Bringing physicality to the internet of things
Niko Princen gives a click-by-click tour of his studio, based in deepest Neukölln, which when Sleek visits is engulfed in a wave of classical music and punctuated by intermittent visits from the cat. His manner, much like his practice, is measured and reflective as we dart through his many projects in which he uses the internet as both inspiration and a place for the dissemination of his ideas.
He says he is motivated by the private life of images, reproducibility and human interaction with technology, and his work has footholds in both the digital and material worlds. In his exhibition at PSM gallery, he presented a walk “around the block” (he uses the English expression) in which he strolled a circuit on his own two feet while filming on his phone, and then once again, only this time from the comfort of his computer chair, making the identical journey on Google Street View. In the gallery the two were then conflated so that the jolting zooms of the app sit against the walking motion of Princen’s body. Layered over each other, the moments of confluence and disjuncture create a dialogue around the way in which we have begun to conflate actual and virtual experience in increasingly technological times.
At Kunsthaus Langenthal in Switzerland, meanwhile, the artist organised a group of visitors to stand in a circle, take out their phones and film the phone of their person to their right, who was engaged in the same action. The result is a kind of domino-effect of image production and dissemination; each person has their own version of the image, which together forms a complete circle.
Online, the works address how we interact with information. “Stock Images” in particular is a work that exposes the ignorance with which we place trust in opaque codes and devices. It combines two sets of data algorithms (Princen often codes himself or works with a programmer) and uses the day’s stock market figures just after they’ve been featured on Nasdaq. Those numbers then are then mapped onto a Google image search for pictures titled with related numbers (the kind you get when a camera uploads files which are never renamed). The result is a random, pictorial version of the glue in the current human system – capital – and the thing that very few people understand the inner workings of.
“The relationship between humans and technology is always in the background,” Princen elaborates. “A lot of stock markets and high frequency trading… we don’t really have any idea what’s happening. The numbers effect our lives so much and so many people don’t know what it’s doing.”
Giving form to often overlooked or naturalised systems of engagement, is the consistency Princen offers across his work, which also includes performance and film. “Infinite Line”, for example, offers a visual manifestation of data, space and time: it’s an extending line across a screen which was begun in 2009 and simply continues, pixel by second. At time of writing the second count was 96,413,095, and thus the line’s length also 96,413,095 pixels).
He has also converted Skype calls into low frequency noise and placed a balloon in front of the computer and watched how it responds when people speak. It’s a literal conversion of their breath, giving the impression of a physical presence from a human body miles away, in order, he says, “to make the digital world more physical.”
Text by Susanna Davies-Crook