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Pia MYrvoLD: Dialogues Across Media

Paris-based artist Pia MYrvoLD started her professional career in the 1980s in her native Norway, and along the way, she broadened her artistic practice to include different media and disciplines. It was in Paris in the 1990s that she began making a name for herself while working closely with architect Bernard Tschumi to create a project at Parc de la Villette that involved architecture, design and urban planning as well as social and cultural interaction. She then was active in the Paris fashion scene for more than a decade while developing a broad spectrum of collections that mixed fashion with new technologies.

MYrvoLD is a pioneer in the exploration of the use of computer tools and digital interfaces as a new art medium. Her works invite the public to penetrate and participate in immersive environments in which she combines performance, music, architecture, video art, digital technologies, the design of interfaces, the design of robotic sculpture and fashion design, among other media. She firmly believes in the role of the artist as a visionary, as a proactive force that generates social change and evolution on both mental and cultural levels.

MYrvoLD has exhibited her works at galleries and museums in Europe, Asia and North America and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at a number of prestigious cultural institutions, including Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; Stenersen Museum in Oslo, Norway; Bergen Kunstmuseum in Bergen, Norway; and Vitenfabrikken (the Science Museum) in Sandnes, Norway. Last year, she was invited by The New York Times to lecture about her contribution as an innovator and pioneer in digital art at the conference “Art for Tomorrow” in Doha, Qatar.

In this conversation, on the occasion of her upcoming exhibition in Miami, she shared with us her philosophy of work, which encourages endless dialogues between artworks, artists, exhibition spaces and publics, as well as revealed details about many of her most remarkable professional projects.

Pia MYrvoLD, ART AVATAR, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2014, installation view. Photo: Anya Buklowska.

By Raisa Clavijo

Raisa Clavijo - You started in the art world as a painter. During the first decade of your career you developed a vast body of pictorial works, but you have also worked in a wide spectrum of media, such as performance, experimental electronic music, design, video art, fashion design, architecture and urban planning. In the 1990s, during the advent of the Internet and the boom of digital technologies, you started exploring the possibilities of digital art. Tell me how your interest in new media arose. What did you find in the digital world that satisfied your creative needs and that brought together all of the talents of your multidisciplinary professional background?

Pia MYrvoLD - My interest in new media arose due the interdisciplinary work I had done. Interdisciplinarity was vastly rejected by the art world, at least in Norway, but I also found prevalent traces of conservative positions in Paris in the early 1990s. I did a large summer project in Parc de la Villette that was directly commissioned by architect Bernard Tschumi, who worked closely with important French philosophers such as Derrida and Foucault. The world of architecture had entered a new phase of planning and improving urban spaces and society throughout the material execution of projects that allowed the inclusion of sculptures with social connotations.

Pia MYrvoLD, Dada Memory. Photo: Jaques Denarnaud.

With the development of computer technologies and especially with the advent of the Internet, knowledge and information reached wider distribution. Additionally, these advances allowed plural approaches between disciplines. My first interactive interface was a web-based work, Dada Memory. In 1996, it was linked to my wearable art collection with the same name in which individual sound loops could be gathered randomly by the user to generate a creative and performative experience.

When I was invited by the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, in Paris, to have my own show, I used that opportunity to access the press and mass media to speak about fashion as an art medium. I introduced 16 collections during my time on the ‘elite list’ of French fashion designers.

Clothes as Publishing (1996) evolved quickly into cybercouture.com, and that art interface was a new kind of business model for art, fashion and what we referred to as ‘insemination of ideas,’ like I did in Osmoses. It is about adding information (substance) into the mix, to alter the whole. For ‘insemination of ideas,’ I mean a reference to the beliefs of deconstructionist philosophy. It proposes that it is possible to combine art and architecture with concepts and information embedded in the design, so it is possible to spread ideas in another way. At Parc de la Villette, it was a way to educate people from 80 different nationalities about high culture that was not accessible to them on a level as it was available for upper class Parisians, who begin art classes at The Louvre from the age of five.

Pia MYrvoLD, cybercouture.com. Photo: Jaques Denarnaud.

