From 28 January visitors will be able to see Catharsis in a major outdoor installation on the grounds of the Serpentine Galleries’ Zaha Hadid-designed extension, set against the beautiful green spaces of Kensington Gardens. Before then, audiences can access Catharsis anywhere in the world via a dedicated website catharsis.live, or on screen and in spatial audio in the Gallery building.
Catharsis follows Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s previous work for the Serpentine,The Deep Listener (2019), an augmented reality app for mobile devices that offered an audio-visual ecological trail through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, to both see and hear five of London’s species: London plane trees, bats, parakeets, azure blue damselflies and reedbeds. The Deep Listener is the first Augmented Architecture commission, in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture and Sir David Adjaye OBE. These works demonstrate the Serpentine’s commitment to new experiments in art and technology that has included an augmented reality tool for visualising the UK’s extreme inequality by Hito Steyerl and a weather prediction model that correlates historic weather data with polling data from major political events such as Brexit by James Bridle.
Catharsis immerses audiences within a digital simulation of a re-imagined old-growth forest, a forest that has developed undisturbed over hundreds of years. Based on field work undertaken by Steensen and his primary collaborator Matt McCorkle, the work’s virtual ecosystem and synchronised audio comprise 3D textures and sounds gathered from several North American forests.
Set up as a single continuous shot that moves from the watery underground roots to the surveying viewpoint of the canopy, Catharsis draws on Steensen’s conception of ‘slow media’ whereby digital technologies can foster attention to the natural world and create new narratives about our ecological futures. Catharsis becomes a digital portal, a simulated journey that offers audiences access to past and present natural environments, slowed down and up close.