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Ida Amanda Ahopelto

Royal College of Art


MA Information Experience Design
2018

10,160 words

*All content belongs to the author unless stated otherwise


Digital Shock.
What the digitization of nature says about the changing relationship
between humans and their environment, and how this phenomenon can
be used to mediate the effects of urban overstimulation

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CONTENTS

Part One: Perception, Experience


and Urbanity

Introduction 8-10

1: Edge of experience 11-16


2: Ecopsychology, identity and the Earth 17-21
3: Nature and perception 22-28

Part Two: Replications of Nature and


Potential Futures

1: Digital climates in the technocracy 29-40


2: Art as a mirror of contemporary trends 41-53
3: Nature-based installations 54-66

Conclusion 67-72

Bibliography 73-75

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PART ONE
PERCEPTION, EXPERIENCE, AND URBANITY

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From your window you see the gaping wound of the city; greying palisades, textures of split
concrete and glass, humans concerned with extracting, modifying, emptying, and replacing
their environments with any varying degree of materials, machines and sleek impositions.
There is a shrine with a blue screen at your desk, a glowing vortex that sucks you into its orbit.
You spend hours logged on, absorbing ads that seem to defy the gravity of the retinal surface,
typing out artificial lives and watching others unfold, connecting to a sustainable cyberspace
that spans across the globe. Borders, cultural differences and distance melt away to expose
the subliminal fabric that shapes the modern world. You are just one of millions of digital
interactions preserved in a binary amber.

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Over the course of a few decades and with the introduction on algorithmically targeted attention, computerized repetition;
of the new media and Internet, human beings have been faced whether its an overload of information on our morning commute
with the task of restructuring the way they communicate to work, the screen-lights that take our body clocks hostage,
with one another as well as their environment. Modernity or the images of advertisements that replay in our heads with
has paved the way for a complete reimagining of our societal unnatural recurrence, it often seems that the city is out to hijack
structure, now relying heavily on technology and digital our perception. One of the most influential philosophers to
media to distribute and receive information. In the midst of tackle the issue of overstimulation in contemporary society
this movement towards connectivity is the tension between was Marshall McLuhan, whose application of media theory to
progress and instinct. Author and social commentator Donna discuss perception gave us a holistic view of the media’s influence
Haraway writes about this societal overhaul in “A Cyborg on the “sensorium”.3 We will therefore be exploring the role
Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the of perception and the sensorium in urban environments as
Late Twentieth Century”, introducing the phenomenon of the a framework for our changing relationships with our natural
Anthropocene and using the “cyborg” as a metaphor for our world. McLuhan’s views on digital media, along with the input
tech-induced society. Haraway describes humanity as moving of other philosophers and critics such as Walter Benjamin, Guy
“from organic society to polymorphous information system,” an Debord, Robert Pyle, and Yuval Noah Harari will be considered
analysis that in many ways epitomizes the plight of the modern and analysed against emerging trends in digitized ecology and
human: existing as a halfway-creature, or “chimera”, toeing the used to ultimately inform the potential of nature-based media to
border between human and machine, individual and system.1 In reconcile urban shock.
her essay Haraway explores the “pleasures and responsibilities”
of these borders, focusing on human-machine interface and
feminist extrapolations.1 We will focus, instead, on a greater
context within which Haraway’s cyborgs interact, analysing
primarily the interaction between human, machine, and nature,
and exploring how current trends in the digitization of nature are
both a symptom of contemporary overstimulation and a potential
for ecological recovery. Art will be considered for its role as a
reflection of these emerging tendencies as well as an indicator of
the possibilities that creative expression has for bridging the gap
between technology and nature.

One of the most prominent hotbeds for digital interactions is


the city. The city, which has become an entity in of itself, is an
all-encompassing, attention-seeking organism that functions
primarily through artificial means and is part of a larger 1
Donna Haraway, The Haraway Reader (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 20-24.
network of cities that all seem to have one predominant quality: 2
Andrey Miroshnichenko, “Extrapolating On Mcluhan: How Media
Environments Of The Given, The Represented, And The Induced Shape And
overloading the sensorium.2 Although cities play an important Reshape Our Sensorium”, Philosophies, 1.3 (2016) <https://doi.org/10.3390/
role in society, providing employment, access to healthcare, philosophies1030170>.
diversity, and companionship, they also often lack some of the 3
Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel, ˜Theœ Medium Is The
qualities necessary for a balanced life. Modern cities function Massage, 1st edn (London: Penguin Classics, 1967).

9 10
CITY
collective imagination and collective unpredictability. The wave
of new media will surely come with entirely new categories of
sensory overstimulation and changes in societal outlook.
While McLuhan dealt in overstimulation, contemporaries
Walter Benjamin and Robert Pyle focused on a subject also tied
to perception: experience. Specifically, the decay of experience
at the hands of modernity. German philosopher and cultural
critic, Benjamin approached modernity from the perspective
of a cautious idealist: he believed in the “threat of shock in the
1 The Edge of Experience
image of modernity.”9 In other words, Benjamin’s concern was
the role of contemporary shock culture in a sort of deadening
of the senses—the aftermath of sensory overload described by
McLuhan.
Throughout his writings, McLuhan consolidated the idea of
social change and technological advancement as two sides of
the same coin, speaking of the potential results of digital media
on “the human ability to perceive reality.”4 Although McLuhan’s
concerns related primarily to visual media over-saturation, its “…the system reverses its
reproducibility and media influence, his statements, first penned
in the 1960s, seem to ring more true now than ever. In recent role. Its goal is to numb
years, the virtualization of the contemporary world has already
yielded concerning results with the emergence of unregulated
the organism, to deaden
artificial intelligence and deepfakes,5 evidence of the virtual
world’s growing ability to tamper with our notion of what is real
the senses, to repress
and what is simulated. memory: the cognitive
An analysis of McLuhan’s seminal text The Medium is the system of synaesthetics
Massage by Andrey Miroshnichenko, “Extrapolating McLuhan:
How Media Environments of the Given, the Represented, has become, rather, one of
and the Induced Shape and Reshape Our Sensorium”
reveals a similar sentiment that builds on McLuhan’s theory.
anaesthetics.” 10
Miroshnichenko’s article states that “existing and upcoming
media technologies are presumed to alter human biology and
transcend it. Within the set of media technologies that alter
-Walter Benjamin
human biology, artificial flavours, electrically induced senses,
immersive media, augmented reality, and virtual reality are
treated.”6 Seeming to echo McLuhan’s thoughts, four decades
later, the author considers new media technologies and finds
that the sensory agenda is still in place. Miroshnichenko’s
assessment of new media technologies follows the path first laid
out by McLuhan when he first made a distinction between two
spaces within which the “sensorium” would function.7 McLuhan
reached back to ancient times to describe the influence of both
preliterate and literate media, dividing the resulting sensory 4
Andrey Miroshnichenko, “Extrapolating On Mcluhan: How Media
spaces into “acoustic space” and “visual space”, respectively. Environments Of The Given, The Represented, And The Induced Shape And
Within the “acoustic space” human beings retained a “natural” Reshape Our Sensorium”, Philosophies, 1.3 (2016) <https://doi.org/10.3390/
philosophies1030170>.
mode of function, a tribal state, while the introduction of print 5
Deepfake: Visual media (video, audio) that references a real person and fakes
media saw the creation of “visual space”, which altered our their actions or words through artificial or virtual means.
perception of reality and marked the shift between visually 6
Miroshnichenko.
engaged media influence and the natural state of our sensorium. 7
Marshall McLuhan, Marshall McLuhan, interview with Nina Sutton, 1975
According to Miroshnichenko’s breakdown of McLuhan, 8
Andrey Miroshnichenko, “Extrapolating On Mcluhan: How Media
the visual space “alienated humans from tribal collectivism,” Environments Of The Given, The Represented, And The Induced Shape And
creating “individualism, rational analytical thinking, and nation Reshape Our Sensorium”, Philosophies, 1.3 (2016) <https://doi.org/10.3390/
philosophies1030170>.
states, etc.”8 With the introduction of entirely new forms of 9
Peter Osborne, Walter Benjamin, 1st edn (London: Routledge, 2005).
media such as virtual and augmented reality, we enter into an
unspecified and unmapped third category of “space”, one of
10
Osborne.

