NANTES — In contemporary art, digital data is as much a medium as paint these days.

One of the best works showcased during Scopitone, a festival centered on all things digital in the French city of Nantes, used scientific data to reflect how stars are born. An audio, tactile and visual work, called Unfold, is the result of a year-long collaboration between artist Ryoichi Kurokawa and astrophysicist Vincent Minier, who says the artistic reproduction of data is a "natural continuation" of his work.

This artwork is part of a new field of digital art — data art.

"For about five years, this artistic branch has been erasing the borders that existed between the two disciplines by combining technology and science, without technology being just an excuse," says Cédric Huchet, Scopitone's digital art organizer.

Mulitmedia artist Martial Geoffre-Rouland created an installation called Cinética last year that focused on data created by the movement of local residents in Nantes. He worked in partnership with two technology laboratories to come up with a physical work of art generated by data from volunteers who downloaded a specific application on their smartphones. When residents walk around town, their phones send signals to the city's antennas and the art installation adapts in real time. On a 10-by-3-foot board, metal disks and their LED lights shift according to the movements of people.

"The idea is for people to be able to project themselves," says Geoffre-Rouland, who encourages visitors to download the app and to interact with his installation.

Artworks such as Geoffre-Rouland's are a mixture of design, coding, physical and human sciences, says Franckie Trichet, a local government official who was in charge of organizing a Digital Week in Nantes. These works reflect a "turn towards a digital humanism," he says.

Ryoichi Kurokawa's Unfold

"This event represents the opportunity to claim a specific relation to the digital, characterized by a critical mind towards technology, a strong link between culture and science and a cross-disciplinary approach that goes from art and music to startups," says Trichet.

Huchet says the link between the startup ecosystem and artistic experiments makes sense. "The Digital Week stands for a digital culture that is developing, experimenting and testing with a goal of openness," says Huchet. "Just like the digital sphere can help artists, art can also help startups."

Data is more than just material used to create digital works of art. It's also the subject of reflection in contemporary art. "With this type of algorithmic creation, there's a political interest for artists to show that, despite automation, they still have a part to play in creation," says Nicolas Nova, a researcher for the website Regards sur le numérique (Views on Digital).

Indeed, certain artworks focused on machine errors can also be seen as an act of resistance, if not rejection, of the automated and algorithmic world. For instance, artist Katsuki Nogami's Rekion Voice, which is installed in the cellar of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne displays strange-looking robots in a disturbing reddish light. Tightly bound by ropes, the machines emit mechanic shrieks as they endlessly repeat movements. Visitors have found the installation to be disturbing, hilarious and pitiful.


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