Arcade is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in Brussels by groundbreaking American artist Rebecca Allen.
Over her 40-year career as an artist, researcher and educator, Rebecca Allen has made a hugely significant yet widely overlooked contribution to the field of visual art. Her early interest in utilizing the computer as an artistic tool led to her pioneering art involving human motion simulation, AI and artificial life algorithms and other generative models.
Allen produces experimental video, large-scale immersive installations, live simulations, VR and augmented reality works that explore the aesthetics of motion, the movement of the human body through virtual space and its imprint on advanced technologies. Her work addresses issues of identity, gender and what it means to be human as technology redefines our sense of reality.
Allen is not interested in technology for its own sake… she is interested in a technoculture which humanizes technology even while maintaining a critical stance towards it…Thus she approaches technology from an almost expressionistic angle, where human feeling and emotional reaction predominate the art.
(Popper, Frank. “From Technological to Virtual Art”, 2007)
She has worked with an extensive list of high-profile artistic collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Kraftwerk, Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Peter Gabriel, Carter Burwell, Twyla Tharp, Joffrey Ballet and La Fura dels Baus.
This exhibition brings together two digital works made twenty years apart from the same source material.
Occupying the main gallery space is a large-scale projection of Allen’s seminal interactive simulation work, The Bush Soul #3. This is the final and most complex instalment of The Bush Soul trilogy, a series of live digital simulations created between 1997-1999 with Emergence, a unique AI software programme developed by Allen and her team of undergraduate students at UCLA.
The Bush Soul 3, 1999
Allen designed The Bush Soul series to be interactive, keeping the physical body connected to the virtual environment. In some cultures there is a belief that a person can have multiple souls – one being a ‘bush soul’ that dwells within a wild animal of the bush. In this work a person’s ‘soul’, represented as a sphere of pulsing energy, enters an other-worldly, surreal hinterland (a virtual bush) that is alive and responsive, populated by groups of multi-coloured ornately constructed geometric beings. The world’s inhabitants are brought to life through programmes that define their behaviours and desires.
Complex social environments can emerge from the interaction of simple behaviours. The computer-generated characters, artificial life forms, can be endowed with ‘feelings’ towards any object in the world. These feelings drive a character’s movements and affect its reactions.
The Bush Soul #3 is navigated by a single user with a force-feedback joystick, popularly used with video games in the late 90s and early 2000s. A primary theme of the work is tactile energy, which builds through the joystick as the user arrives at special energy sites within the virtual ‘bush’ environment. The joystick emits vibrations and sensations that coincide with the user’s simulated encounters, accompanied by an original score created by Devo frontman and celebrated composer, Mark Mothersbaugh.
The Observer, 1990-2019
A video monitor placed in the gallery window presents The Observer (1999-2019), a recent video work ‘choreographed’ by the artist in 2019. The Observer leads the viewer on a tour of the lesser traversed annals of The Bush Soul #3 virtual landscape, providing a contemplative environment of rich, vibrant vistas that, paired with the haunting sound design by Tomàs Peire Serrate, feel both natural and synthetic, familiar and strange.
Also showing in the lower ground floor gallery are a series of seminal video works dating from 1981 – 1992, including STEPS (1981) one of the first 3D computer graphics of a human figure in motion and Laberint (1992) where live-action and computer generated characters weave between real and virtual worlds.
Rebecca Allen (b.1953, USA) recent solo institutional exhibitions inc. Sync(Emerge(Consciousness)),QUAD, Derby, UK (2019); Life Without Matter, Zabludowicz Collection (2019). Recent group exhibitions include: you feel me_, FACT, Liverpool (2019-20); Enter Through the Headset 5, Gazelli Art House, London (2020). Her work has been exhibited internationally and is part of the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, NY. She has collaboratively worked with artists, musicians and choreographers including Nam June Paik, Kraftwerk, Twyla Tharp, Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Peter Gabriel, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Carter Burwell, Joffrey Ballet, and La Fura dels Baus.
Allen received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1975, and Masters of Science degree from MIT with the Architecture Machine Group (predecessor to MIT Media Lab) in 1980. She was the founding chair of Department of Design Media Arts at UCLA where she is currently a research professor.
Kraftwerk Model (1984). Courtesy of Rebecca Allen. Photo by Linda Law.