A church dating back to the early 1200’s isn’t a typical venue for contemporary arts, but Nikolaj Kunsthal (Copenhagen’s third oldest church) provides the perfect backdrop to a constantly changing exhibition programme in Denmark’s capital. The Great Fire of the city in 1795 put an end to the buildings life as a functioning church, and following incarnations as a fire station, naval museum and public library, it became heavily associated with Copenhagen’s art scene from the late 1950’s and has been a dedicated exhibition space since 1981. ‘Hybrid Matters’ combining art and science, and the work of twelve different artists is currently on display. Visitors enter through the original bethel door and climb a flight of spiral steps into the vaulted level – on this staircase you are greeted by five neon signs created by Hanna Husberg, each powered by ionised argon and neon gas and shaped into a symbol representative of artificial heating or cooling. This is coupled with a video projection of Svalbard (in the Artic achipelagio) and together they comment on fossil fuels’ contribution to global warming. Through an archway you are then met by a wall of rotating miniature Christmas trees by Laura Beloff & Jonas Jorgensen, humorously testing the hypothesis that plant growth can be stimulated by different gravitational conditions than those found on Earth. ‘Cloud Harvest’ by Rosemary Lee & Jens Lee Jorgensen then deconstructs mobile phones and dissolves them into a vapour cloud, whilst also creating a pun on new terminology associated with the network of servers storing and transmitting global information. Around the corner is Hege Tapio’s experiment into human fat as potential fuel for cars, and the artist even underwent liposuction to draw attention to the potential use of peoples’ own bodies as a resource in the future! All of these fascinating displays aside, my favourite was undoubtedly Lawrence Malstaf’s combination of origami and 3D scanning to create a mesmerising interactive sculptural installation which moved and unfolded when sensors noticed you standing nearby. If you’re in Copenhagen before 31st July I’d certainly suggest visiting before the exhibition closes.
Here’s a few facts to get things started: by 2002 more information was stored in digital forms rather than analogue, by 2007 ninety-four percent of global information was digitally coded information, and we continue to produce 2.5 trillion bytes of data each day. I almost feel guilty posting this blog and adding yet more to this ever increasing phenomenon… but this is exactly the subject matter Somerset House’s current exhibition ‘Big Bang Data’ is exploring. Data is discussed in all forms; from the sheer volume of selfies, tweets, Instagram posts and GPS information produced each day, to how it can be harnessed for the common good, its surveillance, what it fails to tell us, and finally examples of abstract creations by artists and designers using this data. One installation entitled ‘data.tron’ by Ryoji Ikeda highlights the infinite scale of the worlds’ data through a hypnotic and constantly changing screen of mathematic formulae and data sets. Another innovative interpretation of data came from Ingo Gunther’s ongoing ‘World Processor’ project started in 1988, featuring a series of acrylic globes representing mapped data on political, economic, social, historical, environmental and technological world issues. Data-centrism is also addressed as there is a growing belief that data contains all the answers, failing to acknowledge that numbers can be manipulated and skewed. This is succinctly summarised in Jonathan Harris’ printed monologue ‘Data Will Help Us’ which questions everything from advertising to dating and whether society has now reached a point where we are ignoring context and common sense, to blindly trust data. The exhibition does a compelling job of making a complex (and indeed dry) subject matter not only accessible but interesting and even beautiful. My only criticism is that the curators played it a little safe and could have probed a little deeper and been more controversial.