With a shared interest in artificial life and intelligence, Sommerer and Mignonneau draw upon their disparate backgrounds to produce deeply engaging and sensory experiences. By wedding Sommerer’s background in botany, anthropology, and sculpture with Mignonneau’s studies in video and modern art, the duo design interfaces that generate open-ended, embodied encounters with living systems and science. For example, in "Interactive Plant Growing" (1992), the artists employ Erkki Huhtamo’s notion of a “tactile gaze” to achieve both visual and physical interactivity with the viewer: a human hand needs to touch the real, living plants in order to trigger a projection of digital #ora counterparts in the installation. Similarly, in "Fly Simulator" (2018) and "Neuro Mirror" (2018), the resulting artwork is unique visual feedback that is reliant on user input and activation (i.e. wearing and manipulating a VR headset, or gesturing in front of a video camera), as well as conceptual aspects of human sentience like memory, emotive perception, and creative visualization. Despite the number of years elapsed between the creation of these works, each piece demonstrates the essential quality of engagement that connects the artists’ work to the physical world.
As their research and art often posits, technology increasingly plays a fascinating and complicated role in the archaeology, imitation, and manipulation of nature – despite the generative qualities they both share.
Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau completed their PhD degrees from CAiiA-STAR, University of Wales College of Art, Newport (UK) and Kobe University (Japan), respectively. Sommerer and Mignonneau’s works have been featured in more than 300 exhibitions, and are included in media museums and collections around the world. They are the recipients of several media arts awards, including the "Golden Nica" Prix Ars Electronica Award for Interactive Art in 1994 (Linz, Austria), the "Ovation Award" of the Interactive Media Festival 1995 (Los Angeles, USA), the "Multi Media Award '95" of the Multimedia Association Japan, and the 2001 “World Technology Award” in London. They have published numerous research papers on artificial life, interactivity and interface design, and have lectured extensively at international universities and events. They are Professors at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria, where they also head the Department for Interface Culture at the Institute for Media.
Their work “Portrait on the Fly” won the 11th edition of the ARCO-BEEP Electronic Art Award
Portrait on the Fly, consists of a monitor that shows a swarm of a few thousand flies. When a person positions himself in front of it, the insects try to detect his facial features. They then begin to arrange themselves so as to reproduce them, thereby creating a recognizable likeness of the individual. Posing in front of the monitor attracts the flies. Within seconds they invade the face, but even the slightest movement of the head or of parts of the face drives them off. The portraits are thus in constant flux, they construct and deconstruct. Portrait on the Fly is a commentary on our love for making pictures of ourselves (Selfie-Culture). It has to do with change, transience and impermanence.