aabanquiaba.jpgBack in June, LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón was opening Banquete_nodos y redes, Interactions Between Art, Science, Technology and Society in Spain's Digital Culture. The exhibition presents more than 30 digital and interactive works that critically and creatively explore the notion of Network as a shared matrix, not just from a technological perspective but also from a socio-cultural perspective.

I wrote a few stories about the show at the time (Sightseeing telescope reveals open wifi networks in urban space, The Bank of Common Knowledge and Vacuum Virtual Machine) but as Banquete runs until November, 03, i thought it would leave me plenty of space to come back with more details on the exhibition.

This exhibition is almost god-sent for me. I don't know why but in the course of my work i'm asked again and again the same question: 'which country is the most dynamic in terms of new media art?' Spain always comes on the top of my list, but while i have no difficulties in naming some particularly active organizations, events, competitions and institutions which support media art, i struggle to enumerate Spanish media artists, i only seem to come up with those active in the field of activism. The works exhibited at banquete have all been developed in Spain and they are demonstrating how much broader and energetic the media art scene is in the country.

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Ricardo Iglesias, José, un robot autista (José, an autistic robot), photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

Karin Ohlenschläger, who curated the show and has worked for many years in Spain, knows it better than anyone. She is a critic and exhibit curator specializing in contemporary art and new technologies. She is a founding member of the Fundación Banquete and has curated numerous art exhibits related to new media. From 2002 to 2006, she was the co-director of the MediaLabMadrid programme.

I asked her to tell us more about her experiences with banquete, the exhibition in Gijon and the media art community in Spain:

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Daniel Canogar, Tangle, photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

Banquete is an international network of conversations and actions among artists, scientists, technologists, and other producers of knowledge. Would you mind telling us briefly how the project started (15 years ago already?) and how it came to take the form of an exhibition?

Banquete started 15 years ago on a Mediterranean island, in a kitchen, around a table, and during a intense conversation about art and life. Since then, the idea evolved steadily from kitchen to kitchen and from table to table. More and more people became involved until, in 2003, the project materialized in Barcelona (Palau de la Virreina), Karlsruhe (ZKM) and Madrid (MediaLabMadrid/Centro Cultural Conde Duque). Since then, banquete has brought together scientists, artists, activists and others from all over, to expose and explore the complex relationships between biological, social, technological and cultural systems. The theoretical contributions and participation of Roger Bartra, Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Aminata Traoré, Vandana Shiva and many others have been as important as some of the historical projects by Joseph Beuys, Gordon Matta-Clark and Lygia Clark from the 70's, or the current proposals from Antoni Abad, Eduardo Kac or Technologies To The People. You can find the contents of the banquet_editions of 2003 and 2005 in www.banquete.org, as well as 2008.

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Marina Núñez , Sin Título (ciencia ficción), photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

You have been working with and observing closely the Spanish new media art community for a while. Since the late '80s if i'm not wrong. I've been following them for only a few years (and certainly not as closely as you did) and i found, for example, that there is a lot of maturity and intelligence in their activism discourse. I also noted their keen interest for free software and free culture. Would you agree with me? And more generally, do you think that Spanish new media artists have something that makes them stand out from new media art communities of other countries? Is there any characteristic which could be regarded as peculiar of their approach to the intersection between art and technology? And more particularly their approach of the concept of network?

Karin: I came to Spain in 1985, founding the video art department at the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo (MEAC) in 1986 and collaborating at the same time with one of the very few independent artist spaces in Madrid in the 80´s, called Espacio 'P'. So I have participated and observed Spanish media art closely for more than 20 years.
You are absolutely right in pointing out the maturity of Spanish activism discourses. On one hand, it has its roots in the anti-francoist movement and the art practices of the 70's in Catalonia. One of the pioneers of Spanish media art, Antoni Muntadas, for example, collaborated with one of these groups called Grupo de Treball (1973-75), who are still held in high regard for their radical political activism and also for their statements against the commercialisation and institutionalisation of art. In 1974, Muntadas organized the first local televisión project in Cadaqués and collaborated a couple of years later with the independent video activists, called Video Nou/ Servei de Video Comunitari (1977-1983), in Catalonia. Actually, groups like Platoniq, Neokinok TV, Escoitar in Galicia or Hackitectura in Andalusia are continuing a remarkable tradition based on these political, social and cultural movements of thirty years ago. But nowadays their projects are simultaneously connecting local structures and processes with global dynamics and networks. The free software culture in Spain must also be considered within this social, political and cultural context.

On the other hand, artists like Marcel.li Antúnez>, Alvaro Castro or Águeda Simó and groups such as Kònic Thtr or Laboratorio de Luz have conceived and developed their projects through close dialogues and collaborations with scientists and research centres . But it is difficult to point out something specific related to the Spanish. Some of the pioneer media artists like Muntadas or Francesc Torres developed an important part of their projects in the United States, and other outstanding artists of the younger generation here in Spain are originally from Colombia, Brasil, Austria or Germany.

