"Programming languages are my colour palette” – ITU’s Mogens Jacobsen wins prestigious art grant
The artist Mogens Jacobsen who teaches at Digital Design at the IT University of Copenhagen creates art inspired by technology and scientific research. Today, he is the recipient of a grant from the prestigious Niels Wessel Bagge Art Foundation.
Digital artist and teacher at the IT University of Copenhagen, Mogens Jacobsen, currently has an interactive piece entitled This text is an organism (You are an environment) on display as part of the “The World is In You”-exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. The exhibition, which is presented by Medical Museion, highlights cutting edge research in biomedicine by taking an artistic approach to understanding our conception of the human body and our understanding of ourselves in the world. Mogens Jacobsen’s piece is inspired by the field of epigenetics.
“Epigenetics is the study of how environmental factors can cause changes in the way our genes work,” says Mogens Jacobsen. “In the 90’s, scientists mapped the human genome, but we still cannot explain why stem cells evolve the way they do. According to the theory of epigenetics, certain factors can activate and deactivate the genes.”
How do you artistically interpret a complex topic like epigenetics? Mogens Jacobsen’s piece takes as its point of departure a medical textbook from 1957 called The Strategy of the Genes, which is the first book to use the term “epigenetics”. Using machine learning to map the individual words of the text in a multi-dimensional space, the museum visitor is allowed to manipulate the positions of the words on a screen. By “turning up or down” the value of certain words, they can change its relationship to other words. According to the artist, the piece will ultimately reveal how the guests interactive with each other across time – the exhibition will remain open for 107 days total.
“This text is an organism (You are an environment)” is indicative of Mogens Jacobsen’s oeuvre. The artist, who today receives a grant of a 100,000 DKK from the Niels Wessel Bagge Art Foundation, is highly inspired by technology, its inherent possibilities, and our cultural relationship to it.
Systems and machines
“Forcing myself to gain a nuanced understanding of complex scientific topics, is very motivating to me in my work,” says Mogens Jacobsen. “My task is to interpret those topics artistically. I try to look differently at the machines and systems that researchers work with and within.”
Mogens Jacobsen has a background in the private sector where he has worked for years with design and usability. Since the 90’s, when the internet gained prominence, he has been fascinated by electronic and digital art. His work has since then been displayed in galleries and museums in many countries – from ZKM in Karlsruhe to the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen.
His production is characterized by versatility. He has created everything from kinetic sculptures and interactive machines pieced together by old personal computers to a symphony orchestra of vacuum cleaners and conceptual pieces that rely on complicated machine learning and programming to make the viewer/user question ways in which we interact with technology.
“The big tech companies produce technology for specific purposes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak them for other purposes,” says Mogens Jacobsen. “In that sense, my work is not dissimilar to the work researchers conduct in labs at ITU. It is all about seeing new opportunities in existing technologies. I just have the advantage of not having to consider user friendliness in my work.”
The digital palette
Mogens Jacobsen’s artistic drive was sparked by the internet. What initially fascinated him was the interaction between user and technology. In some of his early work, he tried pushing the limits of internet browsers to see how far he could go in generating new types of interaction.
“That’s where it all started for me,” he says. “Experimenting with creating something new out the meeting between the user and technology. I see programming languages as my colour palette or my brush if you will. Most artists have a craftsman’s relationship to their material, and mine happens to be code.”
The artist is currently working in the Airlab at ITU on a new piece based on a research project gauging the perception of the healthcare system in Denmark. The piece is the result of a collaborative effort with Associate Professor Jonas Fritsch from Digital Design and Associate Professor Christopher Gad from Business IT.
At the moment, he cannot reveal details about the form of the coming piece, but recently he has worked on challenging himself in terms of the technological tools he employs in his production: “I would like to create more art using machine learning,” says Mogens Jacobsen. “There is a widespread notion that digital art is expressed in beautiful images or sounds. I am more interested in the process itself, the algorithms, and the code. There is an aesthetic side to machine causality, and I would like to explore that even further.” Theis Duelund Jensen, Press Officer, Tel: +45 2555 0447, email: firstname.lastname@example.org