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Exhibition Review: Data Garden by Kyriaki Goni

By Foteini Vergidou.

Plants are cool. Having plants is cooler. But now, artist Kyriaki Goni brings a far more interesting suggestion to the table. How about plants that can also be a hard drive?

What data would we choose to store there and how would we value them? What would be important to preserve and how our relation with nature would be affected, if a process like that would be adopted?

Kyriaki Goni Foteini Vergidou Ferocious Urbanites
Film still of “Data Garden” (2020). Courtesy: Kyriaki Goni

One thing is for sure, though; storing data in the DNA of a plant is an act of refined resistance against surveillance. Nowadays, surveillance capitalism shapes our culture in ways many people oversee or simply don’t know. Mega platforms, like Google and Facebook, monitor and control everything and every aspect of our lives without us having a chance to see what data is being collected from us. With her show Data Garden at Onassis Stegi Foundation, Kyriaki Goni investigates our relation to the planet and to other forms of intelligence and challenges the predominance of extreme surveillance.

But let’s take it from the top.

Kyriaki Goni. Portrait: Andreas Simopoulos

Kyriaki Goni is a long time favorite multimedia artist here at the Ferocious Urbanites team. Her scope of work is mainly focused on digital culture, where she investigates how technology shapes our society by using both technological and traditional media. From network nodes, to prints and videos and from neural networks to large-scale drawings, her installations are always something to look for.

Data Garden is Goni’s solo exhibition that opened last week online through the Onassis Foundation media platforms. Containing a completely new body of work; drawings, prints, videos, an AR app and a six-channel sound piece, her multimedia installation is also the key Greek participation to this years' Ars Electronica festival titled Kepler’s Gardens. Her work is installed in the underground exhibition space of the Onassis Stegi building, but due to the COVID-19 regulations, the show will not be physically accessible to the public. Nonetheless, viewers can still virtually dive into this peculiar garden until the 20th of September.

“Data Garden” Installation view. Photo: Nikos Kokkas

Ferocious Urbanites had the chance to have an actual sneak peak of the show accompanied with a private tour by the artist.

The show starts with a ritualistic vibe, when a polyphonic sound installation, coming from the underground like a growing seed, welcomes the audience into the exhibition space.

Installation view of “Data Garden” (2020). Photo: Nikos Kokkas

As we enter the dimly lit room, the first work that captures our attention is Data Garden, a 12-minute video in a wall-size projection. It is a semi-speculative story that is based in two scientific facts; the successful storage and retrieval of digital data in the DNA of a plant and the rediscovery of the plant Micromeria Acropolitana, found to be growing only on the Acropolis hill, after being perceived as extinct for over 100 years.

Film still of “Data Garden” (2020). Courtesy: Kyriaki Goni

Here we are introduced to a fictional community in Athens in the spring of 2020. Its members, following practices that respect the planet's ecosystem, keep their personal data in the DNA of a tiny Acropolis endemic plant. This work seems timelier than ever, since not only the climate change crisis is alarmingly increasing but also, due to the pandemic crisis, under-the-skin surveillance has becoming normalized.

This video essay is the central piece of the exhibition and creates a poetic network with all the other artworks that Goni uses to raise questions regarding digital rights and climate justice. Walking away from Data Garden, we are drawn by a big black & white drawing, illustrating a rich underground network of roots. This captivating work invites us to focus on the complexity of the ecosystem thriving under and around the Acropolis hill, placing the image of the Parthenon temple - from its usual leading role - to the background.

“A dense, hidden network of roots” (2020). Courtesy: Kyriaki Goni

Throughout the exhibition space, videos of the interviews from the artist with scientists from respective fields, sharing their thoughts on biosecurity, genetics and environmentalism, create a thorough documentation frame of Data Garden’s research and development process.

Installation view. “Video call with Edward Perello” (2020) Photo: Nikos Kokkas

Most of Kyriaki Goni’s artworks have their basis in her personal experiences, something that we can find being applied here as well. In the 10m-print, the artist attempted to code the memory of a farewell note from her grandfather in 2003 and store it as data in the DNA sequence of her plant.

Installation view of “First encoding attempt for future storage in the plant’s DNA” (2020) Photo: Nikos Kokkas

What is this new hybrid language that is being developed and what does it say about our relation to plants? The idea of them being passive receptors of human activity, found hierarchically at the bottom of the pyramid as seen in Diego de Valadés’ Great Chain of Being (1579) is symbolically turned over by the artist’s rearrangement, in an attempt to highlight the importance of reevaluating the role of plants as organisms on which life is depended and to construct a future-sustainable relation with them.

Installation view of “A defective hierarchy whose time to be overthrown had finally come” (2020). Photo: Nikos Kokkas

The exhibition is completed with an augmented reality application that uses camouflage techniques to depict the tiny Micromeria Acropolitana, reminding us not just the need for the plant to remain hidden and but also our need and right to obscurity.

Installation view of “Augmented Reality Portrait of the Invisible Plant” (2020). Photo: Nikos Kokkas

The crisis of climate change, the carbon footprint of data centers and the alternative proposals to the ways we could co-exist in this digital age with each other, the planet and other forms of intelligence is now, more than ever, urgent to explore.

After all, in the end, the challenges humanity will face will remain unchanged. Our reaction to these challenges, from sustainable digitization to humans operating as community members and to the developing of new ways to co-exist and to build networks with other forms of intelligence, will reveal the data ecologies of tomorrow.

Film still of “Data Garden” (2020). Courtesy: Kyriaki Goni

A virtual tour of the solo exhibition Data Garden by Kyriaki Goni will be available online from the 9th of September until the 20th of September via Onassis Foundation website & YouTube channel


Concept, Design & Realization - Kyriaki Goni

Camera - Alex Dimitriadis

Sound Recording Voice Over - Nikos Konstantinou

Introductory Text - Daphne Dragona

AR Programming - George Kairis (Enneas.Gr)

3d Modeling Production - Antonis Kalagkatsis

Music - Vassula Delli & Roula Tsernou

Music Performed by - Female Vocal Ensemble “Pleiades”

Recording & Multi-Channel Sound Installation - Aris Delitheos

Lighting Consultant - Danilof Light + Visual Perception

Translation & Subtitling - Yourtranslator

Recording Studio - Tone Studio Athens

Digital Fabric Printing Studio - Textum Digital

Printing At Archival Paper - Filmora Photolab

Wall-Mounted Frames - Nikos Sdralis

Production Management - Prodromos Tsiavos, Ηeracles Papatheodorou

Production Coordination - Ioanna Margariti

Line Production- Irilena Tsami

Commissioned & Produced By - Onassis Stegi

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