Challenging ideas of ‘untouched’ nature and the impact of technology on natural landscapes, the Swiss contribution to the international festival of performance design and space has environmental issues at heart.
‘Artificial Arcadia: measured and adjustable (?) landscapes’ by Fragmentin and KOSMOS Architects unpicks clichéd ideas of Swiss scenery, whilst challenging our ideas of the natural world as unaffected by technology. Though known for its natural, ‘untouched’ beauty, Switzerland’s contemporary landscapes are supported by a complex man-made machine, from tunnels through mountains, dams through rivers, irrigation systems, snow cannons, avalanche protection and electrical networks.The scenographic landscape of Artificial Arcadia is inspired by global modified landscapes – particularly glaciers –, the aesthetics of Swiss infrastructure, and the ways in which natural, artificial and digital realms are entangled.
Artificial Arcadia uses ‘bauprofile’, metal sticks or construction poles that appear on Swiss landscapes to announce new buildings and trigger debate. The forest of slow-moving metal poles, topped by a textile roof reminiscent of Swiss mountain landscapes (and more specifically from the blanket used to cover the Rhône Glacier to prevent it from melding), rises and lowers as the viewer walks through them, informing them of changes in levels of ice and snow.
Over the ten days, artist Camille Alena will create performances taking the form of a musical dramaturgy specifically developed for the interactive structure designed by Fragmentin & KOSMOS Architects. The artist will work with local participants to create a diaristic piece that asks: how will humans escape from the curse of artificial and digital traceability?
“The most important part of the installation are the visitors. We want to raise awareness of the direct impact of each person on nature. The installation is fully interactive: each step a person takes in its interior is recognised by detectors, and changes the overall shape of the installation; finally all of these transformations are reflected in real time on the screen.”
-Artem Kitaev, KOSMOS Architects
“One of the key elements of Artificial Arcadia is its performative aspect, but we also designed the experience to open a discussion and raise awareness on global topics such as climate change – starting from the case study of the Swiss melting glaciers – or the impact of digitalisation our society.”
– Laura Perrenoud, Fragmentin
Elsewhere in the festival at the Student Exhibition, Pro Helvetia will be supporting the work of students of the Faculty of BA Theatre, Stage Design and Theatre Education, Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) in their exhibition Transplantations. From image space to spatial image.
Fragmentin: We saw the open call on the Pro Helvetia website back in 2018. Before that we had never heard of PQ but were attracted by its interdisciplinary aspect of mixing art, media, performance and stage design.
KOSMOS: We are always curious to take part in interdisciplinary projects, to collaborate with artists, designers and photographers. Besides, we have always been interested in temporary architecture and believe that this is a testing ground for architectural innovation. That’s why when Fragmentin, our artist friends, proposed us to take part in the competition for the exposition of Performance design and Scenography, we agreed without hesitation.
How important are events as biennials and quadrennials as spaces where to explore and put forth ideas on architectural production and architecture as a discipline?
Fragmentin: As artists we are rather used to create small artworks, objects or sculptures. With its 5m x 5m x 5m this installation allowed us to explore and create an experience at a different scale and also reach a different type of audience than through galleries or museums.
KOSMOS: We think that such events are very important as polygons of experimentation: architects are freed from fulfilling the desire of a client or making something pragmatic. We think that these events are especially valuable, if architects have possibility to work in real architectural, 1:1 scale (like on this Quadriennial). Besides, these events are great platforms of real socialization. Nowadays, when most of the communication is virtual, it is very refreshing to finally see your colleagues from around the globe and to talk, exchange ideas, discuss, argue, laugh in person, and not through social media.
What informed your response to this years brief?
Fragmentin: With KOSMOS we had this common interest and sensibility for urban devices and infrastructure. As “transformation” was the main topic of this year, we wanted to explore how the Swiss natural landscape entangles artificial (infrastructural) and digital realms and how new aesthetics could emerge from this symbiosis mix.
KOSMOS: Yes, our reflections on two topics: that nature is not natural anymore, but completely artificial; and our reflections on how people impact nature. Raising awareness about our impact on nature was the key point.
How did you collectively define the project conceptually and then develop the design?
KOSMOS: At the moment when the competition was launched and when we were discussing the idea, we left Switzerland for two semesters to teach in the University in Bangkok. We had a series of Skype calls with Fragmentin: we did lots of sketches, brainstormed, discussed argued, agreed… Until finally we all together came up with the concept of “Artificial Arcadia”.
As a multidisciplinary project, how does each discipline singularly strengthen and explore the project through a unique perspective?
Fragmentin: As artists/engineers, than this pavillon and we do work at smaller scales, therefore we had two different perspectives on the project and this was an enriching experience. It was a great opportunity to work with architects. Although for some parts of the projects we had to split the tasks, the general artistic concept and the production was handled hand in hand with KOSMOS; KOSMOS architects are used to work at bigger scales. Additionally, performance artist Camille Alena and London sound artist Stan Iordanov co-created eleven specific daily performances for our pavillion.
