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SIMULACRA - interactive video installation / organic analogue mental cinema

SIMULACRA is an optophysical experimental arrangement with which Karina Smigla-Bobinski succeeds to build a bridge between media technology and perception philosophy. At its heart are four LCD monitor panels, which are assembled in the form of a hollow square, and installed at eye level in the middle of the room. The ensemble appears internally gutted, overgrown and embraced. A tangle of cables and control devices pours out of the middle of the square. All around it several magnifying lenses dangle from chains. The imageless glaring ray of the monitors looks as if the images had fallen out of them. What remains is the essence of the medium: Light.

But the images are still in the screens. It requires only a small visual aid to recognise them. LCD-Monitors require several polarising films in front and behind the pixel layers to produce visible images. These polarising films filter the certain vibration directions of the emitting light. One of them is located on the surface of the monitor and can easily be scraped off using solvent and a glass scraper. The stripped monitor doesn't display any more pictures, but shines with an intense white light.

If you hold a polarising film, as in SIMULACRA in a magnifying glass version, before the monitor, then the function is restored. It is an impressive, wondrous experience when images suddenly appear from the pure white by the mare glance through a seemingly transparent film. But if you turn the lens in front of your eyes, the polarising structure of the film creates wild colour shifts or even complementary negative images. In the interaction with SIMULACRA other visual experiences were discovered by the visitors: If you hold a magnifying glass in front of each eye and turn them differently, the result is a hologram-like image. Two lenses stacked on each other in a ninety degrees angle darken the picture completely.
In the design of video images that run across the screens, Karina Smigla-Bobinski worked skilfully with the effect of an opaque glistening body of light: - hands, feet, long black hair press against the inside surface of the screens, making them only visible within the contact, before disappearing into the white nothingness.

SIMULACRA penetrates deep into the discourses of subject and view, image and reality. Taking a magnifying glass (possibly waiting until one is free), to position one-selves between other people in front of the screens, viewing the images clearly or alienated with a magnifying glass – perceiving the work requires physical actions, an active positioning, which surpasses the accustomed visual process.Thus, the viewers are motivated to reflect on their patterns of perception. Smigla-Bobinski particularly tries to create an awareness for the visual culture of the virtual space and its process of imagination.We all move through our worlds in constant interaction between external and internal imagesand ourselves.. Virtuality and reality are questions of perception, and perception is a matter of awareness. In an era of an unending possibility of increasing the development imaging media, these terms have experienced an equally infinite fragmentation.

In the works title Karina Smigla-Bobinski uses a term that is being used since the ancient philosophy for various forms of pictorial representation. Understood as a "similar " or "realistic" image of natural things and divine beings, the " simulacrum" was regarded as deficient due to its subordination in relation to what is depicted original. The term won a new meaning in the reassessment of signs in postmodern philosophy. The difference between the sign and the signified and thus also between the image and what it represents has been defined by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze as the nucleus of creative processes . In dealing with the signs, even in its mere reading , there will be a profound examination of the levels of reality , each sign is a reconstructional process in which there may be gaps and shifts in meaning . This leaves space for not only interpretation but also new creation.

The images have mushroomed in recent decades in the evolution of media. In the early 1980s, Jean Baudrillard subjected " Simulacra and Simulation" to a fundamental critique . He noted a surfeit of images, which leads to a general loss of reference to reality. The world behind it begins to become irrelevant as the experiential space, in which a differentiation between virtual and real is still possible, increasingly dwindles. But this antagonism has become historic. The new media are not new anymore - back in the late 1990s Nicholas Negroponte proclaimed the digital revolution to be finished and viewed the later spawned technologies as a "compost for new ideas." Karina Smigla - Bobinski designed SIMULACRA with exactly this historical awareness : The installation seems crude , the devices have lost their glory , their auratic presence. The tangle of cables and wires seem like the climbing plants that start to overgrow sunken wreckages - an association that is particularly strong due to the video. The laborious modification of the monitors with solvent and glass scraper was called by Smigla-Bobinski herself "an analog attack on the digital images technique" .

