– Longing Lungs (2023)
Chapel, Kasteel de Lovie
For this installation Druez starts from Anaximenes, a Greek natural philosopher who posited that everything was once air. The forces of nature constantly act upon the air and transform it into other materials, which spawn the organised world and the universe. In early Greek literature, air is associated with the soul, the breath of life. Anaximenes thought that air also had the capacity to steer its own realisation in the same way as the soul governs the body. Druez poses the question what happens if we constantly inhale divine things.
Breathing is a life-supporting bodily function that allows the supply of oxygen and the evacuation of carbon dioxide. However, the act of breathing itself also holds significance for the connection between body and mind. Embedded in ancient practices for centuries but only recently demonstrated through scientific research, different emotional and cognitive states alter the depth and frequency of breathing. For instance, yoga breathing exercises foster relaxation, sharpen one’s focus, diminish fear and elevate consciousness.
These five ‘organo-mechanic’ sculptures softly expand and contract according to their own rhythm, like a group of relaxed people, animals or android creatures generated with the aid of AI. The asynchronous but linked movements act as a group sound.
Like real lungs, a thorax system within the creatures inhales and expels air from the artificial lungs. A pneumatic system powered by a microcontroller produces a biorhythmic breathing motion while a kind of larynx creates the accentuated breathing sound. Sensors that register the presence of visitors influence the neural network and breathing cycles.
The hybrid appearance of these ‘lung creatures’ – with their organic-looking skin of different animals, birds, fish, moss and artificial scales – is a physical rendition of AI-generated life forms. Druez poses the question whether these multi-species/non-creatures have a soul and a consciousness. Has breathing turned these synthetic things into living, sentient beings?
To him the installation is a longing sigh, a lament, an expression of grief and sorrow. The natural sound of the breathing invites visitors to slow down, to involuntarily focus inwards and listen to one’s own breathing.
Oendergroend | The Parliament of Frogs 2023
In his installation ‘Oendergroend’ (dialect for the underground or the metro) Philippe Druez roguishly refers to the mental universe of Bruno Latour. After all, the subtitle is ‘Het Parlement der Kikkers‘ (‘The Parliament of Frogs’), a nod to Latour’s ‘Parliament of Things’, which also gives a voice to the non-human. On Watouplein a curious croaking of frogs can be heard that dies down as we approach. The frogs appear to be trapped in a submerged metro shaft. Through the grille, concealed between water lilies and water plants, the occasional frog can be spotted. As soon as we walk off, the chorus swells again.
In spite of the link with Martin Kippenberger’s ‘Metro-Net’ (1993), Druez’ point of departure is entirely different. He refers to the almost nonexistent public transport system to and from Watou. A survey among local residents resulted in the ‘Túbe Koarte’, a metro map with preferred stops.
However, through his underground parliament of frogs Druez also denounces the endless croaking in human parliaments, the United Nations and the COP climate conferences. After all, they have little impact on global warming, the resulting rising sea levels, the increasing number of megastorms and the extinction of plants and animals.
Bruno Latour criticises the chasm between nature and society. To Latour’s thinking, people, animals and things co-exist, giving rise to hybrid forms of which conscious and creative AI systems are also a part. The synthetic or phony-biological objects and the frogs’ croaking song (created with modular synthesisers) toy with that identity between genuine and fake.
The frogs attend the live sessions of the House of Representatives, during which an algorithm translates the political speeches into croaking. The lifelike quality of the installation raises a number of questions, such as that of our need to imitate nature while neglecting it at the same time.
While this doesn’t solve the mobility issue from and to Watou, it does create room for a genuine debate, or ‘brekekekèx-koàx-koáx‘, as Aristophanes (the father of comedy) would have said.
This project was realised in conjunction with Made in Inox.
Based in Ghent, Philippe Druez has developed an unconventional and ever-growing art practice. In his groundbreaking and experimental projects, he investigates he explores society, communication, the psyche and the individual within our social and ecological fabric. With extensive research as a basis, the art projects take on a scientific and historical undercurrent, which give the often poetic works add layers and depth.