Augmented Sensations. An interview with Scenocosme | MARISA GÓMEZ

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Since 2003, French artists Grégory Laserre and Anaïs met den Ancxt, work together as Scenocosme. Their interactive installations, objects and performances have been around the world, captivating both audience and critics.

Anaïs y Gregory have fit us in their tight agenda to let us know more about their work. This is what they have told us.

Marisa Gómez: Your work is mainly based on interactivity, through intersections between art, technology, sound and architecture. You are interested in experience and sensibility. I would like to begin asking about your background. How did an anthropologist with education in fine arts and design and a computer scientist come up to work together and to be interested in this kind of practices?

Scenocosme: Each of us has studied various disciplines without becoming scientists, specialists in a particular area. Our trajectories have enriched our artistic glances, our sensibilities, and our skills, in Anaïs’ case, through anthropology and Fine Arts, or in Grégory’s, through electronics and multimedia studies. Our skills link up the same artistic and poetic universe. Our works, focused on technology and natural elements, question our relationship to the environment, both natural and social. For us, the question of interactivity passes through a particular attention to interaction, where the concept of behaviour comes into play within a defined dramaturgy that stimulates the exchanges and meetings between the spectators.

MG: I would like to ask you also about your collective’s name, Scenocosme. Where does it come from? What does it mean for you?

SC: Our name of artists “Scenocosme” merged as a result of our first interactive installation SphèrAléas. It consists of a half-sphere of 5 meters in diameter, where the spectators are invited to sit in a circle around a hemispherical mirror. As in an orchestra, and guided by the conductor, they compose together visual and sound universes by activating sensory receptors. These worlds are “microcosms” that are born and die under the interaction of the audience. In “Scenocosme”, there is also the word “scenography”, because we are giving a great deal of attention to the place of the spectator in our works. By combining “scenography” and “microcosm”, “Scenocosme” may also be translated as “staging little worlds”.

“SphèrAléas”. Scenocosme, 2003.

MG: To a certain extent, your work generates new relationships with the environment, the energy or the biological realities. Light, and especially sound, play an important role in it. I imagine you are reluctant to be labelled, but how would you define what you do, beyond “interactive installation”? Do you feel close to sound art, sound experimentation, light art…? Which are your references?

SC: In doing so interactive works, we are between the installation and the plastic living show. An interactive installation deals, above all, with relations, whether they are visual or audible. Beyond a frontal relationship with the work, we are trying to provoke relationships, exchanges between the spectators. Our works are forms of small intimate staging that favour meetings around extraordinary sensory experiences. We also think about some of our works as “mediators” between the spectators: works that live on the meetings between the spectators. It is for example the case of Lights Contacts: it is a ritual of meetings that is lived between two or more people. In one, nothing happens. The viewer must necessarily invite someone else to touch his/her body in order to create sounds and lights that will evolve depending on the energy intensity generated.

We actually work a lot with sound and light, with which we compose sensitive languages. With Akousmaflore for instance, we have composed a vegetal language. Each plant reacts to the contact of the human body through a sound, a voice. They stand for a character, a particular sound identity and a behaviour having a feedback, an influence on the reaction, the emotion and the approach of the spectator. The installation Lights Contacts extended this reflection as lights and sounds are generated by the contact between human bodies. We offer a sensory experience by which we make our energy contacts (electrostatic) with others audible and luminous. This friendly space generates a time of exchanges, of shared and extraordinary meetings. The light and sound vibrations subsequently appear fragile; they depend only on the electrostatic exchanges of the contacts between the spectators. Sound textures truly evolve depending on the approach and the energetic intensity of the body. We are interested as well in the way in which a sound can influence the relationship between the spectators. We explore its power of feedback in apprehending the other and in touching him/her: from the caress to the sensation of playing the body as, for example, a musical instrument.

MG: Technology is also an important aspect of your work. How do you develop the technical part for a piece as, for instance, Akousmaflore? I suppose there is a lot of experimentation, research and tests about how to “translate” into something perceptible the energy generated between the plants and us. What is your methodology? Do you collaborate with other technicians, engineers, etc. or do you design and produce also all the technical elements of your work?