11 12
Benjamin’s proposal of a cognitive system that has been altered is yet another symptom of the pervasive techno-centric mind
by technology to the point of perpetual shock may as well state of city-dwellers, and the overarching trend of constant
These two ideas coexist side
by side, and help to give us
be a description of contemporary city culture—the city as a stimulation dominating our lives. In an essay titled “Extinction
a holistic view of the effects
deadened, palliative organism kept alive with endless electrical of experience: evidence, consequences and challenges of loss
of virtualization. The main
currents and somatically induced doses of shock in the form of human-nature interactions”, authors Masashi Soga and
connection between the problem
of calculated media avalanche. Although Benjamin’s theory Kevin J Gaston break down the reasons behind this “decline
of the sensorium and the
on modern shock is an omni-cultural rather than localized of experience”, positing that the lack of real engagement with
extinction of experience is the
phenomenon, the concentration of information and information environments as opposed to manicured, urban ecology, in
introduction of artificiality into
processing systems in urban areas solidifies it as a hub of shock the face of “overscheduling, sedentary lifestyles and virtual
an otherwise organic equation.
culture. Benjamin makes a direct reference to urban societies by alternatives” is at fault.15 In this way, the replacement of organic
Artificiality comes in many
describing a “pedestrian in the anonymous urban crowd,” using experience with digitally-induced alternatives is pulling at the
forms—some of which are
the image as representation of the metaphorical overcrowding of fabric of our cultural identity and sense of worldly belonging.
necessary and positive additions
information in cities. 11 This change, described as a “replacement of multisensory
to society—but the replacement
experience, richly textured landscapes with two-dimensional
of organic structures (whether
Benjamin proclaimed shock to be the “antithesis of experience”. world of books or audio-visual world of TV, videos and movies”,
societal or physical) with artificial
Experience, instead, is an assimilation of perception “into circles back to the unbalanced sensorium described by McLuhan
sentiments can also lead to a
the tradition of one’s innermost memories, dreams and and even the frenetic cyborgs described by Haraway.16 These two
sense of social loss. At the heart
expectations.”12 Benjamin’s unpacking of experience seems ideas coexist side by side, and help to give us a holistic view of
of this loss is the loss of natural
to favour time and a traditional definition of mindfulness as the effects of virtualization. The main connection between the
connectivity.
necessary qualities; coincidentally, both time and mindfulness problem of the sensorium and the extinction of experience is the
are qualities people often lack in urban environments. He states: introduction of artificiality into an otherwise organic equation.
Artificiality comes in many forms—some of which are necessary
“In modernity, unrelated occurrences constantly intervene in and positive additions to society—but the replacement of
one’s life without warning, threatening its unity and tranquillity organic structures (whether societal or physical) with artificial
and making it impossible to lower one’s guard without inviting sentiments can also lead to a sense of social loss. At the heart of
pain. If this age is indeed one of permanent crisis, of relentless this loss is the loss of natural connectivity.
and impatient destruction and creation, then shock may well be
one of its primary elements.”

Similarly to Benjamin, the contemporary thinker Robert M.


Pyle approaches modernity’s influence on experience with noted
dissatisfaction. As an ecologist, Pyle provides us with the final 11
Peter Osborne, Walter Benjamin, 1st edn (London: Routledge, 2005).
piece of the experiential puzzle: the environment and its role in Osborne.
12

the lives of modern humans. In his 1993 memoir, The Thunder 13


Osborne.
Tree, Pyle coined the phrase “extinction of experience” to refer
14
Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree: Lessons From An Urban Wildland"
to the “loss of human-nature interactions.”14 Today, Pyle’s theory (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1993).
on the decline of a meaningful connection between society and 15
Masashi Soga and Kevin J Gaston, "Extinction Of Experience: The Loss Of
the natural world is at the forefront of conversations linking Human-Nature Interactions", Frontiers In Ecology And The Environment, 14.2
(2016), 94-101 <https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1225>.
this decline to a myriad of health and social issues within urban
environments. “The extinction of experience”
16
Masashi.

13 14
E
CO
15 16
Whether it is referred to as the extinction of experience, loss of
identity or “environmental generational amnesia,” as phrased
by environmentalist Peter Kahn, the modern tendency to pull
away from our roots and into the cold embrace of the techno-
consciousness is a phenomenon which has, in a sense, been
in motion for thousands of years.20 Historian Yuval Noah
Harari recently broke down the gradual change in humankind’s
approach towards its environment with his book Sapiens: The
History of Humankind, starting with the emergence of modern
humans, then moving on to the Agricultural Revolution and
some of the mixed effects it had on societies. Although it
was a tremendous leap in practicality, mass-production of
food resulted in a social hierarchical chasm, a worse diet, and
overpopulation, a loss of satisfaction replicated years later
2 Ecopsychology, identity and the with the turning social wheels of the Industrial Revolution.21
Earth The trend of technological dominance over nature, although
in some cases necessary, should also be approached from a
critical standpoint now that we find ourselves in the midst of a
third, digi-centric revolution--or a third “space” of existence in
What becomes apparent following an analysis of McLuhan, accordance with McLuhan-- according to Harari, who warns
Benjamin and Pyle, is that experience and perception relate of the iconising elements of the natural world such as animals
directly to the formation of societal identity. Consequently, the in television, books and other media, while their real status is
loss of experience or perceptual ability is also a form of self- under threat of extinction.
loss. Although Pyle speaks of the extinction of experience, our
outlook should not be entirely negative, but aptly cautious of
the future, instead focusing on the potential for change that is
borne out of discourse. Rather than refer to the phenomenon as
an extinction, the term “the edge of experience” describes the
nostalgic quality of nature in the collective psyche, while serving
as warning of the direction in which we are headed. Several
thinkers speak on the preference of digitized nature over real
experiences in cities, and some provide solutions.

