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Interacting with reflections of the human condition: Work of art collective Random International has viewers consider their relationship with tech

Oct 17,2019
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Small pieces of mirrors make up “Fragments” (2016), which turns to face viewers. [PARADISE ART SPACE, PARK MYUNG-RAE]
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“Aspect (white)” (2015) projects distorted silhouettes of its viewers. [PARADISE ART SPACE, PARK MYUNG-RAE]
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Left: “Fifteen Points/II” (2019) experiments with the amount of information necessary for a moving form to be recognized as human. Right: “Our Future Selves” (2019) reflects silhouettes as a distribution of light. [PARADISE ART SPACE, PARK MYUNG-RAE]
Art collective Random International made a splash when it unveiled its world-famous “Rain Room,” in which visitors can walk through rain without getting wet, in Busan this August.

Although that may be their most recognized work, Random International just opened another solo exhibition at the Paradise City Hotel and Resort in Incheon last week to introduce Koreans to some of their other mind-boggling inventions and give a “broader overview of what the studio does.”

“Random International: Physical Algorithm,” now open at the luxury resort complex’s Paradise Art Space, is an impressive display of the studio’s latest innovations and enlarged iterations of existing works.

Like “Rain Room,” the 10 futuristic works brought for the new exhibition are machine-like creations that interact with their human viewers to varying degrees.

“Audience” (2008) and “Fragments” (2016) simply gaze at viewers - made up of dozens of mirror panels each, they shift and turn towards the directions of the visitors’ movements like living organisms.

A slightly more advanced series of works not only acknowledges the audience, but replicates their movements and silhouettes on various media.

An example is “Presence and Erasure” (2019), which randomly captures the face of an individual and projects it onto a canvas in a blue inky tone for around one minute, the result of exposing photochromic, or light-sensitive, varnish to light impulses. No one is safe from having their portrait imprinted onto the 8 by 2 meter (26 by 8 foot) wall from the minute they enter the room, which is covered in cameras that have been specifically trained to recognize human faces.

“Temporary Graffiti” (2005) is one of Random’s earliest inventions that also works with light to replicate reality - in this case, paint. Here, visitors can become the artist themselves and use spray cans to emit UV LED light onto the walls of the section, also coated in light-sensitive varnish.

The rest of the creations at “Physical Algorithm” attempt to embody human nature, moving in intricate patterns according to their own logic.

The most notable work in this section is “Fifteen Points/II” (2019), a multi-limbed animated robot that charges towards viewers along a rail.

Upon a closer look, viewers will be able to see that the tips of each limb glow and are arranged in such a manner that they “fall into the shape of a walking person.”

Random’s co-founder Florian Ortkrass, who attended a press briefing in Incheon last Tuesday, suggests that “Fifteen Points/II” works as a kind of social experiment to see how much information is required for something to be recognized as human.

“If someone walks in through the door we think we see them, but it’s based on very little information.”

In fact, the goal of Random’s works is to “explore the human condition in what is becoming a more mechanized world.”

“The artworks present different notions of consciousness, desires and other human mechanisms that we don’t too often realize or consciously underestimate, but in fact affect our day-to-day behavior. Most of the things we do are based on mechanisms we have very little knowledge of,” said Ortkrass.

Along with Ortkrass and fellow co-founder Hannes Koch, Random International is made up of over 20 designers, technologists, engineers and even a chef, who bring expertise from different fields to create their other-worldly innovations. Only five to six people within the Random team worked on “Fifteen Points/II,” for example, along with “suppliers and consults who advised on [material] reliability and budget.”

“[The works] are all experiments. We’re a bit like hobby scientists who set up an experiment. We have a goal about an object and begin research on how we could do that. On the way to the idea we love to speak to cognitive scientists and explain why our work is interesting. The process is finding the right people and methods and reaching the end goal without compromising too much,” Ortkrass said.

But why the obsession with machines and technology? For Ortkrass, working with such materials comes naturally as an artist living in the digitalized world.

“All art tries to figure out the human being. I think artists have always used what’s around them. In the end, paint is also technology - someone created something that could be used to make paintings. Technology is just a tool like what paint was before.”

On special occasions, Random also couples its creations with a more traditional art form - dance - to illustrate a beautiful interplay between man and machine.

A video demonstration of dancers performing to “Our Future Selves” (2019) is displayed alongside the piece, encouraging spectators to experiment with how shimmering lights on the installation will reflect different poses.

During the opening ceremony of their Paradise Art Space exhibit last Thursday, Random also invited award-winning choreographer Kim Seol-jin to perform in front of “Aspect (white)” (2015), putting on an impressive show as Kim danced with his own shadows distorted into various geometric patterns.

BY KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]



The exhibition runs through Jan. 31. The gallery space is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. All hotel guests and anyone who signs up for a Paradise Membership may view the exhibition.