KOSMOS: As already said, the concept was common, and then, during the design development, our tasks have split a bit, although all the main decisions were still made together. We as architects (together with structural engineer) were dealing mostly with the hardcore metal structure: our goal was to keep it firm and elegant at the same time. Fragmentin added their artistic perspective and helped the “magic” happen: they digitally programmed the movement of the pavilion, and data collection on the screen of the structure.
You mention the visitors as being the key actors of the installation, how and to what extent might this be applicable to those visitors who will only be able to visit the installation digitally through publications?
Fragmentin: For us it is indeed very important to physically discuss and observe the visitors interacting and performing during the ten short but intense days of the Quadrennial but we also hired photographers and filmmakers to document the key conceptual aspects of our performative installation.
KOSMOS: As most architectural pieces, it is of course better to experience the space in real life. Especially in this case, when the pavilion is dynamic and reacts to the people’s presence. Yet, we together with Fragmentin are working on a video now, that will allow seeing the interaction between the structure and the visitor in time, not just as a static image.
Did you ever think of developing a digital aspect to the physical installation?
Fragmentin: The installation already contains several digital elements: The Main LED screen is playing in real time the movement (heat map) of visitors and their impact on the glacier map. The small LCD screens attached to each pole are indicating in real time the mm of snow/ice of the suspended landscape above the visitors. Thanks to the floor sensors, we also digitally record the trace and movement of the people making the map of swiss glacier evolving during the full length of the festival. We might publish the result online this summer.
KOSMOS: This installation was exactly such an example.
What do you hope the installation will spark in the visitor?
Fragmentin: Curiosity. Additionally, one of our main goals is to raise awareness and open discussion on the impact people and infrastructures may cause to the environment, especially to the alpine landscape.
KOSMOS: Although the general idea of the project is to raise awareness of people of our impact on the nature, in particular on the melting glaciers, we didn’t want that the pavilion would be didactic and moralistic, single-interpretation piece. We hope to spark curiosity, surprise (when it starts to move), reflection on the topic and desire to interact with architecture.
In addition to framing issues of climate change through these kind of temporary works, how do you address this through your everyday practices as artists/engineers and architects?
Fragmentin: In addition to Artificial Arcadia opening up spaces for discussions and reflexions in several of our art pieces – such as our Displuvium technology, it is often difficult or rather impossible to find ethically or eco-friendly made electronic products – and addressing those issues in conference or interviews, we try to personally limit our impact as much as we can. As an art collective we try to produce and buy locally even if it’s not always easy mainly due to financial reason.
KOSMOS: Architecture is intrinsically connected to building, using materials, occupying the land, and therefore it is in general harming the environment. Yet, that doesn’t mean we should stop practicing it. As a response to this situation, we try to question in our projects, whether a new construction is actually needed, or maybe the existing site/location/building can be transformed or reprogrammed without destruction, occupying new space, building anew, wasting lots of materials etc.
Are you looking to develop the project further? If so how?
Fragmentin: We are currently looking for institutions who would be interested to acquire the work or permanently exhibit it. In addition, we may create a small publication/book
Fragmentin is an art practice based in Lausanne (Switzerland). At the crossroads of art and engineering, Fragmentin’s work questions the impact of the digital on everyday life by investigating these technologies disposition toward control and opacity. Fragmentin’s installations posit chance, randomness and the unexpected as remedies to control. Their work often uses interaction and performance and has been exhibited all over Europe.
KOSMOS Architects design projects and environments of all types and scale, from hardcore architecture to pop-art installations. KOSMOS has received awards and prizes including the Hans Christian Andersen Museum Competition in Denmark; Queensway Competition in New York, Landmark Nike Sports Center in Moscow; Street Architecture Competition for Storefront for Art and Architecture, and a nomination for the Swiss Art Awards.
Camille Alena lives and works in London, creates new links between art, music and the history of forms and media. Camille develops her work through diverse strategies and approaches such as documentary, narrative, performance, and objects making. She collaborated with the Architects Herzog & de Meuron in Basel for two years (2013-2015). Swiss Art Awarded in 2018. Recent exhibitions include High Art Paris (2018), Supportico Lopez Berlin (2018) Forde Genève (2017) among others.
Thom Luz is a theatre-maker, director and musician. He has worked at Gessnerallee Zurich, Kaserne Basel, Theater Basel, Deutsches Theater Berlin and schauspielhannover. Using musical and spoken theatre Thom Luz examines, how what is unsaid and cannot be voiced might become evident on stage, even if it is only by accident. In 2014 he was voted up-and-coming director of the year by Theater heute Magazine, in 2015, 2017 and 2019 he was invited to the Theatertreffen in Berlin. His productions have been shown at venues and festivals including at Recklinghauser Festspiele, Mülheimer Theatertagen, Autorentheatertage of the Deutsches Theater, Festival Premières in Strassbourg, Heidelberger Stückemarkt, Festival Lókal Reykjavik, Festival Actoral in Marseille, Israel Festival Jerusalem and NET Festival Moscow