Geert Mul*

*Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes)

6 april - 15 september 2024

From 6 April to 15 September 2024, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam will be presenting the video installation Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes) by digital artist Geert Mul. Visitors step into a dreamy landscape of tumbling green leaves, swirling in the air as if caught in a summer breeze. Gradually they morph into fiery autumn leaves, snowflakes and fluttering petals. It is beautiful to behold; its spellbinding effect almost has the power to transport you to a place of tranquillity. But just when you think you are about to be submerged in ‘nature’, a soundscape pulls you back to (virtual) reality. Mul has adapted texts from Hollywood films that pose existential questions to the visitor about who they are and who they want to be. In doing so, the work also raises questions about who we are in an increasingly digital world.

Dialogues in a virtual landscape
Geert Mul creates virtual landscapes that are often colourful and poetic, but also ask questions about who we are as human beings in a rapidly digitalising world. His work combines a variety of media and technologies. Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes) is a prime example. Mul has developed an artificial natural landscape in which the seasons change, with falling leaves, snowflakes and rainstorms. Yet this landscape is merely the virtual backdrop for visitors who enter the installation; a soundscape of text fragments from a selection of Hollywood films focuses their attention amidst the dreaminess of this virtual nature. For this piece, Mul drew on a huge database of Hollywood film subtitles, which he then mixed into thoughtful, philosophical-sounding dialogues between virtual characters who wonder aloud who they are and who the other person is. Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes) is a poetic exploration of questions of identity and our relationship with ‘the other’ in a world increasingly influenced by AI rather than sensory and subjective experience.

Geert Mul: “Through my work I want to question and explore the boundaries between man, technology and nature. For many people, these may seem like well-defined, separate ‘entities’, but in this digital age, the lines between them are becoming increasingly fluid. This is a fascinating philosophical reality, which is also quite literally a matter of life and death in the face of the pressing climate crisis. We need to learn to recognise how technology affects our relationship with nature. And, like the characters in my installation, to keep reflecting on who we are in our interdependent relationship with nature and technology.”

Director Anne de Haij: “With Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes), we are not only presenting a penetrating work of art, but also drawing attention to an urgent issue in society. The world is digitising at such a rapid pace that we sometimes fail to realise how quickly, for instance, artificial intelligence is affecting our lives and our way of life. It is ‘silently’ and irreversibly invading our lives – making it all the more important for artists to raise our awareness of this in a poetic way.”

Influence of AI and digitalisation
Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes) was developed in 2018 for the Amsterdam Light Festival and was subsequently projected at the Eye Film Museum. The work was later exhibited at Brutus in Rotterdam (2022) and De Omstand in Arnhem (2023). This is the first time the work has been shown in a museum. In 2022, the Bit by Bit exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam explored how digitisation is affecting and changing our experience of the landscape. The use of AI in various spheres of society makes this issue more urgent than ever. The museum has continued to follow Mul since his solo exhibition in 2016, and therefore asked the artist to present this immersive work in one of the museum’s intimate attic spaces.

About Geert Mul
Geert Mul (1965) lives and works in Rotterdam. He is a pioneer in the field of digital art and poetic exploration at the intersection of art and technology. In the mid-1990s, Mul became one of the first VJs in the alternative techno scene. These events evolved into interactive audiovisual environments, commissioned artworks and installations exhibited in public spaces, museums and festivals. The unifying theme throughout his 25-year artistic career has been the exploration and questioning of the boundaries between humans, technology and nature. In 2016, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam presented Mul’s first solo museum exhibition, entitled Match Maker. On this occasion, the museum also acquired three works by Mul for its collection.

Images: Geert Mul. Reflections in a Virtual Nature (Queries in Algorithmic Landscapes), 2021, image courtesy of the artist.