Hylozoic: there is no better word to describe Philip Beesley’s work. It is a philosophical standpoint that all matter, in some sense, is living. He embodies that with his spectacular installations, particularly his piece at the EDF foundation in Paris, Radiant Soil. This piece combines art, architecture, chemistry, and biology to create a grand spectacle piece that operates like a living thing. This piece is a collection of hanging, independently operating nodes, made up of “polymer, metal and glass, arranged in suspended filter layers contain a near-living carbon-capture metabolism” (Beesley, Philip. 2013. Radiant Soil). The piece contains proximity and touch sensors that catalyzes a string of reactions and “feeds” the life-like organism contained in the center of the nodes.
The installation creates an ethereal experience for its viewers. As they walk through, the installation reacts to their presence with a performance that acts on all the senses. The LED nodes create waves of light and release scents into the air as the viewer approaches, while the other nodes move reactively to their touch. In addition to that, this is the first of Beesley’s pieces that incorporates peer-to-peer interaction. So not only do the nodes react to the viewer, they react to each other. It gives the viewer the sense of walking through an otherworldly hanging garden, and experiencing something that moves, breathes, and pulses like a living thing in his contemporary imagination of soil.
“When artists depict soil, it is often as a dark, heavy, brown mass. Philip Beesley sees it differently. His 2013 installation, Radiant Soil, is full of light and movement, glittering with metal and glass…Beesley is not trying to make an enormous, interactive scale model of actual soil. His goal is to make us rethink the boundaries of our environment. There may not be flashing lights in soil, but there are signals flying among plants, animals and microbes, there are minerals glinting and spores bursting. There’s a lot going on beneath our feet, and Beesley brings it to the surface with bravura” (Banks, Michelle. 2015. Art of Science: Philip Beesley’s Glittering, Radiant Soil).
Beesley challenges us to re-conceptualize our understanding of soil, and on a larger scale, living things. He attempts to blur the boundaries and show viewers what can be done with technology. He takes a collection of mechanical components and turns them into something that lives, breathes, and reacts in a self-sustaining way, similar to a living being. This creates an experience of life for the viewer from metal, plastic, and glass. They are forced to ponder how we define living beings, and explore the human obsession with imitating life through non-living mediums.
Another piece of his that is extremely similar is Hylozoic Ground, which was created in 2010 for the Venice Biennale. This piece offers up the same sort of ethereal feel and uses many of the same components. Hylozoic Ground is essentially an earlier iteration of Radiant Soil, and allows viewers to interact in much the same way as they walk through the artificial forest made of fronds imbued with micro-sensors, smart alloy tendrils, and acrylic structures. One of the main differences between this piece and Radiant Soil is the lack of peer-to-peer interaction, which shows his progression as an artist towards new, more complex ideas.
One comparable piece from a different interactive installation conglomerate is Fluidic by WHITEvoid. This piece is described as “a liquid surface transmuting into vapor, seemingly random molecules forming an organized cloud and sensing the presence of life around the arrangement” (WHITEvoid). This piece is another interactive display of life created through technology. It senses its visitors using multiple 3D sensors, and allows people to interact with it. It is made up of 12,000 translucent spheres that appear to luminesce when stuck with a beam of light. The high powered beams are directed by complex algorithms that react to human presence. This piece creates the same sort of feel that Radiant Soil does, and pushes the boundaries of what we consider living and what we don’t.
WHITEvoid’s website: http://www.whitevoid.com/#/
Philip Beesley’s Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user12017724