The Virtual is an essential part of our contemporary reality. It refers to a form of existence beyond the physical world, but it carries physical qualities in the form of a potential. The categories "real" and "virtual" are no indicator for the strength of an image. Zizeks analysis of film, for example, demonstrates through a psychoanalytic perspective based on Lacan, the persistent interaction between levels of realty, images and consciousness we encounter on our journey through an medial universe.

The decisive factor is the awareness to this interaction. In Simulacra, Smigla-Bobinski lets the viewer have a peek into her view of the how the virtual works: in the digital video, body parts appear on a white glowing surface , but we recognise this as a person who is swimming in a brightly lit tank filled with a milky fluid. Without the 'seeing aid' the screens seem to show the empty tank, but viewed through the film, the figure is partially visible. This results in the impression that the visual aid gives rise to the figure itself. However, the person is always present in the monitor pixels. What is brought to light is the video in itself - a significant difference in the context of negotiating the remuneration of virtuality and reality. A disembodied medium seems to create a body, a person. Another illusion as an impulse for reflection lies in the arrangement of the monitors: Under the influence of the video it is almost inevitable to not conceive the radiant square as just that space in which the person is swimming – similar to believing as a child, that miniature people are living in or on TV. But since the same video is playing on all four screens, spatial experiences are pure imagination.

That play of absence was done by Alphonse Allais at the end of the 19th century. He created soundless songs and monochrome black or white images , in which only the title heralded the content. Karina Smigla-Bobinski puts the accent on the virtuality of the absence, in the apparent emptiness a representation of something appears. It is a representation devoid of imagery, unencumbered by the pictorial . It is a representation that shows nothing but the presentation layer itself, it is the pure light in which any occurrence is possible. The magnifiers in SIMULACRA only let one of many possible representations emerge . SIMULACRA is a space of experience of the interaction between the magic of the images and the intellectual understanding, with plenty of space for critical reflection. Its kind of deconstruction - both technically and aesthetically - is aimed at easing the basic relations: between ( technical ) media and image , between picture and the pictured there , between perception and imagination. These are the gaps from which something new can arise .

"White Cube" - Dr. Thomas Huber, München, 2014

dig deeper

LCD Monitor Teardown
(source: Bill Hammack)

The evolution of the human eye
(source: TED)

3 ways the brain creates meaning
(source: TED)

Optical illusions show how we see
(source: TED)

The illusion of consciousness
(source: TED)

What hallucination reveals
(source: TED)


> Simulacra by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, the elusive ghostly video. by Alessandro Ludovico > Neural - critical digital culture and media arts

The feedback we get from a video, or any cinematic artifact is continuous, as every frame reaching our retina alters the state of our brain and our interpretation of the source material. In Simulacra by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, there is a suspended apparatus made using four attached screens forming a cube without the upper and lower side. But the working screens seem to transmit only a plain white colour until we decide to use the attached magnifying glasses to look closer. Different content is then made available to us. The author defines it as an “organic, analogue mental cinema”, and in fact our default reaction is to think that the process is happening in our brains rather than in the lenses. An intimate relationship is then established that puts the spectator in a privileged position, recognised by the artist as the one chosen to access her ghostly secrets.

> Simulacra, a Video Installation Revealed Through Magnifying Glasses by Peter Kirn > Create Digital Motion

It's easy to forget that all video is illusion, a matter of perspective. In 2013 2s Simulacra, Germany-based artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, images seem to merge directly from light in the eyes of the viewer, pulled from space into being by magnifying glasses suspended from the ceiling. Even an element as basic as focus, then, is game for artistic manipulation.
Her materials are basic - think monitors and a splitter. But in this as in her other works, physical materiality is a common theme, playing with mapping and light, but also toying with space and objects. It's interesting in this case that she leaves the jumble of cords intentionally exposed (which is not necessarily the case with all her work). That can look a bit raw, but at least here it reveals what people are seeing.
The project premiered at Sonica Festival, in Ljubjana, Slovenia. (The tagline for that event is, suggestively, a "Festival of Transitory Art".)

