In a relatively short time span technology is being developed at a rapid pace. Where scenarios of robots behaving like humans once seemed a nearly impossible idea, now that far away future is actually quite close. The relationships between nature and technology is getting more and more integrated as the last is used to reproduce or replace natural elements. This intersection is the essence of artist Christiaan Zwanikken (1967). Recently he had an exhibition at the Electriciteitsfabriek or the Zwanikken Fabriek, for the occasion.
Zwanikken works and lives both in the Netherlands and Portugal, where he creates his kinetic and mechanical sculptures, sound works and installations. He is interested in the connection between man, nature, science and technology, which he explores in his work.
For his show at the Electriciteitsfabriek he made a variety of installations, using technology to extend natural elements so they can move and make sound. As soon as you enter the factory, you are immersed in this environment of fantastical beings. While there are recognizable components they are used in alienating ways, while at the same time seeming to interact with and involve the audience.
Some of the installations seem to show natural human or animal behavior, but on a closer look there is a lot more to them. Take The Twins (2000/2014) for example, it consists of two sheep sculls which clash over and over like bucks would do in the wild when fighting over a female. Only here the sculls are exposed and they are both attached to the same technological body. So though the sheep are not alive anymore, they are situated in an action similar to their natural behavior. The lines between life and death are obscured.
The Questionable Gods of Biomechanics (2007) is an installation with two supported rods carrying five almond shaped compositions made from palm flower petals. These five forms move in different directions, while a red object goes back and forth through a hole and voices seem to speak. The title suggests we are looking at the faces of certain beings mimicking biological movement.* In this case they seem to be mirroring the act of catcalling, very democratically directed at all its audience. Because the five ‘heads’ are all part of one machine, it appears to stereotype persons who employ catcalling without however involving gender specifications. It allows the audience to study this catcall behavior for once.
All of the installations in the exhibition are about life and death, nature and technology, science and culture, movement and stasis, and the blurring of the boundaries between these concepts. There are many layers to each installation, thus every visitor can find their own entry point into these works.
These machines fit very well into the environment of the factory, which contributes to the overall experience. Formerly a place where machines were employed to produce for the benefit of local society, now the location for machines which offer some perspective on technological advancement and human conduct.
* Biomechanics is the scientific study of the mechanics of biological activity, especially muscular.
More information about Christiaan Zwanikken and his work:
Photographs by author.