Aparna Rao and Soren Pors are two artists who, by working together, cultivate high-tech, innovative and interactive artworks that have expanded the realms of contemporary art through their ‘creatures’. By removing the boundary between artwork and creature, Rao and Pors allow their audience to interact with the artworks, evoking emotional responses, humour and giving the artwork a behaviour of its own. Motivated by their desire to build the creatures envisaged in their minds, Rao and Pors obsess over these ‘creatures’ they create, leading to a journey of discovery for both the artist and viewer.
Rao’s and Pors’ paths crossed in 2005 when they joined forces in Italy, while studying for their Masters degrees at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. As they found their interests were similar they began working together, producing a greater quality of work in a shorter amount of time. However, both artists admit to not loving technology. Although their artworks appear to have heavy technological input, neither artist has an engineering background, thus they collaborate with robotics scientists to mentor them to formulate the creatures in their heads. Overcoming these technological difficulties results in original artworks, as seen in the duo’s exhibition ‘Applied Friction’.
Drifter is an inverted stick figure man in a hat who drunkenly sways about his central axis as a person enters the room, captivating the audience by suddenly falling to the floor. Before impact the sculpture is programmed to begin to rise again, avoiding damage. The helplessness of the sculpture falling instils a notion of fear in the audience. Drifter is indeed a creature, as intended by the artists, and due to his birth through technology he transcends previous artistic boundaries of medium and creativity. The equilibrium attained by the artwork is mirrored in its symmetrical composition, engendering feelings of uneasiness when the artwork begins to topple over. The audience feels a desire to help this artwork, embarking on the journey of coming to understand this creature the artist has brought to life. Rao and Pors achieve the playfulness they set out to attain, actualising their ideas through engineering.
Rao and Pors’ The Pygmies also displays the infusion of technology in art. Twenty-five separate panels, all of different sizes, are mounted one inch from a wall. Only when there is complete silence 509 black silhouettes of tiny creatures gradually crawl out from behind the panels, first poking their heads out then following with their bodies, observing their surroundings with their hand-drawn eyes. Technology is exploited in the motion of the critters, making their movements distinct and seemingly life-like as they respond to their habitat. Like cautious animals, if a loud sound is made in the room some pygmies swiftly disappear behind the edge of the panel. However, if a small sound is made the creatures will respond differently, some disappearing completely as others retreat to the peeping position, just peering over the white panel. Over time the creatures become more comfortable with their surroundings and refuse to respond to background noise. This fusion of creature and machine ignites a novel curiosity in art, showing the potential for art to interact with audiences and illuminating the possibilities for art made achievable by harnessing technology.
The key effectiveness of Rao and Pors’ artworks lies in their juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity and the interactivity between the creatures created and their audience. Contrast between simplicity and complexity is attained through the artworks looking aesthetically simple, neutrally coloured in black and white. The simplicity of the colour scheme is contrasted with the complexity of the design, underpinned by electro-mechanical engineering. So as not to fetishise the technology, the simple design pattern and colour scheme tone down the complexity and allow audiences to relate to these creations. As the audience interacts with artworks they can share in the story of each work and indulge in the ideas of the artists.
Modern art has been transformed through contemporary society, allowing more dreams of artists to be actualised. Rao and Pors have harnessed technology to birth the creatures of their minds, allowing their audience to indulge in their creations through discovering their nature. A journey for artist and viewer alike.
Drifter, 2008-11. Fiberglass, nylon, metal, electro-mechanical components, 180 x 91 x 45cm.
Pygmies, 2006-09. Plastic, metal, wood, electro-mechanical components, 360 x 500 x 435cm. Images courtesy the artists.