> Simulacra: Through the Magnifying Glass > CYLAND MediaArtLab

German-based artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski used magnifying glasses to reveal her video art in recent installation, playing with our senses. She withdrew the flood of images from the medium and left its true nature bare: the light.
The project was realized during the MoTa artist’s residence in Ljubliana, inviting audience to interact with the work in a unique way, participating in, the artist’s words, ‘analogue mental cinema’.

> When the world in magnified - Discussion with Karina Smigla-Bobinski by Ida Hirsenfelder > MoTA, Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana

Perhaps it would not be fair to say that the following discussion – taking place during Sonica Festival 2013 at the end of Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s artistic residence at MoTA, Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana – is an interview. It would be far more accurate to call it a transcription of storytelling by the artist herself. Most importantly and most decisive for her artistic processes, narratives and contents, mediums and techniques, as I came to understand, is her overwhelming passion for art which is taking her to places she has never imagined, always embarrassing new experiences and manifestations of beauty, revealing paradoxes of society with artistic language with the gaze of a child and the brain of a mathematician.

Ida Hirsenfelder: You are an artist with a long and versatile career. It is quite interesting for me, that you started using video and making video installations despite the fact that this technologies were quite unavailable in Poland in the 80s. The artists who at the time thought about video processes were mostly using film in a videastic manner. How did you start?
Karina Smigla-Bobinski: When I was in elementary school, my father had an double 8 mm Russian film camera and he was very fascinated with making films. At that time it has really never occurred to me that one day I will be an artist working with this kind of medium. Nevertheless, this was an extremely important experience. The double 8 mm camera tape had a really peculiar characteristic. After shooting for few minutes, the tape needed to be turned around in the dark room, so images could be recorded on the flip side of the tape. So my father actually used a scarf to cover the film and flipped it. What I still find very curious is that he was not making family portraits or films of people, but taking long and quite abstract footages of cars and time passing by.

IH: Do you still have the tapes? Did you ever exhibit them?
KSB: Yes, I still have the tapes. I never exhibited them, but I might do this one day. It is not yet the right moment. And you know I also have his camera that he gave me, when I was still only painting.

IH: Until when did you only paint?
KSB: Until the middle of my studies in Munich actually. It was strange how I came to art. As I was little, I was mostly good in natural sciences in physics and mathematics, only when a teacher showed us a Malevich painting, something moved in me. Much later when I was already at the academy in Munich, I set myself a research about painting. I asked myself a question: What exactly is painting? Painting is colour and form. I examined both of them, but the world of colors really fascinated me. And hence I came to exploring the qualities of light and space. This discovery also brought me to light installations and to video.

IH: Are you still connected to the Polish art circles?
KSB: I am starting to establish the communication once again, now. After over ten years of living abroad in Munich, I was back to Poland, when I was invited to install an exhibition in Krakow.

IH: In the past few years, I saw a number of installations like “Morning Star”, “Cone”, “Ada” in the context of media art exhibitions. Before this pieces, you were maining light installations, a lot of video installations and also some intense work on theatre scenography. Are you still making theatre or are you completely dedicated to media art now?
KSB: After working in the theatre for a number of years I was doubtful whether I can still make art by myself in my studio. This mood overwhelmed me out of several reasons. The theatre piece was very important, informative, and we got to travel with it all around the world. Each time the performance would stop, we would get an enthusiastic applause and appraisal, people saying how beautiful it was. But when the piece is made, after the first premier and a few reprisals, you yourself as an artist do not have to do anything creative anymore. You start to enjoy the applause and start to feel far too comfortable with rewarding situation. This triggered an alarm in me. I though, I have to keep my focus on the work and specifically on the work alone. At the certain point in 2008, I decided to quit the theatre collaboration in order to develop my own artistic language. Soon after, I was invited to make an installation in Olympiapark in Munich which I called “Island“, an light installation in public space. This park was built on the ruins from the second world war. When the debris of the war was cleaned from the city, they piled it at its edge forming artificial hills which had concealed all the horror with neet and artificial slopes.

