Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s research-based practice utilizes digital technology to address feelings of anxiety and dissonance brought upon by rapid environmental and technological change. The Danish-born artist collaborates with biologists, researchers, and cross-disciplinary artists to create “slow media,” a process involving extensive durational fieldwork. Eschewing didacticism, Kudsk Steensen’s practice centers on sensorial experience, often weaving 3D animation with sound recordings and speculative narratives. These simulations allow viewers to experience often overlooked natural phenomena.
For his installation RE-ANIMATED (2018-19), Kudsk Steensen digitally reconstructed the extinct Kaua’i ‘ō’ō bird and its environment using virtual reality. The artist first encountered the bird on YouTube: a user had uploaded a recording of the Hawaiian bird’s very unique mating call and received over half-a-million views. This introduction launched an extensive research process that began at New York’s Museum of Natural History, an institution that collected the Kaua’i ‘ō’ō bird in the 1800s. Kudsk Steensen explored all of the Museum’s related holdings, from the actual feathers to archives of local flora, and then traveled to Kauai to capture the natural landscape. Kudsk Steesen and his collaborators synthesized these various forms of research materials to animate the bird and its habitat as accurately as possible in virtual reality. Kudsk Steensen’s complex and often laborious process becomes obscured by the visceral immediacy of the final work. At a 2020 lecture on Eco Grief, critical theorist Judith Butler noted that mourning is instructive: it tells us what we value and what we’re connected to. Kudsk Steensen’s work records grief whilst simultaneously enacting the utopian promise of art and technology, leading an audience through a lost world and ultimately reckoning with the possibility of reorienting our relationship to nature through technology.
During his time at Callie’s, Kudsk Steensen worked on Berl-Berl, a collaboration with the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, and Light Art Space (LAS). Exhibited at Berghain during the summer of 2021, the large-scale installation combined 3D-animated amphibians and insects found in the areas surrounding Berlin, with reanimated extinct species from the Museum für Naturkunde’s archives. With this work, Kudsk Steensen aimed to situate the viewer in an altered temporality: a constellation of the past and future tied together through the artist’s delicate logic, steeped in poetry, natural history, field biology, and digital technology.