Longlist Profile – Tamiko Thiel and /p

By Carla Rapoport July 26, 2019

This year’s longlist brought a record number of politically-engaged works and a prime example is Unexpected Growth, an AR project produced by Tamiko Thiel with her project partner /p (pronounced slash p).

Tamiko, aged 62, lives in Munich, Germany, and started out as a design engineer, later turning to media art. She was able to express the vision of artificial intelligence computers in the visual design for the Connection Machine CM-1/CM-2 (1986/1987).  It was the first commercial artificial intelligence supercomputer and, in 1989, the fastest machine in the world. It still survives in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art New York and the Smithsonian Institution.

She started using AR more than 10 years ago and was a founding member of the augmented reality artist group Manifest.AR, participating in their AR intervention at MoMA NY in 2010 with ARt Critic Face Matrix, which seemed to question the validity of AR as an art form and was main curator and organiser of their intervention into the 2011 Venice Biennial with Shades of Absence, a work on censorship of artworks. These interventions brought commissions for further AR installations, such as the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park commission for a dystopian climate change artwork “Gardens of the Anthropocene” in 2016.

In 2018 the Whitney Museum NY commissioned the AR installation Unexpected Growth, her first collaboration with the artist /p, who provided deep experience in computer graphic programming. This artwork, which was selected for the 2019 Lumen longlist,  puts the Whitney 6th floor terrace underwater and populates it with a dystopian coral reef formed of (virtual) plastic waste that bleaches in response to the number of people viewing it.

“The image of the garden has often played a central role in my artworks. Gardens are a fascinating, very ancient form of virtual reality: immersive experiences expressing the gardener’s culturally determined fantasies of paradise,” she says.

Inspirations & Platforms

It was back in 2012 that  Tamiko began to pay more attention to human-driven climate change and its effects on shifting plant biomes. Then she stumbled across a graph of global temperatures over time, showing that the last time the Earth had a global temperature equivalent to a rise of 4°F (~2°C) was 3 MILLION years ago. “The human race is only about 200,000 years old; the genus Homo only 2.5 million years old. Humans have never had to live on a planet as warm as we will probably experience in ten years – by 2030, not 2050 as the graph shows.”

This shocked her so much that she felt it imperative to inform herself about this issue and be able to pass this information on to her audience, which she did in Unexpected Growth (with /p). “While creating Unexpected Growth, I was also becoming aware of the plastics problem, which has now exploded into our consciousness ever since China stopped taking our garbage and we realised that our plastics recycling was a feel-good fiction,” she says.

“Being an artist gives me a platform to talk with people, both literally in my artist talks and lectures, and figuratively through my artworks. No one likes to be hit over the head with negative headlines again and again. The media loses interest and jumps onto the next crisis. But artworks are shown again and again – and if my works can combine a sense of beauty and delight with a painful fact or experience, I can take people through an emotional encounter with a topic they might otherwise shy away from addressing,” she continues..

“I love what technology enables, I love our digital lifestyle, I love that my smartphone puts the world and my friends in my pocket. But I am also painfully conscious that this global lifestyle is destroying our planet, and children who grew up hearing about the Great Barrier Reef and the Snows of Kilimanjaro may never be able to experience them in real life. So I feel compelled to create artworks that involve our amazing smartphones, our wonderful technology, in the very act of viewing the artworks.”

To view Unexpected Growth, please hit play below.


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