IH: Like a repressed traumatic memory.
KSB: I was wondering what would have happened if I was to cut this hill at its foot, place it on the water and make water reflect what is hidden inside. I installed hill-like shaped islands in the middle of a large pond seemingly floating on the water. I covered them with grass and they looked very natural to a casual observer. No one had thought that this was an art piece during the day, but during the night one could see a reflection of sleeping naked woman in the water. For the piece, I only used a large diapositiva on each of the islands and plexi glass that was placed at the bottom of this floating islands. This was not a projection on the water, because this is physically not possible. It was a reflection and thus gave an optical illusion that the women are deep in the water.

IH: Conceptually it also makes a lot of sense to reflect the historical memory and not to project it.
KSB: Yes but also the idea of video itself. In any of my installations video was never just use as a moving image. When the body of a dancer or the surface of the water was moving, I would rather use a still frame than a moving image. In the case of “Islands” I only used a single dia image and then let the water became a generator of movement and produce the other 23 frames. The water made the sleeping body look like it was breathing.

IH: Very often, you would also address hidden political or social agenda in your work, at the same time your installations came off as very formally clean, also monumental in a way. You also often work with large scale. What reasons are behind your decision to produce monumental and formal and seemingly formalistic works, and how does this correspond the social questions that you are addressing. In “Ada” you also used scientific and neurological explanations...
KSB: This all depends on what I want to communicate to the people. I search for form, which is very present, which the people can comprehend, feel immediately and I think there is a better way to communicate. I believe, when you have a very strong emotion, you need to have something very subtle to mediate it. Or even better, you cannot say anything about the light without the shadow. In the aesthetic sense this comes out as something clean. That is how I work with the installations. Another example would be mysticism. I know that in our society there is a lot of interest in getting in contact with spirituality, but a lot of people make a huge mistake, when they are over-emphasising it and they start to be esoteric, they fail to recognise the importance of the material world. … I like to speak about polarities.

IH: Another very intriguing layer of our work is your approach to new technologies. You often produce a piece, which would not be possible without computers and laboratories, but you do not directly use computers. In fact, you even cal “Ada” an analogue interactive installation. You used a similar principle in “Morning Star” in which you built a rhizomatic structure with arrows. There was no new technologies only new vision of the physical.
KSB: I want to address people’s fear about the digital. I dislike the paranoid approach to the digital world that suggest that it takes our reality away from us and that we become less alive when using them and somehow become lost in the virtual space. Come on! A century ago with film and photography a lot of people were saying that that will be the end of painting, the end of culture. Why are we afraid of new technologies? The question is not technology in itself, the problem is how we use it. One thing is for sure, it is very wrong to be afraid of it. I wanted to take the fear out of the people and to prove that understanding the digital is simply exploring my understanding of the world.

IH: It is interesting how a lot of artists were working with virtual reality at the beginning of 2000, but now no one talks about virtual reality and real reality because we constantly live it, it is not something separated anymore.
KSB: The idea of fractals by Benoit Mandelbrot was first a mathematical question. If we can make a shape, can it be endless? Yes. It is not such a complex procedure. You have a line, you cut it in half the middle, you cut it again in half and again and again and this story never ends. You get deeper and deeper. It seems absurd, but it is the beginning of the virtual. You may only imagine this shape existing in our head, it does not happen in the physical reality, but it tells everything about the way we see the world now.

