Sorry for the long silence, i was a bit dazed by the 2 fantastic days i spent at the School of Architecture of Alicante. Thanks a lot to Paco Mejias, Jose Maria Torres Nadal and a virtual Edgar Gonzalez who have made my stay over there so memorable and fun.

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Theo Jansen, Strandbeest

So let's get back to blogging and to my belated report on Art Futura which took place last week in Barcelona. The director of the festival, Montxo Algora is also the curator, along with Jose Luis de Vicente, of Máquinas&Almas (Machines and Souls), a major exhibition of media art which opened last Summer at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Máquinas&Almas ("Souls&Machines") explores the intersection of art and technology at the beginning of the 21st century through the work of a generation of creators -not only artists- who have defined the limits of the discourse of new media, taking them beyond their speculative beginnings and constructing their strategic and linguistic bases.

I'm not sure the show has received the echo it deserved in the international press but it was certainly remarkable that a museum, famous around the world for its collection of paintings by Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí was opening its doors to some 30 works -some of them made especially for the exhibition- created using digital technology.


David Byrne and David Hanson, Song for Julio

The challenge taken by Reina Sofia paid off: Souls and Machines received more than 350,000 visitors, making it the most visited exhibition about art and technology in Spain. I can't actually imagine another country in Europe where such show could have taken place. Other countries are very open to media art but none of them -and i hope i'm wrong but i doubt it- has more genuine respect and a better taste than Spain for technology-based art. Still, the situation didn't make
Máquinas&Almas
a piece of cake.

Montxo Algora, Vicente Matallana (responsible of the production of the exhibition), Irma Arribas and artist Evru took the stage last Saturday at Art Futura to give us the lowdown of this adventure which took 2 years in the making.

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.'

This quote by Albert Einstein was the leitmotiv of the exhibition and it was also the cue that guided the work of Irma Arribas whose design of the exhibition tried to generate a relationship based mystery and dialog between the artworks and the visitors.

The artworks were not hermetically separated from each other. Instead, they were divided by semi-transparent curtains, which were both filtering the space and allowing the works to dialog between each other. The whole parcours that lead from one piece to the other was curvy in order to create surprises and a sense of expectation.

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Daniel Canogar, Palimpsesto

The most fascinating part of the panel was the presentation of Vicente Matallana whose company LaAgencia was in charge of the production of Máquinas&Almas. LaAgencia has been producing media art events for 10 years and Vicente is the one who best explained why Reina Sofia's decision to host the exhibition was audacious. The rooms the museum dedicated to M&A were inadequate (too luminous, technologically deficient), the team was remarkably open and cooperative but unprepared to deal with new issues which included:

- how do you deal with the 3600 light bulbs that composed Palimpsesto, the amazing installation of Daniel Canogar?
- what happens to a budget when the price of the material needed for an installation soars unexpectedly, as was the case with Chico McMurtrie's Inflatable Architectural Body?
- unlike with traditional exhibitions, the production doesn't stop once the painting is hung on the wall. The production of a new media art exhibitions lasts until the last day of the show. Works have to be kept in perfect functioning state. Only 70% of the production budget had been spent when the exhibition opened. The remaining 30% were necessary to ensure that the pieces would still be working after constant 'interaction' by visitors.
- which is a problem that not only museum have to cope with but also media art festivals which tend to be the only events that exhibit such artworks. A media art festival typically lasts a few days. The exhibition at the Reina Sofia, on the other hand, had to stand several months of almost constant interaction with visitors. The damage done to some of the artworks was tremendous and many pieces had not been conceived to stand the interaction with various people at the same time.

While the presentation of Montxo, Ima and Vicente was certainly instructive and fascinating, a close look at the content of the exhibition can give you further clues about how to set up your own exhibition about media art

Rule number 1: show whatever artworks you like but include something by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
in your selection. M&A had one of his latest works, Micrófonos (Subescultura 10). Twenty microphones with the archetypal Shure 55 head are mounted on custom-made stands at varying heights and features while integrated circuit are connected to a network of hidden computers. When a visitor speaks into a microphone, the device records his/ her voice and immediately reproduces the voice of a previous participant, like an echo from the past.

