Art Group Random International runs a collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art. Founded in 2005 by Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass, today they work with larger teams of diverse and complementary talent out of studios in London and Berlin.
Questioning aspects of identity and autonomy in the post-digital age, the group’s work invites active participation. Random International explores the human condition in an increasingly mechanized world through emotional yet physically intense experiences. The artists aim to prototype possible behavioral environments by experimenting with different notions of consciousness, perception, and instinct.
Their work Rain Room is in the collection of Jackalope Art Collection Melbourne, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art having been exhibited under the museum’s historic Art and Technology initiative. The artwork has also been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan (2019), YUZ Museum in Shanghai (2015), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013), and London’s Barbican (2012).
An edition of Rain Room has become the first permanently installed artwork at the Sharjah Art Foundation (UAE) and is housed in its own building.
‘Rain Room’ – a field of perpetually falling water that participants can explore while remaining dry – can be seen as an amplified representation of our environment. In this immersive environment, human presence prevents the rain from falling, creating a unique atmosphere and exploring how human relationships to each other and to nature are increasingly mediated through technology.
Upon entering the installation, visitors are simultaneously exposed to and protected from the water falling all around. Although the sound and smell of the rain are intense, its touch remains absent, leaving visitors dry within a continual downpour as they navigate the space. In ‘Rain Room,’ a seemingly intuitive relationship develops between visitor and artwork, human and machine.
‘Rain Room’ is in the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and has been exhibited under the museum’s historic Art and Technology initiative. It has also been shown at London’s Barbican (2012); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); and Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2015/2018). An edition of ‘Rain Room’ has become the first permanently installed artwork at the Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE (2018), and is housed in its own building.
“It is not just a playful experience. There are serious questions behind it referencing environmental pressures, climate change and technology.”
“Rain Room is not a funhouse. It is a paradigm for our technology and how fragile we are in this moment of progress. We think we can control it but we cannot."
Random International’s Swarm Studies are an artistic exploration into the manifestation of collective behavior and distributed, embodied intelligence, ongoing since 2008. The series of sculptures ranges from the monumental to the intimate, the architectural to the domestic. Through the complex behavior of simple forms, the works evoke a sense of agency, and life.
‘Future Self’ presents viewers with their full-length body image, three-dimensionally distributed as tiny points of light. Quoting the minimalist tradition, Random International has reduced the resolution of the reflected form significantly, but without impeding its recognition. A slight delay in the depiction offers an encounter with the self-image that is immediate yet ethereal.
‘Future Self’ studies human movement: what it reveals about our identity, the relationship we have with our own image and with others. The installation is extensively explored in a contemporary dance piece choreographed by long-time collaborator Wayne McGregor and scored by Max Richter.
The latest and largest iteration in this series of works, ‘Our Future Selves’ is embedded within its own spatial environment. The installation forms a passageway which onlookers are invited to enter, meeting their own reflection at the end of the corridor before walking on past it. This encounter with the self-image is familiar yet the identity of the illuminated figure remains unknowable and ambiguous. Viewers are invited to explore this realm, and how it can relate to their own physical presence and patterns of movement.
“Random International is creating viral public art for the Instagram age.”
‘Self and Other’ is made up of individual, evenly-spaced layers of glass, each one embedded with miniscule, individual light sources. Within the glass, the onlooker finds their full-length and three-dimensional reflection reflected in points of light. As they move, so the ethereal light figure follows. The figure that appears within the glass is both other and familiar, reduced in information but retaining the indefinable details that distinguish recognizability. To others, viewing the structure in the round from different angles, the configuration of lights may appear abstract, distorted from the lights bouncing off the glass.
Commissioned for the Albert Embankment, ‘Self and Other’ (for the Albert Embankment) is Random International’s latest work to explore this representation and perception of the self-image and marks the artists’ first public, outdoor commission in the UK.
“The Thames is fast becoming a ‘cultural ribbon,’ with major artworks along its length. Random International’s new permanent kinetic artwork will become an important cultural stopping point on that journey.”
‘Zoological’ is a flock of autonomous, flying spheres that move collectively. Algorithmically driven, the spheres react to their surroundings and, sometimes, to people within their environments. In some ways, the piece is an amplified and physical manifestation of our lived experience in a world increasingly run by algorithms.
As a species, we are having to adapt rapidly to a continually developing cohabitation with autonomous machines, whose presence is often intangible or discrete. ‘Zoological’ was informed by a desire to explore some of the implications of this through physicality, instinct, and emotion.
The work forms part of ‘+/- Human,’ an immersive experience curated by multi-award-winning choreographer and director Wayne McGregor for Bloomberg Summer at the Roundhouse. ‘+/- Human’ brings McGregor and Random International together with artists from iconic electronic music label, Warp Records, to explore the relationship between mechanical autonomy and human beings.
“‘Zoological,’ as a work, seems intended to play on subconscious anxieties about everything from driverless cars to alien invasions to mutating pathogens. It’s eerily familiar, but inhuman. The spheres in Zoological are harmless, but for how long?”
