Tuomas A. Laitinen’s latest work, Protean Sap, approaches environmental questions from the viewpoint of the microscopic. Tuomas spoke to us about the project.
Can you tell us about the idea behind Protean Sap?
Protean Sap is a multifaceted work. It involves research, a video work and a series of augmented reality (AR) Instagram filters. I’ve used protein structures found in bacteria, viruses and other organisms as a starting point to create masks and tools for body modification that appear in the filters and videos. This is also a way for the work to deal with the experience, exasperated by the pandemic, of microscopic beings and their impact on bodies and the planet.
How has the work developed under these exceptional circumstances?
After we decided, with Lighthouse and Daata Editions, that the project would be predominantly digital, work has been, from a production standpoint, relatively easy and very fluid. I’ve limited myself to working only with tools that are accessible over the internet. For instance, Protein Data Bank, a free resource.
How have Daata Editions and the Lighthouse been part of this project?
I was supposed to develop this project at Lighthouse’s residency in Brighton, but we had to be quite flexible in responding to the situation. Now, we’re releasing a one-channel video on Daata Editions’ platform and the AR content is being released through Lighthouse. All the constituent parts will then be collated on one website.
Your work is highly interdisciplinary. Can you tell us about your approach?
My recent works have been modular in the sense that I gather a variety of materials from various sources. The consequent process is a bit like coming up with recipes out of found materials. These recipes, in turn, can be used to create systems that enable the realisation of the work’s world. I’m very interested in mutation: how do bodies change and create new possibilities?
It’s also important that the work represents an organic process. My works often deal, quite concretely, with transparent and layered processes. That’s why I like working with glass, I make use of the physical properties of glass in 3D animation. The premise being that you can view things through mediating materials and then layer these materials.
How do you approach working with 3D animation and technology?
I approach technologically informed art as a type of artisanship. I try to do most of the digital work myself. This experience brings about surprising perspectives. I’m interested, now, in building my own tools within platforms. I’m looking to build and layer tools so that they, in turn, create a type of ecological framework or alchemical recipe that enable the work to happen.
How do the artificial and the natural interact in your work?
I don’t distinguish between the artificial and natural. That distinction implies that you can define what should be considered natural and that definition, historically and still, entails a great deal of violence. I’m interested in contributing to a discussion that doesn’t diminish complex and porous systems and technologies. This is one way of finding links between art and ecology. This can imply, for instance, a perspective on humanity as embedded and rooted in the planetary ecosystem, not independent from it. It feels so obvious to point out but when you see what is happening, the observation reveals that this line of thought is not really put to practise in many areas of society. This is, perhaps, one way for art to contribute to discussions of the environment and ecology. In sci-fi writing this type of layered approach is commonplace. For instance, in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy structural racism, oppression and environmental catastrophe are present in the story as intertwined phenomena.
Protean Sap incorporates allusions to medieval mysticism alongside material that draws on contemporary scientific knowledge. The story comes together in a modular fashion where forms of mythical knowledge and magic and the way in which bodily change have been conceived of in various epochs are combined with the latest simulation technology.
Text: Volter Rechardt, Image: Ilkka Saastamoinen