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Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Micrófonos (Subescultura 10)

Rule number 2, show some respect to the cliche that women don't understand technology and therefore don't mingle with media art. And because every rule has its exceptions, do include the work of one (maximum 2) women in your exhibition:

UrbanSpaceStation, an installation that Natalie Jeremijenko developed together with Ángel Borrego.

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Natalie Jeremijenko and Ángel Borrego, UrbanSpaceStation

This prototype of a parasite for urban buildings was designed to sequester the carbon dioxide emissions from buildings and return oxygen-enriched air in exchange. The "greenhouse-laboratory" for rooftops constitutes an intensive urban agriculture facility that reuses building waste streams to produce nutritional resources without burning fossil fuels.

Video:

Rule number 3: demonstrate that media art is mature enough not to take itself too seriously. Let an artist make that point clear for you. Because he defines himself as a (temporarily) retired net artist, Vuk Cosic is the perfect candidate for the role. And please, do add in your press material that Cosic coined the term "net art" in 1995. He'll be happy to tell the press once again that he never actually coined the term and you'll be left to wonder whether he's serious or messing around again.

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Vuk Cosic, History of Art for the Intelligence Community

His History of Art for the Intelligence Community is an homage to the masters of painting. The artist applied the Carnivore Project (a software developed by the Radical Software Group (RSG) and based on recreating data obtained through a FBI programme to intercept information online) to animate canonical artwork - Mantegna, Van Gogh, Malevich, Warhol or Cézanne - in images and subsequently alter them. In Cézanne's Cherries and Peaches, with Cosic's programme installed on a computer, the number of fruit pieces changes in real time as the owner sends and receives e-mails.

Rule number 4. Invite a name that critiques of 'traditional' contemporary art will have heard of. This will get their attention and ensure that they will visit your show. And if that name is Pierre Huyghe, you'll get my undying gratitude (not that it should matter much.)

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Pierre Huyghe, One Million Kingdoms

Together with Philippe Parreno, Huyghe created No Ghost Just a Shell, a multimedia project starring an animated character named AnnLee. In the video One Million Kingdoms, AnnLee moves through a futuristic landscape sketched by a series of graphic curves whose movement is synchronised with the artist's synthesised voice as it repeats the words spoken by Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing.

Rule number 5. Include some artwork that even the most bored boyfriend dragged in the gallery by the media art buff will like. Make sure that she will appreciate the project as well.

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Harun Farocki, Deep Play

Harun Farocki's Deep Play is a 12-channel video installation that shows different aspects - some of which are generally hidden - of a football game. The filmmaker chose the 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy to dissect it into synchronised images, which are reproduced on each screen: the artist's own footage of the game, official FIFA footage, charts of player stats, real-time 2D and 3D animation sequences, and stadium surveillance.

Maybe the best thing is could do is leave you with this video that ADN made of the show:

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Then 19th edition of Art Futura, the Barcelona-based festival of Digital Culture and Creativity, closed on Sunday with the Prize Giving Ceremony. Awards were handed to the creators of best pieces in 3D and digital animation and of the best Spanish videogames. Not one single girl climbed on the podium to receive a prize (that's ok, ladies, i'm not into 3D either) but most of the awardees thanked either their girlfriend or their mum for their support. There was even one 'gracias a mi abuela/thanks to my granny'. How sweet!

I'm back in my kitchen, so time has come to write a couple of posts and share with you what were for me the most interesting moments of the festival.

First one is the presentation of a sculpture called Splash.

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Image by Núria Jordán & Salvador Barceló

Mona Kim, Todd Palmer, Olga Subirós and Simon Taylor from Program Collective took the stage to share with us the whole process that lead to the spectacular sculpture they created for the Water for Life exhibition at the Expo Zaragoza 2008, a fair that focused on water and sustainable development.

The challenge was to fill in two entire floors of the Water Tower, the Expo's signature edifice. Two floors might not seem much until you add to that a huge empty space of 40 m high that the designers had to occupy with a work which could somehow balance the architecture and get people to walk up the ramps that wrap around the tower's interior.

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Photo: Matias Costa for The New York Times

The result of that brief was a series of installations and a very photogenic hanging sculpture called Splash which freezes in solid form the kinetic properties of water hitting a surface, like the arrival of life on our planet. Video:

As visitors climb to the top of the tower, they can enjoy a panoramic view of the city but also discover all the layers and facets of the sculpture. Besides, Splash's shiny surface reflects the environment around it, becoming a distorted mirror of the video images playing below, and of the people watching it from the ramps that circle around it. The designers had to break down the sculpture into its most basic elements, ending up with 84 giant pieces that had to be suspended from the tower's ceiling by a total of 140 cables, some of them as thin as 3 mm.