‘Rota’ takes light as a means to explore motion and perception. Geometrically arranged, the light objects move in an orchestrated rotation, animating the surface of the wall through a continual variation of light and shadow.
Despite taking the guise of a typically minimalist structure, the individual light sources turn in a gentle, almost organic, manner. This highly intelligible form of illumination revolves in mesmerising sequences that unite algorithmic control with immediate, physical motion. The distorting display created by the moving light experiments with human perceptions of order and chaos, exploring the meaning we can bestow upon abstract motion.
Shown as a video installation, ‘Algorithmic Swarm Study / I’ features over half a million objects moving together in perfect harmony to simulate distributed, embodied intelligence. On a frame-by frame basis, these digital ‘Swarm Study’ iterations examine the complex patterns of movement inherent to the swarming organism.
Each ‘flock’ is a unique, generative visualisation that has been individually bred at Random International’s studio, experimenting with flocking behaviour at its purest algorithmic form. These works investigate the expressive power of collective movement, and the instinctual reactions it can provoke in the visual system. Through the complex behaviour of simple forms, ‘Algorithmic Swarm Study / I’ simulates a sense of agency and life.
“Many of our works have been made possible by developments in technology, but technology is simply a material that we use to express our art.”
‘Kinds of Life’ is a moving sculpture that lives at the heart of London’s Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, and sporadically engages with its visitors. Responding to its surrounding environment in real time, the sculpture’s behavior changes continually.
In this work, Random International seeks to experiment with perceptions of consciousness. Can a sense of life be simulated and expressed through movement alone? Inspired by conversations with researchers at the centre, ‘Kinds of Life’ is intended as an exploration of how it might feel to share the world with non-human intelligence and what the fields of AI and evolutionary biology can learn from one another. Together, the sculpture and the center reflect the idea of curiosity leading to discovery.
The ‘Fifteen Points’ series experiments with the amount of information necessary for a moving form to be recognized as human, and the fundamental impact created by subtle changes within that information.
‘Fifteen Points’ constitutes the minimal amount of information that a human requires to recognize movement as biological motion. Dr. Nikolaus Troje placed 15 tracking markers on people and studied how they move, finding enormous amounts of information from these points: gender, mood, body weight, etc. When positioned in order and animated in a particular way, the robotically steered points of light make up the form of a walking person. Even the most minuscule manipulation of the points’ position can cause the form to return back into an inorganic, geometric arrangement.
The human ability to decipher and distinguish movement is continually at play. ‘Fifteen Points’ asks if it is possible to extend these instincts from the realm of the natural to that of the artificial, and what relevance this might have, if any, in the future.
“This work is about the moment we recognize a machine as having inherently human qualities – what happens in our minds in that moment.”
In partnership with Superblue and BMW i: the electric arm of BMW, ‘No One is an Island” is an ongoing collaborative performance between Random International and Studio Wayne McGregor that explores electrified movement steered by advanced algorithms. The result reflects upon how the human mind empathises with artificial intelligence.
The sculpture extends to and interacts with a live performance by the dancers of Studio Wayne McGregor that draws inspiration from Picasso’s light drawings; the dancers’ movements paint electric lines of light as they move holding their own light sources, in turn emulating the sculptural machine. In this way, the work becomes an exchange of motion, creating a poetic circularity between dancer and machine as they mimic one another. The specially written score by Japanese electronic music artist Chitei Hatakeyama soundtracks the piece’s exploration of the human and the machine.
With initial inspiration drawn from the original multi-disciplinary Gesamtkunstwerks, a German word that loosely translates as a ‘total work of art,’ describing an artwork or creative process where different art forms combine to creative a whole, ‘No One is an Island’ unfolds over three chapters in a digital space, premiering in three chapters. With ‘No One is an Island’ originally planned as a live performance that would debut at Art Basel in Switzerland, Random International and BMW i still plan to show the installation in real life once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
“Creativity and collaboration across disciplines and individuals are essential for our cultural partnerships as well as for our engineers and designers in order to push boundaries.”
“If analysis of our surroundings after this most claustrophobic of years feels pertinent, so too does the necessity to celebrate and stimulate collaboration.”
‘Duplex’ is made up of numerous fluorescent tubes salvaged from Bloomberg computer screens. The tubes’ capacity to display information is re-interpreted to reflect the silhouettes of those moving past.
Originally created for Bloomberg’s 2011 ‘Waste Not, Want It’ exhibition, the work tracked the movements of those ascending and descending an escalator, presenting them with an illuminated representation of their own moving stance and gesture. ‘Duplex’ reveals the potential of latent energy in banal mass-manufactured components when unlocked and put to use in a different context.
Commissioned by Charlotte de La Rochefoucauld and exhibited at Palais de Tokyo, ‘Cold Cathode Fluorescent Structure / II’ uses lights to create abstract silhouettes of passersby.
