The slabs of white marbled stone and placid pools of water make the Mies van der Rohe pavilion an oasis on a characteristically hot Barcelona summer day. The space would resemble a high-end spa, if not for the cuboid of screens perched on top of the outer pond. That’s Liquid Strata by Entangled Others, this year’s site-specific SonarMies intervention.
When I walked into the exhibit, I didn't know what to do first. Should I crane my neck to better see the electric screens vibrant with animation? Take off my sunglasses to appreciate the luminescent water covered in lily pads? Or move closer to the sighing sounds enveloping the entire plaza? Clearly, Liquid Strata sucks you in and doesn’t let go.
Entangled Others are known for their immersive digital artwork that explores the nexus of our world and the beyond-human. This exhibit, created in collaboration with oceanographer Joan Llort and musician Daphne Xanthopoulou, focuses on the twilight zone, a dim middle layer in the sea. The screens display a cornucopia of creatures: wobbly paramecia glide past intricate crustaceans in a bubbling deep-blue seascape. One panel in the corner displays a sonar, ever-panning for more data. Ethereal music enshrouds the visuals in a mysteriously opaque sonic fabric. Though the elements appear soothing at first glance (or listen), there’s something not quite right—this universe feels ever so slightly unknown and unsettling.
Liquid Strata is the kind of exhibit that whisks you off to another world, and by the time you come back to Earth, you’re left desperately wanting to find out more. Luckily, I was able to do just that. I sat down with Sofia Crespo, one half of the Entangled Others, to learn more about the duo’s artistic practice and approach to this installation.
Hi Sofia! Let's start with a quick intro. Tell me a little bit about you and your artistic focus.
I’m Sofia Crespo, and I’m one half of an artist duo called Entangled Others. The other half is Feileacan McCormick, and we’ve been working together for the last five or six years now. Our topic is mainly the natural world or more-than-human world and the technologies that humans have built to understand it. That's part of the reason why we're called Entangled Others—we believe that everything in the natural world is interconnected. We work a lot with artificial neural networks or AI or machine learning, whatever you want to call it. We use that as an artistic medium; we train our models and learn to use them in the same way that a sculptor would use ceramic.
You mention how Entangled Others is interested in the more-than-human. What’s your favorite non-human being?
It’s very hard to pick just one… I have a huge bias to jellyfish. I think I love them because of an experience I had with digital jellyfish I saw when I was very little at an aquarium. I got really scared of them and thought they were terrifying because they don't have a skeleton. Now we're discovering that they might have eyes, but they don’t have a face. I think a lot of animals or just creatures that don’t have faces, we always feel more distant to them. Whenever an animal has a face, we somehow connect more to it.
I noticed that Entangled Others’ work, including Liquid Strata, gravitates towards aquatic areas. What draws you to these?
My dad is a sea captain. When I was little, he would be gone on these ships for a really long time. He would come back and share with me all the stories of the sea. I think from an early age, I had this huge connection to the sea as this unknown space that was out of reach. And I think growing up and artistically developing, I felt a strong drive to connect with it. I'm also an avid diver.
There's also much that we still don't know about the oceans. I feel that as artists, we're always aware that we're misrepresenting the ocean because it's very difficult to actually make an accurate representation. It's such a vast space. And there are no humans there, really. So there's something really humbling about having it as a subject because it's so out of reach.
Yes, definitely. In fact, in the description of this exhibit, it says that you're trying to capture a space where “light barely penetrates.” How did you portray this space, where visuals are not always clear?
There were a lot of challenges in making this piece. The Mesopelagic (twighlight zone) is so, so huge. And it's the area where the phenomenon of marine snow occurs—fall of organic matter that happens from the Epipelagic (ocean’s upper zone) to the Mesopelagic. There's a very complex cycle happening; there's a daily migration called the Diel Vertical Migration, where a lot of creatures that live in the Mesopelagic begin to migrate upwards to feed at dusk. When you extract samples from that, they don't necessarily look like something that is aesthetically pleasing, right?
It was also important to tell that story of the incomplete information we have about marine snow. When you’re doing biomass readings, there are different organisms that could happen to pass by at the time you’re making a reading, and that eventually gives you a misguided representation of what is happening. We tried our best to artistically express that lack of information. So that’s why we chose to focus on a glitch aesthetic that kind of conveys this lack of information.
You collaborated with an oceanographer for this project; Liquid Strata seems to be a combination of art and science. What do you think lies at the intersection of these two disciplines?
I think it's a fascinating space. It's often thought that art should explain the science, but that's not the case. The whole point of the art isn't to explain or to be pedagogic about it. We are choosing to highlight a scientific phenomenon, but we're doing that intentionally, knowing that this is a subject that we want to talk about, and we want to explain it as part of the artwork. But that shouldn't have to be the point of these art and science collaborations. I think what is valuable about it is that it allows us to explore a wider range of subjects that would normally not be in the public conversation. I think there's something powerful in opening up that knowledge to artists and have a different interpretation, sometimes even a questioning of what is happening.
How does the Mies van der Rohe pavilion fit into the exhibit?
This pavilion has something very interesting about it. It is very strongly dominated by horizontal lines. The Diel Vertical Migration happens upwards in the oceans, so it felt appropriate to adapt the piece to this specific space. In the piece, the part that is further back is closer to the surface of the ocean and the part that is closer to us is the bottom of the ocean. So you could look at it horizontally and see the vertical structure. For us, it was important to make the exhibit accessible. That's why we picked the pool outside; we didn't want to hide it in the pavilion. But we also wanted it to be in the water, because that's where it belongs.
The hours of the pavilion were extended so that people can come see the exhibit at night. How do you think the experience of seeing Liquid Strata at night will be different?
I think the interesting part about seeing the piece at night is that actually it’s when all these creatures are in the upper layers of the ocean, so they’re closer to us in a way. And we hope this acts as a reminder that the cycle that is happening in the Mesopelagic runs twenty-four hours. So even after the pavilion closes, the piece will continue running.
Tell me a bit about the sound aspect of the exhibit.
We collaborated with Daphne Xanthopoulou. She worked with acoustic data based on the papers that Joan, the oceanographer, shared with us. There are a lot of different acoustic readings of the ocean that allow to extract data. She sonified the numeric values. She mixed all these textures into a score that helped create an immersive kind of experience.
Do you often combine visual and sound or other more synesthetic elements in your work?
It depends on the installation. We have works that are only visual but don't have any sound. We have others that were exhibited in a place that had a specific smell. I think those things are interesting, especially when it's for an exhibition. And it's an important part of doing digital work as well, to take the work out of the computer and to show the work in a three-dimensional form.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share?
Yeah, I'm currently researching for a project about the caves of Altamira, caves that have Paleolithic paintings in them. They date up to 35,000 years ago. And that’s something that I'm researching more as part of my solo practice, where I'm more focused on how humans see the world. Through that, I'm working on an installation for September at the Centro de Investigación del Museo de Altamira, which is in Santander, northern Spain. This year, we have had a lot of projects here in Spain. Earlier this year, we did the mapping of the façade of Casa Batlló. It's been a very special year in terms of interacting with the iconic buildings of Barcelona.