Testing Space: Towards a better understanding of the relationship between the physical and the virtual in artistic production

Magnhild Øen Nordahl, University of bergen, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design

From the early stages my artistic practice was based on a hands-on approach to my
surroundings. I engaged with materials, tools and architecture in a playful and
open-ended way and this proved to be a useful method for discovering new things
about my environment and my own engagement with it, and in turn develop new
sculptural work. These working methods eventually formed the conceptual framework
of my practice. My main focus has become to examine where practical knowledge is
situated in a time where science has taught us that our senses cannot be trusted and
machines have showed us that our bodies are inadequate. Some questions have been
highlighted by my use of 3D modelling tools and by discovering similar effects from
working in the space of my screen as from working in the physical world. These are the
questions I would like to research:

● Is there something in common between handling physical objects in a physical
space and handling virtual objects in a virtual space?
● How does handling objects in a space influence creativity and formation of
knowledge?

I have chosen a few different paths to follow in order to explore these questions: I will
begin by looking to art history – in particular, Constant Nieuwenhuys’ societal model
New Babylon and the value he placed on the artistic activities of its inhabitants and his
optimistic view on technology. With the approach of a “homo ludens” I will use New
Babylon as a starting point for developing installations that can be experienced both in
the physical and virtual world. The large amount of new virtual reality products now
entering the consumer market will allow me to do research on these topics in entirely
new ways. I will seek collaboration with neuroscientists at the UiB based Bergen fMRI
lab and neurologist and musician Geir Olve Skeie at the Grieg Academy. My aim is to
explore the potential in a crossover between the lab experiment and the art
installation, and to gain a neurologically based understanding of how environmental
stimuli affects creativity and learning. The project will furthermore be informed by
critical reflections on technology by intellectuals such as literary critic Katherine N
Hayles, philosopher Sadie Plant, sociologist Richard Sennett, philosopher Vilém Flusser
and media theorist Franco “Bifo” Berardi. A final exhibition and a publication
containing documentation from the researchas well as commissioned texts by invited
writers will conclude my research project.

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