Declining Democracy

Francis Alÿs
Michael Bielicky &
Kamila B. Richter

Roger Cremers
Juan Manuel Echavarría
Thomas Feuerstein
Thomas Hirschhorn
Thomas Kilpper
Lucy Kimbell
Cesare Pietroiusti
Artur Żmijewski



Garden of Error and Decay, 2011
Installation view at CCC Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
Photo: Martino Margheri

Michael Bielicky and Kamila B. Richter’s Garden of Error and Decay is a multimedia installation in which the spectator becomes the direct protagonist, called to interact with the constantly changing images generated by the work.
The aesthetics of the graphic elements seems to refer to a fairy-tale imaginary world, while at closer inspection the pictographs inhabiting the digital landscape of the work are symbols for a variety of events like natural catastrophes, terrorist acts, ecological disasters, wars, financial crises, plane crashes, health damages, social riots, poverty, hunger. The artist has used several negative events as a point of departure for an archive of pictographs. With their richness in detail, the large-scale projections reconnect to the traditional aesthetics of the politically themed murals of the Twenties, while the title refers to the famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
Bielicky describes his work as a “data-driven-narrative game” or an interactive film generated in real time, whose storyline is continuously reconfigured through additional generators or narrators, introduced as new inseparable elements into the non-linear flow of the plot, influencing not only the evolution of narration itself, but also the interaction between actor and narration.
Twitter feeds and stock exchange data are introduced in real time into the piece, modifying the events and interfering with the images. Each time a piece of news on a dramatic event is reported on Twitter, a corresponding graphic element appears within the digital landscape, fed by the text fragments of the constant global flow of comments. The more a theme is popular on Twitter, the more often the corresponding pictograph will appear.
Using a joystick placed in the exhibition space, the viewer can shoot at the symbols like in a videogame. For each hit, the corresponding tweet and its author are pointed out. At the same time, the stock quote index is shown in real time.
To the viewer, the interaction via joystick suggests the impression of being able to cancel single elements from the image and to intervene in the events. In reality, though, the effect of the shooting is determined by the current state of the financial markets. If the stock exchange indexes rise, the shot fired by the participating viewer will eliminate the negative news, consequently “freeing” the world from this calamity. On the contrary, if the stock exchange indexes fall, the shot fired by the visitor will cause a spread of the negative event.
This way, the act of shooting and hitting becomes a metaphor for the attempt by the individual to exert an influence on the events, whose actual course is yet determined by a series of external factors that lie outside of the sphere of influence of a single human being.
The piece problematizes the relationship between the individual and global events. Garden of Error and Decay functions as an allegory of the impotence of the citizen when confronted with superordinate facts, which have reached such a degree of abstraction that they are not comprehensible or modifiable anymore, although they are real and determine everyone’s life.

Michael Bielicky (1954, Prague, CZ; lives and works in Karlsruhe, DE) has been student of Nam June Paik’s master class in Düsseldorf. Founder in 1991 and until 2006 Professor of the New Media Class at the Art Academy of Prague, since 2006 he has been Professor at the HfG Karlsruhe for Digital Media. Over the past twenty-five years he has participated in many international exhibitions, festivals and symposia, presenting projects that experiment with navigation, videocommunication, virtual reality and data visualization technologies, developed in collaboration with such institutions as ZKM Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica Linz, High Tech Center Berlin-Babelsberg. He exhibited in Centre Pompidou, Paris, MoMA, New York, National Gallery, Prague, Kunsthaus, Zurich.
Kamila Bielicka Richter (1976, Olomouc, CZ; lives and works in Karlsruhe, DE) operates as an artist in public spaces by means of print media and interactive urban screenings. Since 1999 she has been participating in many national and international exhibitions, with urban screenings in cooperation with Michael Bielicky and with independent anonymous projects in public spaces (Zlin, Prague, Dresden, Berlin). In 2001 she earned her Master of Fine Art (MFA) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and between 2000 and 2002 she lived in the Republic of South Africa where she studied at Technikon Natal Durban and developed the Visual Simulation of the South African Future Social Evolution. She won the PhD of Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 2010.

Declining Democracy