MetaGarden:(Elixir)Machine*, Installation (3D printed objects, steel, aluminium, various substances, generative software application, glassware, electronics, e-book)

Author: Tanja Vujinović
Production: Ultramono, 2018
Executive producers: Tanja Vujinović, Jan Kušej (Ultramono)
Production and PR assistance: Urška Comino
Software, electronics, objects: Tanja Vujinović, Milos Roglić, Borut Savski, Stefan Doepner, Pero Kolobarić, Roman Bevc, Bevec d.o.o.
The project was realised with the help of the Cultural Department of the City Municipality of Ljubljana
Project consultants: Jan Kušej, Lenart Krajnc, Derek Snyder, Urška Dremelj, Stefan Doepner, Borut Savski, Jelena Guga, Milos Roglić, Maja Kodre, Aleksander Rečnik, Aleš Rode, Maja Berločnik, KAP Jasa (Saša Iskrić, Janez Vizjak)

* First exhibited under working title Elixir Machine in exhibitions "Elixir Agens", MMC KIBLA, KIBELA, Maribor, September 2018, and "Elixir Distillers", Kapelica Gallery, October 2018

MetaGarden:Machine is inspired by machines in the Avant-garde art of Surrealism and Dada, in which different elements of reality are mixed with transcendental twists, thus commenting the complex state of increasing industrialisation and mechanisation of the time. MetaGarden:Machine resembles a laboratory, indicating a connection to my other installations that are always related to the idea of an apparatus for understanding the reality and contemporary societies. The premise for all MetaGarden installations I made in 2018 was the usage of two conceptual objects, the agents A and B, where A always represents the unattainable, the fleeting other, while B is the representation of us inside the contemporary world of “ecotechnics”. Object A, as a research tool that continually appears in my works in different shapes and roles, emerges in this installation in the shape of many substances, including water. 

The initial idea was to make a machine that will, on a conceptual level, cover the complex relationship we nowadays have with nature and especially with its role in our health and wellbeing.

Over the course of months, I worked on the generative segment of the installation that should transpose the exhibition visitors into the virtual world of seemingly untouched or primordial nature. Simultaneously, I worked on collecting numerous substances that have a loose or direct reference to being “natural”, ranging from everyday herbal teas, minerals, and vitamins, to even more extreme examples such as homeopathic remedies. Most of the substances were recommended to me by different people I interviewed, while I discovered other substances in online testimonials. Some substances were directly recommended to me in pharmacies, homeopathic remedy being one of them. The core question I asked was whether they themselves use the remedies in order to improve their wellbeing. What struck me the most while I was working on this research was that poetics and misconceptualisation surround some of these substances. While reading about historical examples of amalgam medications, I was inspired by Theriak and Mithridatium, which are both examples of cumulative and random mixtures of what was believed to be highly successful medicaments in the past. Similarly to these historical examples, a lot of people nowadays admit that they take big amounts of supplements without actually knowing what they do, how they interact with each other, and whether they are truly beneficial or merely a placebo. On top of that, they also take pleasure in the ritual and the idea of gaining control over their health and bodies. While some of these preparations, herbal supplements, and teas definitely have scientifically proven active properties, others have no definite proof of effect other than that of placebo.  Besides placebo, which is a scientifically approved agent for feeling better, there is also a strong ideology of “Do It Yourself”, counter-government, and anti-corporation, creating a general atmosphere instilled with such narratives that some companies try to abuse in order to sell their products.

Nowadays, we are being sold the idea of nature in the form of a product, as a detached, remote, imaginative concept, and the only way for these products to potentially have any positive effect might be within the line of a placebo or a “nocebo” (no medication applied and body left to naturally recover) effect. 

During the first presentation of the installation, MetaGarden:Machine had a multi-sensor camera for transporting the visitors into the virtual segment of the installation resembling an untouched meadow. Besides the camera, pieces of objects A and B were attached to the construction. The objects together purified the previously prepared liquid substance, which was dispersed into the air of the exhibition space. Application for this installation was developed in Unity 3D software, a game engine for building three-dimensional environments. The moment the camera recognises a human shape, it mirrors it within the application. At first, the shape is recognisable by the visitor standing in front of the camera mirroring the visitor’s movements within the projection. At that point, the avatar looks like a loose outline of human shape, defined by the particles resembling herbs. Gradually, the human shape transforms into a mixture of geometric shapes that change form and finally stabilise into a unique shape that is stored in the work’s database.

