by Søren Pors and Aparna Rao
Installation art, interactive art, sculpture

View an image of the artwork

Behind twenty-five white boards, mounted to a gallery wall, a host of tiny creatures lives. If we approach softly, they will strain their skinny necks out beyond the edges of their shelter, shyly surveying the outside world. But with any sudden sound, whether an echoing step, a shout, or a splutter, they will recoil, wary of the threat we may pose. Each little beastie has its own character. Some are more confident, stretching boldly to meet our gaze. Others are more recalcitrant, ready to withdraw at the drop of a hat.

Nestled in a specific environment, the work becomes accustomed to the murmur of the crowd, or to the hum of a plane overhead. Although we may be aware that the sound sensitivity is controlled by a web of electronics, the sentience of what we see is convincing. Rather than responding to an artwork, we feel that the artwork is instead responding to us. The sculpture ahead seems to be a ‘they’, not a ‘it’. Through the creatures’ peeking eyes, we become aware of the effects that our own presence and movements can have on others.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Walking up to a collection of rectangular panels, we see hundreds of ‘pygmies’ staring back at us. Each simple silhouette is a circle on the end of a stick, as if a flattened lollipop. A quiet sound will cause some to retreat into hiding. As the volume of the disturbance rises, more will flee. After a period of silence, they will tentatively return, to peep out once more. They pay no attention to our attendance or motion alone. We could stand or move noiselessly in front of them, and they would not scare.

Yet if we choose not to cause a disruption, we will never experience the artwork in its entirety. We are encouraged to cause a fright, acting as potential predators for our own entertainment. In doing so, we deviate from the behaviour expected in this calm setting, replacing respect with intentional rabble-rousing. As the eyes of the pygmies dart out of sight, we may imagine the glares of disapproving gallery-goers burning into our back. For all to be seen, we realise, we must first risk creating a scene of our own.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can view the artwork, including information and a video, on Pors & Rao’s website here. Aparna Rao has given two talks for TED, both of which can be watched here.

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