Stine Deja’s ‘Dawn Chorus’ contemplates transhumanism through cryopreservation

In exhibition abandon all hope ye who enter here, Stine Deja’s Dawn Chorus: Beta deliberates upon transhumanism through the speculative framework of cryogenic freezing.

by Vidur SethiPublished on : Feb 15, 2022

The waistbelt holds the new born from falling; the canopy protects it from the scorching yellow. The institution of adulthood, holding the handlebar, walks ahead - pushing and pushing the chair while the child’s feet hang in search of the foot rest. Tiny eyes wander, marvelling the excessive scale over the head that bobs, aiming to puncture the sight of the dome that prevents any damage to the child’s scotoma. Looking keenly at what lies ahead and what might lie beneath, new ways of seeing get formulated every time a child observes the world from its push chair.

But the swivel wheel lock is always an option to manufacture a pause: for the child to marvel the static and the moving, for the guardian-pusher to halt, swiftly glance and encounter – nature, screens, humans, their synonymity. When different swivel wheels stand still, floating around in hands of those who pass by are multiple screens, many infants, and in that an absurd chorus – the sound of which sutures the past with the future, transforming a stretcher into a cradle for new beginnings.

Dawn Chorus, 2021, Strollers, tv's, 3D animation, water, metal grates, speakers, amber lights | Stine Deja | STIRworld
Dawn Chorus, 2021, Strollers, tv's, 3D animation, water, metal grates, speakers, amber lights Image: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen

On one fine day as these nuances of pushing another human being slowly mushroomed, the London-based Danish contemporary artist, Stine Deja, disassembled the experience of acting upon a push-chair in a park and intervened with a 24-inch screen that would sit on the comforting cushioning of a push chair. The sound of stroller wheels that had been treading their own paths in the park, experienced a shifting rest as new life forms were birthed in her latest work titled Dawn Chorus. Third in a trilogy that deliberates upon transhumanism, Dawn Chorus is an interdisciplinary art installation that explores the hopeful resurrection of entities that are part machine, part human, part everyday commodities. Through the speculative framework of cryogenic freezing – a practice where dead human bodies are preserved at -196 degree Celsius in the hope that they might come back to life, Deja addresses the morality and ethics of resurrection and reproduction technologies, and the techno-solutionist fantasies of immortality,” notes the description of Dawn Chorus: Beta, (January 26 to February 18, 2022), the second rendition of Dawn Chorus, which is currently at display in abandon all hope ye who enter here, a project by transmediale at Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

01 min watch Dawn Chorus: Beta, new life forms sit in a circle and sing a chorus | Stine Deja | STIRworld
Dawn Chorus: Beta, new life forms sit in a circle and sing a chorus Video: Courtesy of transmediale

On Dawn Chorus as one of the possibilities of life after this speculative re-emergence of the dead and the technique of cryogenic freezing, which is often seen as quackery, Deja shares the exact moment of encounter when cryofreezing became a crucial framework for her to work with. In a conversation with STIR about her experimental art, she says, “There was a video I encountered of Zoltan Istavan, a presidential candidate for 2015 US elections, where he was driving in the ‘Immortality Bus’ that was shaped like a coffin. As I researched further, I found out that he had visited this place called Alcor in the Arizona desert which is one of the biggest cryopreservation institutions, and I was blown away when I encountered certain details – the freezing of people in a desert, the safety glasses, the specific placement that was thought out to avoid earthquakes in tandem with a long-term plan… all provoked me to research further and I came across important works such as the photographs of Murray Bullard and workings within KrioRus. At the same time, I was also starting to think about the ethical complications of it but stayed with my research interests as, slowly, a personal motivation began to loom that later was articulated in the trilogy.”

