Vicente Gutierrez, a writer and editor currently based in Tokyo, has kindly proposed to be a correspondent for wmmna in Japan. He recently sent me an introduction and the translation of his interview with Exonemo, adding that i could edit anything to my liking. Well, there's nothing in what you're going to read below that i could improve, so here's his text:

Exonemo, the Japanese duo made up of Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa, have developed several experimental works ranging from sound and video processing, software programming, hardware circuit bending, installations as well as live performance. With enough crossing over, exonemo continue to blur the lines of discipline and if you ask them whether they are designers, programmers, visual or media artists, you'll find they don't really care.

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Exonemo performing (photo credit Martin Holtkamp)

After meeting in university, they started working together under the contrived moniker 'exonemo' and specify the Unix hacker culture of the 90s as a bedrock influence as well as the continuing evolution of the internet- "as web technology keeps developing, it allows us to do more and more."

The concept driven circuit tweakers have reanalyzed the contexts of computer programming and investigated a new potential of the internet, making it their primary platform. As a result, exonemo has created new consequences of hardware and soft technology and their work serves as a lasting commentary on our evolving relationship with technology- whether that be a sense of alienation or [dis]connection.
Exonemo's inviting DIY style and rising popularity have led these two rebel programmers to be often considered the new face of Japan's media art scene.

WMMNA had a chance to catch up with Exonemo right before their performance of Exonemonster, a mix of forgotten electronic instruments revitalized with a mind of their own, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on October 4th.

Here's a video preview.

I heard you were just in China, what was Exonemo doing there?

We just exhibited Fragmental Storm at an art gallery called Long March which was in the Art District in Beijing (798倧山ε­?θ‰Ίζœ―εŒΊ) from September 25th until October 22nd.

Now you're off to France, what will you be doing there?

We are going to have another exhibition and have a live performance of Exonemonster, a device we created, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on October 4th. For live information, you can check in-famous.

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Exonemonster (image courtesy of exonemo)

Can you tell us about Exonemonster?

Exonemonster is a musical instrument which has several other musical instruments fixed on a board with nails. All of the instruments have had their circuits bent. Its not just a musical instrument but also an object with naked circuits, nail and switches. With Exonemonster, we can play a variety of unpredictable sounds by wiring these circuits to each other and as a result, overdrive them in a somewhat complicated way on stage.

So, where did the idea come from and why did you make it?

I think it was probably after going to a lecture on Max/MSP (software) or Supercollider software. Max/MSP, can produce sounds by wiring digital objects. So after hearing about that, we decided we wanted to make a kind of free-play system that would be based on analog wiring; and we were twisted enough to decide to use analog while others were focusing on using laptops. So after that, we started working on an instrument with bent circuits. We used it as a Max developed object and fixed it on a board with nails and connected the instruments with clips to change the sounds.

We were trying to get closer to the idea of Outsider Art by approaching it in a subjective way, not an objective way and so, because the sound of exonemonster is uncontrollable, so too, we made its appearance 'uncontrollable.' Then it became a monster that we can't even control anymore. When we play or perform with exonemonster, it always surprises us. Now, we've come to develop a little bit of affection for it, as if it were a real friend.

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Exonemonster (image courtesy of exonemo)

How important is interactivity in your work ? I'm not only thinking of exonemonster but also rgb-f__cker or remixhibition=>reactivity. Are you trying to make some kind of tools for people?

0alamouse4.jpgI think interactivity is something like a ceremony that connects our work and the audience. When we approach a project, if interactivity is necessary, we implement it, and if it isn't necessary, we don't consider it in the project. For example, ZZZZZZZZapp has no interactivity once it starts. DanmatsuMouse is basically an exhibition you can see, but I think its better if the audience can feel the reality.

Some of your interactive software works are downloadable (Discoder). Whose work is it? Exonemo's or the user's?

The part that the user created with our work is the user's work and the program they use to edit the work is ours. But I think a whole new experience is made by mixing both sides, so I can't exactly tell who's work it is.

