience present.

I felt immersed in the watery game-like environment which was designed as a digital deserted island. The sounds and music coming from the island played nicely into a folklorish and mysterious atmosphere and the rectangular screen lit up the dimmed room. Even though the audience was silent, it was not merely passive. Through the website we could also determine the video environment. We could choose if the island was cloaked in wet clouds, or if an enormous sun burned upon the digital character. The digital performer’s outfit could change according to the weather, too. Throughout the live performance, these kinds of options appeared. The audience not only encountered the digital and physical performer, but on the video projection there appeared small interventions with magical creatures. We conversed with a poetic fish and later a philosophical tree-like creature as well. Each had their own peculiar sounds, which supported the words that came across the screen. These conversations were a playful addition to the main island view, but also quite incoherent and unpredictable. At times, the physical performer was watching his digital counterpart and their comparable movements as well. As an audience, our eyes were mostly drawn to the digital avatar, who therefore seemed to become the main character.

The Great Idle was an event that merged a movie, a game, a play and a dance into a new experience, becoming immersive on multiple levels. Because of the new nature of this performance, I was not always sure how to behave as an audience member. Especially when near the end the performer dragged an audience member on the ‘stage’ – the empty space just before the projection – and made some movements with them. Overall, I felt safest as a small part of the audience, melting into the group as if we were a school of fish ourselves.
During my visit, I was not aware of the digital audience that had joined The Great Idle as well, who influenced the changes on the island too. Other than in Project Stargaze, in which joined participation and communication was vital, this experience did not require both audiences to connect. While having a drink with members of the physical audience after The Great Idle to talk about our experiences, I felt that we in some way or another became a community. Because of the different levels of participation the hybrid artworks ask for, community-building took place in very different ways. I felt a deeper connection with the people I actively worked together with, compared to the group of online people I had watched The Great Idle with. Furthermore, comparable to the lasting effect of a movie after you have left the cinema, this experimental performance piece stayed with me for a while after leaving IMPAKT.

In the end, both Project Stargaze and The Great Idle were made to be experienced in an engaging way, using digital resources to create a merged digital-physical world. Project Stargaze became a game, very different from traditional ways of creating and presenting art. A visitor becomes a participant that has to act, with all of their senses being triggered. With the exploration of the Homo Nexus, it approaches our digital self in a light way and looks at the future with both sarcastic wonder and serious experimentation.
The Great Idle seems to have a more classic approach of constructing and showing art, based on more of a clear division between audience and artwork. A visitor becomes a participant in a slightly less active sense, not using all of their body and senses, but still able to influence developments within the story. The Great Idle does not ask its audience to think hard on its meaning, but instead lets us undergo its aesthetic story. Participation is without obligation, which corresponds to the cinema-like room we are seated in.

These two hybrid artworks presented at IMPAKT show a sliver of what hybridity means for the artworld, which remains a field to be explored.

Supporting talented Utrecht-based artists
In 2022, IMPAKT commissioned two hybrid artworks by Utrecht-based artists: The Great Idle and Project Stargaze. The commissions were funded by the province of Utrecht through its Talented Makers Support Package (Presentatieregeling talentvolle makers). Project Stargaze was co-funded by Werktank, Leuven (Belgium).

This commission is also part of the DOORS (Digital Incubator for Museums) programme by Ars Electronica, Museum Booster and ECSITE, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme; The New Social research project, a collaboration between IMPAKT, Framer Framed and Hackers & Designers that is supported by the Innovation Labs programme at Creative Industries Fund NL; and the two-year research project Going Hybrid, which investigates various aspects of the ongoing hybridity ‘evolution’. Going Hybrid’s partners are Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, MU Eindhoven, The Hmm, Hackers & Designers, Willem de Kooning Academy, Framer Framed, Varia and IMPAKT.


Residencies & projects archive

Website by HOAX Amsterdam