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Johannes Gees action Salat won a Honorary Mention in the Hybrid Art category of the Prix Ars Electonica 2008.

In the summer of 2007, Gees sneaked automated speakers into famous church towers in various Swiss cities and in one mountain village. At the times of Islamic prayer the call of the muezzin could be heard. The context for this action is the heated debate in Switzerland that ensued after right-wing conservative politicians demanded the ban of minarets.

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On show at the OK Center are photos, a video showing the reactions of passer-bys, legal letters from city administrations, that followed the action, and one of the speakers, shown in the snapshot, that always on the full hour plays the sound that was used in the action.

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The Generator X - Beyond the Screen event i mentioned earlier involved a series of talks by artists, architects and designers. I went to the second evening of public presentations, liked everything i saw and heard but i'll just focus on a few projects mentioned by Aram Bartholl (here's his website but it's his blog that gets my vote) because 1. i had missed all his other talks so far and 2. haha! i've lost the notes i took during the other talks.

Sascha posted a write-up of a talk Aram gave almost a year ago about the way his work looks for connections between the virtual world and the physical one so i'll just take the story from here and focus on the artist's latest projects.

Chat, presented at ars electronica, the 24th Chaos Communication Congress and more recently at Club Transmediale is a mobile performance that allows 2 participants to send each other text messages, like in World of Warcraft or Second Life. As soon as they've been entered, the texts appear in comic-strip-like balloons above the speaker's head.

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In 3D worlds, chatting contrasts with chat "rooms" as the online form of conversation has been re-endowed with a spatial dimension: the typed-in message appears in a dialogue bubble above the avatar's head and follows their proxy on its way through the virtual world. Other players within a certain range can read these messages and, in turn, can type an answer on their own bubble. Chat translates this form of conversation into the physical, public sphere.

Aram reminded how much is about money in Second Life and how this might explain its success. In the vitual island, you can make money out of data thanks to the digital right managements embedded into the game.

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For the Second City project that ars electronica commissioned him last Summer, Aram invited other artists and turned a part of a deserted shopping street into an exhibition space that was focusing on physical representations of the virtual world.

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One of the projects developed in Marienstrassen allowed passersby to walk in a "shopping panel" and buy a Trabi or any other good for their avatar and get a laser cut plastic token in the shape of the object purchased as a receipt

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Another project part of Second City was Export to World. Created by Linda Kostowski and Sascha Pohflepp, the workshop commented ironically on the design and production of merchandise in virtual worlds. Their shop offered custom-made or purchased virtual objects. Shoppers would enter and buy the object of their choice at a price determined daily by the current Linden dollar/euro exchange rate. Instead of seeing the good suddenly appearing in their inventory, purchasers would receive a 2D paper representation of it which they could manually cut and shape into a 3D model of that object. The final results are paper representations of digital representations of real objects, including all the flaws that copying entails.

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The Bubbagum machine was particularly impressive as this real photography seemed to have been photoshop'd. It wasn't, that's the real effect of a paper virtual bubble gum machine. Not sure i'm expressing myself very clearly here...

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Export to Life, Bubbagum machine

Anyway, Aram ended his presentation with this slide of a project he is working on: WoW weapons which he plans to carry around the city. Just the thought of such a performance taking place somewhere in Curry Wurst Paradise makes me say once again that this city is the best place on earth.

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0aazeguyi8.jpgSlowly coming back to the ars electronica postings with some notes from a talk by Zbigniew Oksiuta, one of the prize winners of the new Hybrid Art category and someone i was really looking forward to hearing. The Polish architect, artist, and researcher is now based in Germany where he works in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute and the University of Cologne. Oksiuta is probably one of the most interesting figures in the world of architecture, biology and biochemistry and he was as passionate and smart as i had imagined.

Oksiuta has been working for ten years on the possibility to create a new breed of biological habitat which would organically and dynamically adapt to conditions such as the absence of gravity that one might have to face both in the biosphere and in space. While architecture evokes ideas of stability and immobility, he envisions the possibility of making it living and unstable. Vegetable matter could become a live habitat, an isolated spatial entity that takes up, transforms, and synthesizes matter and energy from its surroundings by biological means.

The construction materials he works with are algae and gelatin. With traditional architecture, one has to assemble forms engineered by machines and this creates a big structure. In Oksiuta's system everything would grow at once, like biological systems. The dynamic systems would react to the external environment, communicate information and transfer energy through liquid medium.

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Mesogloea 2003. Inflation of the hollows in a polymer lump floating under water

One of the challenges he encountered while working with liquid materials to grow his bio structures was the evaporation of water that's one of the reasons why he resorted to building them under the water, using neutral buoyancy (isopycnic systems). Besides the water process gives an idea of what it is like to built spacial forms for weightless conditions.

The next step is breeding the structures in petri dishes. Not plastic petri dish but membranes which work both as barriers that protects and separates from the outside and as part of the structure itself.

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Spatium Gelatium 280807

His Biological Habitat: Breeding Spaces Technology, Made in Space project was exhibited at the OK Centrum, Linz. The system would use DNA as cosmic universal code: strands of DNA embedded in bioreactors are to develop autonomously into new forms of life in the biosphere and in outer space.

