Berlin-based media artist Theresa Schubert develops installations whose aesthetics unfold between alchemy and science fiction. In doing so, the artist is primarily concerned with anthropocentrism, animal ethics, and transspecies. The term "transspecies" does not refer to diffusions between social genders as "transgender" does, but rather transcends the boundaries of what it means to be human. Schubert's installations focus on the organic in all its facets. Unconventional visions of nature, technology, and personhood are explored. In her artistic practice, Schubert "combines audiovisual and hybrid media to create conceptual and immersive installations or performances." Organic matter, living organisms, algorithms and artificial intelligence are not only applied as elements in the installations, but act as actual co-creators of the works. In addition, the artist works with immersive video environments and 3D laser scanning to question modes of perception and challenge the human-machine relationship.
The bio-cybernetic installation Hylē was realized in 2022 in collaboration with Ivan Taranin. The installation consists of audiovisual elements and objects. The multi-channel video environment as a projection consists of 3D laser scans of a forest and the interior of a server farm. The green glowing objects are algae bioreactors directly connected to the environment by air sensors. Breathing into a hopper device affects two aspects of the installation: in the first step, CO2-enriched air is measured by a sensor before being pumped into the bioreactors. These sensor signals trigger real-time disturbances and abstractions in the scanned video environments and sound synthesis.
Secondly, the algae need CO2 for photosynthesis and in this process release oxygen, which is fed back into the air of the exhibition space, creating a feedback loop between the breath of the visitor:s, the algae and the audiovisual spheres. The glowing green glass vessels are thus habitats for algae, like a "primordial soup," as the artist called the contents of the tubes. The projections of the forest and data center infrastructure also embody two very essential aspects of our lives - nature and technology as networks.
Hylē (ancient Greek ὕλη hylē, German 'Holz' in the sense of raw material, substance, matter) meets us in Aristotelian physics and metaphysics. There it means the malleable matter, the material, the primordial substance that takes on a form through technē (i.e. human labor). As the artist stated about Hylē: "Between observation, meditation, material experimentation and playful interaction, the installation Hylē generates a narrative about micro-processes filtered through algae, [...]. The work acts as a visual metaphor that explores network dynamics. Through our interaction with a living biological sculpture, the environment is modulated and made visible in real time." Drawing on the Aristotelian concept of Hylē, Schubert explores the interconnectedness of presence and feedback from various actions: In a questioning of anthropocentrism, Schubert enables us to have sensory experiences that oscillate between reality and dream sequence, while at the same time making microcosmic networks visible, as the artist stated, "At the beginning of the project, we tried to imagine what it might look or sound like if non-neuronal creatures like plants or algae could dream." In the dreamed microcosm of algae, we experience the direct influence we exert on our environment (hyle) - and see ourselves represented in that process of breathing in and out.