Let there be light: Exploring the works of multimedia collective TUNDRA

Traversing the awe-inspiring multimedia practice of St. Petersburg-based art collective, TUNDRA, and shedding light on the path forward in a post-pandemic world.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Sep 05, 2021

While new media arts practices are, as the name suggests, relatively new, one must place a certain emphasis on the aspect of relativity here. There has been enough space and time for highly accomplished collectives to grow and develop, and TUNDRA, out of St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the most prominent. The collective has thus far created seven original installations, have undertaken one live performance, and also exhibited over 50 smaller pieces all over the world. While this may seem like a rather expansive portfolio to many, that sentiment is bound to grow exponentially once one understands the scale and finesse with which TUNDRA undertakes its projects. The group’s work is absolutely awe-inspiring, and pushes technology to its outer limits in the pursuit of developing comprehensively experiential pieces. Klim Sukhanov, the spokesperson for the group, and, in his own words, “One-third of the creative core” of the team, along with Alexander Sinitsa and Semyon Perevoshchikov, tells STIR, “Each of us has a different background and has undertaken critical training that we combine. Our knowledge base can be divided into multimedia directing, visual arts and musical education. Exploring different environmental contexts with technological art requires constant expansion of this knowledge base, and of our abilities. We never know what our next field of interest will be, and this keeps things exciting.”

01 min watch Footage from TUNDRA’s ROW | TUNDRA | STIRworld
Footage from TUNDRA’s Row Video: Courtesy of TUNDRA

One of the most prominent efforts from the group is their Row work. They interpret the word “row”, being a basic method of organising data from mathematics to the musical chromatic scale. Sukhanov tells STIR, “Row is an audio-visual installation that creates holographs through the use of abstract light objects floating in the air, causing a parallax effect while you shift your angle of view. These objects are glowing and interact with sound as well, and through this, serve to highlight the architecture and spatial characteristics of the space within which it is installed.” Conceptually, the group attempted to interpret the sensorial chaos-and-order of radio signals inside and around us through Row. The artist elaborates on this, saying “Endless rows of data floating in the air can be converted into different signals, snippets of dialogue, music or any kind of abstract information transmitted at every turn and from every device.” TUNDRA’s Row is a light and sound sculpture, which consists of a large number of high-speed LED fans. In a sense, it effectively manifests as a row of individually controllable transparent screens that allow for an operator to play with depth and visual data to create a holographic effect. Sukhanov tells STIR, “Compositionally, Row consists of six different parts glued together with transitions. In addition to the generative and algorithmic aspect of creating visuals and sound work for this piece, it has a narrative form that we must handle carefully. Each part is meant to have a different dynamic and mood, from meditative and calm to aggressive and completely abstract, thereby giving visitors the freedom of interpretation that we want them to have.” In totality, TUNDRA’s work here is magnificent to behold, and can make for a beautifully overwhelming experience, with respect to the sensorial.

01 min watch ‘Nomad’, another one of the groups ‘multimedia projects| TUNDRA | STIRworld
Nomad, another one of the groups’ multimedia projects Video: Courtesy of TUNDRA

Discussing the bespoke nature of their work, Sukhanov explains, “Usually, we receive commission requests from museums, galleries and festivals to exhibit one of our pieces. Each time we work on a project, we adapt or create something entirely different based on venue and space specifications. The context of the event is very important.” TUNDRA considers this, along with elements such as the availability and application of haze and lasers as well as the possibility of light pollution from surrounding spaces very carefully. The artist highlights the group’s delicate approach to planning and carrying out their installations in a beautifully poetic way, saying “Technology is a brush and space is a canvas.”

Untitled | TUNDRA | STIRworld
An untitled work by the collective, TUNDRA Image: Courtesy of TUNDRA

TUNDRA recently collaborated with Sila Sveta studio, which specialises in immersive experiences within and outside the screen, on a large-scale installation titled Epicenter. Suhanov tells STIR, “They invited us to participate in the ARMA festival in Moscow, and work together on a special installation. The concept was to share the same space and same sound and light equipment, but create absolutely different pieces from two different teams. It was really interesting and challenging to experience completely different artistic visions in the same place at the same time”. In terms of scale and scope, TUNDRA and groups such as them stand head and shoulders apart from much of their peer. While the work of organisations such as this one is highly admirable, it would also be rewarding to see increased interaction with smaller, individual practitioners, as the contributions of such entities can often serve to manifest a certain humanism in the works of larger, more technically-focused entities such as TUNDRA. This is not, however, a suggestion that the group’s work lacks a human touch; far from it in fact. But it is worth considering if, perhaps, it may not sometimes go missing; lost amidst the sheer grandiosity of their artistry.

Untitled | TUNDRA | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Courtesy of TUNDRA

While lockdown has been a difficult time for the creative world at large, it has especially affected groups such as TUNDRA, as their work predominantly constitutes experiences meant to be shared physically and at high-traffic venues such as festivals and museums. However, as Suhanov puts it rather eloquently, “From every restriction comes new solutions.” They have managed to make a small-scale Row installation capable of being set-up remotely without the physical presence of any of their members. Discussing this, the group mentions that they see multimedia installations such as theirs becoming an increasingly integral part of all manner of gatherings, and that developing a model for small-scale, site-specific multimedia applications has liberated them in a sense; affording the team more time to work on project development. Considering the uncertain nature of the creative landscape, this model may be a very valuable example for smaller groups and entities to learn from, apply and perhaps even develop further. Ingenuity is, by all accounts, the driver of invention, and TUNDRA exemplifies this both within and outside the context of its installation work.

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