Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Koert van Mensvoort

Written by Saara Järvinen

Koert van Mensvoort (PhD) gave a lecture at the Academy on 13 May 2009. He started by amazing the audience with an entertaining introduction on himself. He even proved us his boogie skills. This gave us a taste of what to expect: a visual rollercoaster of Koert’s visions.

Koert defines himself in many ways. He has an art background but also a PhD from the Technical University Eindhoven. His field stretches from art to technology and philosophy. This shows in the pieces he presented to us.

A good example is the Datafountain, that displays the money currency rates in a water fountain. Koert claims this kind of “information decoration” can be a more calm and open way to present data. ”Currently many digital information appliances force people to retrieve information from sources that are not attuned to our human physical bandwidth at all”, says Koert.

Koert focuses on explaining the theory of Next Nature. By this he means the nature emerged from human culture. Our naïve idea of nature as forests and wild animals isn’t very accurate anymore. His new definition of nature is that it is something beyond control, whereas culture is what we control. There are many examples of the blurring of culture and nature, such as indoor beaches, man-made islands in Dubai and tissue engineering. Next Nature is a particularly Dutch issue of course, considering that The Netherlands is so much shaped by humans.

Our view on nature is affected by what we see in the media. Something fake can be more real to us than the real thing. Koert deals with this in his documentary “The woods smell of shampoo”. The title refers to a girl who goes to a forest and associates the smell of trees with pine-scented shampoo.

The lecture created controversy in the audience, and raised questions on individual freedom. It seemed that the theme made us feel anxious and powerless. This is interesting considering that we study in a future-oriented field and even have possibilities to have an effect on the development.

Koert reminds us that not only culture imitates nature, imitation exists also in nature. Koert gives an example of the walking leaf, an insect that disguises as a leaf. Imitation is natural, and according to Koert, this gives us hope. Also, human manipulation over nature has always existed. “Playing with fire is what we do” says Koert. We long to control nature, but there are always surprises.

Furthermore, fusing goes both ways. Culture takes natural forms for instance in the construction of Internet and road networks. It is important to remember that our culture is a product of nature.

Chiang Ping Fan: Editing the video.
Huang Tzu Chun: Filming the lecture, Weblog update.
Henry Wilson: Biographical article, Interview, Presenting the lecturer.
Kitikoon Worrasorratorn: Photography, Poster, Graphic design of dvd cover and vlag package.
Saara Järvinen: Review article, Communication.