Most of your work explores the relationship between people and technology, why did you decide to explore and work in this direction?

I don't really think about it in terms of that direction very much, but I do think everyone gets really excited when technology and people meet. It's interesting- people seem normal at first but then turn into animals and totally change their behavior, it changes our behavior. Its like, if it weren't for mobile phones being so popular, if a man talked to himself walking down the street, it would seem like he's crazy but because he's cellphone's are a common technology its OK. I think such a point is interesting.

Well, do you think people today are disconnected from technology?

No, not at all, there's so much technology available and released on the web that you can get so much for free now.

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Road Movie

So, which is more important for you, reaching users individually with personal, interactive software or as a group with public installation or performance?

Well, for us, these two aspects make for completely different experiences so we try to do different things when we produce for the internet or for an installation. But at the same time, the line's been blurred and we have works that people can experience both ways, like the Road Movie. Both channels are important for us.

Yes. and about using the internet in your work (Fragmental Storm, Discoder-Discoder), what is the internet for you? Information? A canvas? A place?

I think its a place like a 'park.' Where people can come and go freely.

Where do you think the internet is going?

Well, its in the hands of the people so it's going wherever there are people's desires, it's unlimited!

And from here, where is exonemo going?

Well, we just finished DanmatsuMouse which we created this year and we have had many exhibitions and performances recently so want to try a different work flow and wait until the next idea comes to us. Next, we want to do something on the internet. We're thinking of something like a website to remix and play with our works ourselves. Its not really a work, per se, but something more like an environment.

Thanks for making time for us Exonemo, we look forward to seeing and playing with whatever you come up with next!

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Watashi-chan, by Tomoko Ueyama, is a garment that visualizes sounds in a space. The balloons attached to the clothing inflate when there is a sound in the space, even if the wearer does not consciously perceive that sound.

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How it works: Watashi-chan divides the human audio range into six frequency bands and calculates the quantity and frequency of signals entering each frequency band. An electromagnetic valve is assigned to each frequency band. As a quantity of frequency signals is calculat-ed, a signal is sent to an electromagnetic valve to open it. As a result, air is sent to a balloon corresponding to the quantity of frequency signals. After a balloon has been inflated for one second, air is released again, so that the balloon does not inflate too much.

More images.
The work is part of Ima-karada - IAMAS in Tokyo, an exhibition which introduces activities of the IAMAS (Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences / International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences) media school.

Runs on August 24 August and 26, at the Spiral Garden (Spiral 1F) in Tokyo.

More inflatable in fashion: Self-Sustainable Chair, wearable canoe; The Life Dress; the Inflatable Breasts Dress; Fat Suits; Wearable Crisis Management; Modes for Urban Moods and Inflatable wedding dress; SurvivaBall and the Aeolian Ride.

I saw the Inochi animated video a while ago at a Takashi Murakami exhibition in Turin. Been looking for an online version of it for some time and just stumbled upon it today. Hurray!

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Murakami, an artist known for merging fine art with commercial product better than everyone else, first made a sculpture, Inochi ("Life"). Later on he decided to shoot a sexy "commercial" for the sculpture as if it were a car or any other luxury product.

Watch it here.

More Takashi Murakami videos.

Active Ingredient from Nottingham have always been trying to make "hard" technology a bit softer and to reveal an emotional side to it – ideally evoking that kind of feeling when the little hairs in your neck stand up. For instance their early works Ghost Engine or Chemical Garden, "a magical garden where robots roam, live webcam images from around the world are transmitted, messages can be sent, and a beautiful forest of crystal trees grow whilst you wonder". Basically, all of their pieces are concerned with some kind of spectacle and the experience of something live and how to engage people into it. This directly lead them to working with GPS representing location in space which they want to contrast to the narrative space of imagination and which then hopefully is grown into a magical moment by the audience.