01 min watch Last Resort, 2019, Sleeping bags, aluminium structures, ratchet straps, screens, terracotta sand, 3d animation, Stine Deja | STIRworld
Last Resort, 2019, Sleeping bags, aluminium structures, ratchet straps, screens, terracotta sand, 3D animation Video: Courtesy of the artist and Annka Kultys Gallery

The trilogy comprises of three art installation works titled The Last Resort, Cold Sleep, and Dawn Chorus and postulate a genesis of rebirth in times when science must catch up for plural immortalities to construct and deconstruct futures. The Last Resort, whose title plays a pun on either a nice holiday destination (perhaps Alcor, where people embark on a final vacation) or a closing action deliberates on bodies just before cryopreservation. As five human-size sculptures bound in gold sleeping bags are suspended upside-down on a floor that carries innumerable orange grains of terracotta sand, the audience navigates and looks at them only to realise that each face animates unique expressions for a final course of action, a last resort. The second sculptural installation work, titled Cold Sleep, processes a waiting position as frozen bodies mark time for technology to develop for them to experience a rebirth. “While processing Dawn Chorus, when I was exchanging ideas with my partner, we discussed different kinds of choruses and through that, I began to think of the theme of awakening – future birds singing, welcoming in a new kind of day. The chorus as the ritual of starting a new life then led me to title the piece Dawn Chorus. Initially, I made the sketches of these new avatars that would sing a chorus sitting in a circle and this spatial composition was realised in the beta version of Dawn Chorus, which is now being shown at abandon all hope ye who enter here,” she says.

Cold Sleep, 2021, Sleeping bag suits, screens, stainless steel constructions, rachted straps, 3d animation, terracotta sand, 3d printed frames, speakers, Stine Deja | STIRworld
Cold Sleep, 2021, Sleeping bag suits, screens, stainless steel constructions, rachted straps, 3d animation, terracotta sand, 3d printed frames, speakers Image: David Stjernholm

In terms of colour, the one central provocation that occurs in many of Deja’s art and technology-based multimedia installation works is within the spectrum of amber – extending connections for the viewer to perceive her visceral imaginations by blotting the vision with hues of yellow and orange. “I absolutely love yellow. It is almost ineffable and I see it as a colour that synthesises different aspects of nature – the in-betweenness of the innate and the synthetic, the interims between natural light and sickness. The yellow in my works, I believe, turns up what might be perceived as unnatural… it takes something very ‘natural’ and switches it around,” she says.  

Dawn Chorus, 2021, Strollers, tv's, 3D animation, water, metal grates, speakers, amber lights, Stine Deja | STIRworld
Dawn Chorus, 2021, Strollers, tv's, 3D animation, water, metal grates, speakers, amber lights Image: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen

As one walks through these categorisations of what contacts are established in perceiving the natural and un(super)natural, the body hangs, waits, sings. A large material within the contemporary works and in the practice of cryogenic freezing is the body itself – speculating intersections between health, technology and future. In Dawn Chorus, the body is perceived through animated faces on the screen that inhabits the push chair. On the question of the role of the body and her relationship with the new beings, Deja shares, “A lot of people who sign up for cryopreservation only freeze their heads and then they kind of hope to return back as a swarm of nanobots of sorts. I am very interested in what this future body would look like. For me, I have a close relationship with these beings because they are motion-tracking recordings of my own facial expressions, and then I replace my own voice with sounds that interests me by creating different soundscapes. The expressions are based on what I record and when I look at it long enough, they almost become me. The faces in the sleeping bag (Cold Sleep), the life forms in Dawn Chorus, are different textures of my own being.”

As the world gears up to a time when our existence has been predominantly occupied by technologies of different kinds, Deja addresses her conflicts and comprehends the relationship between technology, health and anxieties through her large scale installation art. About processing her contemporary art practice during COVID-19, she shares, “Historically, one approach to my work has been to take a mundane situation and try to find a different access point as a way of shifting people’s perception of it. The pandemic has kind of done that to everything; now the most everyday things, going to the shop, having a party, hugging a friend have all been reframed and can feel like a sci-fi simulation. This is just another layer to take into consideration, and it also forces a reinterpretation of my earlier works about virtual travel agencies, synthetic seduction and intimacy in the digital age – that feels way more poignant now. I guess the main thing is I feel I can’t do something meaningless anymore, it has to feel like it adds value somewhere. Even if it is critical engagement with a seemingly bizarre process (like cryopreservation) as a way of generating discussions about the value of life, modern fear of death, inequality and the limits of science.”  Ultimately, in Denmark-born artist’s immersive installations lie the integration of extensive research on rebirths and creations that prod into identities that shape up in the intermediary of the human and the posthuman, singing the chorus for futures.

Stine Deja | ‘Dawn Chorus’ at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon | Stine Deja | STIRworld
Stine Deja Image: Courtesy Stine Deja

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