Visual artist Mikki Nordman: “I hope this artwork won’t run long”

Visual artist Mikki Nordman: “I hope this artwork won’t run long”

Mikki Nordman’s Together Alone project World Wide Window: Agnus Mundi  is a real time visualisation of WHO’s COVID-19 data. In it emojis form the baroque painting Agnus Dei. The project started when London-based Nordman found herself stranded in pandemic Stockholm with nothing but a laptop and a dictionary of symbols.

How did you get the idea for this project?

“It was a mix of circumstances. For the previous project I did with my collective for Tate Exchange, Tate Modern we created an art making machine that reads data from the stock market and creates images from that. I’m interested in creating art out of public domains and  data generated art was a natural step. I was visiting Stockholm from London with my partner when the pandemic was declared. We decided to stay here and found ourselves stranded with nothing but our laptops. This meant I had to figure out what I can do in response to this with the things that I have at my disposal.”

The piece visualises WHO’s COVID-19 data using emojis. How did you choose to work  with emojis?

“One other thing I had in Stockholm in addition to my laptop  was a dictionary of symbols. What glues everybody together today is our communication with emojis, so it feels like a good connecting factor. I didn’t want to use them randomly, but wanted them to carry a message. History of symbols and semiotics helped me to tell a narrative with them. You can really read the images.

In your piece the data and the emojis recreating Agnus Dei, which is a baroque painting by Francisco de Zurbarán depicting a sacrificial lamb. What made you choose this particular painting?

“It’s one of my favourite paintings. I love it. I was trying to figure out which art work would be suitable for this pandemic. The more research I did, the more fitting Agnus Dei felt. There’s so much sacrifice going on at the moment. Agnus Dei means the Lamb of God, but my work will be Agnus Mundi instead, The World’s Lamb. In symbols a lamb stands for both man and sacrifice.”

Were there any surprises in the process?

“The richness of the dictionary and how that correspondents to the richness of emojis surprised me. The emojis very much correspond to old historical symbols, which was a big positive surprise. It really made me fall in love with the project that I was able to tell a more complex story with emojis. Some symbols have dual meanings, and I enjoy that. It’s never straight forward. For example a drop of water is symbolic for both the beginning and the end of life.

How does it feel to follow the visualisation of the spreading the virus so closely?

“I guess it’s the same for all of us: There are days when it hits you and you feel very bad thinking how big and horrible this all is and really want to think about something else. On other days I felt strongly this is something I have to do. It gave me a lot of determination when I felt I needed to contribute to the situation in a positive way.”

The piece goes online now and keeps updating until the end of the pandemic. What would you like to happen next?

“Hopefully it won’t run for too long. That would mean the pandemic will get under control. The piece also creates an archive of an image bank every day of the pandemic. On the laptop the visualization is very small. I feel there’s strength in the quality of the images. It’s all a big mess of good and bad luck, relief and sorrow, victory and defeat, so I would love to be able to show the full images to people in detail later.

There will also be independent contributions from artists in different parts of the world. I will have artist collaborators from the US, Austria, Russia, London and Brazil. Talking with them has really made me realise how differently people in different countries experience the pandemic both on a personal and political level.”

See World Wide Window: Agnus Mundi here:

Text: Ninni Lehtniemi Picture: Mikki Nordman

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