Hello readers! Here's something i was keeping in my Magic Bag for ages: the videos of the projects which received an Award or an Honorary Mention at the VIDA competition. This international competition on art & artificial life, set up 10 years ago by Fundación Telefónica, rewards works of art produced with and commenting on artificial life technologies. Most of them will give you a fantastic glimpse into the mind of the creators of projects which include empathic blobs, cabinets of curiosities for the biotech age, exploration into digital survival and animatronics.

I guess no one in the assistance will be surprised if i tell you how excited i was when i first saw the video explaining one of the latest project from Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (SymbioticA): NoArk.

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Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Noark

I've also been impressed by Julius Popp's bit-flow video and found extremely sweet the OMO robot of Kelly -Blendie- Dobson.

This way to discover them all. In english with spanish subtitles or vice-versa.

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Award ceremony in Barcelona last November

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Consolation prize for everyone who missed the sk-interface conference. The videos of the talks -which took place at FACT in Liverpool on February 8 & 9 as part of the sk-interfaces exhibition - have been made available online. Yeah!

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Culture de Peaux d'Artistes by Art Oriente Objet

I'm quoting curator Jens Hauser:

This international conference examined the aesthetic, philosophical and biomedical issues raised in the exhibition. Specialists from a wide range of disciplines and artists of international renown discussed past and future roles of skin, shifts in the concept of interfaces, the emergence of 'biofacts' in philosophy, as well as the most contemporary practices of artists using new technologies, biomedia and their own bodies.

Make your way to the FACT archive.

In the order of the conference schedule: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4.

The archive also includes footage of the performance Bleu Remix by Yann Marussich, recorded on the opening night of sk-interfaces.

Videos are encoded in H.264 format - you need a recent Flash player.

There's a also a great catalog with essays, interviews and project presentations: Sk-interfaces: Exploding Borders - Creating Membranes in Art, Technology and Society (Amazon USA and UK.)

0aaaabrcgui9.jpgDear friends and readers living in New York, i'm going to hit your turf soon for a panel rhizome has kindly asked me to set up at the New Museum in Manhattan. If you know me a tiny bit you might have guessed that my first thought was for biotech art. I wasn't sure my proposal would be accepted as the topic is far less popular than interactive screens in public spaces or "sustainable" gadgetry. It's a bit more risky as well. But they said yes and i'd love to meet you on Friday 14, at the New Museum theater, 235 Bowery (map).

The Media Art in the Age of Transgenics, Cloning, and Genomics panel is scheduled at 7,30 pm. There will be the cream of biotech art: Caitlin Berrigan, Adam Zaretsky, Brandon Ballengee, and Kathy High.

If Caitlin doesn't bring her chocolates, i will bring some yummy chocolate cat tongues from Belgium because we're having a party after the panel (details about that will follow.)

Image on top left by Brandon Ballengee: Cleared and Stained Multi-limbed Pacific Tree frog, Aptos, California. Digital imaging courtesy The Institute for Electronic Arts, School of Art and Design NYSCC at Alfred University, Alfred, New York.

Last week i flew to one of my favourite cities, Liverpool, to visit the Sk-interfaces exhibition at the FACT art center. The show, curated by Jens Hauser, explores, materially and metaphorically, the concept of skin as a technological interface.

A controversial new exhibition on display in Liverpool showcases real skin tissue in sculptures wrote the BBC news website. Yet every single person i spoke with during the 2 days i spent in the city didn't seem to find the show controversial. Interesting, surprising, fascinating, challenging, thought-provoking, worth bringing my mum, etc. That's what i heard but no one i talked to seemed overly shocked nor disturbed.

There is material to cause quite a stir in sk-interfaces but Liverpudlians seemed to be more concerned by the issues brought to light by the artists than by the potentially seditious or "freaky" character of the works on show.

I'll start the blog visit of this multi-disciplinary exhibition by walking to the second floor of FACT.

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Critical Art Ensemble, Immolation. Image courtesy of the artists

Immolation is a video installation concerned with the subject of the use of incendiary weapons on civilians after the Geneva Convention and the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons of 1980. The USA have refused to sign the convention and they make regular use of firebombs in the Middle East. Not because these bombs are the most efficient (they are not), but because they act as moral crushers, tapping on people's visceral fear of being burned alive.

This video chronicles the major war crimes of the United States involving these weapons on a ( macro) landscape level, and contrasts it with the damage done to the body on the (micro) cellular level.

To accomplish this task, the Critical Art Ensemble (a collective of tactical media practitioners who explore the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism) grew human tissue at SymbioticA last year, and using high-end microscopy shot the micro footage of skin cells dying by either exploding or imploding. In parallel, CAE shows film footage of present and past wars that have used immolation against civilian targets as a strategic choice for the sole purpose of terrorizing entire populations.

