Extended Reality – Code and Materiality in Art and Culture

What does materiality mean for art and culture from today’s perspective? How can materiality be understood in our “post-digital”1 age, where digital technologies permeate creative work from start to finish, both in terms of tools and materials used and also conceptually? Indeed, many artists today no longer work solely with physical materials such as paint and paper, wood and stone – instead, artworks, like design processes and cultural productions, pass through various states of analog and digital materiality. Augmented and mixed reality enable the combination of physical and programmed realities. In the case of virtual reality, the result is usually an experience that fades out the analog environment – how can we still speak of materiality in this context?

Code simulates the nature of visual surfaces using shaders and textures, abstracting, enhancing or distorting them in such a way that new materials are created in the virtual world. These open up an enormous spectrum of sometimes surreal possibilities of expression for artists. The (im)materiality of the computer-generated human body is one of several aspects that are increasingly coming into focus in the performative arts. Similarly, orchestral music can be understood in a new way as material, which can be digitally processed on the computer and combined with visual art in extended reality. The use of sound, but also of haptic stimuli, can contribute quite significantly to the simulation of multisensory materiality.

On the front end, we interact with 3D models, animations and sound. In the back end, however, code written by humans goes through various levels of abstraction in order to be understood and executed by the mobile device – such as the smartphone or virtual reality glasses. The algorithm is literally inscribed in its material: Once triggered, it ultimately sets the technical device into a transformation of changing energetic states – invisible, but still material even at the nano level.2 Digital art can be described as “neo-material” that, among other things, reveals precisely this invisible connection between user interface and backend as its own condition, its conditio-sine-qua-non.3

The exhibition “EXTENDED REALITY – Code and Materiality in Art and Culture” illuminates various aspects of digital materiality through selected works from design, art, literature, music, performance and science that have been created in interdisciplinary engagement with the technologies of augmented, mixed and virtual reality.

September 3–30, 2021

Atrium of the Institute for Cultural Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin
Georgenstr. 47, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Funded by the German Research Foundation and the European Regional Cooperation Fund in the program “Strengthening the Potential for Innovation in Culture II” with the kind support of the Senate Department for Culture and Europe.

1 The term was created by Kim Cascone in 2012, »because the revolutionary period of the digital information age has surely passed« (The Aesthetics of Failure, in: Computer Music Journal, 24/4, S. 12)

2 vgl. Bernard Stiegler, Economie de l’ Hypermatériel et Psychopouvoir, Paris 2009, and his term of »Hypermateriality«.

3 cf. the proposal of this term by Christiane Paul: From Immateriality to Neomateriality, in: ISEA 2015. ISSN: 2451-8611.