An author well-versed in the pitfalls of urban environments


is Mark Seely, whose book Born Expecting the Pleistocene:
Psychology and the Problem of Civilization once again takes
on perceptual systems and “the sensory demands of urban
environments”.17
Seely confronts the “mechanical leviathan” of the technocracy18
with an analysis of its role in the inflated ego and materialism of
city-dwellers. Seely posits that due to the significant connection
between human and nature, faults in contemporary life result
in an epigenetic mismatch that leads to the reification of
abstractions “as if they had an independent concrete reality.”
Specifically, this leads to the personification of objects and
institutions as well as abstract ideas over concrete actions,
people and societal roles. The result, according to Seely, is a
collection of developmentally arrested adults “in a perpetual
state of psychological need”. In large part, Seely claims that this
is due to the “sensory demands of the urban environments”
17
Mark Seely, Born Expecting The Pleistocene: Psychology And The Problem Of Civilization(Surrey: Old Dog Books, 2012).
out-competing “human-generated signals for attention.”19
Although Seely’s conclusion is bleak in its mirroring of some Throughout the text, technocracy refers to a social system where power is determined by technological capacity and digital influence. It is a cultural form of “govern-
18

ment” that relies on the rise and prevalence of technology to function.


of the perceptual problems set by McLuhan and Benjamin in 19
Seely.
their handling of artificial media, it contains hidden hope in the
20
Peter H Kahn and Stephen R Kellert, Children And Nature (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002).
distinction it draws between rural and urban society.
21
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens (London: Harvill Secker, 2014).

17 18
There is something to be said about the human need to replicate
our surroundings digitally, whether through film, photography,
or installation art. In particular, the presence of natural imagery
as one of the most popular subjects of representation and
virtual preservation speaks to a sense of universal biophilia, as
outlined in Edward O. Wilson’s 1984 conservationist hypothesis.
His hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate “urge to
affiliate with other forms of life”, with a focus on our natural
surroundings.24 This is a sentiment that occupies an urgent
space in the social consciousness with relation to identity and
self-awareness.

One of the main issues brought up by author Joshua Meyrowitz


in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media
on Social Behavior, in addition to contemporaries like Harari,
is the intrinsic association of place with identity.25 Meyrowitz
highlights the absence of a link between media and behaviour,
a grounding force Harari refers to as the non-imaginary, or
physical world—more simply know as environment.26 One
of the main points of contention permeating contemporary
society that Meyrowitz brings to light in the conclusion to his
book, is the same one outlined by Harari: the issue “hunters
and gatherers in an information age.”27 In an age of digital
prevalence, our brains are still structured to complete the goal-
oriented, immersive, nature-related tasks of our ancestors—and
are instead being hardwired into a state of anxious complacency.
Perceptually, our brains are not comfortable of processing the
paradoxical shock-stasis of cities, but rather the natural system
of behaviour found while interacting with nature.

“A person’s identity is a function of their relationship with


other people. Because we are forced to align our interpersonal
interactions with the mechanical flow of power through invisible
Edward O Wilson, Biophilia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003).
24
machine civilization, we are led to the formation of predominantly
Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense Of Place (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
25 superficial rather than deep and meaningful relationships
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens (London: Harvill Secker, 2014).
26 with other people. The frenetic pace of city life exacerbates this
tendency, and our identities become thin and brittle.”
Meyrowitz.
27

Mark Seely, Born Expecting The Pleistocene: Psychology And The Problem Of
28

Civilization (Surrey: Old Dog Books, 2012). -Mark Seely28

19 20
In a sense, nature is one of our most essential organs; intangibly
bound to us and vital in its role of regulating the five senses.
A 1991 study conducted in conjunction by the College of
3 nature & perception Architecture at Texas A&M University and the Department of
Psychology at the University of Delaware provided a context
for centuries of cultural testimony and theoretical exploration
into the subject. The study, “Stress recovery during exposure
From Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, to the works of to natural and urban environments”, addressed the potential
Romantic painters and the opening scenes of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, restorative effects of nature by measuring the physical stress
(see figure 1) the artistic community has always had an affinity responses of 120 subjects faced with the task of watching a
for grand representations of the outdoors. Those involving stressful movie. The subjects were then “exposed to color/sound
nature as an intrinsic part of how life should be experienced, videotapes of six different natural and urban settings.”31 The
and specifically, those representations that call into question the study used physiological representations of stress, including
practices of modernity that threaten these experiences. Despite heart rate, muscle tension, skin conductance, and pulse transit
a long history of human interest in the benefits of nature, time to gage the results, which overwhelmingly seemed to
empirical evidence in the field is still underrepresented. Outside demonstrate nature’s potential for influencing us from the
of nature’s material affordances, its role in perceptual balance inside out. The subjects determined a physical preference for the
and mental benefits is only beginning to emerge. A unified focus natural environments when it came to recovery time. The value
in the direction of nature relatedness and alleviation of sensory of these types of studies is twofold. Not only does the research
difficulties was scattered by the last waves of the Industrial provide a basis for a host of potential stress-reducing treatments,
Revolution, and is now being pushed and pulled through a sea but also addresses the role of digital representations of nature
of exponential technological growth. Concern is focused on and how they measure up to “true nature”.32
what we can get, rather than what we may need. Examination of
the biological connection between nature and the human brain
is an essential first step towards resolving or lessening the source
and symptoms of perceptual overstimulation.

The following studies do just this. They approach what is


simultaneously all-encompassing and vague with cautious
integration of the disciplines of psychology, neurology,
behavioural studies and social anthropology to attempt to
clarify a relationship as old as time. The studies vary in
type of engagement with nature. Taking principles from the
book Children and Nature, Psychological, Sociocultural and Figure 1 Opening scenes of Solaris, 197229
Evolutionary Investigations, by professors of psychology and
social ecology Peter H. Kahn and Stephen R. Kellert, we will
look at examples of “direct contact, indirect contact, and
vicarious experience” as three alternatives for experiencing
nature.30

These can be broken down into physical experience, detached 29


Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris (Soviet Union: Viacheslav Tarasov, 1972).
physical experience, and virtual, or digital experience. Despite Peter H Kahn and Stephen R Kellert, Children And Nature (Cambridge, Mass.:
30

the relatively small pool of studies addressing perception and MIT Press, 2002).

