Closing REBOOT. Pioneering Digital Art at the Nieuwe Instituut

On the last day of REBOOT, we welcomed Marnix de Nijs, Edwin van der Heide, Ksenia Fedorova and Yvonne Dröge Wendel for the final event in the Digital Care series.

The sixth and final Digital Care event, organized by LI-MA at the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, marked the conclusion of the REBOOT exhibition on 12 May 2024. The event paid special tribute to the artwork Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100 km/h) by Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide.

REBOOT. Pioneering Digital Art opened at the Nieuwe Instituut on 7 October, 2023. This exhibition, a collaborative initiative between LI-MA and the Nieuwe Instituut, celebrates the pioneering history of digital art and culture in the Netherlands, while also making space for new interpretations by contemporary artists. It was curated by Sanneke Huisman (LI-MA) and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer (Nieuwe Instituut). In addition to the exhibition, six of the featured works part of the Digital Canon were focussed on in Digital Care, a public research and activity programme. LI-MA explores what it means to collect, preserve, and exhibit digital art – both in the current context and with an eye to the future.

Digital Care: Spatial Sounds

Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100 km/h), created in 2000, was revived for the REBOOT exhibition. This dynamic installation features a speaker attached to the end of a rotating arm, programmed to sense and respond to the presence of visitors. As spectators move within the room, the installation comes alive. The arm’s rotation shifts fluidly, sometimes accelerating to dizzying velocities, causing the speaker to radiate piercing, almost overwhelming sounds. This interplay between human and machine transforms the space into a pulsating entity, a dance of sound and motion that is both invasive and captivating. The relentless noise generated envelops the audience, making the installation an inescapable presence that demands engagement and interaction. Complementing this experience, the event offered insightful talks and a discussion in the auditorium of the Nieuwe Instituut.

Digital Care: Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100km/h). Talk by Ksenia Fedorova. Photo by Pieter Kers

The presentations began with an introduction by Sanneke Huisman, followed by talks from the artists Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide. Guest lecturers Ksenia Fedorova (assistant professor, Leiden University) and Yvonne Dröger Wendel (artist and Head of Fine Arts, Rietveld Academie) provided additional context, discussing human-object interaction and future preservation strategies. The individual talks concluded with a group discussion on the activation of Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100 km/h).

Digital Care: Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100km/h). Talk by Yvonne Dröge Wendel. Photo by Pieter Kers 

Human versus non-human

According to Edwin van der Heide, “the work is pretty much future proof”. While the software itself might be durable, the discussion focused on how the experience of the work could be preserved. Delving into the relationship between sensing and acting, and the interaction between human and machine a discussion arises. Ksenia Fedova states how the artwork feels almost alive, something akin to us, yet distinctly non-human and intelligent in its own way. This led to an exploration of the concept of anthropomorphism, where human traits are attributed to the non-human entitites. However, it was noted that the artists appreciate the power of abstractionism for their installation. Yvonne Dröger Wendel echoed that while the installation may not exhibit phenotypic human traits, she does recognize human-like behavior in it. 

Despite the varied perspectives shared, the question remains: How can the complex emotions and relationships evoked by such an iconic work be preserved, or will they simply exist as memories? The discussion around the work and its traits highlighted the speakers’ and audience members’ empathy and connection towards Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100 km/h). The room resonated with a shared appreciation for the artwork, underscoring the value of its preservation and reactivation. The event illuminated the role of Digital Care and media art conservation, emphasizing their importance for future cultural experiences.

Digital Care and REBOOT are supported by Creative Industries Fund NL, Mondriaan Fund, and Network Archives Design and Digital Culture.

Digital Care: Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100km/h), panel discussion. Photo by Pieter Kers
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