SC: We are most of the time self-sufficient in our creations. But we spend a lot of time researching, experimenting and reflecting on the scenography, the interactivity for each of them. We compare our artistic intentions with technological experiments that open up unexpected paths. We often associate technology and natural elements, which is the case, for example, for Akousmaflore (plants), Kymapetra (stones), Fluides (water), Ecorces (wood). We divert the technology in order to extract a gesture, a poetic fibre. What we are interested in is to discover the unpredictability of a work. It becomes interesting when it is not under our control, when it lives by itself, augmented by technology. In addition to the sensitive interrelations that we propose to the spectators, our works take also their own augmented directions in living by themselves, with the technology, and with the reactions that are voluntarily beyond our control.

MG: I suppose there is a certain purpose in confronting/gathering technology and artificiality with biological, living and natural elements. Besides, they refer to the world of dreams, of energy… suggesting in many cases (I think, for instance, in Kymapetra) an intimate context, of meditation and tactile sensations where technology is almost invisible. How do you conceive this relationship between technology, nature and “spirituality”? Do you consider technology just as a means for your work or it does it go further?

SC: The technology allows us to increase our senses and to feel the living where it is less expected. There is an attention on the invisible exchanges that we have with the environment and the living beings. When we talk about the invisible, we recall the metaphor of the cloud, in its uncertain form, in constant metamorphosis and beyond our perception. Therefore, a micro cloud, composed of heat, water and electrostatic energy surrounds the body. Such a moving shadow touches continuously our social and natural environment, on a scale that is beyond our perception. It is in this subtle meeting that we invent languages, which allow us to make sensitive, audible the various interactions. Our sensations become augmented.

The cloud is also a virtual and poetic projection of the invisible in everything that merges as a mystery: a sort of continuous veil between the body and the world. This means that nothing is ever completely intelligible and, as in a cloud, it is impossible to describe its specific contours. In fact, we do not use technology to draw the specific shape of these clouds. We suggest it in order to allow the largest possible interpretation to the spectators. We leave a large place to the imaginary, comparable to the “continuous mystery” mentioned by John Ruskin: “Mystery includes not only the partial and variable kind that clouds and mist serve so well, but also the kind that is continuous, permanent and that corresponds, in all spaces, to the infinity of things” [1]. This goes for the infinitely large as for the infinitely small; the invisible slides down indefinitely to more and more inaccessible levels. Between what is and what appears noticeable to us, there is always a blind point that stimulates the imagination. Technologies allow us to invent sensory increased relations, but our works keep a part of living reactions that are voluntarily beyond our control. By confronting the spectators with the natural elements, we wonder about their relationship to the environment and the living beings. Their own stories and beliefs feed each of our works.

MG: Although Echos is not so based on interactivity as other of your pieces, I am personally very much interested in how it mixes simplicity and poetic force. Have you heard about Years by B. Traubek? When I got to know this work, I instantly remembered yours. That made me think about how – with so many different objectives, means, approaches and aesthetical results ­– very similar reflections are being constructed in the arts… It seems as, in our times, technologies incited us to reveal the hidden poetics of nature… Do you agree?

SC: When we began to create works in 2003, very quickly, we focused on the relationship between nature and technology. This came linked, above all, to our common sensibilities; we never thought about following any artistic trend.

We have been told about this work not long ago, and both were probably created around the same time, animated perhaps by the same intuition. Those are the chances of artistic creation, and some ideas seem to be in the air of times.

For Echos, we used a piezo sensor positioned on the scanning head of the disk record player. We pose to read the writing of the past time, beaten by the grooves in the mulberry. By amplifying and interpreting its sound vibrations, Echos becomes a contemplative work, or even a hypnotic experience due to its cycle and its infinite rhythm. It has also something human in its shape, which resembles a heart or a brain, covered by strata of memories that will never disappear completely from our present.

More and more, we are interested in the relationship between the human body and the material of the wood. Ecorces continues this reflection. This interactive installation poses a sensory interrelationship with the wood. The heat of the body, of the hand or breath gradually and slowly unveils the intimacy of matter, in a visual and audible manner. This virtually revealed intimacy is the mirror of certain inner, psychological wrap, specific to each individual. Ecorces is also a reference to the skin of the tree as that of the body, which are formed by successive wrappings, whereas physical or symbolic. Its bright and vibrant layers remind us the combustion and the fluidity of the material, whose movements are beyond our perception. This matter seems to be frozen and it continues to move under the influence of changes in temperature or humidity. We are also creating an ephemeral form of home, by linking the human warmth and the material of the wood.

