Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) is a world-leading experiential art collective, based in London. The team’s core members are Barnaby Steel (b. 1978), Ersin Han Ersin (b. 1984) and Robin McNicholas (b. 1979). Working at the intersection of art and technology, the initiative creates immersive experiences. These projects zoom in on the natural world and provide a deeper understanding of the interconnections between ecology and humanity. MLF’s multi-sensory installations have been on display around the world, from New York to Lisbon and Eindhoven to Istanbul. In November, Works of Nature will be exhibited at ACMI Melbourne. We caught up with MLF about their creative process, upcoming shows and how developments in AI are influencing their practice.
A: Could you tell us about the different people involved, and how the collaboration got started?
MLF: MLF is an art collective working across film, technology, science and visual art. There are many different people involved in the initiative. Both in the internal collective group and broader network, our experts and specialists come from various fields including photography, film and TV, interactive media and visual design. Our collaboration initially stemmed from the early 2000s motion graphics scene where new forms of moving image were being experimented with.
A: What does the process of developing a new MLF piece look like, from idea to completion?
MLF: At present we have a range of projects bubbling away alongside each other. In their own way, all of these are creative expressions of our shared passions and beliefs. Many of our work relates to the environment and our connection with the natural world. We often collaborate with professionals from other disciplines such as scientists. Currently, we are working with writer Simon Wroe, and the work is supported by funding from the BFI Filmmaking Fund. It is about food culture and is playing with a whole bunch of new specialisms and a huge range of disciplines to make it a reality. These include virtual production, interactive lasers, immersive sound as well as incorporating AI into the image creation.
A: Your projects consider humanity’s relationship with nature, as seen in your first viral work In the Eyes of the Animal (2018) and again in the recent Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest (2022). It could be argued that VR and new technologies are in opposition to nature. What’s the impact of using digital techniques to address themes of climate and environment?
MLF: We recognise some of the most important issues that need to be addressed with regards to emerging technologies and how they can be perceived as a barrier between us and the natural world. However, lots of our work focuses on the extraordinary stories that present themselves beyond the limits of the human senses. For example, using VR headset allows us to create gateways into these hidden worlds. As a collective, we are working closely with curators and venues to find ways to limit our carbon footprint as it means a lot to us to protect the world we’re trying to celebrate.
A: In November, Works of Nature will open in Melbourne. What can audiences expect from the show?Which works are on display, and which aspects of nature do they engage with?
MLF: Works of Nature is a major event in our calendar, and we feel massively grateful for the opportunity to work with such an incredible organisation and venue. The show will open at ACMI in Melbourne on 23 November and audiences can visit the show until April 2024. We will be presenting an immersive, multi-sensory, meditative experience featuring five video artworks on a grand, awe-inspiring scale. It will be a carefully curated experiential journey into our past and recent works. It will touch on themes relating to the natural world, nested ecosystems and the beauty of life on our planet. Using mixed-media, poetry, music, projection and virtual reality, the exhibition illuminates hidden connections beyond our everyday perceptions.
A: Another of your works Evolver is on display at the BMW Art Club in Warsaw from 12 October. This follows the flow of oxygen around our bodies from the perspective of a single “breathing” cell. It’s not the first time you’ve zoomed in on the body and its internal structures. What keeps you coming back to this subject matter?
MLF: There’s a core fascination at MLF that stems from our drive to communicate our inseparability from the natural world – that we are nature, all of us. Lots of our visual material is based on medical data that can start out as quite a sterile imagery. With the data that represents blood flow for Evolver, we built tools that allow us to celebrate the beauty of these systems and see the science through a different lens. Re-framing the meaning of a CT scan allows us to detach our learnt behaviours of observing medical information and to see the world as well as ourselves differently.
A: How would you describe your relationship with space? When working on a new commission, do you consider the place in which it is going to be exhibited, or are most of your works malleable?
MLF: Our work is often created directly as a response to the commission. For example, responding to the gorgeous Grizedale Forest in Cumbria for the project In the Eyes of the Animal. It has since toured all over the world and has been adapted from VR to full-dome, cylindrical projection and the web. Crafting our artworks can often initially be direct responses to space but subsequently adapt to new surroundings. Also, we hope that by experiencing our projects in various spaces, audiences take away a deeper appreciation of our placement in the world and our relationship to it.
A:We have seen a sharp increase in the use of AI in creative fields; its reception has been both positive and negative. How do you think AI might impact your practice?
MLF: It’s already massively impacting our working processes for the better. We’ve often leaned into zeitgeists as they emerge. We find AI fascinating and have worked with our tech team to develop tools that work best for us. We tread carefully however and feel it’s important to acknowledge and share learnings such as those flagged in the AI Dilemma, a recent concept concerning our relationship to AI.
A: Beyond the show in Melbourne, what are you working on right now?
MLF: As mentioned above, we’re working with the BFI on Sweet Dreams. This will be presented at a new UK venue. Besides this we’re also developing a piece focused on the activities that take place under the forest floor that has a working title of The Wood Wide Web. This draws inspiration from our initial interest in nature and explores the extraordinary world of fungi.
Works of Nature | ACMI Melbourne, from 23 November
1. Marshmallow Laser Feast, Distortions in Spacetime, 2018, courtesy of the artists.
2. Marshmallow Laser Feast, We Live in an Ocean of Air, courtesy of the artists.
3. Marshmallow Laser Feast, Evolver, 2020, courtesy of the artists, photo credit Paul McGeiver.
4. Marshmallow Laser Feast, Evolver, Seoul, 2023 Photographer Credit: Barnaby Churchill Steel (of Marshmallow Laser Feast
5. Marshmallow Laser Feast, Evolver, 2020, courtesy of the artists, photo credit Paul McGeiver.
6. Marshmallow Laser Feast, Evolver, 2020, courtesy of the artists, photo credit Paul McGeiver.