Euan McPherson  |  Ed Kiran Sajan  | 22 November 2020

© Courtesy of the artist.
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Helga Griffiths was born in Ehingen, Germany, in 1959. A digital artist, Griffith’s work explores the relationship between art and science. ‘Experiential space’ is at the heart of Griffith’s art. Her multisensory installations stimulate the sight, touch, smell and hearing of the viewer.

Griffiths has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Summa Cum Laude) degree from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of Fine Arts. This was followed by postgraduate studies at the Kunstakademie Stuttgart between 1992 and 1994. Prior to studying art, Griffiths worked at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. This experience was formative for her artistic career which has explored scientific concepts found in astrophysics, chemistry, biology, and brain research. 

Griffiths is a true mixed media artist, often combining digital projections with olfactory stimuli. The use of scents dates back to Griffiths’ thesis-exhibition at Rutgers University: “I realised then that, by making use of earth and patinating substances such as vinegar, my work had a powerful effect on the visitors’ perception of the show: their emotions and memories were evoked directly and they reacted much more strongly to the installation.”

Helga Griffiths, Dark Gravity (2017) © Courtesy of the artist.

Her 2017 work, Dark Gravity, is emblematic of Griffiths’ visionary combination of digital art and sensory stimuli. Inspired by planet 9 — only detectable via its gravitational effect on nearby planets – Dark Gravity consists of a cave-like space with a projection of a celestial body appearing as if viewed from a spaceship. Griffiths then subverts viewer expectations as one gradually realises the projection is not a planet, but a human brain — Griffiths’ brain. The room is scented with “Trust”, a fragrance inspired by the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which influences behaviour and emotion in humans. This olfactory stimuli is accompanied by an environmental manipulation. There is a slight dip in the floor of the piece, which pulls the viewer to the centre, simulating gravity. The work is therefore a multilayered exploration of the ways in which external forces can influence human behaviour. 

Helga Griffiths, Olfactory © Courtesy of the artist.

Perception is therefore at the core of Griffiths’ work. As a pioneering female digital artist, her work — while frequently exploring scientific concepts — has, on occasion, examined our materialistic culture. Image Control (1998) deals with themes of observation, and digitally-controlled reality. The installation consists of a room completely covered in folded fashion magazines. Occasionally, this tableau of digitally brushed-up images is disrupted by monitors displaying the viewer  — tracked by hidden video cameras. The contrast between the recorded viewer — and the models in the magazines — generates a tension: “The individuality and reality of the observer compete with the multiplicity and virtuality of the photographic images.” The work acts as commentary on the surveillance state. As the viewer acts as a voyeur to thousands of digitally altered images, they are simultaneously being recorded. 

Helga Griffiths, Brainscape (2014) © Courtesy of the artist.

With an artistic focus on biology and neuroscience, it is perhaps unsurprising that Griffiths has used her art to explore the relationship between our own neural networks, and the patterns seen in the natural world. In Brainscape (2012) Griffiths transformed a tomographic image of her own brain into a drifting, grey landscape of clefts and folds, recalling desert or tundra environments. To achieve this effect Griffiths combined the scan of her brain with an image of a Patagonian glacier. In her own words this resulted in a, “synonym for the topographical history of the earth.” Brainscape was exhibited as part of a symposium titled, ‘Neuroaesthetics’ at the Imatronic Festival of Electronic Music. Having explored sight, touch, smell etc. in her previous work, Griffiths has, with Brainscape, turned her focus to the organ that acts as a receptor for these stimuli. Through her digital art Griffiths has consistently drawn the viewers’ attention to the organic world.

Important works

Helga Griffiths, Wave (2010) permanent museum collection in Copenhagen, DK © Courtesy of the artist.

Wavespace (2010)

A sensory exploration of meteorology. Scientific data about the ocean is transformed into waves of blue LED lights. As the waves increase and decrease in ferocity, percussive sounds rise and fall in time. Thermosensors in the exhibition space track the heat radiated by visitors, which increase the intensity of the light waves — a commentary on humankind’s impact on the environment.

Helga Griffiths, Passage (2204) © Courtesy of the artist.

Passage (2004)

A multisensory installation which attempts to simulate the human search for identity. Video sequences filmed in a Darmstadt park disorient the visitor — moving from a flashlight search through woods, to desperately scraping among the branches. These videos are accompanied by sounds, smells, and microscopic images of plant cells — the introspection of the human is matched with introspection into the living cell of the plant.

Helga Griffith, Pool of Memories (2002) © Courtesy of the artist.

Pool of Memories (2002)

Centred around a water bed illuminated in green light, this installation explores the human senses. A soundtrack of murmuring voices and the noise of digitally processed water droplets is projected into the room. These sounds generate deep vibrations experienced by the visitors lying on the waterbed.

Key Achievements

Griffiths has won many awards, these include: The Georg-Christoph-Lichtenberg-Preis (1998) and the Erster Preis Lichtrouten (2003).

Past Shows and Fair booths

Solo Shows

2018 “C18” , Kunstmuseum Muelheim/Ruhr, part of a collective exhibition project COAL in several Museums in Ruhr Area

2017 “Crossing” Staedtische Galerie Saarbruecken

2015/16 “Mirror Moves”, Kunstmuseum Ravensburg

Group Shows

2017 “Planet 9” Kunsthalle Darmstadt

2016 “Terra Antarctica” Santiago Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center, Chile

2015 

“Wasserturm Rodgau” / “Music Culture meets Industrial Culture” curated by Dr. Julia Cloot, Rhein-Main-Kulturfonds

“Curitiba Biennale”, Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba

“Fathoms” Kino International, Berlin + Leo Kuelbs Collection, New York

Biennale der Künstler – Haus der Kunst, München

Sequences Festival, Reykjavik

“Es liegt was in der Luft – Duft in der Kunst” Kunstmuseum Villa Rot, Burgrieden-Rot

“Programme 2” Projections on to Manhattan Bridge on the occasion of the International Year of Light 2015, New York Leo Kuelbs Collection, and Brooklyn DUMBO

“Transflexion. Net of Mirrors”, Europäisches Künstlerhaus Schafhof, Freising

“Transflexion. Net of Mirrors”, Made in New York Media Center by IFP, New York

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