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Image by plus arquitectura

The forms of this 22.5 meters (74 ft) high installation were generated through digital animation technologies that modeled the deformation and energetic scattering of a drop of water being acted upon by various extreme planetary forces - including gravity, wind and heat. The dynamic simulation systems were carried out by Pere Gifre from IKONIC ARTS.

Image on the homepage by Gallo Quirico.

Yesterday evening, I went to the SimpleTEXT audio/visual performance by Family Filter. I was looking forward to it, but was a bit bitter as someone had just stolen my beloved mobile phone, so I coulnd't really participate.

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Only two of the Family Filter members, Tim Redfern and Duncan Murphy were there. Jonah Brucker-Cohen couldn't come.

People in the audience are invited to submit messages to control the audiovisual output of the installation (guiding how the music is created, and rhythmically driving a speech synthesizer) and the images that appear on the screens. Tim and Duncan had warned that the sms or e-mail had to be short as the images came from a search on Google.

I found it really good. Unfortunately, the performance was a bit spoilt by the fact that many people found it more amusing to send each other long messages such as "Hi Jos�, I'm here, were are you?" which of course triggered only a "No image found" result with the text of the message underneath.

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Yesterday evening, I went to the retrospective of RND# (computer jargon for "random number") by British film director Richard Fenwick . Four years ago, he embarked on a very ambitious project: create 100 shorts illustrating how information technologies have been contaminating every aspect of our everyday life. So far, he made just 20 of them. His language fuses real images, graphics, animation.

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He compares technology to "a bad girlfriend" because you're addicted to her and live a love-hate relashionship.

They're very small, sort of sketchbook films, made with no budget.
I hate it when people want to tell me the story of the film or a book, so I won't comment more on the films.

Have a look by yourself at some of them.

Can't believe how lucky I am! I had lunch today with Andrem Shoban from Greyworld whose work I already knew and admire. Then I discovered the work of Fiona Raby, fascinating, totally fascinating.

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So let's start with Greyworld. Shoban founded Greyworld in 1993 in Paris then 2 year after they were back to London where they still have their studio now.

They do interactive urban art for the "people who buy cans of beans,"not for the elite. Their installations try to involve the public as much as possible in a ludic and surprising way.

In 2002, they created the ColourStops installation for five bus stops in Bradford, UK: In the bus stop shelters, Greyworld concealed colour-recognition cameras that create sounds according to the colours they detect. The work tries to reflect back the variety of differences in people, Bradford being a very multi-ethnic city.

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Three years ago, on the Millennium Footbridge in Dublin, they inserted sensors in the carpet covering the bridge, they detect the size of the feets and the speed of your walk, according to these data, different sounds are generated so that you can walk to the sound of music or hear the sound of crunchy leaves or snow or the flop flop of water.

See also The Source that opens and closes the London Stock Exchange since April 2004.

The group is now working on Bins and Benches (flash presentation) to be installed in The Junction (London)
These urban furniture are able to roam free in the Piazza area.

The benches love to be sat on, and they often take up position in new spaces to make themselves more attractive to potential human sitters. Sometimes, when it rains, they move themselves to drier, shadier areas of the square. To attract potential human sitting folk, they like to form patterns - the benches moving in to shapes in the centre of the piazza.

The bins are a little more solitary. It's a tough life being a bin, and they like to contemplate their humble lot on their own.

When the mood takes them, the surniture like to burst in to song. Sometimes, small clusters gather together and sing a tight six-part harmony, and occasionally, though much more rarely due to their shyness, the bins join in with their sweet soprano voices.

Each bench drifts slowly around the square, no faster than a strolling human, and is equipped with sensors that detect the presence of objects in its immediate vicinity, coming to a complete halt when any object is coming close.

Rebecca Allen gave a brief presentation of the Human Connectedness group and in particular of the following projects:

- tunA, a handheld ad-hoc radio device for sharing music with people around you,
- Habitat, connected furniture to enable distant family members to stay connected,
- and Breakout for two, an exertion interface for sports over a distance or how to play soccer with someone who is at the other end of the planet.

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