Digital Encounters

Ioannina is a historic city in Northwestern Greece, known for its glimmering lakeside views and and rich cultural past. Over the centuries, it has been home to to Byzantine, Jewish, Ottoman Turk and Greek communities, whose traces can still be found in the old town and its ancient walls. As such, it’s probably not the first place that springs to mind when thinking about digital art: a medium defined by its newness. Onassis Stegi – the cultural arm of the Onassis Foundation – feel otherwise. Throughout June and until 9 July, Ioannina is the backdrop to Plásmata ΙΙ, an open-air exhibition that looks critically at how artificial intelligence, digital networks and mass accumulation of data control our daily lives. “The way we perceive technology today is the perpetual ritual by which its inhabitants have always lived together, forming networks that transcend the boundaries of the lake and the city,” Onassis explains. “These networks are present in every historical period of Ioannina, including the Ottoman occupation, the Modern Greek Enlightenment, in the mingling of the different religious communities; in the local trades of silversmithing, metallurgy, and animal husbandry; in the city’s crossroads position in the Balkans and Europe, and in its contemporary pulse as a university town for students pursuing new forms of knowledge.”

The show invites visitors to wander through 28 different spots on “art routes” that meander around the castle, the old town and the majestic Lake Pamvotida. The aim is to present new media “not as something made of shimmering LED screens and computer circuits, but as something organic and ubiquitous that grows in the lake, looks like the rain, exists in the sounds of the birds and the plane trees.” Each work comes under the umbrella of either Human, Metaphysical, Digital or Strange. Audiences will encounter works by John Gerrard (b. 1974), for example, an Irish artist interested in exploring “land art in the age of Google Earth.” He uses state-of-the-art gaming technology to share stark warnings about the impact of the climate emergency. In Flare (Oceania), Gerrard brings to our attention the fact that upwards of 90% of the heat being generated by industrialised societies, mainly in the Global North, is being absorbed by the ocean – threatening both sea life and the livelihoods of coastal people, including inhabitants of low-lying nations such as Tonga. Gerrard’s real-time simulated seascape shows a reflected gas flare on the surface of the water: a visceral symbol of warming at a time when we are teetering on a climatic knife edge. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports global temperatures are set to reach new records in the next five years – exceeding the 1.5°C threshold established by the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Elsewhere, media art and UX design collective Universal Everything asks an equally pertinent question: “What does evolution look like?” The ever-changing walking figure in Transfiguration – shown above – transforms before our eyes. The further it walks, the more it evolves. Meanwhile, Entangled Others – the shared studio practice of artists Feileacan McCormick and Sofia Crespo – draws on biology-inspired technologies in Encounters with Aquatic Chimeras. Their machine-generated pieces introduce us to jellyfish, larvae and other “fantastic organisms.” Our fraught relationship with nature and technology is brought into focus time and again, not least by Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg (b. 1982), whose practice spans artificial intelligence, conservation and biodiversity. She investigates the human impulse to “better” the world and what that really means for the planet. At a time when AI and generative art are in the spotlight, Plásmata ΙΙ shows how these tools, whilst controversial, can be harnessed as agents of positive change.

Plásmata ΙΙ: Ioannina is accompanied by concerts and DJ sets, workshops, discussions, educational programs, guided tours and original programming by Movement Radio, Onassis Stegi’s 24-hour online radio station. | Until 9 July

Image Credits:
1. Flare © John Gerrard
2. Entangled Others, Encounters with Aquatic Chimeras, 2020
3. Universal Everything, Transfiguration