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Visual System's Evolving Urban Environment

ESCALATOR: Permanent light and sound structure at the ATOMIUM in BRUXELLES; Visual System (2010)

We can’t remember exactly how we found out about Visual System, but we are sure glad we did because their various projects are centered around themes valued by the artists and designers we typically feature here. Their recent collaboration with AntiVJ, as well as their other scenography projects led us to take a closer look at their work.

Visual System’s interactive light and sound structures draw upon a special kind of creative and technological input. They are at the heart of the current rebirth of what is called (sometimes wrongfully) digital art. Their work is interesting because it attempts to explore and reflect on the role of art and technology. It is part of a broader movement that seeks to define how art can be integrated into futuristic urban environments.

Visual System is an artistic collective with a diverse membership. Artists and engineers play with different material, formats and thoughts. Their website is full of eloquent images and impressive videos of their most recent structures. However, we know very little about the people behind the project.

We asked them to unveil the manpower behind this unique endeavour.

The Creators Project: Could you introduce Visual System in a few words? How does the group function? What is each member’s specialty and how did you begin working together?
Visual System:
Visual System is a collective centered on digital creation that unites artists of every genre. We are graphic designers, musical composers, architects, programmers, audiovisual artists and many more. Each project needs different skills, so each member contributes in his own way. We came together around a common goal: using technology to create a new breed of contemporary creation.

How would you define your work? Interactive works, light structures, digital art, scenography?
VS is an aggregation of many tools and persons. We can work on both video games for mobile telephones as well as light structures for transient or permanent projects in an urban environment. In a broader prospect, we like to create an alternate reality from an idea we all agree upon.

Which projects or structures have been turning points for you? Which projects have led you to find new ways to work and use new materials?
It’s quite hard to answer this question because each team member has his own career. We’d have to mention the birth of the collective was subsequent to a grant from the Jean Luc Lagardère Foundation. The grant enabled us to set up a creative laboratory in Shanghai [which was] active from 2007 to 2009. We came across a young international scene, and this led us to the technology we use today. It was also a way to stay in touch with what was going on and thus making our own contribution.

Blue Rider; Visual System (2010)

Can you tell us more about the Blue Rider initiative in China? It’s aesthetically attractive and very intriguing. It’s also difficult to separate analog and digital—what this purposely made?
The Blue Rider project has a very clear objective—we wanted to free our work from the gallery and show it to people. It’s a project about mobility. We’ve had the idea for a while and the Shanghai World Expo was a fantastic opportunity. The idea was to travel across China on an electric scooter with special lights. The vehicle was equipped with EL technology. It’s basically a very thin type of material (about 1mm wide) that switches on using an anode and a cathode. We didn’t use any computers but simple electronics. It was impressive to see that the illuminated Blue Rider was being filmed by hundreds of passersby on their mobile telephones. Many were curious as to how the whole thing functioned. It simply was a three position switch under the handle bar: ON, OFF and BLINK. We’re currently working on a 2012 journey for the Blue Rider—this time across France and Europe.

There are recurring patterns in your work—columns, cubes and grids. Would you say you have an established visual vocabulary?
We’re in love with simple and modular geometry. Each structure can adapt according to context and architecture. Creating outside the sphere of computing implies embracing minimalist yet innovative structures. You could compare it to an evolving urban environment.

ESCALATOR: Permanent light and sound structure at the ATOMIUM in BRUXELLES; Visual System (2010)

You often work on temporary structures. How do you approach this “transient” side to things?
Team spirit is something very important to us. It is always a challenge to change a structure and begin again. Reinventing and extending our work is something very demanding. This transient side to our work relieves some pressure and allows us to take more risk in what we do. Our creative process benefits from this experimental approach. We find it important to build, destroy and recreate in different ways. It is also very difficult to find a large enough workshop in Paris. We also work on video and photography so that we can keep a trace of our structures and show them on our website.

You have collaborated with AntiVJ. How did you meet them and what type of project did you work on?
Here at VS we believe in projects shaped by improvisation and the encounters we make. You could compare it to musicians that gather to “jam." We always try to meet new artists like we did with AntiVJ. Our first encounter was in China. We were simply stunned by their origami mapping. We then offered a carte blanche to Joanie Lemercier for the eARTS festival in Shanghai. It was a very rewarding experience because we worked with the same software as AntiVJ but our tools were different. We are more LED-oriented whereas they tend to use projection. We’ve also just finished a joint structure that will be on display until December at Béthune Capitale Culturelle 2011. We worked on the structure and they helped us on content.

You have worked a lot abroad. How did you gain this international fame?
We use a lot of photography and video on our projects. The blog enables us to have a very large audience. A few intrigued individuals took the risk of having a slightly different programming. This is how we ended up at the four corners of the Earth—our project A Digital Experience… led us to New York, Singapore and Buenos Aires. We were introduced to organizers of foreign festivals because of our presence at French festivals like Némo at the 104.

106 – ROUEN: Audio-responsive structure built for the opening of the 106 in Rouen; Visual System (2010)

Are you part of a particular artistic scene? Do you think there is a real scene in France for the type of work you have to offer? Who are you external partners?
Festivals centered on digital structures were pretty scarce up until three years ago. When we began in France, the work displayed mainly consisted of animation videos, virtual universes and augmented reality. Artists generally came from famous institutions. The internet opened this up and showcased the work itself instead of the artist’s background. At the time, there is a real interest in this type of events. However aside from the Gaïté it is fairly difficult to find locations dedicated to digital art.

Do you have any ongoing projects we’d be able to see in the near future?
We recently built the front of BNP’s concept store (on place de l’Opéra) in collaboration with Magasin Général and Superbien. It has been switched off for the summer but will be back in September. We also have a permanent structure we’ve made with Pierre Nouvel inside the Atomium in Brussels. We’re also working for the Scopitone festival’s scenography in Nantes. A few permanent projects are also being developed in Toulon and Genève. In short, a lot is happening and it should all be on our website very soon…

Photo credits: Visual System (2011)

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