nature, the results in all fields of engagement and types of 31


Roger S. Ulrich and others, “Stress Recovery During Exposure To Natural And
Urban Environments”, Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 11.3 (1991), 201-230
relationship all concluded something similar: our bodies are <https://doi.org/10.1016/s0272-4944(05)80184-7>.
built to react positively to nature-based visual and auditory
Ulrich and others
32
stimuli, regardless of the method of output.
. people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the
21 22
23 24
Further studies have decided to take a deeper look into the
biology of urban living and address the neural relationship
humans have to nature, or lack thereof. An often-cited study
by Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg from the University
of Heidelberg looks at the mechanisms for stress processing
and how cities affect them. The research paper, “City living
and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in
humans,” found that “current city living was associated with
increased amygdala activity.” This increase in activity, along with
an overactive cingulate cortex—a part of the brain responsible
for regulating emotion and responses to environmental
adversity—speaks volumes about the way city life has begun
to alter our biological makeup. According to the study, urban
living may be causing a sensitization to external stressful stimuli,
resulting in more anxiety disorders and mental health issues
when compared to people who lived in rural environments.33
Meyer-Lindenberg’s study effectively demonstrates a negative
neural manifestation in cognitive processes when living in
urban environments versus non-urban environments. Taken
in conjunction with research into perceptual overstimulation,
many of the issues that arise from an overactive amygdala
coincide with the characteristics of modernization—strongly
suggesting a link between the city, a breakdown of perception,
and ensuing mental health epidemics.

In addition to the role of nature in stress reduction and sensory


balance, many studies place emphasis on the imperceptible,
exploring the role of nature in community, identity and
environmental relatedness. Associated with these are psychiatric
disorders and behavioural patterns born out of a lack of stability
and full mental acuity in the face of urban noise.

A study by Charis E. Anton and Carmen Lawrence published


in The Journal of Environmental Psychology outlines the many
reasons for socio-demographic attachment to place of residence
and community. The study, “Home is where the heart is: the
effect of place of residence on place attachment and community
participation”, performed primarily to find a relationship
between rural communities and sense of place in comparison
to urban ones, found a distinct difference between the way each
community felt about their literal and figurative dependence
to their surroundings.34 Although the study had focal points
outside of the influence of nature on sense of identity, it
highlighted many of the characteristics that define rural living 33
Florian Lederbogen and others, “City Living And Urban Upbringing Affect
as opposed to urban living. These included a dependence on Neural Social Stress Processing In Humans”, Nature, 474.7352 (2011), 498-501
<https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10190>.
the land, a consequent sense of belonging and overall reduction 34
Charis E. Anton and Carmen Lawrence, “Home Is Where The Heart Is:
in stress levels. Additionally, people with a higher sense of The Effect Of Place Of Residence On Place Attachment And Community
Participation”, Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 40 (2014), 451-461 <https://
attachment to place—“ruralites”, as the study found—were more doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.10.007>.
concerned with environmental preservation and had less mental 35
Charis E. Anton and Carmen Lawrence, “Home Is Where The Heart Is:
health problems in comparison to those who lacked the same The Effect Of Place Of Residence On Place Attachment And Community
Participation”, Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 40 (2014), 451-461 <https://
connection to their surroundings.35 doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.10.007>.

25 26
In an ode to Pyle’s “extinction of experience” phenomenon, a to unwind and experience undisturbed “sensory pleasure”
study conducted by the Ecological Society of America in 2017 brought about by contact with stimuli such as wind and rain.
looked at instances of disaffection towards nature in people who The findings indicate, once again, that even temporary and
were deprived of it, or whose outdoor contact was infrequent. controlled contact with nature leads to improved orientation,
The study was conducted on maximum-security inmates, some sleep and mood—as well as management of serious illnesses.38
of which were shown nature videos for a year, and measured the
results in terms of social behaviour, citing changes in irritability, While these studies help keep the scientific information
empathy, violence, and general mood in comparison to those economy afloat, they fall short of addressing the reality
who didn’t.36 The findings were in favour of the inmates that had experienced by most “healthy” individuals managing the
been shown the videos. 43% of these subjects felt the experience more subtle or subconscious symptoms of overstimulation in
had affected them positively by helping them stay calm for urban environments. The mental health epidemic, now deeply
prolonged periods of time. 60% of inmates found value in the enmeshed in the make-up of the Western World, has led to
experience. Several other benefits were also found, including growing interest in movements that value self-awareness, the
reduced tension, improved sleep and decreased antagonism importance of mindfulness and the pitfalls of overexertion. In
towards staff.37 Although the natural engagement was entirely light of this interest, we should look towards expanding the
vicarious, the study used a projector screen and sourced outreach of existing research to include the average city-dweller,
footage combined with a soundscape to provide as authentic an skirting the edge between “healthy” stress and perceptual
experience as possible, thereby embracing the possibility of a vulnerability. The results of these studies and others like them
digitally mediated solution to the extinction of experience. lay the foundation for change. They relay the very demonstrable
difference nature makes on our lives and provide a biological
explanation that encourages transformation. Like with any
The focal point of most current research relies heavily on epidemiological phenomenon, possibility for recovery is based
participants with existing sensory difficulties: involving birth around interest in the topic and investment in the solution.
defects, injuries, illnesses, or individuals facing extreme
isolation. Similarly, treatments in the form of nature therapy
Nalini M. Nadkarni and others, Impacts Of Nature Imagery On People In
36
or installation pieces are predominantly built with this group Severely Nature-Deprived Environments (Chicago: The Ecological Society of
in mind. A book by Mary Marshall and Jane Gillard, Creating America), pp. 395-401 <http://enl.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/Nadkarni_
et_al-2017-Frontiers_in_Ecology_and_the_Environment.pdf> [Accessed 1 April
Culturally Appropriate Outside Spaces and Experiences for People 2018].
with Dementia, explores the world of nature therapy in hospital 37
Nalini.
environments, specifically for people with dementia, classed as
a sensory processing disorder. Some of the implementations 38
Jane Gilliard and Mary Marshall, Creating Culturally Appropriate Outside
Spaces And Experiences For People With Dementia (London: Jessica Kingsley
include gardens and nature centres for patients
Publishers, 2014).
27 28
PART TWO
REPLICATIONS OF NATURE, POTENTIAL FUTURES

29 30
31 32
30
You sit in the “nowhere-somewhere” between inside and
outside, unreachable and tactile, imagined and real.
There’s a storm raging somewhere in this liminal space
that you’ve become so accustomed to. The speed of the city
holds a clear mirror up to the speed of your thoughts-you
feel the need to replicate yourself, immortalize yourself,
“de-corporealize” the human behind the speed. In doing
so you’re uprooted, unplugged, disconnected. You become
a live wire, senses firing wildly.

33 34
1 Digital Climate and the Technocracy

Whether its through depictions of nature on canvas, the


budding world of biomimetics, fashion or the language we
use to describe online interactions (tsunami, flood, cloud of
information), we have adopted nature into nearly every aspect
of our lives. New moves towards digitization are inevitable and
often times useful-but also consolidate the society-wide loss of
contact with our natural environment.

