Geoffrey Pugen in Conversation with Fakewhale
In an era where the boundaries between the natural and digital worlds are becoming increasingly blurred, the work of artists like Geoffrey Pugen stands out for their multifaceted approach to exploring this dichotomy. From envisioning a world where humans can transform into animals through technology, to capturing the delicate balance between humanity’s technological advancements and nature’s unpredictable responses, Geoffrey Pugen’s practice encourages viewers to reflect on our place within these vast ecosystems. In this interview, we delve into the inspirations, motivations, and processes behind Pugen’s work, shedding light on the contemporary challenges and possibilities that lie ahead.
Fakewhale: What was your initial inspiration to explore the intersection of technology and nature through various forms of art?
Geoffrey Pugen: My early work was influenced by my fascination with technology and its profound effects on the human condition and the natural environment. With a background in theatre, sports, and media, I sought to integrate these influences, leading to the conception of “Utopics.” This continually evolving project imagines a future where individuals transform into animals through technological retreats and programs. It establishes a foundational premise for many subsequent works, such as “Weather Room”—an exploration of a world where humans cease to exist, leaving machines and nature to intertwine.
Fakewhale: How do you think speculation about the future affects contemporary society through your art?
Geoffrey Pugen: Speculating about the future provides an accessible entry point for people to engage with looming global concerns like climate change and the pervasive effects of capitalism. Through my work, I visualize vast, intricate phenomena—like hyperobjects—to foster empathy and awareness about our shared environmental and societal challenges.
Fakewhale: In what way is transhumanism represented in your works?
Geoffrey Pugen: “Utopics” serves as a pivotal exploration of transhumanism in my body of work. It was notably showcased at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art during the “Future Species” exhibition curated by David Liss. The project crafts a fictional wellness program by blending elements of corporate jargon, self-help terminology, and new-age nuances, creating an uncanny bridge between reality and fiction. Through “Utopics” and its envisioning of technological and biological metamorphosis, I closely examine the interactions of technology, nature, and human identity, examining our potential evolutionary pathways.
Fakewhale: How do you perceive the impact of nature on society and how do you express it through your art?
Geoffrey Pugen: In my recent “E-Sphere” series, I’ve visualized hyperobjects as self-contained biomes or micro-worlds. These imagined realms tackle vast phenomena, from ecological shifts to the intricacies of capitalism. The series underscores the profound and often devastating impacts of climate change on our environment. For me, nature doesn’t merely function as a passive backdrop to human activity; it actively responds, often in unpredictable and volatile ways, to the pressures we place upon it. Climate change is not just an abstract scientific concept—it’s a visceral, tangible force that’s reshaping our landscapes, our weather patterns, and our very way of life. My art seeks to capture this dynamic, emphasizing both the beauty and fragility of the natural world as it confronts an era of unprecedented change. Through visualizing these altered biomes, I aim to foster a deeper understanding and empathy for the urgent environmental challenges we face.
Fakewhale: Can you talk about the tension between the virtual and the real in your projects?
Geoffrey Pugen: The tension between the virtual and the real is a persistent theme in my work. As our world becomes increasingly mediated by screens, the boundaries between what’s tangible and intangible blur. My projects often grapple with this duality, exploring how digital and physical realms intersect and influence one another. For instance, in creating docu-fiction landscapes, I challenge perceptions of reality by melding authentic locations with digitally-altered elements. These interplays question the nature of our lived experiences in an age where virtual interactions can hold as much, if not more, weight than physical ones.
Fakewhale: How has video screen technology been integrated into your recent sculptural works?
Geoffrey Pugen: In 2019, I integrated a video screen into a piece titled “Case (cybergarden),” where the juxtaposition of collaged natural scenes inside a pelican case serves as a metaphor for humanity’s attempts to control and master nature.
The subsequent year, 2020, saw the creation of the “Weather Stations,” a series of sculptures that merge utilitarian steel forms with video screen technology. These stations, by design, allude to the ongoing collection of data, echoing the ways in which machines might outlive humanity, persistently capturing and analyzing patterns. They stand as potential sentinels of a future, predicting weather patterns and more in a world possibly devoid of human intervention.
Most recently, in 2022, I realized “Mantis,” a multi-channel circular video installation. This piece features the video “Malware,” synchronized across six monitors. The video depicts a reimagined mall, resurrecting stores that had faced bankruptcy over the years. This digital walkthrough underscores the fleeting nature of consumer trends and the transient allure of commercial establishments.
Fakewhale: In what way do your spatially-synced multi-screen installations interact with the surrounding architecture?
Geoffrey Pugen: My spatially-synced multi-screen installations are designed to not only present content but to also engage with the space they inhabit. By synchronized screens, I offer the viewer a dynamic, spatial narrative that unfolds as they navigate the installation. This creates a dialogue between the content, the screens, and the surrounding architecture.
The intention is to immerse the viewer in a multi-dimensional experience where the architecture becomes a vital component of the artwork. Instead of merely being a backdrop, the space actively shapes the viewer’s journey and interpretation. For instance, in “Mantis,” the circular arrangement of the monitors encourages a circular movement around the installation, echoing the cyclical narrative of the “Malware” video. The spatial design of the installation and its interaction with the architecture aims to guide viewers, drawing them into the themes and concepts presented, while also prompting them to consider their physical relationship to the space.
Fakewhale: How has your experience been working with MKG127 in Toronto?
Geoffrey Pugen: Working with MKG127 in Toronto has provided me with a platform to showcase my work to diverse audiences. Participating in art fairs like Untitled San Francisco has been a notable highlight, allowing me to connect with the dynamic and vibrant arts community of the city. One exhibition that particularly stands out during my collaboration with MKG127 is “Weather Room.” This exhibition, as reviewed by Marilyn Adlington in PUBLIC 61, encapsulated many of the themes and techniques I’ve been exploring over the years, from the intricate balance between technology and nature to the profound questions about humanity’s place in a post-human world.
Fakewhale: Can you share about how you received the K.M Hunter Award for Interdisciplinary Art and what it represented for you?
Geoffrey Pugen: Receiving the K.M. Hunter Award for Interdisciplinary Art was at a pivotal moment early in my career. The recognition not only affirmed the direction of my work but also provided support that helped me continue my research in mixed reality and docu-fiction. The award symbolized an acknowledgment and reinforced my commitment to interdisciplinary art.
Fakewhale: What are your future projects, particularly in terms of exploring new technologies or themes?
Geoffrey Pugen: I keep on coming back to the idea that, like a frog in slowly boiling water, humanity may be unaware of the incremental threats posed by these issues until it’s too late.
In my upcoming projects, I’m focusing on sculptural works that incorporate the aesthetics of LED traffic signage. I’m also developing new photographic works that blend with mixed reality, utilizing 3D modeling and compositing tools. Additionally, I’m working on creating CGI virtual worlds in Unreal Engine for “Utopics.” These environments are about experimenting with visuals and discovering new ways to tell stories in this evolving medium.
Geoffrey Pugen is an artist experimenting at the intersection of technology and nature through video, photo and installation. Thematically, Pugen contemplates speculative futures, transhumanism, the impact of nature on society and conflicts between the virtual and the real. His most recent sculptural work integrates video screen technology into architectural forms, creating spatially-synced multi-screen installations. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Transmediale, Berlin, WRO Biennial in Poland, Bienal De La Imagen En Movimiento, Buenos Aires, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Rotterdam Film Festival. He is a recipient of the K.M Hunter Award for Interdisciplinary Art.