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'Ere Be Dragons

One such project is the well-known 'Ere Be Dragons, a game that is "using the heart as a joystick". It came out of the notion of happiness being nothing else then total immersion into something, which lead them (not unlike Biomapping, see previous post) to look at heart rates to evaluate the level of immersion. During the game which needs no buttons or other traditional means of control, gamers become explorers of a territory created by one's own heartbeat plus location in space. The title refers to what sailors would put into the blank spots which hadn't been discovered yet and where fearsome monsters were suspected to be (or just to make their trips sound a bit more adventurous). Gameplay is based on five heart rate-levels ranking, with different kinds of terrain being created as (real) space is being crossed. From low (featureless desert), optimum (a lush landscape) to high (dark forest). In multiplayer mode, it is also possible to steal territory from other players and in often there were also performers in costumes which the players would encounter during the game to knit the game and the physical space together a bit more tightly.

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Scary monsters from 'Ere Be Dragons

Love City was a more recent project of Active Ingredient. Set between Nottingham, Derby and Leicester – three cities which are meant to be a commercial triangle but between which there's always been some rivalry – it aimed to "make them fall in love". This project had to work on everyday technology, so it used a combination of SMS-messaging and the ID of the cell tower to approximately locate players. Love City is an imaginary place which is in a way was superimposed onto the real cities, so whoever was at one of the three cities' train stations also was at Love City's station and could communicate with people there. The main objective of the project was to establish personal, yet anonymous connections and thus build an environment through competitive flattering (!) between players. A player could compiment other players and then they would choose if they would accept it or not. Matt and Rachel had no numbers but I would suspect that there was a major boost for each city's image of the other two (or each others inhabitants, respectively).

Sohyun Park gave a little overview of the activities at Art Center Nabi in Seoul, including again Taeyoon Choi's projects, the Seoul-version of Pac Manhattan and a game of chess in urban space by Bean Noh in which the players were wearing silly balloons on their heads. It would probably be too much to cover all the projects here, but it seems as if there's loads going on in South Korea at the moment. After that, my own presentation of Blinks & Buttons, and a switch to (much more entertaining) translation mode due to the influx of non-English-speaking people for the rest of talks.

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Magnetic Organ

Yuko Mohri's Magnetic Organ is an installation that intentionally looks like an experimental setup from a physics lab. The piece tries to explore in how far magnetic forces, which obviously are beyond human perception, can serve as raw material for an acoustic experience in the context of an installation. It consists of a delicate setup of one motor as a generator, creating an electromagnetic field and four different coils which serve as antennas to pick up that field and convert it into sound that one can hear. The same relationship between sound, objects and space(s) is being explored with her work Composition in Progress.

It plays Vexations, Erik Satie's early exploration into minimal music 1895 which is meant to be repeated 840 times by the pianist, "consecutively to oneself" as Satie wrote. Yuko's piece is automatically being repeated by the computer the same amount of times but every time it is being re-recorded from the space it is exhibited in, vaguely similar to Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room. However, her version of Vexations includes various parameters such as, most importantly, the resonance of the space, but also other ambient noises and the repeated process of conversion between analog and digital. It's worth mentioning that the whole process is made transparent through screens which show the software working and a sheet of paper containing the current composition is printed out with each iteration. A newer version of this project was also nominated for the Transmediale-award in 2006.

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Taiwa-Hensokuki

More projects of hers include a lovely installation in a high school-gym in which she connected a piano to the building by using thin wires in order to "play" it and a piece called Taiwa-Hensokuki which is a conversation between two speech-enabled computers that leads to increasing misunderstandings between the two robot-ladies due to the fuzzyness of the voice-recognition and the nature of the texts that they read.

The changing cultural backdrop of Korea is also one of Inyong Cho's main subjects, more specifically the way that a family's ancestors are being remembered. Traditionally, there is a little box (which on the pictures he was showing almost looked like a piece of furniture) that symbolically represents the space which the person still occupies. As said, this is changing along with the rest of Korean culture and to put up a website as a site of remembering is not uncommon, either because people don't have enough time to visit an actual grave or because they might live abroad. In these cases, as Inyong described, people will actually bow to a website.