It can be argued that the need for digital immortalization has its
roots in a loss of individuality and identity—both demonstrable
symptoms of living in urban environments.39 In fact, city life
and the simultaneous rise of technology are threads of the same
problem: a shift from one reality to another, one sensorium
to another, one line of perception to a dual existence. Cities
are still surrounded by vast expanses of nature, affected by
weather, and dependent on the land for sustenance, however
indirectly. Similarly, our minds are occupied by a near-
ritualized attachment to a digital world that still requires us to
run it. In order to feed the technocracy, we have to be aware of
our physical shortcomings, needs, and surroundings—attend to
material realities before jumping into virtual ones. Remaining
engaged with our environment, what is ultimately our sensory
life-force, is essential in preventing the problems described by
philosophers and scientists alike.

One philosopher and social theorist who considered the role of


city life as early as 1903, in a series of lectures and essays, spoke
of “the urban scenario” and its sensory pitfalls. He likened
it to a hub of constant stimuli and fogged perception where
the brain’s senses are consistently triggered. Georg Simmel
suggested in his seminal work, Metropolis and Mental Life,
that one of the biggest problems of modernity is the plight of
an individual against a growing, increasingly complex society.
In his essay he states that “the deepest problems of modern
life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain
independence and individuality of his existence against the
sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical
heritage and external culture and techniques of life.”40

39
“Mental Disorders In Urban Areas: An Ecological Study Of Schizophrenia And
Other Psychoses.”, American Journal Of Public Health And The Nations Health,
50.9 (1960), 1455-1455 <https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.50.9.1455-b>.
40
Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis And Mental Life”, in Simmel: On Individuality
And Social Forms (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971).

35 36
of his own
extended or
repeated image.
The nymph Echo
Simmel reels against the system. In contemporary society, at
least in much of the industrialized world, the system refers
tried to win
to a hierarchy of power that revolves around information,
technology and digital influence. This glitchy new terrain is
his love with
unwieldy and unexplored—and largely imaginary. While the
emergence of a technocracy is grounded in material objects
fragments of his
-namely wires, switches, screens and machinery that allows
for mass production, it also has properties that likens it to the
own speech, but in
city in its unfathomability: constant growth, change, reach and
sense of persistence.
vain. He was numb.
He had adapted
At the centre of all these perspectives is the idea of creativity set loose, unbound by restrictions or traditional no-
tions of place and time. It is at the base of contemporary digital media and shock culture, both possible through the
In a chapter titled “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus and Narcosis”, systematic integration of technology into methods of production and distribution of images and videos. By using
from Understanding Media, McLuhan references the myth of
Narcissus to explain the relationship between humans and the
to his extension of these same creative and technological tools, we can choose to steer them towards mediation rather than chaos.

himself and had



“technostructure” they have created:

become a closed
The youth system. Now Critic and author of Into the Image: Culture and Politics in the Field of Vision, Kevin Robins, makes

Narcissus
an analysis that echoes those of Simmel and McLuhan in a chapter titled “Cyberspace and the World
the point of this We Live In”. Among quotes from Nicole Stenger, (“Cyberspace is like OZ-it is, we get there, but it

(narcissus means
has no location”), William Gibson (“cyberspace is a consensual hallucination” ), and Barrie Sherman
myth is the fact and Phil Judkins (“virtual reality allows us to ‘play God’; we can make water solids, solids fluids; we

narcosis or
can invent animals, singing textures..”) Robins concludes that the current state of virtual culture is
that men at once born out of a need to perfect the imperfect, eradicate limitations.42 The reference to Oz, the mention

numbing) mistook
of an ingrained God-complex and the consensual nature of our collective digital reality all paint
become fascinated an illusory, almost dreamlike picture. According to thinkers like Noah Harari, this illusion—made

his own reflection


up of all conceived imaginary systems—can be attributed primarily to creativity and the ability to
by any extension of implement creative solutions through social action.43 This ability, or instinct, to fight nature is both

in the water for


useful and dangerous. It has given us overseas phone calls, banking systems, hospitals and a twenty-
themselves in any four-hour news cycle. It has also resulted in a sense of purposelessness born out of a detachment

another person.
from experiences that don’t require consensual hallucinations to function. In other words, what was
material othe than once idealist innovation has now taken shape into an alternate system of reality. In his analysis of

This extension
McLuhan, Arthur Kroker aptly refers to it as “the processed world.”44 Others refer to it as an age of
themselves.41 “domestication”, or, “disenchantment”, a term coined by social theorist Max Weber when attempting

of himself by

to explain the changes undergone by modern societies in their transition away from traditional life.

mirror numbed his


perceptions until 41
Marshall McLuhan, “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus And Narcosis”, in Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man, 1st edn
(Routledge, 1964).

he became the 42
Kevin Robins, Into The Image: Culture And Politics In The Field Of Vision, 1st edn (Psychology Press, 1996).

servomechanism
43
Yuval Noah Harari, “What Explains The Rise Of Humans?”, 2015.
44
Arthur Kroker, “Digital Humanism: The Processed World Of Marshall Mcluhan”, Ctheory, 1995.

37 38
39 40
2 Art as a mirror of contemporary
sociological trends

Art has been one of the most useful indicators of cultural original context, and replacing it with an infinitely distributable
purpose and self-awareness in ancient communities throughout copy, viewable anywhere by anyone at any time. The removal
time.45 Cave paintings, pottery, jewellery and sculptures have of exclusivity and history is a direct reflection of social
historically held as much relevance as bone fragments—if not tendencies on a larger scale. As much as we artificialize nature
more, as they describe a reality that exists outside of mere by reproducing it through technical means, building through it
carbon-dated biology. In many ways, these creative expressions and modifying it, it is part of a greater movement to artificialize
were the Internet of their time, revealing the traces of humanity ourselves as a species. The art we create and how we create it
that didn’t require their original owners for subsistence or reveals hidden social motives.
reproducibility. Contemporary art is still a reflection of the
times. Nowadays, the preferred methods of artistic production During times of struggle, art has always found a way for
are largely digitally based. While the concept of “computer art” breaching cultural systems and creating dialogue. In 1921
has seen extensive debate in the artistic community for years, German surrealist Max Ernst rebelled against a war-torn
the questions relating to its chimerical qualities as a product of and increasingly industrial world through his deconstructed
machine-human interaction are still uncertain. Beginning in depiction of the Elephant of Celebes. (See fig. 2) The painting,
the early 20th century with movements spearheaded by John portraying a perverse half-machine half-elephant and
Cage, Max Bill and Robert Rauschenberg, and the experimental symbolising what may be seen as the comorbidity of modern
arts centre at the Black Mountain College46 in North Carolina, civilization and technological and military fixation, is a prime
scientists and artists alike began debating and embracing the example of social ills leaking into the creative domain. There is a
“vulgarization” of art by mechanical means.47 Out of these palpable sense of the world Ernst experienced in the piece, both
explorations was born a new era that saw the emergence of in theme and in method of production, which used surrealism
destructive art, new semiotics, and the expansion of the existing and collage in conjunction with Freudian free association
Bauhaus movement. All these branches of creative exploration to create an overwhelming sense of disjunction, dislocation,
were shaped by an overwhelming desire to make sense of new unnerving juxtaposition.50
social systems, breaking them down and building them back up
again. In a similar vein, Bell Labs and the Experiments in Arts
45
Barbara Tversky, “Visualizing Thought”, Topics In Cognitive Science, 3.3 (2010)
and Technology48 collective set the scene for signal processing <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-8765.2010.01113.x>. Figure 2 Painting, Celebes, by Max Ernst, 192151
and transmission that would pave the way for “computer 46
Black Mountain College: an experimental educational institution founded in
generated graphics, art, and movies”.49 Although the tools and 1993 by John. A Rice that considered art and the theory behind art as tools for
learning.
methodologies of these collectives were different, they ultimately
47
“Black Mountain College Movement, Artists And Major Works”, The Art Story,
evidenced the same social phenomenon: the infiltration of 2018 <http://www.theartstory.org/movement-black-mountain-college.htm>
culture by technology and media, as well as the conflicting [Accessed 14 June 2018].

