Kasia Molga – Interview

Submitted by Camille Baker on Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:00


Tell me a bit about your digital media art practice leading to this point in your career, and how your artistic journey has led you to the work you are making now?

In a way, my practice is a combination of three threads: traditional – where I take notes, animated – where I analyse, and interactive/digital – where I synthesise and ask viewers to play with my work through their experience, and learn about the subjects I explore.

I have had a romance with computers and programming, pencils and paper, paints and canvas since I can remember. As a child, I spent a lot of time travelling with my father (he was a sailor) on merchant navy boats, mostly on the open sea. Because there were usually no other children, I occupied myself with endless drawing and…well…programming. Which left me with no social skills at the time – but I developed the urge to observe, transform and express myself through all available to media me. The extensive travelling and contact with such a powerful element as the sea obviously had a huge impact on what I do.

As such, I try not to classify myself as a ‘digital artist’ or ‘fine artist’ or ‘interaction designer’. I just use digital media as a tool or platform of expression when I feel that it is the best for the subject. Although, increasingly, digital media is taking over other peoples’ lives and my own – so it is becoming not only a very frequent tool, but also a subject of my work. I have also realised that while making interactive, participatory pieces, one has to be an interaction designer – in order that the "act of interaction" between the viewer, artwork and subject, is meaningful. The experience of working in the new media industry as an interaction designer and understanding some aspects of human behaviour (to some extent), comes very handy.

Still – the drawing, sketch, visual notes, are central to all I create.

Can you tell me about your other recent projects that use mobile media?

My question is: what does the phrase "mobile media" mean now? The hybridisation of devices and technologies, as well as the media of expressions, is also known as "mobile media". It is becoming somewhat redundant, and perhaps should be replaced with "social media". The mobile device has become a very powerful small portable computer and the definition of "mobility" has extended to the ability of communication with many geographical locations simultaneously.

For me, the mobile phone is a personal portal that allows the experience of accessing one's data: email, Internet, twitter etc. and thus, to contribute to projects that I initiate. For example, in one of my earliest works Keep the Sun Shining, people used SMS capabilities to keep sending text messages, which then became rays of sun over East London. In return, those who participated were receiving messages back – carefully chosen quotes about beauty and creativity, from various artists and philosophers. The participation of the viewers was recorded on the projected image and viewers walked away with something unique.

Floresta (2011) was concerned with issues regarding the endangered species in the Amazon. I was given a list from the Brazilian government of the all the endangered plants: flowers, trees, and grasses about to vanish from the surface of earth. At the beginning, there was a projection of the artwork that depicted a map of the city in which the piece was shown (Sao Paulo or Rio). People interacted with it by sending an SMS, which could plant a virtual plant on the map. If many viewers were participating, they all collaborated in the creation of a virtual garden of the endangered species from the respective area, by sending a text messages. The content of these text messages served to inspire and educate, so that not only did people contribute by adding new plants to the garden, but also to the pool of knowledge on the local situation. In addition, a fraction of the payment for each single message was then donated to the local organisations that cared for the respective forests. Therefore, people could witness a transformation of this virtual landscape in real time. 'Floresta" became a meeting point for members of those communities, who became united through the experience of keeping this garden "alive", by interacting with it and with each other.

[Postcards from Wanderings]

Postcards from Wanderings (2011) was twitter and live data visualisation based. The mobile phone was a portal of communication from the artwork to the viewer. The concept was that the viewer sent her "thoughts" onto a real time boat journey on one of the vessels from nearby seaport (based on live data). People who participated were updated on a regular basis, during the course of a month as to where their "thoughts" were, what they were doing, what vessels they boarded, and what the final destination was. The work was about juxtaposing the concept of instant messaging with something more real. This concept is similar to the "snail mail" process of not so long ago, when messages were delivered, via shipping vessels, trains, and other "regular" transport vehicles…