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Critical Art Ensemble, Immolation

The result is a video where war crime are shown at both the micro and macro level but which skips the human level. Yet you still manage to view your own body in the narrative. The video is made even more unsettling by the absence of sound, it's just silence and destruction.

The goal is to provide a different way of imaging, viewing, and interpreting the human costs of these war crimes, in contrast to the barrage of media imagery to which we have become so desensitised. The video portrays what CAE calls an "ecology of crime."

CAE felt that as long as warfare would be at the center of the Bush agenda, they had to come up with new connections and find venues to show their work (since the arrest of Steve Kurtz some US administrations are feeling the pressure).

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Right next to Immolation, is Truth Serum, a work that responds to the lawsuit against Steve Kurtz and their persecution of Critical Art Ensemble in the USA, which marks an ever-increasing creep of the security state into the nervous system of culture.

For Truth Serum, The Office of Experiments, initiated by Neal White, follows research on serums used historically by official authorities in interrogation processes as a means to obtain information without using torture. The effects of truth drugs were first examined in the 1920's, and heavily used by the CIA during the Cold War. The present artwork echoes the debate around art's freedom in the fear and increasing security regime that has emerged after 9/11, while drawing on the cultural history of so-called truth drugs and recent discussions about their use in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

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Scopolamine, an ingredient used in truth serums (image courtesy of Neil White)

The use of truth serums is actually illegal but after 9/11 there have been talks (mostly in the press) of using the method again during interrogations by the FBI and the CIA, even though truth serums are more an art than a science.

The installation at FACT combines a space concealed behind a white door and a series of video works that reflect on the aesthetics of terrorist messages, using a dark clown as an anonymous spokesman who reflects on the possibility of carrying out mass self-experimentation with truth drugs as a form of self-defence.

On 29 March 2008, volunteers will be able to participate to the performative part of the Truth Serum installation in support of freedom from artistic censorship.

In a central (and still secret) Liverpool location, participants will willingly submit themselves to a short psychological experiment based on substantiating Truth lasting around 10 minutes. The aim is to probe an atmosphere of paranoia spreading since 9/11.

More information to participate.

My pictures and FACT pictures.

sk-interfaces is on view until March 30 and launches FACT's Human Futures programme which includes 3 sections - My Body (SK-Interfaces), My Mind and My World, each one hosting a major exhibition, conference and research focus. You can follow its development through Human Futures blog.

Related: They make art not bioterrorism, Jens Hauser's presentation in Aix en Provence (part 1 and 2.)

Ecological Strategies in Today's Art (part 1).

Ecomedia - Ecological Strategies in Today's Art, currently running at the Edith Russ Haus in Oldenburg, presents projects founded on progressive ecological models and conceive utopian horizons in the process.

0aaatapawea4.jpgTue Greenfort's contribution to the show is a simple plastic bottle. Just a bottle... until you have a look at the title of the sculpture: Producing 1 Kilogram of PET Plastic Requires 17.5 Kilograms of Water and results in air emissions of 40 grams of hydrocarbons, 25 grams of sulfur oxides, 18 grams of carbon monoxide, 20 grams of nitrogen oxides, and 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide. In terms of water use alone, much more is consumed in making the bottles than will ever go into them? (2004). I can't dream of anything more self-explanatory. The object is a 1.5-liters mineral-water bottle which, under the influence of heat, has melted down to the size of a half-litre bottle, and was then filled with tap water. The artist's piece demonstrates that the production of a non-returnable bottle requires more water than it can actually contain.

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Natalie Jeremijenko's Environmental Health Clinic Meeting on plastic raft (image)

Talking of which, there was a raft made of plastic bottles on the grass outside of the Edith Russ Haus building. It's Natalie Jeremijenko's office. At the exhibition opening, she invited people to jump on it and share with her their environmental anxieties. Best is to have a look at the video presentation that GOOD magazine made of the Environmental Health Clinic project.

GenTerra, by Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz da Costa, used a harmless form of gut E. coli to educate the public about genetically modified organisms.

If you scroll down the page you'll be able to see a video of a GenTerra performance which is currently screened at Edith Russ Haus.

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GenTerra, 2001, performance at St. Norbert Art and Culture Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (image)

GenTerra is a fictional biotech company dealing with "transgenics" and driven by profit, but also by a sense of social responsibility. Products created through this process---for example, transgenically modified foods---have often caused controversy. GenTerra claims to produce organisms that help solve ecological or social problems

00abeatrizmachine.jpgGenTerra is essentially a participatory "theater" comprising a lab, computer stations displaying the company's informational CD-Rom, and a bacteria release machine. Scientists and artists are talking the public through the process and implications (whether they are purely profit-driven or feature some utopian qualities) of transgenics. Materials are then provided to allow people to get a hands-on experience by creating their own transgenic organism, using human DNA derived from blood samples. After that they become actively involved in risk assessment by deciding whether or not to release bacteria from one of petri dishes of the release machine. 11 of the dishes have non-transgenic bacteria samples taken locally, and one contains the transgenic bacteria. Should the dish with the transgenic bacteria be selected, a robotic arm will open the lid of the dish, and then replace the lid on the dish after about 5 seconds. The transgenic bacteria is in fact a benign, crippled lab strain that is released in laboratories on a routine basis.

