The Art of Random International: Between Technology and Humanity
The art of Random International resides at the intersection of technology and humanity. The interdisciplinary installations created by the artists’ studio, Random International, provoke questions about what it means to be human in an era dominated by technology. Their work is now showcased in the comprehensive exhibition Life in a Different Resolution. One of the highlights: an interactive light chamber.
Janna Reinsma, October 5, 2023, 14:39
It seems as though the pitch-black, empty space is watching its visitors: beams of light fall directly down on the spot where you walk, guiding you, illuminating your path, and fading away behind you. If there are others present, connections are formed between certain visitors through pathways of light – and yet others remain unconnected.
“It’s as if this room has a mind of its own, a personality that suggests how we should move and whom we should connect with,” says artist Hannes Koch, one of the creative minds behind ‘Living Room’, which is now exhibited in Europe for the first time after Art Basel Miami Beach. This effect is further enhanced by the atmospheric, almost breathing sound score by Signe Lykke.
Just when you, as a visitor, think you understand how the interactive space works, the dynamics change: the lights around you dim, while light shines everywhere else in the room. People are suddenly not connected through light but through zones of darkness between them.
Seen and Captivated
Because the space is filled with mist, the beams of light resemble bars; a person can feel both ‘seen’ and imprisoned. Koch reflects, “It reminds me of how we often find ourselves glued to our phones, each of us in our own little prison. Everyone is trapped here within their own beam of light. There’s something sad and frustrating about it. When everything lights up again later, there’s a sense of relief, and a feeling of infinity and freedom briefly emerges.”
German artists Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass met at the Royal College of Art in London. After graduating, they founded the Random International artist studio in 2005. Since then, they have captivated the world with spectacular art installations at the intersection of art, music, design, technology, artificial intelligence, and science.
‘Living Room’ is one of the highlights of the extensive retrospective exhibition dedicated to their work at the Nxt Museum for new media art in Amsterdam. Well, almost all the artworks here are spectacular. Whether it’s the video art partially generated by artificial intelligence, where swarms of peculiar figures respond to the movements of visitors, or the wall on which your image is printed life-sized without you initially realising it (fortunately, temporarily).
Random International’s installations raise fundamental questions about being human in hyper-technological times: how do we view the technology and devices surrounding us, and how does such technology view us? How do we, in turn, perceive the devices that observe us, and how do we interact with them? When do we sense that devices have a consciousness that notices us – and do we then feel recognized, caught, or alienated, alone or in company?
In the exhibition’s final, dark room stands an impressive tangle of robot arms that periodically moves forward on a track, producing fleeting contours of a walking human with lights on the arms.
Koch explains how the idea originated: “There’s 2D animation software that can depict a walking human using moving points. Florian Ortkrass and I wanted to know if this could work in three dimensions, and we started this work over ten years ago with the help of engineers and technicians from Harvard University’s Biomimetic Robotics Division.”
The final artwork is called Fifteen Points – replicating a human turned out to be possible with just fifteen points. But imitating movement was by no means easy. Many years and testing phases passed, during which the machine rattled and shook. Koch says, “It went through various stages of Parkinson’s, and it’s still wonky and clunky.”
Flexibility and Perfection
Koch sighs aloud, “Oh, it’s actually such a tragic figure! It took years before you finally started to see: aha, this robot is trying to be human! It mercilessly shows the limits of what we humans can create. And what machines can do. Even with, so to speak, all the money and top engineers in the world, you still can’t recreate the flexibility and perfection of the human body.”
After a brief pause: “I find that not only tragic but also very reassuring.”
Life in a Different Resolution by Random International. Nxt Museum, Amsterdam, until June 30, 2024.
Random International’s most famous art installation is ‘Rain Room’, where the visitor enters an interactive space where it’s raining around them, but they remain dry. In 2013, ‘Rain Room’ was exhibited at MoMA and briefly became the most ‘Instagrammed’ artwork in the world. It is now permanently displayed at the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates. In Nxt Museum in Amsterdam, the art installation ‘Living Room’ is currently on display, serving as a continuation of their previous work.