desire to dominate or understand the changes taking place. 48


Bell Labs & EAT: a collaboration between artists and scientists to create a place
for technological innovation in the fields of media communications. First created
by Alexander Graham Bell in the late 19th century.
Much of the criticism endured by newly emergent “mass media 49
“The Genesis Of E.A.T. - Bell Labs”, Bell-Labs.Com, 2018 <https://www.bell-
art” involves the replication of something which had an labs.com/programs/experiments-art-and-technology/genesis-of-eat/> [Accessed
14 June 2018].
50
“‘Celebes’, Max Ernst, 1921 | Tate”, Tate Britain<http://www.tate.org.uk/art/
artworks/ernst-celebes-t01988> [Accessed 14 June 2018].
51
Max Ernst, Celebes (London: Tate Britain, 1921).

41 42
Picasso’s Guernica, Rauschenberg’s hybridized depictions of
cultural “junk”, and Ai Wei Wei’s 2017 work, Law of the Journey,
a harrowing exhibition on the refugee crisis, are all soaked in
cultural reproach. Each in their own way, the pieces serve a
purpose outside of themselves as catalysts of social change.

All stand out for their ability to criticize society from the inside
out. In the past, critical artistic productions have been confined
to two-dimensional representations or works that engage only
one or two of the senses. The emergence of new technologies,
however, has allowed for a procedural explosion—virtual and
augmented reality, multisensory installations, and interactive
art are paving the way for change. Many of these outputs are rife
with perceptual impositions, but they also have an unforeseen
potential for remedying the same problems. The pedagogical
potential of art has been part of the cultural dialogue for
centuries. Professor and cognitive psychologist from Standford
University and Columbia University, Barbara Tversky writes
about this potential in a paper titled “Vizualising Thought”:

“Visualizations, on paper, silk, parchment, wood, stone, or screen,


are more permanent; they can be inspected and reinspected.
Because they persist, they can be subjected to myriad perceptual
processes: Compare, contrast, assess similarity, distance, direction,
shape, and size, reverse figure and ground, rotate, group and
regroup; that is, they can be mentally assessed and rearranged
in multiple ways that contribute to understanding, inference,
and insight. Visualizations can be viewed as the permanent
traces of gestures; both embody and are embodied. Like gesture,
visualizations use position, form, and actions in space to convey

meanings”. 53

In her breakdown, Tversky refers to the world as a diagram,


with gesture and visual expressions of meaning existing on
a plane of interconnections she calls “spractions” (spatial-
abstraction-action). In her text, visual expression reflects
language, human action, thought, culture and the structure of
our built communities.54 This second dimension of “spractions”
is similar to Harari’s “imagined reality” and McLuhan’s “visual
space”. In all instances, these thinkers are referencing a type of
53
Barbara Tversky, “Visualizing Thought”, Topics In Cognitive Science, 3.3 (2010)
collective consciousness that influences our physical reality, or <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-8765.2010.01113.x>.
social function. This realm of thought is being pushed towards 54
Tversky.
an isolating and technologically enhanced limit.
43 44
45 46
“Diagrams, along with pictures, film, paintings in caves, notches in wood, incisions in stone, cut-
tings in bone, impressions in clay, illustrations in books, paintings on walls, and of course words and
gestures, externalize thought. They do this for many reasons, often several simultaneously. Some are
aesthetic: to arouse emotions or evoke pleasure. Some are behavioral: to affect action or promote
collaboration. Some are cognitive: to serve as reminders, to focus thoughts, to reorganize thoughts, and
to explore thoughts. Many are communicative: to inform both self and others.”55

-Barbara Tversky

47 48
Tversky wrote about visualizations and how they convey
meaning.
Her analysis reveals a pattern: visual representations are key
elements of normal cognitive function. While she seeks to
explain this phenomenon, others seek to disturb it. Many
contemporary thinkers, such as Benjamin and Brecht, who
individually refer to modern aesthetics in relation to “shock”
and “estrangement”, believe in the “liberation” of visual
expression through interruptive factors. Using their findings
on the nature of growing societies they relate lack of meaning
to an over-imposed culture of illusion.56 Their perspective
on overstimulation and desensitization involves turning the
system on itself: using shock tactics to re-sensitize readers or
audiences. This type of thinking paves the way for arts-based
inquiry in social problem-solving

As a species we draw from our environments, mimicking


natural systems in our daily life and creative expressions alike. Figure 3, Sikka Ingentium installation, Daniel Canogar59
Simultaneously, our art is increasingly digitized, distributed,
commercialized and memorialized. It reflects the trends of the
Technic57 in medium and message. Contemporary Spanish
artist Daniel Canogar exemplifies the effort to both change and
embrace these trends. His installations immerse the audience
in a bath of multisensory lights, soundbites and perceptual
confusion. His work doesn’t reference nature, but instead
focuses on the opposite: media culture, the proliferation of
instant information and the use of image as currency. In his
series of works, titled Sikka, and Sikka Ingentium, (See fig.
3), Canogar relates the physicality of DVDs to sequins and
the value they held as markers of social hierarchy and power
in ancient times.58 His installations are a computerized nod
towards Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, with the space being
divided into a reflective wall of DVDs and their reflections,
bouncing like the shapes of the cave wall on the audience and
room alike. Canogar is an artist challenging the society he
inhabits. His installations are spaces that interrupt the viewer’s
sensorium by delivering a message by means of a digital Trojan
horse. For many contemporary artists the solution, it seems,
lies in the problem.
Figure 3, Sikka Ingentium installation, Daniel Canogar59
Art-based therapy and narratives can be used to learn about
56
Ezcurra, Mary Polgovsky, “On ‘Shock:’ The Artistic Imagination of Benjamin
ourselves and better ourselves. New implementations are born, and Brecht,” Contemporary Aesthetics, 2012 https://contempaesthetics.org/
from uses in psychotherapy to criminology and medicine. The newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=659).