IH: It is interesting how through the history of art and also through your own artistic history we came from abstract art to infinite art. Virtuality basically is the possibility to think in the infinitum in the same sense we may thinking of the universe as an endless expansion until we cannot think about it anymore, but it still continues. It is really interesting how you play with this notion of virtuality in your latest interactive video installation “Simulacra”. You place a body into a compressed space where the body itself cease to exist. You find a lot of times a very technical solution, yet it is crucial for the content of the work.
KSB: For me the technical solutions are never only formal. You have to understand, when I was a small child, everything for me was living, the chair, the stairs, my puppet. They were not dead. When I started to use mechanical and technical objects in my work, I approached it in the same way as a living matter. That is why it was so important for me to learn about the research of Masakazu Aono, the creator of the first nano-switch, and Argentine neurologist Dante Chialvo who showed that in the nanoscale it does not matter if something seems to be living or something seems to be not living. When I use technical things, I like to use them in a very clear way. I need to use a simple language, because I am talking about a complex world. If I was to use very complex language for complex things we would get lost very quickly in this problem. I use a visual language that people can instinctively work with and they should also feel touched. And I try to prevent that people become afraid of technology.

IH: In “Simulacra” the effect of the polarised screen was very magical or as you say, I felt touched and emotionally addressed by it. Prior to looking through the magnifying glass with the polarised screen I never thought about the physical characteristics of an LCD screen or that only this polarised screen enables the picture to be visible. The stark white empty surface of the LCD without the polarised screen and the image that was visible only through the lense was a new discovery for me and I’m always thrilled to learn something new, but in a sense it was much more important for me, what it actually made me see once I got over the pure fascination. The person in the cube in the video seemed to be in a very claustrophobic place, a very enclosed space, like it would be reaching out of the box and wanting to become physical. In this sense it was very emotional to see this digital person, trapped in the digital world wanting to get out. What this piece also tells me is that the observer finds oneself in an opposite position. We want to become digital and limitless. I see a lot of people who willingly post their intimate stories online through social networks. I think this may be very beautiful not just an act of an exhibitionist. We are trapped in the physical space and we love to be online, on a smartphone, clicking through something far less limited than our physical existence. We love to be in the digital space, it does not just trap us like some technophobes might propose.
KSB: The way I try to do my art is to mediate it directly, so that the public does not need knowledge, does not need to read a long text in order to understand what is happening there. I believe art does not need to be only for intellectuals, but for everybody. I want them to feel immediately addressed. But then it depends on the person viewing, what they are thinking about, what they have read or know or how interested they are to find out. I do not want to push people, so they decide on their own how far and how deep they want to explore what is in front of them. But I do think of all this layers, so I make the installation in the way that it allows for discovery of deeper layers of meanings. One of the key ideas behind “Simulacra” was also the fact that today lot of creativity or fantasy happens on the surface. In this way, connected to the screen, we are already in the matrix. What I wanted to do is to cut this illusion away … like a Red Pill from „Matrix“. Saying, no, that what reaches your eyes, what you see are only different optical light pulses. The process is happening in your brains, it is organic, analogue mental cinema. The claustrophobic figure trapped inside the screen in “Simulacra” is telling us a story of how it already exists in our heads. Hitchcock, one of the best filmmaker worked on this notion of virtuality, showing a shadow, so that the viewer would produce the story and the fear in one’s head. The biggest fear comes from the unknown, from something that has not been lived through yet. You cannot show the feared, you have to stimulate people to produce the fear by themselves … mental cinema. What I did it I removed the fantasy from the surface and placed into the minds. Virtual is what happens in the people’s heads.

Technical Specifications

description > analog interactive video installation
components > 4 monitors, video mini player, video, spliter, cable
> variable, most: 1 m long x 1 m wide x 3 m high
premiere > 2013, November 27 > MoTA Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana / Slovenia

Supported by Goethe-Institut

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