Today it sounds logical. In fact, there are many services available due to the easy access to technological platforms and clever interface designs. Many of them are similar to the ideas I developed in my early works. However, I worked almost without budget. I also had to invent most of the techniques that linked the user’s creative platform to the content of curated digital art exhibitions, and to create a banking system for payments was really hard in those days. So it was not sustainable for me, as an artist. I struggled to break even for each collection, with the evolving digital platforms, video content, music and performances that included the catwalk shows.

I tried to get investors, and to create a satellite system, in which production could be decentralized into remote areas so local communities could be involved in the creative knowledge production of each project and develop a sustainable local industry in which young people could learn and exchange knowledge with the best Paris-based fashion and design centers. In the end, I was not successful in finding a cultural match among potential investors.

Pia MYrvoLD, Explorations in Landscapes, 2007. Stavanger Art Museum, Norway. Photo: Johannes Worse Berg.

R.C. - What would be the steps of the creative process to design an interface applied to art? What parameters must that interface meet?

P.M. - What this entails is actually a new discipline. I am aware that when I create an art interface, the aesthetics and the ethics must work hand in hand and respond to co-authoring the intellectual property. The design must therefore entail the identity of the artist, while at the same time consider the identities of the users. And this is very exciting to me. After cybercouture, I have created many interfaces: Female Interface (2004), Explorations in Landscape (2007) and one of the most remarkable, ART AVATAR at Centre Pompidou in 2014. I created an interactive and immersive landscape in which the users could interact with my ‘sculpture and paintings’ through animated icons related to my forms. I created new, augmented and animated sculptures that visitors could see and interact with in a digital mirror. Using infrared light and a body tracking software, the public could interact with the form. The interaction additionally generated sound through the body movement.

The ART AVATAR exhibition series (the second just finished last August at the Science Museum in Sandnes, Norway) seeks to investigate the possibilities of new tools and parameters of learning through human interaction and body movements. Working with talents from Paris’ digital art community, the project aims to be at the forefront of virtual interaction. Specifically, the ‘virtual mirror’ is a tool that links experiences in the virtual world to those of our real inner world. That is still the primary reason for why I work with technology.

Pia MYrvoLD, Stargate, 2011, mixed media, LED screens, aluminum frame, reinforced glass, 3-D animated video. Photo Sindre Haaland

R.C. - What do you mean by ‘digital architecture?’

P.M. - In my 2011 production FLOW-a work in motion, I created an independent pavilion parallel to the official exhibition in the context of the Venice Biennale. It was my own platform to introduce my digital art to the international art world. Being the first and the only artist who presented a digital art exhibition in the context of that edition of the Venice Biennale, I found interest in perhaps 2 percent of the professional visitors to the event.

I presented Stargate, the first ring in an immersive tunnel project, consisting of a total of 11 rings and 77 screens, using digital mapping tools to create what I described as “the inside of a painting while it is being painted.”  With FLOW-a work in motion, the process became increasingly interesting. The individual pieces, such as 3-D animated sculpture (Venus), can be moved around on all surfaces, as characters in a theater production, and the concept of a digital architecture emerged in my work. Then, I tried to convince the organizers of The New York Times‘ “Art for Tomorrow” conference to build a 360-degree environment around the conference and to project the entire conference content through textures, chromatics and inserts of presentations, with the timeline flowing from opening to end.

Pia MYrvoLD, WANDS- First Generation Smart Sculptures, 2015, installation view at the artist’s studio, Paris. Photo: Anya Buklowska.

I also work to create such an interactive environment in building facades. In Oslo, I proposed a project for the architecture firm Element, in 2009. I created lighting schematics that worked with the movement of the users, which reflected on the facade in such a way that, for instance, the building itself could have a New Year’s Eve celebration. I think this idea is best illustrated by the Empire State Building in New York, which keeps changing the combination of light at a rhythm within that urban setting.

R.C. - As you mentioned before, the project ART AVATAR (Centre Pompidou, November 2014 - March 2015, and Science Museum Vitenfabrikken, Norway, April - August 2017) was based on continuing to create a bridge between real and virtual worlds. What changes on a technical level took place between the first and second presentation?

P.M. - Last year there was a big improvement in the art and technology circuits, with a polarization between the enthusiasts of Virtual Reality and the ones who believe in Augmented Reality.