With his own project Scanmemories, he wants to elaborate on the notion of creating digital memory objects a bit further and ultimately create a company which will keep and maintain the information. Practically, a customer would upload his or her selection of memories to a protected database which then would be tied to an RFID-chip. The chip is, visibly or invisibly attached to an object of the customer's choosing which thus becomes a kind of token for selected people to access the stored information with. The audience wasn't too convinced by the idea of relying on a pretty specific technology like RFID when talking about decades if not centuries, but the possibility of intentionally leaving memories behind seemed to resonate with many.

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Bukit Timah, sample and result

In the evening there were several performances by artists like Naoko Takahashi or Andreas Schlegel and Vladimir Todorovic who together form syntfarm, a quasi-scientific team who "geo-spatially explore places and facts", meticulously collect samples and turn them into generative audiovisual performances. Specimen so far include the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Kusu Anemone and soon – after a trip to Fuji-san the day before – Fuji Basalt.

Just back from Dislocate 07, a great little exhibition in two venues around Tokyo and a two-day symposium at ZAIM Yokohama. Organized by Emma Ota, Kentaro Chiba and other curators, Ginza Art Lab (littlest gallery ever, but since Ginza reportedly used to be worth as much as California, it's a lot of space) and Koiwa Project Space are filled to the ceiling with interesting works by almost 40 both Japanese and western artists.

I will primarily cover the symposium here but anyone who's around Tokyo should check out the exhibition spaces, runs until August 5th.

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Christian Nold opened the Dislocate symposium with a fairly critical assessment of location-based art. His project Biomapping has been around for about 3,5 years now – a lot of time to reflect on this kind of work and why it makes sense or not in different contexts. To really understand location-based works, one has to know that many of the ideas of today's media-related art go back to the late 19th century when also the idea of biometrics was envisioned by the British, primarily to track people in India which then still was a colony.

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Handprint from India, 1858 and Larson's Portable Polygraph, 1953

The lie detector is another technology from that time on which Biomapping is built on, combining it with mobility and location-awareness through the GPS-system. The presumption behind this classic device is basically that your body will at all times tell the truth. Present-day neuroscientists describe emotion and feeling as being two different things: emotions happen in the body while feeling is rather the sensation of observing one's own bodily reactions. Biomapping takes up that paradigm and spatially tracks the users basic emotions through his or her galvanic skin resistance, thus creating emotion-maps of various places, preferably in community-contexts of some sort.

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Harrow Emotion map

According to Christian, most location-based works can roughly be divided in two camps: mobile media and media that is put in specific locations. Henri Lefebvre's idea of place would actually more a appropriate term for such projects. During those 3,5 years, he went to many workshops but almost always felt disconnected with the actual places they happened in. Also Skype and similar technologies are comforting but how far do the connections they provide really go? Marc Tuters' and Kazys Varnelis' essay Beyond Locative Media might provide some clues there. More provocatively formulated: might our view not be class-bound in the first place, flying around the world to funky conferences and workshops with western passports in our pockets while the actual projects often lack connectedness to the local people and a general agenda when they claim to be the opposite? Which representations (knowing that this is a rather old-school term when it comes to art) can locative media offer and how can we make it a kind of multi-agenda-design which does justice to the complexities which are often involved in local communities.

He says that his role as an artist would be to find and negotiate these different agendas. One example is the Stockport emotion map which is supposed to show the unique problems as well as the unique possibilities of this area. The bottom line is that it takes real interest to create cultural value. Projects from the 1970s prove that it is not necessarily the technology that makes good projects, it's often everything else that enables structural participation.

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Shoot Me If You Can

Taeyoon Choi is an artist who was educated in Chicago and is currently working in Seoul, South Korea. He says that he's primarily working for people's amusement but actually he's interested in how individual people use technology and how art relates to local culture. With his current work, he's focussing on Korea and the rapid shifts in its culture that are happening at the moment. If you look at critical art in the area you could get the impression that there's no genuinely local issues at the moment (or that a vaguely Asian style just pays of well on global art markets). However, there are big changes going on in Korean society, many of which are related to technology – can that be explored through art? The premier of those technologies is arguably the mobile phone/cameraphone. The discourse about surveillance in public spaces is currently merely a western one, focussed on cameras that are operated by the police or property owners. People are hardly offended by those in Korea but, ironically, the same set of issues is going on around the cameras in mobile phones.

