Rituals and machines: Danish multimedia artist Stine Deja in conversation with Antoine Schafroth.
Your practice explores a world in between real and virtual. Where are your inspirations coming from, and why is this in-between an essential thematic today?
To me, the in-between feels like the gray zone between some established binaries. We all tend to think in opposites, but we don’t necessarily operate in them, the in-between is a site of contestation and the place where ideas and reality can be redefined. As an angsty teenager, I wore a “Panta Rei” necklace, some relatively cliché merch from the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, to remind me that things can change, and everything is in flux – this sentiment has stuck with me into the present. With this perspective of embracing change, we recognise that we are always between our past and future, that’s the necessary purgatory of human existence. I guess this is an essential theme in a world where technology is accelerating at a pace that we haven’t experienced before, everything feels liquid and in constant movement. Perhaps some aspects of technology, and COVID-19 for that matter, forced a narrative of the need to ‘return to normal’, as if we are stuck in between, as if overcoming a hurdle delivers you back to where you were before you hit it. I could throw out my iPhone tomorrow, but I wouldn’t return to my life before the iPhone because that experience is written on my body and equally the world has shifted to accommodate it.
In your exhibitions “Cold sleep” at Tranen and “Thermal Womb “at Annka Kultys Gallery (London), you explore the possibility of immortality through cryopreservation. Is art allowing us to engage in a conversation about it easier?
Absolutely, I think art can function as a kind of incubator of new perspectives. So many things in the world are intangible, hard to grasp or even consider, through art we can make these things or ideas visible. Of course, it’s always a very subjective representation, but perhaps that’s even better when it comes to conversation starters. Bringing cryopreservation and ideas around immortality into the exhibition space has been a real gift for me, I can’t count the numerous interesting and intimate conversations I have had with people about death and their hopes for the future.
Could you speak about your last project, “Dawn Chorus”?
Dawn Chorus is the third and last part of my cryopreservation trilogy, after Last Resort and Cold Sleep. I wanted this installation to mark an awakening both hypothetically and literally. The ice has melted, and this is the moment all the patients have longed for, when technology has had a big enough breakthrough to make resurrection possible. When all the cryopreserved bodies can finally sing in a new day. I got the idea for the strollers when I was walking my newborn daughter around London Fields. At that time I was thinking of the pushchair as a kind of portal through which she was able to experience the outside world.
In the imagined world of the installation, this four-wheeled structure became a kind of prosthetic body for the neuropreserved patients (the treatment where only the head is frozen). In the first exhibition at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon viewers walked through the exhibition space on industrial metal grates that overlooked the singing sculptures with their wheels immersed in water, standing in a perfect line, like products in a warehouse. This uniformity is a nod to human life as a product, a non-refundable package. The water illustrates that the ice has melted, but also conjures a curiously wet, biological picture, a bizarre parallel to the amniotic fluid in which we all start our lives.
Do you believe in technology as a way to provide a better future for the world?
I believe that technology is an enabler or a catalyst, but it entirely depends on how we use these tools and how we learn from the tools we already created. Throughout history, we have developed with and because of our technologies, one example is the control of fire which was a groundbreaking technological evolution for human civilisation. Not only did we mould this technology, but it also moulded us. Literally, through cooking our food, we grew bigger brains. But it also turned out that some of the technologies we developed through the discovery of fire were horrible for our planet, like coal-fired power stations. From a future standpoint, I’m sure we will look back at now and wonder why humans and cars lived so close together for example, or why a socially conscious species would let their young engage in social media etc. What is evident in 2022 is that we can’t agree on what could make the world better, and digital technology is such a contradictory blessing. In Denmark I have the privilege of a digital ID that allows me to register a birth, loan a book or access all my medical records, but this same technology in other countries would be met with rightful suspicion. The combination of capitalism and modern technology seems like a dangerous cocktail sometimes, my ‘better future’ certainly is not the same as Bezos’. Ultimately technology serves many of us very well, but it also serves the superstructure that props up oppression and inequality.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m lucky to be involved in two collaborative projects with artists I really love. In April, Marie Munk and I are exhibiting ‘Divine Desires’ at Politiken Forhal in Copenhagen. Marie and I made our first collaborative piece ‘Synthetic Seduction’ back in 2018, it was a great experience and has since traveled all over, so I am excited to be back at the drawing board for something new. In May, I’m doing a duo show with Richie Culver at Tick Tack in Antwerpen. We have never worked together before, but I have admired his work for ages, and it’s fun to be planning out a show together and figuring out how to bring our practice into the same space. Life is busy but I am grateful for that.