use of art as a tool for learning, or “arts-based inquiry” relies 57


Technic describes a cultural movement that places importance on materialism
and rationality above all else; a mechanistic view of the world.
on the idea that art represents a subconscious self, or a greater
News,” Daniel Canogar http://www.danielcanogar.com/.
58
social reality.
59
Canogar, Daniel, “Sikka Ingentium,” 2017, University of Navarra.
49 50
51 52
One of the proposed solutions for fighting contemporary urban shock is a return to
our natural roots. The means by which we achieve this reconnection, however, is still
a point of contention among contemporary thinkers. If we are to take a lesson from
McLuhan’s seminal work, The Medium is the Massage, the means by which we transmit
information or experiences is the information itself—the medium of production, or
means of distribution, says as much about the given topic as the topic itself.60 This
sentiment is certainly true when it comes to digital replications of nature: the subject
of these virtual reproductions is an ironic nod towards the state of human interactions
with its environment. We seem less and less capable to have mindful, “unplugged”
experiences without a computer-generated filter, opting instead for virtual veneers, or
pixel-tinted glasses, through which we mediate our experiences. The suggestion, then,
is to utilize this trend to our advantage and reprogram our minds to enjoy natural
experiences through this veneer, in the hopes that it will lead to greater awareness and
eventual breakthrough.

53 54
3 The Nature-Based Installation

Following the multitude of evidence of nature’s beneficial


influence on the sensorium and in preventing mental
health issues in urban environments, one of the mediums
of production most involved in natural replications is
multisensory installation art. In addition to providing a
potential means to reconnect us with our surroundings,
installation art also provides essential context by which future
generations can gage the societal attitude of twenty-first
century humans. In 1997, the Museum of Contemporary
Art San Diego described installation art as something
which “involves the ability to become, rather than merely
represent, the continuum of real experience by responding
to specific situations.”61 This description contradicts the
idea of new media as an entirely anti-sensory phenomenon,
instead suggesting that it has the potential to create what
Benjamin would refer to as genuine experience, grounded in
a mindful attitude and awareness of one’s place in the world.
As previously seen, the full extent to which installation and
art-based interventions are useful in restoring the image of
mental health in urban environments is relatively unstudied.62
There are, however, several case studies of the effects of
installation-based sensory therapy that can be extrapolated
and applied to the entirety of society. Coincidentally, many
of the benefits of nature-connectedness on the human psyche
previously explored are similarly found in art-based therapy,
and especially art-based therapy that includes nature-based
imagery. In an article published in 2010 in the American
Journal of Public Health, authors Heather L. Stuckley and
Jeremy Nobel review the connections between “art, healing,
and public health”, with a focus on current literature on
the subject. They found that “art-based interventions” had
the potential to reduce several adverse physiological and
psychological outcomes, developing self-awareness, reflection,
increased interpersonal understanding and even altering
behaviour and thinking patterns—although their outlook erred
on the side of caution due to the relative novelty of most of
their findings.63

Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel, ˜Theœ Medium Is The
60

Massage, 1st edn (London: Penguin Classics, 1967).


61
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, “Installation Art”, (1997).

Stuckey, Heather L., and Jeremy Nobel, “The Connection Between Art, Healing,
62

and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” American Journal of Public


Health, 100 (2010), 254–63 http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2008.156497.

Stuckey, Heather L., and Jeremy Nobel, “The Connection Between Art, Healing,
63

and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” American Journal of Public


Health, 100 (2010), 254–63 http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2008.156497.

55 56
“I turn and turn, at pace with the plants and
refracted light,
and at a certain point both my sense of balance
and my separatness to the environment start to
desintegrate:
I’m listening acutely even as feel as if
I’m falling, being swallowed up by the streams of
light.
It’s a motion not entirely of my own making.”

-Pipilotti Rist
57 58
SIP MY
PIXEL OCEAN
FOREST PI
Contemporary visual artists such as Pipilotti Rist and Olafur
Eliasson provide one side of the experiential spectrum when
it comes to ecologically-minded installations—they raise
awareness on contemporary conservational issues ranging
from climate change to deforestation and ocean acidification.
Through video art and striking installations, they each
bring personal appeal and a strong sense of environmental
concern, despite the artificial components of their digitally-
reproduced pieces. Rist provides a technicoloured version of

XEL FOREST SIP


a very real worldview: that of art as a shaker of societal norm
and harbinger of environmental change. In two of Rist’s most
reproduced works, Sip My Ocean and Pixel Forest, she creates
new digital environments with enticingly stylized images of
nature, from bodies of water to flowers and forest landscapes.64
(See fig. 4) Her viewers are encouraged to lounge around the
viewing area, take in the imagery and consider the message
behind the piece. Time disappears, pure sensation takes its
place. Her work acts as an ode to nature, a strategic choice
to glorify the beauty of organic substances, movements and
sounds. It subverts the city-dweller’s busied mind state and
subconsciously reconnects us to a state of perceptual balance
and connectedness to our environment.

MY OCEAN PIX-
Figure 4: Installation artwork, Pipilotti Rist66

EL
59 60
Eliasson, on the other hand, creates installations that still involve the senses,
but rely more heavily on an abstracted understanding of the theme. His
piece Your circular now, shown at the Mirrored Gardens in China, makes
use of a window and nature scenery to construct a viewing device that
in turn distorts the view outside. (See Fig. 5) In perhaps his most literal
approach towards nature-based installations, Eliasson offers us Riverbed,
a gallery space inundated in sandy and rocky terrain, to be navigated by
viewers and inevitably altered by their presence. (See Fig. 6)65 With the
exception of Eliasson’s deviation into real terrain, most installation artists
are still concerned primarily with the digital aesthetic, distribution, and
commercialization of their work. These types of contributions towards
nature-relatedness are swamped in aesthetics and engage in the brand of
abstraction spoken about by Harari when he refers to the “imaginary worlds”
in which humans obsessively interact: the world of collective hallucination,
immaterial mega-influence, and physical absence.

64
MCA, “Pipilotti Rist,” Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Museum of Contemporary Art
Australia) https://www.mca.com.au/pipilotti-rist/.
65
Eliasson, Olafur, “Your Mirror Now,” Studio Olafur Eliasson , 2015, Mirrored Gardens, Hualong
Agriculture Grand View Garden http://olafureliasson.net/archive/artwork/WEK109262/your-
circular-now.
66
“Sip My Ocean,” Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 1997, Sydney, Museum of
Contemporary Art Australia https://www.mca.com.au/pipilotti-rist/.
67
Eliasson, Olafur, “Your Mirror Now,” Studio Olafur Eliasson , 2015, Mirrored Gardens, Hualong
Agriculture Grand View Garden http://olafureliasson.net/archive/artwork/WEK109262/your-
circular-now.

