Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, climate change and virtual reality

How Daniel Steegmann Mangrané effectively expressed the damages of climate change and colonialism through a virtual utopia.

From the 16th February 2019, Nottingham Contemporary has been exhibiting the work of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, showcasing his debut major show. A Catalan-born artist whose primary focus is the effect of post-colonialism in the rainforests through radical anthropology, aiming to investigate the prospects and abilities of technologies and diverse mediums. Curated by Abi Spinks, the show features new and existing works of hypnotic installations, a 16mm film, architectural sets and virtual reality goggles where spectators can explore the essences of nature from the gallery.

The Rio de Janeiro-based artist portrays bearings of the Mata Atlântica, Brazil’s Atlantic tropical rainforest, one which has suffered more within its ecosystem than any other large forest in the world. The Atlantic Rainforest is one of the most important biodiverse areas in the world, yet preserving only 7% of its original surface left. Originally stretching across Brazil’s coastline, it once covered parts of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay but today only survives in small, degraded patches and protected areas. Since as early as the 16th Century, Mata Atlântica has been through many conflicts; ranging from territorial, human, geographic and historical factors to scientific, ecological and economic components.

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These pressures have subjected the rainforest to a significant shift in its environment, with an array of competing demands of the territory creating a stimulation of relationships and a complex and impervious network. “The rainforest is a metaphor and model of thinking” Steegmann personifies. Influenced by the work of fundamental Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who coined the term ‘Perspectivism’ in the 90s, a movement that supports the view that perception, experience, and reason all change according to the viewer’s relative perspective and interpretation.

Perspectivism is based on the Amerindian belief that everything has a form of spirit that is alive and well. This mirrors with Steegmann’s installations and the way he conveys his work, blurring the lines between material and immaterial. By applying differing patterns, configurations and technologies he uses different mediums to show how the environment can be represented. This approach highlights the limits of representation, also actively going against the opposite to Western thought since the onset of modernity making spectators rethink nature as we know it.

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April has seen over 130 galleries, museums, and creative institutions across the UK declare a ‘climate and ecological emergency’, calling for immediate action to combat the climate change crisis; an exhibition such as this one would deem fitting. Upon entry, we are immediately engulfed by Steegmann’s vision of a disintegrating ecosystem. The brand new 2019 installation of _C_A_N_O_P_Y_ demonstrates geometric forms in an organic fashion, by cutting certain shapes into the ceiling and letting the light seep through in a dark room in order to mirror sunlight penetrating the forest canopy.

The same room, contains a surreal virtual reality environment which is accessed through a HTC Vive Pro headset experienced with a Oculus Rift headset titled Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2015). A piece designed to engulf it’s users into a 3D scan of the deteriorating Mata Atlântica, the interactive yet devastating reality informs through a full headset that covers all your main senses while the VR-user describes their environment to onlookers through their movements, almost feeling the anxiety of the disappearing nature as it’s happening.

Just before entering the next gallery, within a small hidden room, is 16mm (2009-11) a 16mm film with synchronised 4-channel digital sound as part of this piece is a film that draws into the depths of the rainforest at the same pace as the footage roll, linking the film and the rainforest mechanically and abstractly and through a Structuralist approach, we are immersed into a montage of this verdant verdure.

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The final room exhibits the brand new 2019 artwork, Living Thoughts (2019). At first glance, the glass and epiphytic plants look as though they’re floating in thin air. Working alongside London-based glass-maker Jochen Holz, the two created hand-blown branches that are attached to orchids; mosses; cacti and bromeliads alike to mirror the multiple lives and layers that exist within the rainforest that coexist yet fight to survive.

Incorporating his interest of biology since early childhood, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané expresses his feelings of admiration yet reasonable concern over the earth’s current environmental state. While highlighting themes of climate change we are also made more aware through an interaction that is given beyond a way that we’re used to, but are able to consume-through technology. The Word For World is Forest gives an escapist feel of fantasy yet once you delve in deeper to its context, a brutal realisation surfaces that not everything is as it is perceived.

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