A sign of the times: the natural world in digital art
In a world of increasing digitalization, nature is bound to become sacred to those deprived of it. A certain adoration of the natural world was the original subject of the first artists; with bears and antelopes appearing in the first cave-drawings. Flora and fauna have remained recurring themes throughout art history from the landscapes painted onto ancient Roman townhouses to romanticism. What role, then, does nature play in today’s new media art? How do artistic mediums portray nature, in a time when industrial activity is damaging our natural environment?
In a series of articles, Electric Artefacts sheds light on the various facets of Vacation at the End of the World. In this week’s instalment, we turn to the connotations of nature in digital art and the contexts it is often presented in.
In Juan Covelli’s work, we often see plants and animals juxtaposed with man-made objects and buildings, imposing their structures onto the pre-existing natural habitats. In this way, the juxtaposition also forms an allusion to techno-colonialism. Covelli uses the contrast between the natural and man-made to explore the relationship between Western power and the New World across time. We see this reflected in Ocaso through Amazon monoliths standing amidst an oasis of grassy fields and palm trees; the angular structures look entirely out of place, hovering strangely above their chosen surroundings. In Oso de Agua this is reversed, showing a tardigrade and a deer atop wooden totem-like constructions dominating the landscape like gods.
The work of Wednesday Kim presents a similar transcendental image of nature filled with titans of a forgotten mythology. In Opaque Romance, two children stand in the Garden of Eden; one cradles a snail as the other is swallowed head-first by a portal into a different dimension, the selfie-stick perhaps functioning as the apple in the original biblical story. Another work, Heap up ashes #1, shows a post-apocalyptic world already consumed by technology. A figure carries a crustacean across a lake barefoot, onto its shores strewn with lychees and trail-mix. Though Covelli’s work features nature more prominently, Kim puts human figures in direct relation to their landscape in a way that also brings into question our reliance on natural resources.
Vacation at the End of the World gives insight into how digital mediums allow artists to reimagine, or perhaps predict, our relationship to the natural world. Nature has always been a popular theme in art, but the tension between technology and nature has never before been quite so relevant and so aptly reflected by art. It is ironic that nature can be portrayed so accurately through means which are purely technological, and therefore may be deemed un-natural. This irony is traced across many of the works in the show. The pieces by Juan Covelli and Wednesday Kim have been but a sample of the many ways in which we are beginning to renegotiate our relationship to nature in a digital age.
Cover image by Wednesday Kim, Heap up ashes #2, 2020