This form of participatory experience attempts to make the whole issue less abstract and distant and by doing so, it provides the public with the critical tools to reflect on how significant the transgenic issue is and how it is going to reflect their everyday life.

The Critical Art Ensemble defense fund page informs that the FBI is still refusing to return most of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of impounded materials. The reason for that is that the art collective was using the harmless bacteria and materials in several of their projects, one of them is GenTerra.

Andrea Polli had two projects in the exhibition, the beautiful The Queensbridge Wind Power Project is a video (which you can watch online) for transforming the Queensborough bridge into a site for gathering clean, renewable energy.

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Andrea Polli: The Queensbridge Windpower Project, 2005

The second project she was showing is a collaboration with Joe Gilmore. N. is an artistic visualization and sonification of near real-time Arctic data.

Franz John's Turing Tables takes live seismological data and turns it into pictures, sound and movement.

Seismological institutes measure the vibrations of the Earth and exchange the data collected among themselves via automated internet-transfers. Turing Tables feeds into this human-machine-communication data stream and translates it into an installation which bathes visitors in audio renderings and projections of live measurements made by seismographs all over the world.

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Franz John: Turing Tables. An Untitled Composition for Tectonic Spaces, 2003-2007 (Foto: Franz Wamhof)

The project is not about the catastrophes that cause these movements in inhabited areas, but instead about the archaic feeling and consciousness that the earth is an organism, that it moves and that it can be understood as an organism in constant flux.

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Beuys at Documenta 7, photo by Günter Beer

I liked 01.org's Reenactment of Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks, 2007. My first reaction when i saw the project was "oh! No, not flugly Second Life agaaain!" but this "synthetic performance" has the merit of bringing the spotlight on a very inspiring work. In March 1982, Beuys was at Documenta 7 in Kassel with a mission: planting of 7000 trees, each paired with a columnar basalt stone approximately four feet high above ground, throughout the greater city of Kassel. The last tree was planted posthumously in 1987 by is son. Beuys intended the Kassel project to be the first stage in an ongoing scheme of tree planting to be extended throughout the world as part of a global mission to effect environmental and social change; locally, the action was a gesture towards urban renewal. 25 years exactly after the planting of the first tree, Eva and Franco Mattes of 01.org (or rather their avatars) started stacking virtual basalt stones on Mattes' island in SL. SL inhabitants are invited to participate to the performance by placing stones and trees on their land.

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Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, Reenactment of Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks

Infossil had a huge banner hanging above the reception desk of the art space. The white on black text reflects about the dependence of electronic communication, that is of the "infossil", on the energy resources available, the fossil: coal.

Also on show: Sabrina Raaf's Translator II: Grower was painting grass on the wall; EcoScope, a communication tool developed by Transnational Temps, provides a context for discussing environmental affairs; 10 Commandments for the 21st Century, by Tea Mäkipää; Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's You don't need a weatherman; Christoph Keller's The Whole Earth, a projection on a weather balloon. White clouds over a blue sky form the perfect picture of the peaceful blue planet we live on, there's even piano music for perfect bliss. Every two minutes, a roaring aircraft brings us back to reality. Its passage takes one or two seconds but that's enough to spoil the idyllic vision (image); Yonic, a NGO working in Brazil to diminish pollution in the rain forest and find new solutions to old problems, showed the fanzine they publish on a yearly basis using handmade recycled paper.

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Sabrina Raaf: Grower, 2004/5

Now that was a fantastic and energizing exhibition. If only we can get more people to see it, not just the already converted.

Set of images.

Related entries: Natalie Jeremijenko's talk at Stifo@Sandberg conference, They make art not bioterrorism.

At the Artissima art fair last month in Turin, i discovered a new player on the local art scene: the Parco d'Arte Vivente (Park of Living Art).

It all started when i almost fell on my knees in front of an installation by Michel Blazy. The first time i saw his work was at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The installation Post Patman stank, rot, crumbled and formed mushrooms, attracted insects and birds but i love it.

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The work on show at Artissima, Le tombeau du poulet aux quatre cuisses (The grave of the four-legged chicken), is a skeleton laying on a bed of earth and surrounded by mushroom. The skeleton looks indeed like the one of a chicken, a giant chicken and as it is made of dog biscuits (made themselves from animal products) will be slowly desintegrating over time.