Both the environment and physical laws determine forms of life to the extent that their “experience? over the course of evolution is implemented in the strands of DNA. In the embryonic state, however, life emancipates itself from these guidelines and prescriptions. This is what the biological habitat uses; it provides a biotope that is not determined by gravitation and physical laws on Earth but rather by conditions in outer space. Therefore, biological forms of life also develop differently here and —similar to life on Earth— reproduce themselves over the course of an evolutionary process.

Two first images: Wojtek Kozak.

0aaaprivmongrel3.jpgOne of the highlights of the Goodbye Privacy symposium at ars electronica was a talk given by Graham Harwood. The Mongrel artist demonstrated several strategies developed by Mediashed in reaction to surveillance.

MediaShed is a "free-media" space open to the public in the east of England. Free media - "as in free speech not free beer"- is a means of doing art, making things or just saying what you want for little or no financial cost by using the public domain, free software and recycled equipment. It is also about saying what you want "freely", using accessible media that can be taken apart and reused without unnecessary restrictions and controls.

It's not just a matter of allowing artists, hackers, activists, etc. to use these free tools but also those you would not expect to find in this art context.

For example, Mediashed involved a group of kids who usually hang around in the streets to engage in Video sniffin' activities and turn CCTV into a free broadcasting system for their own use. "Why would you want to buy some video equipment when there are already so many cameras around for you to use?" They bought in a high street store some relatively cheap and small devices which can sniff out the street for signals broadcast by wireless CCTV networks. Using the surveillance images captured, the kids then created their own movie.

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Next their video sniffing adventures were invited to Futuresonic, as part of the festival's Art for Shopping Centers selection. This time the film, called The Duellists, combined free-media with free-running. Inspired by the parkour sport, free-running involves fluid uninterrupted movement adapting motion to obstacles in the environment. Like free-media, free-running makes use of and re-energises the infrastructure of the city.

Futuresonic 2007 presents The Duellists by MediaShed ft Methods

The performers were professional parkour breakin' crew Methods of Movement and their acrobatic choreography was filmed in the shopping centre over three nights. The film was shot using only the existing in-house CCTV network of 160 cameras operated from the central control room, with a soundtrack created entirely from the found sounds and noises recorded during the performance. Sometimes the quality of the camera is incredibly good, elsewhere it is just b&w and grainy.

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The movie was projected on a big plasma screen inside the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre where an average of 6000 people shop every day. On the second day, they had to take the movie off, some people were not too happy at the idea that performers were messing up with a space meant for shopping activities.0aageabxx.jpg

The project was the first official UK implementation of GEARBOX the free-media video toolkit developed by MediaShed with the Eyebeam Studios in New York. Comprised of “how to? step by step examples, Gearbox shows people how to record footage using combinations of found resources (such as CCTV Video Sniffin’ or Spy Kiting which allows you to get images that -sort of- look like they were taken from helicoptor but using cheap wireless cctv technology and a kite instead) and low-budget methods of reproducing professional film making techniques (for example, achieving a crane shot using a fishing pole).

Related: Michelle Teran's Life: A User's Manual and Manu Luksch's Manifesto for CCTV Filmmakers.

0aaroncat2.jpgThe Golden Nica in the brand new Hybrid Art category went to a whole structure not just a work: SymbioticA.

The birth of the category was motivated by the fact that people attending the festival were sometimes wondering where was the interaction of some pieces shown under the Interactive Art label, a clearer set of criteria was needed which would of course disqualify some interesting art pieces. The creation of the new category was thus the most obvious solution.

Jens Hauser, art curator, writer, and member of the jury gave an insightful introduction to the category. It was one of those "Focus or take notes" talk. So i dropped my pen but here´s a few points:

The results of a search of the word "hybrid" on google demonstrates that the biological origins of the term are increasingly used metaphorically and replaced by cultural examples of hybridity (cars, clothing, etc.) He pointed and discussed Brian Stross´ essay The Hybrid Metaphor From Biology to Culture.

Hybrid Art received 470 entries for its first year of existence. The category is dedicated specifically to today’s hybrid and transdisciplinary projects and approaches to media art, focusing on the process of fusing different media and genres into new forms of artistic expression as well as the act of transcending the boundaries between art and research, art and social/political activism, art and pop culture.

0aadresfun8.jpgSince its foundation in 2000, SymbioticA has enabled dozens of artists to engage in and comment on "wet technologies" while complying strictly with scientific requirements. The collaborative structure produces new cultural experiments in the field of neurosciences, molecular biology, anatomy physics, anthropology and ethics.

Symbiotica offers undergraduate courses, postgrad programme, hosts individual short and long term research projects, workshops, "Friday Meetings. Symbiotica is also a founding partner of BEAP and pursues the research of Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Some of the projects developed with the help of SymbioticA include: a dress made of fungi by by Donna Franklin (image on the left); BioKino, the Living Screen; collaborations with Adam Zaretsky, the Critical Art Ensemble, etc.

