An Intelligent Matrix for an Inquisitive User-Viewer
/ Inteligentna matrica za raziskovalnega uporabnika-gledalca

Narvika Bovcon and Ales Vaupotic's new media project Solaris is conceived as a system of several independent visual graphic units allowing the viewer-user to approach it from several perspectives and entry points. The project's conceptual background is defined by the "philosophy" of Andrei Tarkovsky's film Solaris, in which the auteur reflects upon the various meanings of the world, based on the motif of the distant planet Solaris and a mystically inconceivable form of consciousness related to it. Tarkovsky's Solaris suggests two axes. The first one is the axis of the look, the gaze of the inconceivable consciousness of Solaris, which is entered by way of humanist discourse - in Tarkovsky's film this is, e.g., psychoanalytical imagery (replaced in Bovcon and Vaupotiè's installation by the project Mouseion Serapeion, which is based on an intelligent browser for a multitude of select videos). The other point of entering the Solaris reality is the scientific approach of physicists and chemists, replaced in the installation by the project VSA (Cambridge University's Tenerife-based telescope provides measurements of cosmic radiation in real time).

On the other side of the first axis there is, in the room of this installation, a digital graphic image onto which images from the projects Mouseion Serapeion and VSA (acronym for Very Small Array radio telescope) are projected. Printed on the paper there is a flattened image of "traveling" from Solaris, the famous motif of a psychological mire. But Tarkovsky's films, Solaris included, take into consideration also the second axis, one that we could call the axis of the "media" view, represented in the film by the so-called "project Solaris", that is, the institution which sends Kelvin, the hero, into space to ascertain whether it is still financially sound to invest in researching Solaris. This brings us to a view that is constitutively inherent in the strategies of daily politics and their manifestations in the mass media. It is the axis of a view that inevitably crosses the first axis, one that artists fight for, but which can only be achieved in isolation by deliberately disregarding the contemporary surfeit of images that function not merely in entertainment industry rituals but which also have a political feature. The axis of the media view is represented at the exhibition by a sound installation in space; it functions as a topical addition to the universal model of the gaze and as the first stage of the internal view of the dual projections of Mouseion Serapeion and VSA onto the image of Solaris.

In the exhibition installation the project also includes an image (12 x 1.5 m) that covers the longest wall in the room and interconnects three rooms in the gallery. Screened onto it, from three projectors, are data obtained by means of measurements of cosmic radiation (the VSA projection of changing figures), visual materials from the interactive smart video archive Mouseion Serapeion (DVD-ROM), and an explanatory-supplementary text about Emmanuel Lévinas' philosophical concept of "visage".

The question that the viewer-user of this installation asks him- or herself is: Where is Bovcon and Vaupotiè's Solaris now? How can we approach this project, where can we enter? What is a proper perception of this new media artwork

First, it needs to be said that the traditional approach, based on observation from a distance, aimed above all at scanning the entire installation, is just one moment, and really not a very important one, in the process of perceiving and reflecting upon this project, which demands, due to its new media nature, a flexible observer who can switch between the different levels of perception smoothly, one who has a sense for combining and interpreting data and for changing scientific discourses and artistic interventions, one who will first turn to the VSA screening, then browse through the video archive, travel along the axis of the humanist view and listen to the axis of the media view, follow the interactions between the static images in the prints and the ones projected onto them, attempt to think the "surplus" - the excess of their interferences, and then again step back, turn away from the projections and toward the artistic "statement" of this project, and obtain some additional knowledge about the telescope, say, from the website about it.

Both Tarkovsky and the author of the novel, Stanislaw Lem, understand Solaris as an intelligent system and an organism that is capable of reflecting human thoughts and emotions; this had already influenced Marko Peljhan and Carsten Nicolai's project Polar (2000). It is a responsive intelligent environment with a fluid architecture of programmed components, which really represents a challenge to the new media sensitivity and sensibility. We also come across a dialogic intelligent environment in the segment of Mouseion Serapeion as a video archive that adapts, by applying a simple algorithm, an artificial intelligence of sorts, to the individual user.

The new media installation Solaris is not just a simple sum total of its hardware and software components, nor does it exhaust its resources in its reference to Tarkovsky; it is a project of bringing into relation the various perspectives, views and data whose resultant is by no means a stable one, but flexibly moves now towards the axis of the gaze, again made topical also due to the data from the VSA project, and then shifts - in the case of a viewer-user interested in the, simply speaking, politics of the media and the critique of this politics - its center of gravity to the axis of the media view. This brings us to the viewers-users who view the installation neither as paintings nor as television, but try to make their own way through the network of relations emerging from the installation's components, and in doing this, do more than just look and listen - they also do research, interrelate the obtained data, reflect upon it, form a point of view. They do not only face the projection screen (the printed image), they approach the "thing" also by looking away at a given moment. Each viewer must also scan and reflect the way in which she has reached Solaris.

Janez Strehovec, PhD