This Digital Artwork of a Shifting Serpent Takes a Full Year to Watch

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Imagine watching an artwork that changes gradually over the course of a full year, with a musical accompaniment that also morphs continually.

Visitors to 3537, the historic Marais building animated by Dover Street Market Paris, can catch a glimpse of the real-time digital animation by Irish artist John Gerrard, who commissioned an original composition from techno deity Richie Hawtin. The installation — a large, high-definition screen facing off with a stack of speakers — debuted Wednesday night for a one-month residency.

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The screen depicts an iridescent python eating its tail and moving slowly in a figure-eight, the shape of infinity. Deploying gaming technology, Gerrard programmed a virtual camera to pan over the snake at the speed of the sun arching over the earth, with the light, perspective and speed changing with the seasons.

Using a portable keyboard, he fast-forwarded from spring to winter, which initiated a bluer light, slower slithering and a pitch and pace change in Hawtin’s music. The latter is thanks to Bronze, a new technology that harnesses AI and machine learning to alter and regenerate a composition so that it is forever renewing itself.

“There is no timeline here,” Gerrard explained. “It’s like producing this world as you see it. So it’s not a record, it’s not a film or a video, it is a simulation, basically.”

He described the visuals and the music as “one artwork, which is mixed by the public when they stand between the speakers and the LED wall.…You mix them in your own minds when you’re there.”

Embedded in many of Gerrard’s works are warnings about climate change, exemplified by his 2017 digital creation depicting a flag made of perpetually renewing black smoke, planted at the Texas site of the world’s first major oil discovery, now exhausted.

His “solar serpent” at 3537, moving under the sun in the shape of an ancient symbol of birth and renewal, suggests that people ignore rhythms of balance at their peril. Its Paris residency coincides with COP26, the United Nations climate change conference that kicks off on Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s showing at 3537 is part of a three-month exhibition cycle about the climate emergency entitled “Brûlures.”


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