Taeyoon is currently addressing this in his project Shoot Me If You Can, a game in urban space where people are running through the city, each equipped with a cameraphone or digital camera. They are divided into teams and are supposed to take pictures of the opposite team's players. When successful, the photo is messaged to the "shot" player and he or she is out. (We tried that during the break, funfun).

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After the shoot-out in Yokohama

This September he will build a gigantic CCTV-beast (!) which 40 people will be able to battle with their mobile phones in a similar manner. Other projects of Taeyoon include the Moveable Types and Instant Spaces at last year's ISEA in San Jose and a very poetic project which comments on the Sampoong department store collapse in 1995 through the absence of mobile phone coverage (= being in the past).

Augmented Architecture's Nancy Diniz shows a prototype of their project Life Speculatrix at the Koiwa space, an "evolutionary physical skin based on feedback retrieved locally and globally. Locally it responds to sound, light and proximity of people around it. Globally it responds to RSS/Atom environmental feeds retrieved through the webspace." It is a matrix of shape memory alloy-actuators and will convey attraction and repulsion towards a user in a very slow manner. The discussion after her presentation mainly focussed on the question if this will be readable or will be perceived as randomness. However, slowness is something which is rarely found in interactive projects which often tend to focus on instant gratification of the user in order to seem worthwhile, so this might actually prove to be an interesting strategy for further development of the piece.

Finally, Don Belasco Rogers who is also one half of Berlin-based performance artists plan b explained his interest in mapping and the personal geography of cities. To him, they are rather accumulations of events than their hard, concrete surfaces. One of the events which proved that to him was a fire in Clerkenwell, London in which several people were trapped in an illegal porn cinema and killed by the flames. A short while later, every trace of this incident was gone and he realized that this events like these rather live on "in the head and in the body" of the city's inhabitants than anywhere else. The same goes for personal accidents that happened to him throughout London during the time that he had lived there.

As Dan puts it, "we're quite soft to mark, whereas the city is rather hard". When he moved to Berlin in 2001, he wondered where those personal stories about London would go, so in order to approach this new city (and to record his London history), he drew a map of such incidents and then matched it with a map of Berlin of the same scale while Picadilly circus and Brandenburg gate served as center points. Like this, he could approximately tell where an incident would have been if it had happened in Berlin instead of London and subsequently documented the sites. For instance the place where he tripped and head-butted a lamp post near Picadilly circus would have been that patch of open space just in front of the Reichstag.

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Dan's Berlin of 2003

Becoming increasingly interested the city being a "mnemonic place which lives through its story", he developed several pieces and performances which almost all revolve around similar ideas, like Our House or A description of this place as if you were someone else. The latter uses GPS-technology to place stories around Bristol's Queen Square while the user can walk through them and literally "peel back the layers of a city" and a similar way of tracking oneself through satellite is also applied in the project which Dan is exhibiting at Ginza Art Lab, Mapping.

For this ongoing practice of "daily mapmaking" (which borrows from Gerhard Richter's practice of daily painting), he basically takes his GPS receiver/recorder whereever he goes to trace his ways and watch himself making new connections. The outcome of this project is really beautiful, intricate maps which look a lot like precisely-drawn, slightly technical maps, unless you zoom in and see the inaccuracies of the GPS which suddenly give them something very handmade. Yet, obviously they haven't been "drawn" in a traditional sense but rather been created by his body's movement through the real space they resemble, so there's a whole host of connotations to be found. So now for every day he is in the city, Dan will update the Tokyo-map with last day's data and it will become more ever more complex as he discovers it.

Some impressions of the participants and exhibition spaces on Flickr and in the associated pool.

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