Donatien Aubert

Modernity has given artists the role of foreseer of social change.

Donatien Aubert is an artist, researcher and author. His theoretical and artistic work relates to the heritage of cyberneticparadigms and their resilience in environmentalism and transhumanism. He is exhibiting his installation, Les Jardins Cybernétiques (Cybernetic Gardens) (2020), at CHRONIQUES, the Biennale of Digital Imagination. 

Published on 19/11/2020

5 min

Donatien Aubert
Donatien Aubert © DR

You are an artist, author and researcher. What path did you take between your studies at the École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts de Paris-Cergy (ENSAPC) and your thesis in comparative literature at the Sorbonne?

I chose the École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts de Paris-Cergy for its multidisciplinary teaching, which is open to new artistic practices and those linked to programming, such as the digital arts. The school had set up a research and creation studio called Objet Non Standard (Non-Standard Object), where we created pieces in partnership with scientists. This was where I had my first art/science collaboration with the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF). I then did a Post-Master’s course at the EnsadLab, the Art & Design Research Laboratory at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD), with Spatial Media, a research programme dedicated to creating 3D environments. This enabled me to take part in research projects and collaborate with scientists such as Alain Berthoz. 

Alongside that, I wrote a thesis at the Laboratory of Excellence specialising in the digital humanities, the Observatory of Literary Life. I am fascinated by epistemology, art history and the history of techniques; examining the anthropological consequences of integrating a new technique into a culture is just so interesting to me. The intersection of these interests has a structuring importance in my work. Modernity has given artists the role of foreseer of social change. But to understand contemporary society, which is very complex, we need to look at multiple fields of knowledge and skill. 

 Is the digital world significantly changing our identity? 

The digital world is transforming our relationship with the world without changing us fundamentally: digital technologies reveal the prominent aspects of our identities more than changing them in any significant way. Ideologies whereby humans are overtaken by technological development are based on fantasy: our understanding of human cognition remains very limited. Believing that we will be replaced imminently by general artificial intelligence indicates a profound ignorance of the current state of development of neuroscience and cognitive science.

 What does theoretical thought bring to your artistic practice?

Theory is co-substantial to my work. My sculptures, installations, videos and immersive programmes are created according to projects that require a serious theoretical foundation in order to materialise. Digital creation techniques require an understanding of involved logical processes; which in turn enables you to develop a critical perspective on the software used and therefore to create original pieces. As works of digital art are expensive to make, it also allows me to find partners to fund my projects, such as the incubators ZINC and SECONDE NATURE, which are producing Les Jardins Cybernétiques.

The digital world is transforming our relationship with the world without changing us fundamentally: digital technologies reveal the prominent aspects of our identities more than changing them in any significant way.

You have worked with Roman Hossein Khonsari, a maxillofacial surgeon at the Necker-Enfants Malades hospital, on the 3D modelling of several fractured skulls. Could you explain this relationship between art and science? 

I met Roman Hossein Khonsari at a lecture I was giving at the Palais de Tokyo. I was presenting a digital environment that revisited the history of three-dimensional representation techniques. After the conference, talking to Roman we realised that we had similar expertise in 3D techniques in terms of 3D visualisation and modelling. In 2017, we produced the installation La Torre dell’anima together, designed using anonymised tomographies. The aim was not to create “memento mori”, as all the patients had survived. We wanted to show how the body is healed in the contemporary era and to what extent it can be modified in order to accomplish this. The installation brings together the topographical recording of patients’ fractures with the memory of events that led to their trauma, reconstructing the likely circumstances. The tomographies are then printed in 3D. The circumstances of each of the fractures are explained in scenes shown inside the skull. These same scenes are reproduced on a 1:1 scale in an environment designed for virtual reality, in which the viewer has to move through the skulls which take on the dimension of caverns. 

You are exhibiting at the collective exhibition Eternité (Eternity) presented by the CHRONIQUES Biennale, from 12 November 2020 to 17 January 2021. How are the themes of this exhibition echoed in your work? What are you going to exhibit?

Techno-scientific modernity has shaken up our relationship with ourselves, life and the environments in which it is at play. Given the seriousness of the challenges, a host of environmental regulation techniques have been developed. The installation presented at CHRONIQUES, Les jardins cybernétiques, highlights the ways in which people are now planning to use technoscience for environmental regulation. The installation includes a short film of computer-generated images that puts all these transformations into context. It also incorporates three interactive sculptures, stainless-steel “chrysalides” in which plants are grown and disrupted according to how close the spectators are. A five-hour walk through around twenty Paris parks and gardens is played in time-lapse on an LED panel on which normal, Anglo-Chinese, modern and post-industrial gardens collide. Finally, a 3D-printed bouquet features plants that became extinct between the onset of the Industrial Revolution and now. 

 What are your upcoming projects? 

I am one of sixteen winners of the national photographic commission from the National Centre for Visual Arts (Cnap), Image 3.0, in partnership with the Jeu de Paume museum. It will be shown in autumn 2021. I am also working on a short film project combining real shots with computer-generated images that contextualise the writings of polymaths such as Leibniz. He and many others saw mathematics, algebra and logic as ways to create an artificial language. Because it seemed to eliminate any polysemy or periphrasis, they were convinced that using it would guarantee peace between populations. The film aims to transport us into their imagination, while demonstrating the permanence of this utopia and the crisis it is going through today. 

The Institut français and the artist

With the installation Les jardins cybernétiques, Donatien Aubert is programmed as part of Chroniques, the Biennale of Digital Imagination (taking place from 12 November 2020 to 17 January 2021). The Institut français is a partner of Chroniques with the Focus digital arts and creations. 

Find out more about the Focus digital arts and creations.

L'institut français, LAB