What Just Happened: Miriam Arbus Cultivates “Seed Systems” That Nurture New XR Ecologies

Miriam Arbus is an independent arts curator and organizer, who collaborates on projects that examine our evolving relationships with(in) new digital and technological developments. Miriam organizes the project space Sky Fine Foods, is a Global Coordinator for STYLY XR, and a project manager with Radiance VR. Recent projects include Sentient Windows: Carson Teal, Recollecting Futures exhibition with Synthesis Gallery, SUPERHIGHWAY 2021, and Lossless Bodies with The Wrong Biennale. With methods dedicated to speculative and empathetic considerations, Arbus is always seeking (new) perspectives, expressions, and dimensions.

09/19/2022

Questions:
Greg J. Smith

What just happened? On September 9th, “Seed Systems: Neo Ecologies in XR Art Today” opened at SOMA Berlin. A collaboration by curators Miriam Arbus (CA) and Peggy Schoenegge (DE), the show features six artists working in mixed or virtual reality who explore “speculative approaches to future human-nature relationships.” The assembled works from Alison Bennett, Nicholas Delap, Matthew D. Gantt, Mohsen Hazrati, Nadine Kolodziey, and Lauren Moffatt use XR to reconstitute viewers’ relationships with the natural world.

Q: Hardware notwithstanding, “Seed Systems” uses an (experientially) immaterial medium to critically engage extractive systems and pressing worldly topics. Since this tension is central to your Sky Fine Foods mandate, could you provide an overview of your ecological agenda and (relative to this show) explain why you wanted artists to explore these issues in XR?
A: I think about the climate crisis and environment all the time. The situation is so dire that we all exist within a kind of hyperreality—or superreality—that is constant and simultaneously unfathomable. Working with art, production, tech etc. can sometimes feel banal when contrasted with the immensity of the climate crisis. Finding a way to converse about this, develop ideas, and connect with others has become increasingly important to me. I believe we need to come together more often and in new ways so we can look for alternatives and new concepts, and also just to try and deal with it all. Digital mediums, especially XR, encourage expanding ideas and concepts, facilitating dreaming, and reaching outwards.

For “Seed Systems” we considered the interrelationship between digital and organic growth, and both data and ecological systems—how do they interact and affect each other? We are working with artists who have been developing work within digital and XR mediums for a long time, they create visions and expressions and invite us in to participate. There is this aspect where VR and AR command a very active engagement, where the work really does rely on the viewer’s interaction (picking up a mobile device, putting on a VR headset). I think that this interaction between the participant’s immersion, and the expanded medium of XR can bring us to new possibilities.
“Digital mediums, especially XR, encourage expanding ideas and concepts, facilitating dreaming, and reaching outwards.”
Q: Glitched flora, inviting arboretums, and druidic portals—the collected XR works create a lore around digital representations of ecology. What experiences, thoughts, and feelings do these works evoke for you?
A: Lore has indeed been influential to all of us in our conversations as we try to make some headway in how to talk about climate, nature, and environment. Influences we feel, stories from the past, and stories we can now tell and share (#newlore) have the potential to shift mindsets. The works involved in “Seed Systems” each tell stories, immersive and animated, while casting a web that feels poignant and reflective of the complex experiences we all share; existing in a beautiful world amidst the climate crisis. I find there is a tension in each of the works that oscillates between beauty, fragility, and a kind-of chaotic energy. The works suggest containment, degradation, preservation, and interaction—suiting the complex feelings I have about grappling with global ecologies.
Expanded Photography

Alison Bennet’s contribution to “Seed Systems“ is Vegetal/Digital (2020-), an expanded photography project that lets viewers have “celestial encounters“ with plants in webXR. Using photogrammetry to create high resolution point clouds of various flora, Bennet allows the viewer incredibly granular control over her scans, encouraging them to inspect the majesty of each specimen.

Q: When scrolling your (great) Instagram account, I was struck by the thought that the weird and wonderful digital spaces, experiences, and images central to your curatorial practice stick a thumb in the eye of Meta’s banal corporatized vision for the metaverse. Could you share your thoughts about virtual space’s potential? What are you excited about in the next 5 years—and the next 25?
A: Thanks for the nice feedback! I’ve been working with artists and virtual reality for many years now. The capability to fully immerse into another’s vision has truly captivated and inspired me. In the immersive 3D environment so much can take place and experimental ideas form in ways that are quite accessible. The ability to travel through, and meet others (in avatar form) along the way is a very interesting way to connect. In the next few years, I am looking forward to more fluidity between various XR platforms, and of course for devices to get faster, lighter, and easier to use. I think that metaverse, VR and AR interactions are becoming more normalized forms of media—expanded forms that we can more easily engage within. I’ve never envisioned XR replacing other forms of communication (it’s still so necessary to go outside and enjoy real reality), however I look forward in the coming years to welcoming a fluid relationship with XR, similar to how we currently consume and interact with TV, radio, or web pages.
Q: You co-curated this exhibition with Peggy Schoenegge from the exhibition platform Peer to Space (who HOLO has enthusiastically followed for years). Could you talk a bit about that collaboration and how you divided up the planning and organizing duties?
A: Curating this exhibition in collaboration with Peggy has been a really effective and positive experience. We share so many interests and are passionate about many of the same artists and concepts. Communication of course has been a key aspect of our collaboration working so well. Throughout the past year we had many meetings and conversations, sometimes about practical details, sometimes about our personal lives, and most often about the concepts and artworks that were inspiring us for this exhibition. We had a nice fluidity in our task sharing, sometimes certain tasks just made more sense for one of us (Peggy being in Berlin was able to connect us with SOMA for example). So with lots of communicating and an organized google drive we have been able to share tasks easily.
“For ‘Seed Systems’ we considered the interrelationship between digital and organic growth, and both data and ecological systems—how do they interact and affect each other?”
Q: It seems like STYLY has been everywhere lately—a prolific collaborator with and patron to experimental media art orgs. Is your partnership role there basically connecting to and activating the art world for their AR/XR/MR toolkit? What benefits come working within a platform like this?
A: It’s great to hear that you’ve been seeing STYLY around! Yes I’ve been working in a partnership role with STYLY for over a year now, where I focus on connections, collaborations, and opportunities to introduce artists/creatives to the STYLY XR platform. I really appreciate the dynamic platform STYLY enables, which can be used for digital studio creation, publishing, and the opportunity for viewers to experience free artist-created XR content. It’s been both exciting and gratifying to connect with STYLY because they really set out to facilitate a space where artists can experiment, push boundaries, and expand the medium of XR. As an organization STYLY wants to break down barriers of access and at the same time invest in emerging media arts practices and technology. Their ethos is to grow via community engagement and provide support for creatives and education. I believe in this ethos, so aligning my own curatorial initiatives has been synchronistic. Working with STYLY really motivates me to connect with others working in XR. This has been greatly beneficial as I am now more likely to reach out, connect and explore collaborations.
What Just Happened?

In this serial interview format, HOLO checks in with artists, designers, curators, and researchers to get the lowdown on a timely topic—be it a new project, exhibition, or current event that ‘just happened.’

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Greg J. Smith

A writer and cultural worker based in Hamilton, Canada, Greg is an editor for HOLO and his writing has appeared in publications including Creative Applications Network, Musicworks, and Back Office. He is also a PhD candidate within the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University, where he is researching the emergence of the programmable drum machine in the early 1980s.

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