The Museum of Digital Art (MuDA), located in the industrial district of Zurich, posits itself as “Europe’s first physical and virtual museum dedicated to digital arts.” More specifically, as explained by a member of staff, the Museum explores the infinite possibilities that come from combining zeros and ones.
One might expect a room full of computer screens and video game-type graphics, but when I visited the Museum on the opening day of its Pe Lang exhibition, I encountered works more philosophical in nature.
Upon entering MuDA, located on the ground floor of Switzerland's first high-rise building, one encounters a white space dotted with few simple-looking mechanical contraptions. What is most striking is not the sight, but the sound: something crinkling, then something dripping (or is it chirping?). The first work I encountered, titled modular | n˚2 is, in fact, comprised of small speakers hung with nylon thread to a series of black frames. When you move, the speakers emit a sound - you can decide what the sound is for yourself.
How does it work?
There is a sensor mounted to the ceiling that triggers a small motor that pulls on the nylon thread connected to the speaker membrane. When you move within the space, the motor ever so slightly shifts, causing the thread to elicit a sound from speakers. I will not give away any more secrets about the mechanics of the artworks (although the very helpful staff are happy to), but I think this work encapsulates the idea behind the exhibition: very small binary movements can create larger, seemly random assortments of sounds, images and reactions.
Where did that crinkling sound come from? Lang’s work entitled moving objects | n˚703-1750 is a wall of white sketch paper that upon closer inspection shifts and moves, producing the same sound you get from crumpling the first draft of an essay before binning it.
Looking at the paper slowly shift and reshape is mesmerizing and meditative, but also looks like a stop-motion video of flowers blooming.
I tend to gravitate towards visual patterns, so I really enjoyed Lang’s work entitled polarization | n˚ 11. It is a series of spinning plastic disks, interlinked with nylon thread and connected to motors that produce a random pattern of circles based on your position to the work.
Again, Lang uses simple materials and mechanical principles to make a fantastic, complex and ever-changing kaleidoscope of dots.
Very few of the works in the exhibition rely on digital technology. Pe Lang’s educational background is in electrical skills and he is most known for his “sound objects.” So why give him a solo show? It comes back to zeros and ones.
I see Lang’s work as an analogy for computer programming. The mechanics are simple - sometimes down to the imperceivable rocking of a metal rod - but are enough to create a cacophony of sound, wild patterns of light or dark, or beautiful new shapes and forms, just like binary code.
The exhibition challenges notions that mechanical and digital technology stand in opposition to nature, human interaction and the randomness of life. Lang's works rely on the physics of the natural world (water, light, air), require physical interaction and produce visual and audio outputs that are unpredictable and whimsical.
There are 7 new and previously shown Pe Lang works in MuDA's exhibition. It runs until September 23, 2018.
Written by Tonya Nelson.
All images courtesy the author.