One of the latest projects The…(shown at ISMAR @ SHIFT festival, November 1st, 2011, made in collaboration with Brendan Oliver) is based on feeds from Twitter. We wanted to test David Bohm's concept that, through the process of thinking a thought an entity enters our brain – rather than seeing ourselves as the originators of our own thinking. Social media is now a good way to test that theory – to what extent do we really contribute original content to the endless stream of messages and "thoughts" visible there? Or to what extent does it influence us, our actions, ideas and whatever we then post on there? The project The… uses the Kinect controller to detect body shapes and uses a set of clever linguistic algorithms to pull the live feed from Twitter. It uses related subjects/words, so that visible messages are not entirely accidental. This message then floats for a few seconds and then enters "the head" of another shadow (another viewer). Messages and words interact with viewers’ gestures, giving people some influence on what's visible. While people play with the messages, they are influenced by them as well, reading and discussing them. They also have an option to change messages that they don't like by tweeting a message that they would like to see with a specific hash–tag. Funnily enough, no one even bothers to reach for their mobile phone to do that. (The… was exhibited during the "Future Everything" festival in Manchester, 16–20 May, 2012)

How are these or other projects (future/in development), exploring the participatory or performative nature of the user?

The interaction, which involves the active engagement of a viewer who explores and contributes to the content, is pivotal for most of my digital projects. Most of them are based on real time, live data feeds of some sort and network technologies – whether the data comes from the movement of viewers in the space of the exhibition or from Internet feeds (such as Twitters messages or real time positions of oil tankers parsed from international marine traffic database or a mix of both. This real time contribution makes them to come to life.

I like playing with human curiosity at the same time as provoking people to do things they wouldn't normally do (or use their technologies in a way they wouldn't normally use it), passing viewers the responsibility for their own experience (and thus the experience of others), even if the situation set for them is a bit difficult. On some occasions, I won't make the interaction easy on purpose – I want viewers to do a little work before the piece can come "alive". I like exploring the possibility of setting an installation/project in one place, knowing that participation coming from all over the world is what makes it "work". Or even better, I like to exhibit one piece in two or more places simultaneously – uniting viewers from different locations and making them responsible for each others’ experience.

This was the case in the past with Mirror Of Infinity v 3.0 (2011); this piece was exhibited in two galleries in London. The installation was screen–based, projected onto the walls of each gallery. In order for viewers to experience the artwork, they had to send SMS text messages – which then appeared as the visual projection, revealing parts of the image hidden underneath. The messages became an integral part of the projected onto the gallery wall, and it was also a record of viewers' activity. Those who participated were receiving messages "from the artwork" too – uniquely crafted and individual responses. In a way, the responsibility of viewers was to send an SMS with something meaningful and interesting. Because it was shown in two places simultaneously, at some point the viewers from both galleries started a discussion, using the installation like a message board – they were talking about which version was better. In this way, the artwork became a platform for a dialogue, as well as a record of that dialogue. It was very funny and very good!

My latest projects engage people into interaction in more seamless ways, and their presence is mixed with the real time data feeds (by ‘real time data feeds’ I mean a set of inputs or information that is updated on regular basis, from specified environments or entities, such as marine traffic). I have started using Kinect camera functions more to track the human skeleton – so the installation is responsive to viewers’ movements and gestures. In a way, it forces viewers to choreograph their own actions. Their presence mixed with virtually transmitted and visually depicted real time data feeds, creates new situations that often provokes them to think about the data in a different way (hopefully). I like the concept of taking data – that invisible digital entity, in which we are totally immersed (thanks to the modern technologies) from a seemingly virtual space, into the physical world to give it a tangible presence and to play with that tension between virtual/real/physical. It is interesting to see how much ours (or viewers’) actions become data itself. I would like to create a situation where there is a data exchange – people give their "body temperature" (for example collected by temperature sensors distributed in the gallery space) and take some electricity in return…Also, data as information is so dry and although it can be interesting, I struggle to see how to connect people with it on a more intimate level… Perhaps, I am looking for sensuality and tactileness in there too…However, although I like to make viewers to make some effort in order to discover and play with my installations, the act of interaction with visuals must be seamless; so to avoid confusion, viewers are never asked to wear any kind of biofeedback instruments. It is important for me to create responsive situation/environment where people are not constrained to experience it by being force to have/wear something extra – as it limits reception of the artwork and thus benefits less people.

