One of 100 talents recognised by GUP New Magazine in  2021, Hedwich Rooks shares insight into her diverse polymorphic practice. In this artist Q&A, she talks to Agora about all things technology, ecology and humans; we delve into the complexities that exist between her physical, digital and New Media explorations of natural and artificial processes.

Emma McGarry  |  Ed Juliet Rennie | 27 May 2021

How do you describe your work?

My work provides the translation of the intermediate part between certain phenomena; the transition of the atmospheric exchanges within technology, ecology and humans. I am particularly interested in the (natural) processes, how they operate, and their causes. Some audiences may see my New Materialistic approach, in how liquid can become solid and solid can become liquid, both in (digital) matter and thoughts, as a challenge. However, this ambiguity is also a process for myself and I am never just the sender of this system; this opens up an equal communication between human and non-human, something that we cannot escape nowadays. To be more medium-precise, most of my work is based on photography and sculptural installations. Every work can be seen as a droplet of water, wherein many drops form an ocean, aiming to sharpen the eco-psychological and collective consciousness. 

Hedwich Rooks, Atlas Electronic (2019) © Courtesy of the artist.

What first sparked your curiosity for geology and micro-biological science?

Biology is something that I have always been interested in as far as I recognized my existence, purely from a natural inquisitive drive. However, I cannot disconnect biology from the (digital) art world; it is so clearly a cohesive whole for me. An example of this from a few years ago, was when I digitally converted sound frequencies from different whale vocalizations into physical 3D shapes in Whale Vocalisations (2019). I also did this with an undetected whale of which only the sound was recorded, so it was still visible and could become tangible. I am very interested in micro-everything because I am convinced that many challenging questions on a large scale can be unfolded by immersing yourself in the small. The answer is so often right in front of you; all you need is that realisation and will to make knowledge accessible to a broader audience, especially within biomimicry terms.

The recognition of my interest in geology is a more recent discovery; at the beginning of this academic year, I attended an elective course at university, where I practised forensic research based on the Anthropocene linked to a personal connected environment. My starting point was ocean acidification in the Wadden Sea in my home province of Friesland, where I often sailed to the Wadden Islands. After some research, I came across a dead submarine volcano that formed 160 million years ago. During that time, it was located somewhere between present-day South America and Africa in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which immediately unfolds that we are still moving right now. It was, ironically enough, discovered during a gas drilling 50 years ago. This opened up a kind of parallel world for me: how have I unknowingly only experienced the surface of the current sea while so much history lies beneath it? Understanding how rocks are databases of deep time can teach you so much about the associated socio-political aspects. To make this realization resonate, for example, I searched for rocks similar to that volcano to produce sound with the help of a synthesizer. This is how I translated soil layers into sound layers.

Who inspires you?

It probably wouldn’t be a surprise if I mentioned that I’m inspired by everything in and around the sea It is an incredibly impressive sensorium with so much to learn from. Not only the unknown, the organisms that live in it, the ongoing dynamics, but also the fact that it connects all of us and we need to understand how important our shared backyard is. I see it as a challenging task to make it more transparent, what the sea is trying to point out, to increase its voice. These research-based approaches are formed by using synaesthesia as a tool to translate data complexities into other, more haptic and speculative, mediums.

There is an excellent artwork by Felix Hess; Air Pressure Fluctuations (2001). With various sensors, piezo and long-distance microphone, where he recorded sound for several days. In addition to sounds whose source could be easily traced, there was a constant droning noise that required intensive research to identify the source. This research resulted in the discovery that this sound came from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It shows that the frequencies of the sea unconsciously influence us as humans, and who knows, may affect our daily choices and behaviours on this resonance.

Hedwich Rooks, Algae + Ice (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.

What is your artistic process? How do you embark upon new bodies of work?

Usually, new things only start to emerge when I have doubted what I want to express for weeks or months: I read and collect concepts that I think fit the artistic process, start to overthink them and then in its latest state, an artwork is suddenly created very quickly, this can  even be achieved in a day of non-stop productiveness. On the other hand, I sometimes forget that I’m always busy collecting and photographing natural phenomena along the coast, watching them under the microscope, making pigments out of them, mimicking shapes… I seem to have a secret archive of unfinished half-edited potential of in-between works. 

How has your practice evolved over time? How has COVID affected your practice?