MG: Going back to tactility as something very present in your works, I am thinking now about Lights Contacts, which aims to physically relate to other participants. Is there any intention to recover the consciousness of materiality in a reality that becomes increasingly virtual?

SC: Touching is actually an acknowledgment of the real world. Moreover, in his book La Saveur du monde, une anthropologie des sens (“The Taste of the world. An Anthropology of the Senses”), the anthropologist David Le Breton said that “the man is in the world through his body. To lose the touch of the other is sometimes to lose the world; to be again the object (or rather the subject) of a contact, is to find it.” He also quotes Merleau-Ponty: “To touch, is to touch each other […] things are the extension of my body and my body is the extension of the world around me […]” [2].

It is true that, spontaneously, we are directing our artistic focus to works that create a physical link, both with natural elements and with other spectators. We draw the intimate space that promotes a physical encounter between the spectators, by offering sensory experiences reminiscent of these fragile and necessary relations that we have with the others and with the environment. Both SphèrAléas and Lights Contacts generate particular space-times, where the meeting with the other is essential to make it work.

The interaction is not only linked to the touch, but also to the approach of the body and its cloud. We talk about the influence of the body in the space even more than the physical contact. In approaching a plant of Akousmaflore from a few centimetres, it will react with a deep sound, but if we truly touch it, the sound will be much more acute. So the cloud of the body is manifested in its thickness and energy. In Lights Contacts, the energetic clouds of spectators take the form of a “proxemic cloud”, which, by becoming sensitive, feelable, allows us to play with the distances between bodies. Lights and sound textures evolve also depending on the proximity and the energy intensity.

MG: I imagine – considering also my own experience with those of your works I had the opportunity to interact with – that you are interested on how audience reacts to your work. What kind of responses do you get?

SC: That is what is most important. Without the interaction of the spectators, the work doesn’t exist. We not only design works as intimate stagings, but we learn a lot with the spectators. Depending on cultures, the audience doesn’t react the same way. Our creations Akousmaflore or Lights Contacts generate transgressive space-times where the proximity distances we experience in daily life are temporarily broken. Visitors create human chains; by entering the scene they interpret the sounds, over-play or lead to new sonic interpretations.

Spectators carry out the work, they make it. Their reactions are our “gift”. We spend a lot of time observing how they go into the scene, to tell stories.

MG: You are currently exhibiting several works all around the world and since 2004 you have been also invited to many exhibitions and festivals. You have won several important awards during the past years. Where do you think that the success of your work lies?

SC: We offer first of all experiences, strong and emotional relationships with the spectators. We always put the human in the heart of the work. It is our source of inspiration. When we create a work for the first time, we spend a lot of time observing and listening to the audience. This attention is fundamental. We have always a lot to learn from the audience’s feedback.

MG: Your production is also very wide. Beyond installations, you work or have worked also in the realm of performance, sculpture, objects, environments…. What do you plan for the future? Are you exploring new creative languages trough new technologies? Do you think that the quick technological changes that we are facing could radically affect and transform what you do and how you do it?

SC: We love to subvert the classic use of the technology in our creations. We wish to succeed in doing so always in a relevant and imaginative way. We are experimenting very much, and from these experiments ideas and poetic gestures are born.

We recently created a dance performance entitled Escales Tactiles with the Company K-dance. It is actually a continuation of our creation Lights Contacts, addressing the issues of proximity, physical contact. We specifically created a scenography and interactive costumes. This experience made us feel like collaborating with other artistic disciplines, particularly theatre, dance, etc. in order to enrich our vision of staging while proposing new experiences and relations to the spectators.

References:

[1] Hubert Damisch, A Theory of Cloud: Toward a History of Painting, Standford University Press, 2000, p. 189. See also: John Ruskin, Sur Turner, Ed. Jean-Cyrille Godefroy, 1983

[2] David Le Breton, La Saveur du Monde, Une anthropologie des sens, Ed Métailié, 2006

More information about Scenocosme: http://www.scenocosme.com/