Dr. Stuart Bunt, scientific director of SymbioticA, and Oron Catts explained how SymbioticA started as an artist in residence project and grew into a more stable structure as they were gaining recognition all over the world. They applied for more grants and had other artists come over to work with them.

Interestingly, Ionat Zurr explained that they applied both to the art school and to the science school. The art community didn't accept them, it was the science school which gave them support.

What makes their work appealing for the science world is that artists get more freedom to explore.

In science you have to work towards an end point, to "cure", it´s not about doing research anymore, scientists are "problem solvers". Therefore, explained Dr. Stuart Bunt, artists are stimulating fits in this ethos. The critical edge they bring help scientists justify and constantly evaluate the scientific process. Artists often come up with provoking pieces which reminds scientists of the unease to work with living beings.

SymbioticA is very far off the radar, it is located in Perth, "the most isolated big city in the world", which apparently provides the artists with more freedom.

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Part of the exhibition: Nigel Helyer´s Host, in which an audience of several crickets attend a lecture concerning the sex life of insects
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For the ars electronica exhibition, SymbioticA brought some artists with them (more info about these works will follow). The form of display used doesn´t go very well with the rest of the usually very "please touch and have fun" ars electronica exhibition. For example, one project was hidden behind the heavy door of an incubator. Occasionally the door would be open and visitors who happen to wander around could have a peek, this aims to be a reference to the occasional opening up of the scientific world.

One of SymbioticA´s aims is to bring scientific discussions out of the laboratories and bring the debate out in public rahter than wait for tabloids to give their own take on it.

Catts also insisted on the fact that although many the works developed within their structure might seem to be subversive, all of them comply fully with the rules and requirement of science. That makes their approach more powerful and gives them more freedom to work and exhibit without the fear of being censored for some procedural reason.

rebel.tv has a video of Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts during the gala ceremony. Images from SymbioticA´s exhibition at ars.

0aabernielub4.jpgYeah! The return of the ars electronica posts. To be honest with you, this is going to be a messy time on wmmna. There are still tons of stories to write about Conflux, my little trips to Chelsea, to Beijing and there are a few more reports in store.

Right, here's the notes i took during the talk given by Bernie Lubell as a winner of the Interactive Art category.

Erkki Huhtamo, member of the jury this year, introduced the forum by explaining how people had been complaining that the interactive component of the winning works had not always been obvious over the past few years. With the creation of the Hybrid category, the focus of the Interactive Art one is now on the role of human interacting with systems and networks.

There's no electronics involved in Lubell`s installation, just wood and pneumatic components. Yet, the work charmed the whole ars electronica crowd (well, apart i guess from the usual bunch of Mr. Grumpies). It is interactivity without any pretension, just poetry and playfulness.

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For Lubell, the winning work Conservation of Intimacy is all about having people physically involved, the body is part of the installation. The installation is just a stage where visitors are invited to perform their own play. The movements of a couple jumping and twisting on a wooden bench are transferred via air pressure to balls located in the adjacent room. It is made as a fully cooperative work, in fact, the bench/balls part works better when there are two people side by side on the bench.

At the same time, their movements are transferred from the drawing stylus mounted high on the wall opposite the bench onto a roll of paper that is, in turn, unspooled by a third person riding a stationary bike. There is a feedback loop between what everyone is doing and the record of it.

The elaborate wood construction is modeled on a computer; human beings assume the role of the processors.

0amarebirdiiie.jpgThe installation was inspired by the physiological experiments Etienne Jules Marey conducted in the 19th century and is meant to expand Marey´s work into the field of intimacy.

Marey is famous for his research on chronophotography. But before experimenting with photography, Marey was building all sorts of pneumatic systems to better understand and measure precisely body movements, from heart beats to the way a bird flies. For example, one of these systems measured the way lips were moving during speech and his research was fundamental for the field of medical imagery.

He was successful in selling a portable instrument called Sphygmographe to measure the pulse. He hooked up horses with pneumatic sensors to study how they run (a work which inspired Muybridge and had him prove that prove that Marey was right when he wrote that a galloping horse for a brief moment had all four hooves off the ground) or construct sophisticated apparatus that he attached to the wings of birds to measure their precise movements while they are flying.

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Marey’s Sphygmograph


“Conservation of Intimacy? received an award for the way it combines artistic, scientific, technological and cultural aspects, and shows that interaction functions best when each individual protagonist takes the actions of the others into account: Intimacy as the essential component of social interaction.

The exhibition at the OK Centrum also showed another of Lubell´s works which i liked a lot. Cheek to Cheek allows you to dance with youself, well... "cheek to cheek". You done a strange wooden helmet, sit on a stool and have to move about so that bladders beneath the seat transmit air to bladders pressed against your cheeks.

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During his talk, he highlighted some of his installations. The most surprising one ...and the Synapse Sweetly Singing have visitors crank themselves inside a coffin than use a network of tin-can telephones to communicate with other visitors in the gallery.

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That guy rocks. He reminded me of Theo Jansen, an artist quietly doing his own thing without wondering whether it is cool, innovative, whether it fits in the art system or not.

My pics.
Source of Marey images.

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