The realization of the fact that we are all connected has grown stronger. The past is inextricably intertwined with the future because energy is constantly fluctuating in a cause-effect rhythm, from which no mind or matter can escape. We need each other to carefully understand these transformations and gain insight into whom it is (in)visibly harmful and contribute to how we can enter an upward polyvocal energy spiral without losing sight of the marginalized. I try to add more and more content to my practice to spread this message as if I make my brain physical by moulding it into shape so that others can enter it too.

Can you tell us more about your journey with the GUP New Talent 2021 award?

In 2014, my first year of art studies, there was an assignment in which we had to imitate a magazine of our choice (with our own text and images) to learn how to design. I chose GUP because the subjects they raised within photography expressions resonated very much with my understanding of how to reflect the environment; underlining rawness. Last year, I saw their open call and I just wanted to see where I stood in the photography range because I never really studied or learned this. I certainly don’t think this is necessary, but it was partly due to uncertainty. When I saw that GUP took my practice seriously, this gave me a boost to develop my photographic skills even more.

What are some of the most memorable responses you’ve had to your work?

When I took my grandma to an exhibition, she gently questioned me whether the animals in my installation were still alive. (To be clear, no animals or even straightforward suggestions of animals have ever been involved in that installation). I can’t imagine a better compliment.

Are you developing any new bodies of work currently?

Currently, I’m studying MA Ecology Futures, in which I mainly do textual research and allow myself a little longer to understand the matter before I publish new work. I practice with living matter in a lab, such as kombucha, mycelium and slime mould, and I look at what connection this has within algorithms. I also investigate how the growth of natural phenomena, such as algae, can be used as input and can influence sound (output). An important part is that I keep on asking myself what is needed instead of what I want to create. I’m sometimes a bit overwhelmed and imploded by all the exciting investigations and I wish to allow myself more time to translate this knowledge into art. More collaboratively, I co-organize the growing collective of artists Acid Salt, where we are looking to push how we perceive art with all our senses, projects and pieces —specifically curated to uplift one another, to combine strong and soft elements and reach for shared sensory electricity. We are working on an in-real-life event that will hopefully take place soon.

If there was an academic course dedicated to your work, what three books would you put on the reading list?

The Form of Becoming, Embryology and the Epistemology of Rhythm by Janina Wellmann

Why Materials Matter by Responsible Design for a Better World by Seetal Solanki and

Undoing Monogamy, The Politics of Science and the Possibilities of Biology by Angela Willey.

Hedwich Rooks, Intangible Loophole (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.

And finally, what advice do you have for other emerging artists working with Digital Art and New Media?

Giving the awareness to the medium’s brain instead of just using it and by understanding what happens and what the consequences are, you bring more care into your artistic practice. For example, photogrammetry software: by observing the operation of the medium, I learned how the parts where no information is provided from the input is filled in by the program based on what it has received/learned. The change from one point to another is thus speculative. This made me think about how this would play out in reality, so I started to mimic the software by connecting objects (in my case, rocks) based on non-information with clay to understand the medium and think of more complex next steps. Also, use your privilege to propose alternative worlds!

About the artist

Hedwich Rooks, Intangible Loophole, Larvae №1 (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.

Hedwich Rooks (b. 1995) is a self-described polymorphic artist based in The Hague, The Netherlands. In 2020, she was awarded one of the Best Emerging Photographers from The Netherlands by GUP Magazine 2021 and is currently studying MA Ecology Futures at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures, St. Joost School of Art and Design. Mostly working with New Media, Rooks aims to sharpen the eco-psychological and collective consciousness through her practice. Her works are mainly expressed through a combination of sculptural installations, new materiality and experimental photography with a research-based approach. The use of such mediums often exists between physical and digital matter, generating diverse layers of visual information that is triggered by her natural curiosity for geology and (micro-) biological science. Rooks’ research is formed by using synaesthesia as a tool to translate data complexities into other more haptic and speculative mediums.

Past Shows and Fair booths

Group Shows

2021, Prospective Sludge, The Pitcairn Museum of Contemporary Art, Groningen

2020, Subba Expo, Subbacultcha Hallway, De School, Amsterdam

2020, GUP New Talent 2021, GUP Magazine, Kahmann Gallery, Amsterdam

2020, TOTU: Tales of the Unseen, graduation exhibition, Minerva Art Academy, Groningen

2020, Misplaced, Oped Space Tokyo, Japan

2019, Maydays: Do Not Touch, Bij Vrijdag, Groningen

2018, Acid Salt Experience Exhibition, Sexyland, Amsterdam

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