Sunday Arts Magazine

21 Feb 2021

Betty Sargeant talks to Sunday Arts Team

Art Collection, Art Exhibition, Arts, Arts Festival, Visual Arts

Betty Sargeant talks to Sunday Arts Team

Experimenta announces its most ambitious triennial: Experimenta Life Forms


Experimenta, champion of art unbound by convention, announces its most ambitious international
triennial to date – Experimenta Life Forms: International Triennial of Media Art. Exploring our
changing relationship and definitions of life forms, this triennial is Experimenta’s eighth national touring
exhibition, premiering at Hobart’s Plimsoll Gallery in March 2021.
Experimenta Life Forms will astonish audiences with 20
international and Australian artists showcasing a range of
emerging artforms, including robotics, bio-art, screen-based
works, installations, participatory and generative art. Curated by
Jonathan Parsons, Lubi Thomas and Jessica Clark, the
exhibition thought provokingly engages with ideas of how new
understandings of biological and artificial life are challenging
human-centric thinking. The triennial features established and
emerging contemporary artists; adventurous creators who work
with technology in unexpected ways.
Signalling the role Australia’s ancient landmass plays in our understanding of the development of life
on this planet is Dominic Redfern’s installation First Forms. This multi-screen video work introduces
us to the pre-Cambrian world through his careful study of cyanobacteria that over time build up
sedimentary forms known as stromatolites. Stromatolites still exist in only a few locations globally,
including sites in Western Australia, home to the oldest known fossils dated to 3.5 billion years.
Cyanobacteria, because of their oxygen producing capability, are credited with significantly altering the
earth’s conditions, supporting the emergence of complex life.
The exhibition features four works from First Nation’s artists in Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and
the USA. As Oglála Lakȟóta artist Kite writes “Indigenous ontologies already exist to understand forms
of ‘being’ which are outside of humanity.” Kite has collaborated with Devin Ronneberg on the
interactive installation Itówapi Čík’ala (Little Picture) inviting audiences to interact with a non-human
entity. Narungga artist Brad Darkson’s multi-media work Smart Object contrasts two processes: his
carving of a wooden plongi (club) and an avatar of the artist carving. This work critiques humanity’s
reliance on the digital processes that sever our spiritual connection to country.
Pioneers of the Bioart movement Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr will present an installation work entitled
Biomess. The artwork celebrates the diversity of life forms highlighting natural and artificial life that
confound our cultural notions of identity, sex, gender and reproduction. Natural history specimens,
sourced from significant local collections, feature in this installation and will vary as the exhibition tours.
A number of the triennial works provoke viewers to consider what may happen as engineering becomes
more sophisticated. French artist Justine Emard’s uncanny video work titled Soul Shift (video still
pictured above) documents the staged encounter between two generations of the Alter robot, developed
by renowned Japanese roboticists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Takashi Ikegami. The viewer wonders
whether the transference of Alter’s data between generations is a form of reincarnation without flesh?
Dutch artist Floris Kaayk’s speculative fiction work The Modular Body prompts audience to consider
the ethical questions involved in biotechnology research and development. This multi-channel video
installation explores the power that visual media has in distorting the lines between truth and fiction. It
asks us to consider the ethics of human manipulation of life by bringing us back to the core question:
‘what defines life?’.

Drawing attention to the growing awareness of the agency and
sentience of other biological life forms are works such as Pulse
(pictured left) by PluginHuman (Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer),
an immersive installation documenting significant trees across the
globe; Sound of Fungi by German artist Theresa Schubert; and DJ
Moss by Thomas Marcusson a work where a plant takes over the DJ
decks. Collaboration is a fundamental tenant of Experimenta and
many of the artists featured in the triennial have works created from in
depth collaboration with the sciences.

Notably Helen Pynor, who began studying science before turning to art, has collaborated with scientists
at The Francis Crick Institute, London; The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics,
Dresden; and The Heart and Lung Transplant Unit, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. In a new work
commissioned for Experimenta Life Forms, she focuses on the human body and the increasingly blurry
lines between the animate and inanimate arising from the widespread use of prosthetics. Habitation
was prompted by her experiences of hip replacement surgery and takes up Monika Bakke’s notion of
‘lithic intimacies’: life’s exchange and inter-species companionship with minerals.
The Experimenta Life Forms program explores matters of technological and biological adaptation;
sentience in animals and plant-life; the influence of First Nation’s epistemology on how we understand
life, and so much more. Audiences can expect a boundary-pushing experience; works that pull apart
dialogues about the evolving landscape of ‘life forms’ and redefine what art can be.
Experimenta Life Forms Artists
Daniel Boyd (Aus), Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr (Aus), Brad Darkson (Aus), Michael Candy (Aus), Donna
Davis (Aus), Justine Emard (Fr), Anton Hasell (Aus), Floris Kaayk (NL), Kite & Devin Ronneberg (USA),
Thomas Marcusson (Aus), M0wson&MOwson (Aus), Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni & Matthew Riley
(Aus), PluginHUMAN (Aus), Helen Pynor (Aus), Dominic Redfern (Aus), Theresa Schubert (Germany),
Rebecca Selleck (Aus), Agat Sharma (India), Miranda Smitheram (NZ), Laura Woodward (Aus).


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