Eliasson, Olafur, “Riverbed,” Studio Olafur Eliasson , 2014, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of
68

Modern Art http://olafureliasson.net/archive/exhibition/EXH102282/riverbed.

Figure 5: Installation by Olafur Eliasson, Your circular now67


Figure 6: Exhibition by Olafur Eliasson, Riverbed68

61 62 60
customizable scenes—in this way, paving the way for the true
assimilation of personal identity and cultural memory, as
necessitated by Benjamin in the creation of viable experience—
that range from personalized tactile elements, woodland
sounds, scents and fibre-optic canopies of vegetation.72 These
digi-forests embrace their artificiality only as so far as to use
it to their advantage, introducing otherwise nature-deprived
individual to invaluable sensory experiences they can’t find in
the city.73 The recent Big Anxiety festival in Sydney, Australia,
saw the introduction of a Snoezelen descendant in the form of
an art installation called “Snöösphere”, concerned again with
creating a therapeutic space that combined art and science to
On the other side of the spectrum exist collectives such as approach sensory difficulties. Similarly to its Dutch progenitor,
Snoezelen Multi-Sensory Environments, Moving Essence and the Snöösphere used optic fibres, bubbles, textured floors
the recent Snoösphere design exhibited at the Big Anxiety imitating pebbles, sand, grass and foliage to stimulate natural
festival in Sydney.69 These investigative curators seem more sensory responses in visitors.74 (See Fig. 7) The significance
aware of the irony behind their approach towards nature of organic-seeming textures and shapes once again links back
than some contemporary artists, placing focus on the sensory to humans exhibiting biophilic tendencies, tapping into an
impact of their installations rather than mere images on the ancient and subliminal knowledge about the importance of
screen. In this way, they use some of the unique features human-nature interaction on wellbeing.
of modern Technic to their advantage rather than letting
it act as a hindrance to their work. In these multi-sensory
environments, technology is used against itself to combat
the effects of overstimulation. Nature is no longer treated as
something to be enjoyed vicariously at the mercy of video
editing and colour-correcting. The shapes, textures, and sounds
of nature are imitations that aim to return us closer to a state of
perceptual balance, and ultimately, the ability to recapture our
identity on the global scale.70 Many of these environments are
still being created under the umbrella of sensory therapeutic
intervention, specifically targeted towards individuals with
sensory problems and in hospital settings. Seeing as city-
dwellers have been found to suffer from similar perceptual
afflictions, and have been reduced by new media reproductions
to an alleged state of constant shock, it can be argued that
69
“Snoösphere,” The Big Anxiety https://www.thebiganxiety.org/events/
these therapeutic environments should be considered as snoosphere/.
universal rather than specific interventions. Many of the 70
“Sensory Rooms and Therapy Explained,” Snoezelen Multi-Sensory
symptoms described by Haraway, Benjamin and McLuhan can Environmentshttps://www.snoezelen.info/.
be mitigated through some of the benefits described by the 71
”Sensory Rooms and Therapy Explained”.
designers behind Snoezelen: the creation of calming spaces 72
Peter Osborne, Walter Benjamin, 1st edn (London: Routledge, 2005.
that stimulate relaxation, the encouragement of personal 73
“Sensory Rooms and Therapy Explained”.
development through self-identification, and immersion into
Evlin, Lin, “Why Visitors Are Encouraged to Touch the Artwork at
74
natural scenery that inspires personal outings into nature.71 Snoösphere,” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2017) http://
Snoezelen environments transcend installation art by creating www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-22/snoösphere-the-immersive-artwork-raising-
mental-health-awareness/8975710

63 64
Figure 7: Image from Big Anxiety Festival Sydney, Snoösphere
installation

A smaller-scale therapeutic intervention with the name


Moving Essence: Nature Art Therapy Installations takes a more
direct approach towards replicating the natural landscape.
Mark Cameron Minard, the visual artist and designer behind
the Moving Essence experiences makes use of customizability
to create visual art therapy in the form of “contemplative
HD nature moving or still images” with the option to pick
among several soundscapes, “atmospheres” and ecosystems.76
Similarly to Snoezelen, Moving Essence is applied primarily
in the context of hospital wards and clinics with the same
result of promoting relaxation and distraction through nature.
As Minard points out in his mission statement, “making a
connection with nature has the ability to bring us back into
balance.”77

By the means of these artistic interventions, we can begin to


understand how the digitization of nature is both evidence of a
greater schema of societal interaction with its environment—
in its pursuit to digitize, immortalize and modify the world
around us—as well as a possible means to sensory recovery in
urban environments and ultimately, natural reconnection to
the world we inhabit.

75
Big Anxiety Festival, Image from the Snoösphere Installation at the Big
Anxiety Festial in Sydney, ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-22/
snoösphere-the-immersive-artwork-raising-mental-health-awareness/8975710
76
Minard, Cameron, “Moving Essence Nature Art Therapy Installations,” Moving
Essence (Moving Essence , 2014) http://www.movingessence.net/artisticoverview.

77
Minard.

65 66
Modernization is an inevitability. Progress in the fields of technology, art and science will move us closer
towards an undetermined future where humans mix with machines. Much like Theseus pondered the
meaning of matter, memory, and replacement, our society is undergoing a time of uncertain change
that will likely see the rise of conflict and progress alike. What, if any, elements of its former self does
a society retain when it replaces itself part by part, swapping out vegetation for skyscrapers, outdoor
experiences for virtual ones, a stable neural imprint for a disordered one? Even with an uncertain future,
we can be sure that artists will continue to create, challenge, disrupt and transform the societies they
observe. We have seen how art has been an indicator of social change through time, reflecting the rapid
movement towards a technocratic society and away from rural environments. It has played a role in
developing many of the technologies that make keeping a perceptual balance difficult, and disseminating
the mass media message of constant information flow. And now it affords us the opportunity to change
the way we interact with our surroundings by raising awareness, encouraging perceptual balance and
mediating some of the overstimulation that dominates our collective sensory space. Nature-based digital
installation art—and art and design-based enquiry in general—is a multi-faceted phenomenon that relies
on a problematic system of function to paint a picture of 21st century life for future generations, as well
as pave the way for change in ours.

67 68
69 70
Those bulbous optic threads,
signal transmitters, turbulent
static gluing itself to the air
around your head. They take
over the city with the same
urgency as a tree’s roots
sourcing out moisture in the
soil; seeking out our soft
exploitable traits, preying
on mortal shortcomings,
providing everything we need
and never knew we wanted in
order to herald a new age of
artificiality...
71 72
BIBLIOGRAPHY philosophies1030170>

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Andrey Miroshnichenko, “Extrapolating On Mcluhan: How Media Environments Of The Given, The Represent-
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