Experimenta announces its most ambitious triennial: Experimenta Life Forms


Experimenta, champion of art unbound by convention, announces its most ambitious international triennial to date – Experimenta Life Forms: Triennial of Media Art. Exploring our changing relationship and definitions of life forms, this triennial is Experimenta’s eighth national touring exhibition, premiering at Hobart’s Plimsoll Gallery in March 2021.

Experimenta Life Forms will astonish audiences with 20 international and Australian artists showcasing a range of emerging artforms, including robotics, bio-art, screen-based works, installations, participatory and generative art. Curated by Jonathan Parsons, Lubi Thomas and Jessica Clark, the exhibition thought provokingly engages with ideas of how new understandings of biological and artificial life are challenging human-centric thinking. The triennial features established and emerging contemporary artists; adventurous creators who work with technology in unexpected ways.

Signalling the role Australia’s ancient landmass plays in our understanding of the development of life on this planet is Dominic Redfern’s installation First Forms. This multi-screen video work introduces us to the pre-Cambrian world through his careful study of cyanobacteria that over time build up sedimentary forms known as stromatolites. Stromatolites still exist in only a few locations globally, including sites in Western Australia, home to the oldest known fossils dated to 3.5 billion years. Cyanobacteria, because of their oxygen producing capability, are credited with significantly altering the earth’s conditions, supporting the emergence of complex life. 

The exhibition features four works from First Nation’s artists in Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the USA. As Oglála Lakȟóta artist Kite writes “Indigenous ontologies already exist to understand forms of ‘being’ which are outside of humanity.” Kite has collaborated with Devin Ronneberg on the interactive installation Itówapi Čík’ala (Little Picture) inviting audiences to interact with a non-human entity. Narungga artist Brad Darkson’s multi-media work Smart Object contrasts two processes: his carving of a wooden plongi (club) and an avatar of the artist carving. This work critiques humanity’s reliance on the digital processes that sever our spiritual connection to country.   

Pioneers of the Bioart movement Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr will present an installation work entitled Biomess. The artwork celebrates the diversity of life forms highlighting natural and artificial life that confound our cultural notions of identity, sex, gender and reproduction. Natural history specimens, sourced from significant local collections, feature in this installation and will vary as the exhibition tours.  

A number of the triennial works provoke viewers to consider what may happen as engineering becomes more sophisticated. French artist Justine Emard’s uncanny video work titled Soul Shift (video still pictured above) documents the staged encounter between two generations of the Alter robot, developed by renowned Japanese roboticists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Takashi Ikegami. The viewer wonders whether the transference of Alter’s data between generations is a form of reincarnation without flesh? 

Dutch artist Floris Kaayk’s speculative fiction work The Modular Body prompts audience to consider the ethical questions involved in biotechnology research and development. This multi-channel video installation explores the power that visual media has in distorting the lines between truth and fiction. It asks us to consider the ethics of human manipulation of life by bringing us back to the core question: ‘what defines life?’.

Drawing attention to the growing awareness of the agency and sentience of other biological life forms are works such as Pulse (pictured left) by PluginHuman (Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer), an immersive installation documenting significant trees across the globe; Sound of Fungi by German artist Theresa Schubert; and DJ Moss by Thomas Marcusson a work where a plant takes over the DJ decks. Collaboration is a fundamental tenant of Experimenta and many of the artists featured in the triennial have works created from in depth collaboration with the sciences.

Notably Helen Pynor, who began studying science before turning to art, has collaborated with scientists at The Francis Crick Institute, London; The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden; and The Heart and Lung Transplant Unit, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. In a new work commissioned for Experimenta Life Forms, she focuses on the human body and the increasingly blurry lines between the animate and inanimate arising from the widespread use of prosthetics. Habitation was prompted by her experiences of hip replacement surgery and takes up Monika Bakke’s notion of ‘lithic intimacies’: life’s exchange and inter-species companionship with minerals. 

The Experimenta Life Forms program explores matters of technological and biological adaptation; sentience in animals and plant-life; the influence of First Nation’s epistemology on how we understand life, and so much more. Audiences can expect a boundary-pushing experience; works that pull apart dialogues about the evolving landscape of ‘life forms’ and redefine what art can be.

Experimenta Life Forms Artists

Daniel Boyd (Aus), Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr (Aus), Brad Darkson (Aus), Michael Candy (Aus), Donna Davis (Aus), Justine Emard (Fr), Anton Hasell (Aus), Floris Kaayk (NL), Kite & Devin Ronneberg (USA), Thomas Marcusson (Aus), M0wson&MOwson (Aus), Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni & Matthew Riley (Aus), PluginHUMAN (Aus), Helen Pynor (Aus), Dominic Redfern (Aus), Theresa Schubert (Germany), Rebecca Selleck (Aus), Agat Sharma (India), Miranda Smitheram (NZ), Laura Woodward (Aus).

Experimenta Makes Sense is the current touring triennial (launched in 2018) with two remaining venues: Benalla Art Gallery Dec 2020 – Feb 2021; and Albury Library Museum Feb – May 2021. 

The updated Experimenta Life Forms website will be launched mid-December via experimenta.org  and access to the media press pack including artist biographies, images of artworks and more information is available here: https://bit.ly/36m0Mkq

About Experimenta

Experimenta is the future of art. Since its inception in 1986, Experimenta has developed a worldwide reputation for fostering creativity that extends the aesthetic, conceptual and experiential potential of art forms. The organisation is dedicated to commissioning, exhibiting and touring contemporary art driven by technology. Championing new ideas about technology, exploring creative possibilities and pushing the boundaries of expectation, Experimenta’s triennial exhibition and national tour redefines what art can be.

Experimenta Life Forms: International Triennial of Media Art

2021 – 2023, Australian Exhibition Tour

Launching at Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart 

20 March – 9 May 2021


Image credits:

1.   Soul Shift (2018) by Justine Emard (France). Video still. Image courtesy of the artist.