by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
A+E Lab is a cultural and technological hub located in Chatham, Medway in the United Kingdom, that is run by the dance company AΦE, which is named after its founders Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Lecoq. As of March 2023, the duo is based out of A+E Lab's new premises at the Historic Dockyard, wherefrom they continue their efforts to democratise access to spaces, skills, and technology, for the purpose of artmaking.
From March 18 to April 30, 2023, A+E Lab curated and provided production support for ALT*MED Festival, which is aimed at creating a large-scale art installation that connects current audiences to architectural practices from bygone eras. This edition of the festival saw them invite Numen/For Use, a design collective that focuses on industrial design, space design and conceptual art. For ALT*MED Festival, the collective extended their installation TAPE, which uses the household product of the same name, across the Victorian architecture of the building 3 Slip. Going beyond the festival, the installation is intended to be set up at various sites across Medway.
The installation artist Sven Jonke of Numen/For Use discusses the installation, telling STIR: "This is the first of many structures in Medway, and displays a way of building very complex and organic shapes with just one material and almost no help of any tools. It's all just lifting devices and the cutters. But in the end, this is a very secure space because it has no hard corners and therefore you cannot reach any elements that may hurt you. So, it's like a pet itself.” He continues, explaining that he has observed children understanding this immediately when they enter the space as they begin to run and play around on its surface, despite that not having been the explicit intention of Numen/For Use when they undertook the installation. In sharp contrast, Jonke finds the adults among the audience to be more suspicious and questioning, and one wonders if this may be caused by the gargantuan scale of what they are presented with.
Jonke compares TAPE to a cocoon, and also tells STIR, “It's a parasite fixed to another building. We can develop this technique further, and install it on an even larger scale, which keeps things interesting.” He finds it very artistically exciting to observe how people approach the “instability inside”, as he puts it, and identifies the emotional response that the majority of Numen/For Use’s audience experiences as being "an ambiguous and strange feeling, between insecurity and security."
Lecoq discusses the collaboration, saying, “We came across Numen/For Use through our flatmates, who are also amazing artists…We have known their practice for years and are inspired by their work. As we knew we were moving into the Dockyard, we immediately thought about Numen/For Use’s work as the Dockyard has striking architecture and their installations inhabit spaces through organic shapes." A+E Lab wished to curate a project that would be enjoyable for their Medway audience, and they felt that producing an iteration of TAPE was perfect as it would allow audiences to experience its tactility and climb onto it, but those who did not wish to do so would still be able to admire it’s 40metre long form externally. In his words, “We went through a year and a half of planning and faced certain challenges, but are very pleased that it all came together nicely, that the construction went smoothly, and that the entire audience, young and old, enjoyed it. Our partner Historic Dockyard has helped us throughout this journey and without their help and their expertise, it would not have been possible.”
Beyond ALT*MED Festival, Nakamura and Lecoq have recently undertaken REBOOT, which is a two-part project, the first of which, is Lilith.Aeon, an AI-powered installation featuring a 3D character called Lilith. The second is Orpheus, which is an immersive stage production. The duo discusses this project, explaining that it blossomed from a wish to explore the meanings and symbolisms of life, death, and the future of our existence, and that it is inspired by the true story of Matheryn Naovaratpong, the youngest person ever to be cryo-preserved, who her parents hope to revive in the future.
REBOOT tackles questions relating to human futures and digital life, with Lilith.Aeon unfolding through its protagonist Lilith’s seamless interactions with the installation’s audiences. Orpheus extends this by placing viewers within the mind of Lilith, as she dreams of her parents whilst stuck in a liminal space between death and reincarnation. REBOOT is still in production, but this did not stop Lilith.Aeon from debuting across nine screens at Shibuya station in Japan, in 2022. An NFT collection titled Lilith.Aeon-Genesis has also been launched, in order to further extend the piece while giving audiences a means to support the project. Those interested in art at the far edge of tech must keep a close watch on AΦE’s work, as Nakamura and Lecoq are certain to present a fascinating creative offering in the near future.