Field work

Floating somewhere between art and design, Vera-Maria Glahn and Marcus Wendt explore the boundaries of our digital landscape

It all started as a two-person ‘laptop operation’ in Marcus Wendt and Vera-Maria Glahn’s living room. Now FIELD has grown into a studio that collaborates with artists and designers from around the world to create digitally driven, generative pieces as large-scale installations, animations, apps, identities and even print work.

After meeting at art school in Kassel, Germany, Wendt and Glahn quickly discovered an interest in generative design, and founded FIELD based on three key areas which Wendt explains as, “Making things alive, making things interactive, and [combining] mass producing and customising”. As a studio, FIELD is inspired by research into artificial life and intelligence, science visualisations, contemporary painting, sculpture, and other fields that aren’t necessarily directly related to design. Wendt describes the studio’s founding principles and interests as akin to a map, explaining, “We said it’s like there are three poles and somewhere in the middle we always want to go back to the visual arts. If you’re the graphic designer with the warm jacket on you can go exploring in one direction, even if it’s an unrelated field, you can find things that are interesting and come back with discoveries.”

FIELD first made its mark with its work on a permanent installation for Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong. The studio partnered with Universal Everything’s Matt Pyke to create a 12m-wide installation which features eight constantly changing, generative artworks. Wendt explains the immediate effect the commission had on the studio, “It went from a laptop operation in our living room to recruiting ten computational designers, directing them, working with Matt, working with Deutsche Bank, managing the tech side, managing the design side – it was extremely intense.”

Although the studio was formed in Germany, Wendt and Glahn relocated to London as soon as they graduated from art school. The pair were drawn to London’s open-mindedness. “In Germany we have a culturally more black and white distinction. If you say you’re an artist, people expect you to be poor and unreliable, and that’s what they want you to be,” says Wendt. “If you say you’re a designer, then you’re expected to be a tool for hire.” With FIELD existing somewhere between these two poles, their move to London gave them a chance to work without restriction.

“Everyone has to survive somehow, and we decided we want to survive on our own terms making good work that we believe in, and are excited about, and still get paid and not suffer for it,” adds Wendt. Glahn shares a similar opinion, and is reluctant to put FIELD’s work under a specific genre. “No matter whether you call it design or art, what we’re really interested in is communicating,” she says. “We wouldn’t want to be making artworks that nobody’s interested in, or no-one wants to see. It’s always a conversation, whatever you bring out, and that can come from different purposes.”

In 2010 the studio brought its digital approach to a project with Sea Design for paper manufacturer GF Smith, by creating 10,000 different covers for the company’s brochure (the project was featured in the CR Annual). Each cover featured a unique digital painting, created using generative coding and based on a virtual sculpture. By applying their digital approach to a print project Glahn says they were trying to challenge people’s perceptions of print. “Having a unique cover for every single copy makes you pick it up differently and treat it differently,” she says, “and it becomes almost an interactive product in the end.” For Sea’s Bryan Edmondson working with FIELD offered a chance to combine coding techniques with print technology, “The possibilities digital reproduction gives a designer are endless. Reproduction on a mass scale tends to be limited to no variation or unique ‘editions’, however we wanted to exploit generative coding techniques alongside digital print technology to its full, with the resulting project being instantly recognisable as a GF Smith design.”

Much of FIELD’s work has been created for permanent, or semi-permanent installations. Two Words For Tomorrow – a travelling piece created for The One Centre – featured ever-changing and adapting ribbons of colour. Another collaboration with Matt Pyke for his Super Computer Romantics exhibition at La Gaité Lyrique in Paris featured a room-sized installation of generative creatures, entitled Communion and designed to celebrate the diversity of life. However their latest project brings their work to a smaller, personal screen.

Energy Flow, created in partnership with Vice and Intel’s The Creators Project, is a storytelling app with the tag line ‘Ten stories, a thousand perspectives’. It offers an almost infinite variety of narratives, determined using a complicated editing algorithm, and based on a series of clips taken from ten different animated short films. Glahn explains that the app was a chance to test how a piece of art would function in such a personal environment, as opposed to an installation. “Energy Flow was really an experiment. And a research project to see how this platform could work for an artwork – how many people you can reach, and how they take it on board. Or how they react compared to an exhibition that’s just in one specific space in one city, and has limited scope. This can be as immersive as an installation is, but in your own time and your own world.”

The year-long creation of Energy Flow has not only given FIELD the chance to carry out a lot of visual research, but also emphasised its founders’ importance as storytellers, rather than designers. “We came through this software angle and computational design angle, but now the key thing that’s important to me is the idea, the story, and letting that develop,” Wendt says.

Both Wendt and Glahn see self-initiated work such as this as an important part of the studio’s output, as well as an opportunity for FIELD to establish its own identity, outside of its previous collaborations. Wendt is interested in the idea of the artist as an entrepreneur, and is keen to create opportunities for the studio to initiate its own work, and tell its own stories. He elaborates, “These days everything’s so much more in flux and you have much better access to markets where a small studio like us can publish something. I’d rather initiate our own work than wait for an amazing opportunity to come to us. That way you create a lot more buzz and your own stories.”

Whilst FIELD’s work is driven and informed by technology, it is never about the technology itself, but rather a core identity that works across all media channels and experiences. “What we’re trying to do, and want to achieve with the next couple of projects is that the platforms are there from the beginning, and they’re all taken into consideration so they’re equal,” says Glahn. “No matter what channel you take to access the idea you’re going to get a similar impression and a similar experience.”

Wendt explains, “It’s that layering of ideas that basically creates a small universe of things to explore, and we want to make work where the installation is a piece by itself and can be a great thing to experience, but it can also radiate outwards into other channels, and have a different form.”

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
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this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

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