ADA at the OMM: filling in the blanks
After traveling the world, Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s ADA—a kinetic, fully-interactive art installation like no other—has temporarily come to life in Eskişehir.

Text and photos by Marzena Romanowska

On the second weekend of February, art lovers again flocked through the doors of Eskişehir’s Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM), as excited as they were for the museum’s opening last September. This time, they came for ADA, a kinetic sculpture comprised of a helium-filled balloon that leaves its mark on everything it touches with carbon spikes attached to its entire surface. This larger-than-life creation fills the walls of the entire room with sketches that add another dimension to this already complex concept.  

It’s been a decade since ADA was born in Munich. Her “mother,” artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, told The Guide Istanbul that she did not anticipate the continuation of the project in its current form. “When I first made ADA, I never thought I would be making her over and over again,” Smigla-Bobinski says. “A year later, I received an invitation from Brazil to show her for the first time abroad, which was the real beginning of the international interest.” 

ADA, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer developer, has so far visited 30 countries and counting. ADA’s constructional simplicity (she’s assembled from scratch for every showing by the artist herself), her almost infinite number of possible interpretations, and her fully-interactive character have dazzled audiences all over the world. The dimensions of the balloon are decided according to the size of the space in which it is exhibited, leaving enough room for people to play and experiment. Throughout the showing, it is never cleaned or repaired, symbolically ending its life cycle when each presentation comes to an end. 


Varying outcomes

“It’s incredible to be able to experience the reactions of people each time in a different way,” Smigla-Bobinski says of her exhibitions. “Some of them are more interested in the act of play itself; others only want to leave a mark.” The artist admits that the unpredictable nature of the work, which cannot be fully controlled, makes some viewers uncomfortable. “In the last decade, I have seen many people who were not nice to ADA,” she says. “When people interact with her, they can’t rely on their knowledge, but instead need to tap into their intuition, which is the point where outcomes begin to vary.” “On the one hand, they experience a child-like state, which makes many people very happy, because they begin to remind themselves of how to behave like this,” she adds. “On the other hand, you might tap into a dark part yourself, especially if you feel the need to be in control.” 

As ADA’s incarnations travel the world, Smigla-Bobinski finds that, in most cases, people approach her art very cautiously at the beginning. “I never explain to people how my art works. Often they start by walking around, looking at it, and just nodding,” she says. “Once they notice that the object is moving, they begin to touch it, creating their own drawing—and at that point, everything goes crazy.” Nevertheless, she believes she is understood by most of those who interact with her work. “I’ve never had an exhibition where the audience would just stay back and watch,” she says. 

Li Kehua performing at the opening of ADA in the OMM

“Work in progress” 

On several occasions throughout the installation’s opening evening, Smigla-Bobinski emphasizes the importance of the audience as the driving force behind her work. She only provides a framework for the experience, she explains, which it is up to the audience to fill in. “I always say that, when you make art, when you’re ready to give it to the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore,” she asserts. 

This open-source approach has been embraced by artists of other disciplines as well, including dancers and musicians, who feel that, by interacting with ADA, the artistic message is somehow elevated. “It began when we were exhibiting ADA in Vancouver,” Smigla-Bobinski recalls. “I received an email from a ballerina, asking me for permission to share her images of dancing with ADA. When she visited the exhibition, she felt a connection to the piece and began to dance with it.” 

When the photos went viral, Smigla-Bobinski began receiving requests from other dancers as well. At her recent exhibition in the US city of Pittsburgh, as many as 12 performers danced with ADA. “I left that part completely to them,” she says. “I didn’t even know what they were going to do.” 

Karina Smigla-Bobinski and Li Kehua

ADA’s magic, it seems, has the power to inspire new ideas. According to the artist, people have continued to develop new ways of interacting with the floating work. 

“We started with an art installation, which evolved into dance performances,” she says. “Nine years later, I was approached by an artist who created music inspired by the sketching sounds of the balloon.” “As long as there are new ideas,” she adds, “this is still a work in progress.”

ADA’s debut in Eskişehir was also accompanied by a dancer. When Smigla-Bobinski first saw Chinese performer Li Kehua dance, she hoped to arrange an artistic collaboration at the earliest opportunity. “Lico [Li Kehua] is an incredible dancer. We thought of collaborating on many occasions, but the timing was never right,” Smigla-Bobinski says, going on to point out that this was the first time she had made a personal request to an artist. 


The strong connection between the two artists is clear when they begin finishing each other’s sentences while explaining the ideas behind the opening performance at the OMM. “Dance and drawing are my passions, and I love how they come together in my favorite color, white,” Kehua told The Guide Istanbul. “When you’re a dancer, you always have to strictly control your body,” she says. “What I like about ADA is that I can’t control her. I have no choice but to follow her—and this is what makes the difference in this experience.” 

Leaving the opening performance, I find Smigla-Bobinski surrounded by a group of young admirers who have come to see her work. “What I really like about Turkey,” the artist says later, “is that people approach you to simply share their thoughts.” As it has been in numerous other venues around the world, ADA has now been set up in Eskişehir, where she awaits curious locals to come fill her in with their own unique experiences. 

The exhibition is open until April 12, 2020. Odunpazarı Modern Museum, Eskişehir;


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