Geometric shapes are generated from the group of ten objects consisting of random number of cubes, lines, and plates. Positions and rotations are also randomly generated but with some restrictions in terms of the lines being parallel to one another.  The order of geometric elements is determined by Bridson's algorithm, which is an approximation of Poisson-disc distribution. Animations of floating elements are based on Perlin noise, a technique developed by Ken Perlin. 

Previously prepared substance used here is an alcohol extraction of more than 60 ingredients (a complete list is below). Few drops of this substance are added to the distilled water, purified through active charcoal within objects A and B, and dispersed into the gallery space. The first presentation in KID KIBLA entailed the projection of the virtual world on top of the base construction, while the second, in Kapelica Gallery, presented the work in three segments: the shelf with samples of all ingredients used for making the initial liquid substance, the physical construction of the installation, and the projection.

About the MetaGarden series of works

In “MetaGarden”, we actively engage in the post-digital panorama and our expanded nature, contemplating and recreating various technological amalgams of ourselves and our worlds. Vilém Flusser wrote about how futile the attempts are to artificially construct a dichotomy between nature and culture. His stance towards the nature, which we always comprehend through the lens of culture, contradicts the ideas of returning to the long forgotten, primordial “nature” or “source”, and undermines the prospects of objectively analysing the amalgams of nature-culture that we continually create.

Simulations are important for our understanding of the world in philosophical, scientific, and everyday sense, for they describe how models and maps stretch out over the layers of reality and explain the workings of the world. Without them, we would have a hard time understanding how mathematical formulas, laws of physics, anatomies of living organism or engineering structures function. In science, philosophy, and religion, there have always been different world ontologies and simulation paradigms that try to chart and explain how systems and networks of the world work. According to the Božidar Kante, what we now loosely call “nature” has long ago become an “organic machine”, but it still does not mean the complete transference of nature into “artifact”. Our physical environment is increasingly shaped by the capital, technology, and geopolitics, and these processes are being reflected in the so-called nature that we ingest or reproduce as lawns, gardens, and land or theme parks. The majority of domesticated animals, fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown in agriculturally advanced areas of the world are the fruit of planned manipulations of human resources, even if we exclude the work on genetically engineered species. Such cultivation highlights “non-reproduced nature”, which becomes a more important expression of value, representing something yet nonaffected by pollution or climate change. This process is part of the dramatisation of violence and excesses of technical reshaping that highlights the importance of nonhuman world for the maintenance of life. Different cultures give advantage to environments that, according to their opinion, contain important “natural” elements, not only for being aesthetically pleasing, but also for having a therapeutic role because they contribute to our healing faster than artificial environments do.

The MetaGarden addresses the questions of recreation and recycling. It deals with the construction of technological “other” by employing various anthropomorphic and abstract agents. The conceptual Objects A and B appearing in the project are inspired by the history of anthropomorphization and are, as Sherry Turkle would say, “objects- to-think-with”. Object A represents our striving towards the creation of a synthetic being, while Object B stands for the human being in transition – a robomorphic being, a cyborg-becoming-a-thing.

So far, ”MetaGarden” raised the questions of recreation and of different immaterial and transitory objects of both low and high technology. The future of wellbeing lies in the development of contemporary science and technology, as well as in our readiness to understand them and debate their many elements and implications. We often deal with the Pharmakon, fluctuating between poison and remedy, but also between the notions of clean and dirty, having in mind that the substances in our environment are the pointers of our homeostatic balances. The key questions regarding cleanliness and sterility are closely related to ecology and health and, as Mary Douglas states, they are transitory and culturally dependent questions.

Conclusions arising from the project so far are that various activities such as daily routines, usage of substances, and meditation were and still are used as methods of affecting and transforming one’s perception of the world and wellbeing. We are inspired by historical and contemporary examples of DIY biohacking and immersions into the rhythms of nature. By interacting with and incorporating various abstract and anthropomorphic agents, we try to recreate ourselves and intervene in our daily lives in order to find meaning and security.

After two public presentations of the installations (exhibitions "Elixir Agens", MMC KIBLA, KIBELA, Maribor, September 2018, and "Elixir Distillers", Kapelica Gallery, October 2018), and due to the nature of their development, I have decided to include them into a new, larger series of works entitled “MetaGarden”, which will be expanded in the future. The ‘Garden’ is a metaphor for the transitory encircled areas where installations envelope, while prefix ‘meta’ denotes the nature of these installations - they are transcending, and they reveal ongoing processes and changes. 

OPEN complete list of substances used in the installation (PDF)



OPEN TEXT BY Jelena Guga, Merging of Code and Matter: MetaGarden by Tanja Vujinovic, December 2018. /// pdf ENGLISH ///