I have not been using a mobile media as in "mobile phone" device in my work for some time now. However if we define mobile media as social media – that is very much present in my work – whether as status messages, or frequency of usage, or collecting any other data not only from humans. After all, we "socialise" with many other things and entities from our environment… Nowadays, besides a collection of data, real time data especially is very much connected to mobile media – it is often collected and transmitted by it and so, perhaps indirectly mobile media is at the core of my installations.

What future potential do you see for the mobile media platform for making art and in terms of your practice specifically?

I am toying with the idea that mobile media can be used for absolutely everything – not only people. This way we can enable communication with everything around us or even help things/entities talk to each other, making us mere observers. Through sensory technologies and live data visualisation there is a way now to be able to "listen" to certain elements from the lives and behaviour of other species…It is like directly communicating with nature – having an actual dialogue with a nest of ants or apple tree from the nearby garden…I want to see and subvert human thinking about our position in the world. Artists such as Active Ingredient have started doing that, even to a much greater extent with their work "A Conversation Between Trees"(date), where we can witness a "dialogue" between trees in Brazil and the UK, as well as the human presence in the forests.

In terms of my own practice – I feel that often I am a facilitator rather than an artist, providing an opportunity for a dialogue between people and entities, appropriating and mashing up technologies. For the last year or so I have been getting really deep into using real time data as a visual element, as the vital and crucial construction of my work. If we consider signals captured and transmitted by GPRS as a mobile platform, I find it absolutely fascinating that there is now the possibility of not only to show something which is 'alive' and 'dynamic', in several places all over the world, but providing 'it' with a language to speak or express. But most importantly, I want to have an artwork/installation/art piece dependant on the behaviour of that thing. Perhaps it is not a new concept, but it is new in terms of the volume of the receiving inputs and outputs from a multitude of locations, and using new exciting tools to visualise and translate them.

A couple of years ago, a fellow artist Sander Veenhof (also in this issue) and I, started a dialogue (which then resulted in a collaborative paper) about the fact that art or artworks are now often customised by viewers, which led to the definition of ‘web 2.0’; and similarly, we now have art 2.0. We then went further in this discussion to state that, there is now another phenomena –‘artistless art’. With the development of memes and Internet collaborations, there are suddenly projects, which can be classified as art but don’t have a clear author, they are rather collection of activities of many people (such as Sleaveface Project). I think that real time or live data is dictating the behaviour of digital media – leading to digital art or its evolution, and can partially described like that. The latest idea is to have an API for art, so that artwork can self–generate and renew itself, however not in the same way as the algorithmic generative art. This API would be a "uniform interface mechanism for every imaginable type of artwork, which will enable the artworks to open up and connect to their surrounding context, in analogy to how the world wide web currently functions." (Bill Spinhoven, Arts-Numeriques.info)

For me, it means almost "breathing" artworks – entities – that get their vital powers from inputs of live data. As an artist, I only provide an opportunity and a tool, but act of creating and expression doesn't depend on me. Someone once said something like, "art is what makes us human", but also, paraphrasing Anthony Gromley, "art is what constitutes that we are alive". I like to explore that idea that other species and things can make art too, and I am just giving them a tool to give them a voice. What really interests me is our (humans’) reactions to this – the fact that it is not only we who can think in an abstract way. It is a nice notion, and surely can put our place in this world, and what we do here, into perspective perhaps?

The new work I am developing at the moment, in collaboration with Dutch artist, Bram Snijders, is very much concerned with the above issues. We don't have a title yet – but that new work is a very vague and a long extension of the Oil Compass (2010) (which is a live real time data visualisation piece on oil spills, constantly updated locations of oil rigs and oil tankers traffic developed for Protei), possibly taking the same live data, but using it in a very different way. I can't reveal too much at this stage.

Coming back to mobile media: most of my work has recently been a result of amazing collaborations. I strongly believe that good media projects shall be done in such way – they can be so much richer and innovative – and fun to do! At the end of the day, if one looks to the use of mobile technology in ones' digital art project – mobile phones are still also good to call your collaborator to discuss all these amazing ideas….

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