The Artwork as a Living System 1992–2022 | Leonardo/ISASTwith Arizona State University
300 pages
February 2023

The Artwork as a Living System 1992–2022

Author(s): Christa Sommerer

Working at the intersection of natural science, technology, and art, Austrian-French artist duo Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau pioneered the “Art of Interface”—innovative technical interfaces that enable physical interaction between simulative visual worlds and the world of natural sensory organs. Early on, the pair used algorithms to represent not only forms of the living but also their evolution and growth. Edited by Karin Ohlenschläger, Peter Weibel, and Alfred Weidinger, this publication in the Leonardo book series brings together key works of the artists since the early 1990s in pictures and text contextualized by renowned international authors: Reinhard Kannonier, Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, Birgit Mersmann, Tomoe Moriyama, Karin Ohlenschläger, Ingeborg Reichle, and Siegfried Zielinski.

In the artists' installations, which are possible only through interactions with the viewer, devices designed by the artist couple produce novel virtual realities and immersive environments. In “Portrait on the Fly,” for instance, a viewer stands in front of an interactive plasma screen, behind which a swarm of thousands of flies is moving. Gradually, the flies settle on the shadowed areas of the projection, thereby collectively reproducing the person's likeness. Works such as these, now almost classics of digital art, open a new horizon in which artworks can function as living systems. As Peter Weibel writes, their work is “more than a cabinet of curiosities, more than a terrarium, more than an aquarium; it shows mythical creatures, artificial creatures, [and] a so far unseen panorama of imagination and technical ingenuity.”