The interactive installation polar was conceived and realized over a period of two years from 1998 for the tenth exhibition at Canon ARTLAB*1.

The thematic connection between polar and Solaris

Nicolai and Peljhan refer to Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction novel Solaris, along with Andrei Tarkovsky’s film adaptation, as a source of inspiration for their own work. The ocean on the uncharted planet Solaris in Lem’s novel is a mirror that reflects human desires, and hints at the paradox of the expedition into the unknown as an exploration of mankind itself.

polar interprets the exploration of the ocean as an investigation into human existence in the information society in the year 2000, and questions the modes and ideas we may formulate in our future explorations of an increasingly unknown planet Earth composed of data. By focusing on the mystical phenomenon of “reflections with geometrical crystalline bodies” illustrated in the original story as one possible answer, the work aims to forge an environment in which such things as uncertainty principle and quantum mechanics can be experienced in connection with data networks.

The polar experience

Equipped with a special interface for gathering information, visitors enter the exhibition space in groups of two, and begin to collect various data (including surrounding imagery, sound, temperature, and gravitational acceleration). Once all data has been recorded, the measured values are analyzed, after which seven keywords/concepts — “crystal-crystallisation”, “diagram”, “stealth-stealthy”, “machine-mechanic”, “wave-waveform”, “symmetry-symmetriad” and “spectral-spectre-spectral” — automatically appear on a monitor. Selecting one of them triggers the operation of a special intelligent information search system fed with various texts from Lem’s Solaris and other sources. This mechanism gathers further keywords as individual bodies from various websites, and adds these to a permanently restructured database. At the same time, routing information of the paths to the respective accessed websites is visualized as undulating motion, whereas the entire exhibition space responds to the characteristics of the systems defined by the data and concepts collected by each visitor (pair). Through the generation of light and sound, the visitor can experience dynamic changes of the space itself as it seemingly transforms into different “crystalline bodies”.

*1 Culture support project implemented by Canon Inc. between 1991 and 2000. The program was designed to promote especially the production of media art, and included the hosting of annual special exhibitions. The curators of this exhibition at YCAM, Yukiko Shikata and Kazunao Abe, were also in charge of the original polar exhibition at Canon ARTLAB in 2000.

polar (Canon ARTLAB Exhibition, Tokyo, 2000)