Pia MYrvoLD, #LightHackSculpture, 2017, mixed media with drums. Photo: Thiago Pedroso.

I have been reluctant to the isolation of the Virtual Reality user, so my ART AVATAR is a mixed reality, using both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, but basically we developed another interface where we could explore new realities. Exploring the virtual, without leaving the physical world. In my latest - script series - I identify this innovation as Extended Realities, as I believe it is our imaginative resources that are coming into full, through these immersive production tools.

R.C. - The results of ART AVATAR led you to create the projects WANDS, your first generation of smart sculptures, and the robotic installations HYBRID LOVE. You combined your experience as a painter, fashion designer, interface designer, electronic music composer, etc. How did your interest in the production of robotic sculptures arise? To what extent do these projects contribute to the tradition of kinetic art?

P.M. - I started producing a series of sculptures and paintings in 1988 by using computers and graphic image assembly that proposed combinations of codes, a Pollock drip code next to a Mondrian graphic code, with other art or visual references. I have worked on those series that in the 1990s also included the Internet, the multilateral navigational platforms and patterns that describe time through graphic or chromatic modulations.

After ART AVATAR (2014), I returned to the object with the technology available. I was able to make sensor-based surfaces, as it had been my proposal for over 20 years.

Pia MYrvoLD, Transforming Venus, Mono Venus, 2012, still from mono-loop. Photo: Anya Buklowska

WANDS is a second generation of smart sculptures that can read movements and measure body mass, so they are able to detect how many people are in the room and can react accordingly to different sensorial responses. A lot of the potential of the technology is already used for surveillance and more mundane purposes. I am still interested in their creative potential as sculptural objects, but my skills are more about integrating software and hardware. When I launched WANDS in 2015 at Atelier Nord ANX in Oslo, I also did a project with three robotic arms that I dressed in haute couture. I had a limited budget, as always, and I used my skills as a designer to create crinoline structures around the joints of the robots.

R.C. - You recently had a solo exhibition at Galerie Lélia Mordoch in Paris. Which artworks did you present on that occasion? What artworks will you be presenting at the gallery in Miami this December?

P.M. - At Lélia’s gallery, I presented works from 2010, starting with monoloops of the animated sculptures Un-Dress and Transforming Venus. The last was both the title of the exhibition and of the recently published monograph about my work. I will have the opportunity to present again the Transforming Venus monoloop in Miami this December.

I also exhibited the Coloss Island series that I started in 2014 for the Pompidou exhibition that included animated forms and textures, prints and wall sculptures. These will be on display at the Miami show in December, as well.

I included two WAND sculptures, Bio Myth and Trans Human, from the first generation of smart sculptures from 2015.

Additionally, I presented in Paris the #LightHackSculpture, Wonderland, 2016. I created a site-specific installation of these series, in which I integrated projectors to create small visual theaters as well as a drum set. The drum set was then activated at the performance Extended Realities during the FIAC week in Paris. I worked with a Japanese drummer, Emiko Ota, who performed in an improvised set where I wore a body suit and a #LightHackSculpture mask that made reference to the VR masks so visitors could witness the separation between this mask of the virtual experience and the body left behind in real space.

Pia MYrvoLD, Coloss Island, Jump, 2015, C-print, 51” x 38.”

I will present the #LightHackSculpture series in Miami, working with local drummers who at intervals will activate the sculpture. These series are part of the -script series-, for which I just launched a Kickstarter campaign to ensure funding for research, as many of my projects are too early to reach the marketplace. My -script series- continue to explore future scenarios to match museums, performance and urban spaces with new technologies.

I am preparing a large exhibition for a festival in Oslo in the fall of 2018, where I will work in large scale and with advanced technologies such as digital mapping in a large industrial cylinder 180 meters in diameter.

* A full version of this interview was published in issue No. 30 of ARTPULSE.

Pia MYrvoLD is exhibiting at Lélia Mordoch Gallery through January 31, 2018. 2300 North Miami Ave. Wynwood Art District. Miami, 33127 | Phone: 786 431 1506 | www.galerieleliamordoch.com | lelia.mordoch.gallery@gmail.com