Depending on where a person stands, the resolution of their reflection varies in the abstract minimalism of its form. Through the viewer’s physical position in space, the piece explores how much information is necessary for self-recognition, made manifest in light and shadow. The human body is united with the entire surrounding space, in one spectral, sensory experience in which the silhouettes of onlookers are reflected in a linear array of fluorescent light.
“The artworks present different notions of consciousness, desires and other human mechanisms that we don’t too often realize or consciously underestimate, but in fact affect our day-to-day behavior. Most of the things we do are based on mechanisms we have very little knowledge of.”
Random International’s scenography, created for Wayne McGregor’s production ‘FAR,’ encompasses a panel studded with individually controlled illuminated stalks. The geometric arrangement of the stalks creates a display that changes continually through moving light and falling shadows. Able to communicate image, text or pattern, the movement of light distorts the terrain of the flat surface, blurring dimensional boundaries and altering perception.
“We have collaborated with McGregor for about the last 12 years. There is a real affinity between his interest in neuroscience and new technologies in relation to the skills and purity of the human body, and our intention to create art that highlights awareness of the human in relation to technology.”
Cycling almost thirty thousand liters of water per minute to create a monolithic form, ‘Tower’ is an ephemeral sculpture that appears and disappears instantaneously. The sound of the falling drops is intensely loud and a sensation of moisture lingers in the air. Through the senses, ‘Tower’ explores possibilities for engagement with, and access to, an historic, industrial space on a scale that had not originally been intended for human or social use. The simulated structure of ‘Tower’ is transient, its watery presence a temporary spectre.
This is in stark contrast to the solid and static architecture of UNESCO World Heritage site, Zeche Zollverein, where six million cubic metres of water are pumped out of the former mines every year in order to warrant the structural integrity of the entire region. By bringing such large quantities of water into the controlled form of a building, Random International investigates if a structural purpose can wrought upon this otherwise chaotic element.
In ‘Fragments,’ almost two hundred identical, small mirrors are arranged in a grid to form a flat, homogenous surface. Hung against the wall, the mirrors are closely spaced and apparently static; but they possess the ability to move in harmony with one another.
Approaching the artwork, the individual mirrors turn together to face the onlooker, following as he or she moves. The plane of the surface distorts into varying, three-dimensional forms – perhaps a wave, or a curve, or a circle. The reflection becomes fragmented and the apparently inanimate object becomes akin to something organic and alive. A divided whole, it disperses a divided reflection. Engaging with the piece creates a physical, interrelated dialogue between human and non-human behavior.
“With technologies evolving faster and faster, we think that art has to take a much more dominant role in contributing to the dialogue that surrounds the decisions that are being made in the fields of AI, robotics and the ethical implications for machine learning, algorithmic autonomy and the social implications for those who are likely being replaced by machines. We can’t leave the discourse to politicians, special interest groups and technologists only, we need to lead these discussions from the front.”
A project collaboration with Philips Lumiblade, ‘You Fade to Light’ is a kinetic interactive sculpture that behaves and responds to human movement. Composed of 1,024 organic light emitting diodes (solid-state devices composed of a thin film of organic molecules that create light with the application of electricity), 1,024 custom structural printed circuit boards, a camera, computer, some programming and sensors, the result is a dynamic blend of art, science, technology and design.
Initially appearing to take the form of a looking-glass grid, ‘You Fade To Light’ mirrors the viewer incongruously in light. The installation encourages the onlooker to engage in a kinetic dialogue, physically communicating with both the work itself and their own abstracted image.
“All art tries to figure out the human being. I think artists have always used what’s around them. In the end, paint is also technology - someone created something that could be used to make paintings. Technology is just a tool like what paint was before.”
The studio’s first purely video-based work, Random International’s ‘Everything and Nothing’ was commissioned especially for the Wonder Materials exhibition at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
The studio was intrigued by the nature of graphene; a material full of imagined potential yet difficult to see, touch or fabricate on a large scale. That something so mysterious could come from such a familiar and earthly substance as graphite gave Random International the desire to wrestle the idea of this new material back from the abstract into the physical world.
Continuing the artists’ exploration of the relationship between human beings and technological development, ‘Everything and Nothing’ documents the simultaneous decay and progress of the industrialized world in an age of relentless transformation. The steamroller expresses an inherent ambiguity within a culture of un-tempered innovation; it has the potential to compact and fragment, to destroy and enable renewal.
Exhibited as part of the solo show ‘Physical Algorithm’ at Paradise City Art Space, Seoul, South Korea, the shadow of the moving visitor is superposed with algorithmically generated shapes, merging the physical and the digital in real time. The visitor’s own body becomes the projector, making the geometric patterns become visible or disappear by their own movements.
The viewer is confronted with a self-portrait or, rather, a shadow projection, with which they can engage in a kinetic dialogue, conveyed solely through physical movement. This interaction embeds the portrayal in the real, tangible existence and the presence of the human being.
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