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The PAV was also exhibiting one of Jun Takita's sculpture Jusqu'aux recoins du monde, the sculpture of a brain recovered with bioluminescent algae. For years, the Paris-based artist has been interested in bioluminescence.

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Jusqu'aux recoins du monde

According to traditional classification, photosynthesizing organisms
belong to the plant kingdom. Plants transform light into energy but are not capable of bioluminescence --that is, they cannot emit light. Excepting a few species like the dinoflagellates, which belong to both the plant and animal kingdoms, bioluminescence is found in only a few animal species. Biological evolution has not
given rise to an organism that can both consume light as energy and use that energy to create its own light. However, over the last few years, genetic manipulation has made it possible to create bioluminescent plants. These plants/nonplants artificial organisms transgress the laws of nature.

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Light only Light, by Jun Takita. Image Yusuke Komiyama

It is easy to perceive a figure in the landscape within 10° of one's line of sight (the size of the visual field of a fist held out at arm's length). For example, constellations are based on the principle that one reads stars at a distance of up to about 11° from one another as part of a group. Even when we look at the sky, the human hand is the unit of reference for measuring an image. If an object exceeds this 10° visual field, we have to move our eyes in order to perceive it in its entirety. Vision is then constructed by the accretion of several images memorized by the brain. In 1998, the artist started to work on a garden project based on this phenomenon.

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On the left, portrait of Jun Takita

The elevated garden is to be situated on top of a building in Tokyo. As Tokyo is a very polluted city, it is not unusual to see gardens being grown on the top buildings by inhabitants in order to cool down a bit the temperature of the city.

The central element of Takita's own garden is a mineral sculpture composed of three walls forming a cave and a bush pruned into a hemisphere. The inside of the cave is to be covered with a bioluminescent moss produced with genetic engineering technology. The moss will emit light via photosynthesis. The visitor is led to a viewpoint along the axis of the sculpture, where the bush is framed by the cave. The distance from this point to the bush will permit the eye to perceive the whole installation at once.

The visitor is invited to discover a visual experience made possible through genetic engineering. During the day, the light of the sun is much stronger than the one emitted through bioluminescence, therefore the form of the bush will be lit by the sun, and its shape will serve to distinguish it from a dark background. After sunset the opposite happens: the bioluminescent background will be broken up by the silhouette of the bush, forming a negative figure (via Takita's paper and the notes i took during the artist's presentation during the round table, titled Places and creative processes of the living arts, and organized by the Parco d'Arte Vivente at artissima).

One of Jun Takita's works will be part of sk-interfaces which opens at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool on 01 February until 30 March 2008.

Last week i went to the temporary headquarters of the PAV to check out their exhibition Living Materials. It closed yesterday but will be traveling to Austria. I do not have the details about that second show yet. But when i do, i'll let you know because Living Materials is a very charming exhibition.

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Every work presented involves the public in a timed process cadenced by the cyclic rhythm of biological and ecological phenomena. Life and death are simultaneously present and aesthetically represented in the continuum of procedural works which ask us about the man-nature relationship in the age of biotechnology.

The works on show include Le Poulet and photos of Jun Takita's work but also:

0alemoncelli9.jpgEnnio Bertrand, The creator has a master plan (first created in 2003 under the title Lemon Sky and revamped for Living Materials).

An array of hundreds of lemons are pierced with small metal sheets, they are in fact Volta batteries supplied with citrus energy which powers tiny Leds, one every 4 lemons. Originally the lemons looked like the ones you can see on the image above but when i visited the PAV, the lemons were a yummy green as you can see on the image on the right. I actually liked that a lot, in yellow, they were too perfect, too plastic looking, but covered with decay they were more living than ever.

The artist writes: I imagined that the lemons during their "work" of withering and decomposing would give back the sun stored by the tree in his fruits during its productive phase in form of small flares.

I think it's fascinating that a fruit of nature through an electronic device can palpitate for some days. It seems the proof to me of our dependence on the environment, of our tight and deep bond to nature.

The project proposes a reflection on the energetic resources of our planet and re-explores one of the artist's theme of predilection: time. Six months of ripening, several days of life for the work and very short flashes of light, like snapshots of the passing by of time.

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The last work on show is Food Island, by Andrea Caretto & Raffaella Spagna. The complex water system feeds several interconnected little islands containing various natural elements: stones, plants or animals.

A pump dipped in a water container sends water which reaches each island through transparent tubes. The water produced through various natural mechanism or which is not needed by the island is then collected and sent back to the main water container. the whole installation constitutes a kind of hypertextual narration which explains phenomena of growth and transformation of the material, from inorganic to organic and vice-versa.

All my images.
and the press pictures from three sixty. Video interview of Michel Blazy.

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