Virgile Ittah et Kai Yoda
Before becoming a duo, you each worked solo. How did you forge this artistic bond?
Virgile Ittah: I studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London and my early work was largely inspired by my personal history. I soon felt as though the art world was pushing me in this direction, encouraging me to explore my connections to my roots or my status as a woman artist. Not wanting to meet those expectations, I gradually realised that it was more interesting to invent new ways of seeing the society of the future than shutting myself away in the past. At the time, Kai and I were already putting on joint exhibitions. I felt that this collaboration could be the way to shatter these barriers, so that our respective identities were no longer recognisable in our work. It was a very natural step to form a duo with Kai, as I grew up watching my parents working together as partners, but I had never had the opportunity to collaborate as a pair before.
Kai Yoda: I grew up in an environment where working as a group was very natural. My parents also worked together and I grew up helping them from time to time. Then, when studying photography at the Royal College of Art in London, I always worked in groups wherever possible. That’s also how I discovered my calling: after finishing one of my projects, my classmates and tutor explained that photography wasn’t the medium for me. So I decided to switch to sculpture, but I needed help in order to do so. I put out an advert. Among the responses was Virgile’s. We shared our studio, and that’s where it all began.
Duo, collective, alter ego: what is Ittah Yoda?
Yoda: It’s not really a duo, but a single entity in its own right. Working as a pair is less important to me than producing a piece collectively. Creating an entity in which our identities are fused seemed a good way to achieve that.
Ittah: Ittah Yoda is not simply the juxtaposition of our surnames. It also includes everyone who contributes to our work: the artisan glassmaker from Atelier Gamil, Marta and Tea Stražičić, two sisters originally from Croatia who programme our virtual reality pieces, bod [包 的巷] who designs the sound for the VR, or the 3D/VR algorithms that we use for our work. We decided to juxtapose our two surnames with the idea of further blurring lines, so that the public can’t really identify who we are and where we're from. It’s the same process as with our sculptural work, which involves primitive forms that are archetypal in our artistic practice, so that the public can't refer to any specific narrative or origin.
What influences fuel your practice?
Yoda: When we started working together, we realised that we were both trying to capture movement. From this perspective, Virgile has been very much influenced by Rodin's sculptures. I, meanwhile, really admire the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, particularly his Seascapes series, prolonged-exposure shots of different seascapes that address the concept of “deep time”.
Ittah: Generally, duos work on what they have in common. But we are opposite in a lot of ways: our backgrounds, our cultures, our points of view. But this complexity is something we try to make into a strength, something that enriches our works.
How does your creative process work?
Ittah: Creative work happens organically. There is no distribution of roles so to speak, but our personalities are involved in different ways at each stage. My character means that I am likely to start off a piece, while Kai is more inclined to finish it. In Japan, the art of creating floral compositions is called ikebana. I often say that Kai is my “ikebana master”, because he can spend an endless amount of time absorbed in composing our installations.
Yoda: 3D also introduces an important element. There's something that I call “a moment of chance”. We create a form, something that comes from us, then we place it within a system that we haven't designed and don’t fully control.
Ittah: This is one of the unique things about creating with the digital. 3D allows you to work on variation and repetition. At the start of the project five years ago, we modelled the first “alpha” sculpture and made it in silicone. Since then, in our installations, each form that we produce is an alteration of the previous one. To produce a new sculpture, we work with calculation algorithms that modify the previously-modelled form. We then make adjustments as we go, depending on what we’re looking for and how surprising the result is. This process is part of working in partnership with the machine.
Your art draws on the day-to-day, technologies, social media. As an artist, is it important to take account of the modern world?
Ittah: Our partnership is based on a desire to reflect the movements of society. Through social media, we are watching a revolution in terms of communication. We are no longer seeing a vertical hierarchy, but connective structures that are comparable to rhizomes. The #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements were hugely important for us. We therefore try to reproduce this new communication system in our work, involving the public as an active participant that can alter the forms of our installation and VR artwork by communicating with artificial intelligence. We are thereby attempting to create a new reality with the help of a rhizomic network of connections between artwork and viewer, linking virtual and physical realities, at the origin of new landscapes and the future world.
In 2020 you took part in the Arles VR writing residency, launched by the Institut français and Fisheye. You were also in residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in autumn 2020. What projects did you develop there?
Yoda: The VR writing residency with the Institut français in Arles was an important stage in developing the writing of our new VR piece. We had the opportunity to meet French and foreign professionals from the VR industry, which helped us to take a more realistic approach using more tools in order to develop a more ambitious and complex VR project. Our aim now is to integrate artificial intelligences into our next VR piece in order to develop an almost autonomous organism, like a living being with its own intelligence, different to that of humans. We are looking to develop a new model of visual communication between AI and humans via a VR platform. This virtual reality project will be part of the large-format immersive installation called CHRONOS, where the public will become an active participant in the artwork.
Ittah: At the Cité Internationale des Arts, a lot of curators asked us about the environmental scope of our work, as we were working with resin. We thought it important to challenge ourselves on environmental issues and reflect the society of tomorrow through new approaches. This is why we have gradually switched from resin to glass, developing a partnership with Atelier Gamil.
In the coming months we will also be developing a liquid made from phytoplankton with an oceanographic laboratory in France, which will be put inside the blown-glass pieces and have a potentially therapeutic effect on the public during the installation.
In 2020, Virgile Ittah et Kai Yoda have been welcomed in residency by the Institut français and the VR Arles festival.
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