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Daniel G.Andujar X-devian The New Technologies to the People System, photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

In 2009, the show Banquete_nodos y redes will move to ZKM. Did this trip outside of the country influence your curatorial choices in any way? Do you expect the German audience to engage with the work in a different way as in Gijon? Or do you feel that, as the works on show reflect the networked society we live in, they will transcend cultures?

My curatorial choices don´t depend on the venue, but on the ideas and concepts behind an exhibition project. Concerning the audience in Gijon, people of all ages are enjoying and participating in the different proposals. For example, the open, collective production workshop by Escoitar was such a success, that people asked LABoral to continue creating the soundmap of the city. Other local groups, such as disabled associations will be actively involved in the workshop sessions with Evru in October. Whether or not nodes and networks can be generated through the exhibition project will depend on each venue and on the on-line and off-line visitors and participants.

As regards the German audience, I suppose that it is as diverse as the Spanish audience and hopefully, visitors will embrace the works in different ways. On the website of Platoniq's The bank of common knowledge, for example, you can see how different or similar people interact and participate with the same project held in Barcelona, Lisbon or Casablanca.

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Platoniq, BCC. Photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

Generally, the works in the exhibition are addressing an idea of network society characterized by diversity and plurality and the challenge is not how to transcend cultures, but how to connect, communicate and evolve under this bright umbrella of a diversity of cultures.

The exposure of Spanish new media art in the country is having a rather enthusiastic moment. There is the Reina Sofia show, Maquinas y Almas, and also The Discreet Charm of Technology Arts at the MEIAC.
How do you position Banquete_nodos y redes in this panorama?

The coincidence of the three exhibitions you mention, is first of all a sign of normalisation and acceptance of 'new' formats and practices in contemporary art institutions. If you want to talk about 'enthusiastic moments', you should also take into account the increasing number of photo festivals and exhibitions, or the increasing interest on performance events in Spain. I would say that we are sharing a moment of maturity and diversity of concepts and practices related to current art and new media. Proof of this are the exhibitions at LABoral, MEIAC and MNCARS, which are, at the same time, quite different in nature. Maquinas y Almas (Machines and Souls) is an international project about the aesthetics and the techniques of current media art. The Discreet Charm of Technology is an anthology, with special emphasis on video art and installations.

Meanwhile banquete_nodos y redes is a work in progress, part of a trilogy and yet an ongoing project, based on the dialogue between art, science, technology and society. The first edition metabolism and communication dealt with the transformation of matter, energy and information. The second edition dealt with biological, technological, social and cultural communication systems and processes; and the present edition analyzes structures, from neural patterns to network society. None of these three banquet?s deal with new media art in itself, but rather with the use of technology in the construction and perception of reality, identity and relationships.

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Raquel Paricio and J. Manuel Moreno Aróstegui, POEtic-Cubes, photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

Some of the pieces exhibited result from the collaboration between artists and scientific research centers. How widespread is this idea of having art meet science in the country? Are there organizations and programmes which foster such collaborations?

When we founded MediaLabMadrid in 2002, we generated one of the first permanent platforms for an open dialogue between art, science, technology and social dynamics in Spain. MediaLabMadrid connected research, training, production and exhibition in such an open and dynamic setting that from that moment on, the link between art, science and society became more than just an idea of having art meet science. It became reality through a widespread programme of activities and productions which inspired similar iniciatives and programmes all over the country. So, six years later we can observe a growth in art and science projects, discussions and platforms here in Spain. Some of these initiatives are on the banquet website and one of the founding member of the historical art, science and technology programme at the Centro de Cálculo de la Universidad de Madrid (1968-1972), Ernesto García Camarero, is also a member and adviser of the current banquete project.

Thanks Karin!

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Evru, TECURA 4.0, photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

Virtual tour of the exhibition.Two flickr sets: mine and one made by a real pro.

Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain, until November, 03, 2008. The exhibition will then travel to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, March-July 2009.

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A tidbit from the recent This Happened in London, where Semitransparent Design from Japan, Matt Jones and Russell Davies, Simon Oliver and Brendan Walker gave some insights in the inner workings of their recent projects.

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Brendan Walker as Thrill Engineer

Brendan calls himself a thrill researcher and engineer, and his design practice Aerial is "specialising in the creation of tailored emotional experience". This might sound a bit like standard lingo at first, but they actually mean it, since they're not looking at aesthetic pleasure from glitzy bathrooms or glossy interfaces, they're talking death-defying experiences, screams and cold sweat. This is an interesting subject for design since we are living in a time where often the emotional aspects of an object can be as important as the item itself, with people attributing cuteness to robots and such.

Originally trained as an aircraft engineer, he soon realized that there's more to flying than just getting from A to B. Especially fairground or theme park-rides often aim to produce the same feeling that you had when that jet you were on suddenly dropped a few hundred meters. Thrill Laboratories looked at the way roller coasters are created as scripted experiences: people usually undergo a series of feelings when on the ride, which often enough (think of the ones that pretend to be over and then comes the real drop) follow a narrative almost like in a film.

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Airlife, Seatbelts from the Chromo11 project

To get a grip on the world of thrills, Walker teamed up with a criminologist from UCLA in Los Angeles to create the Taxonomy of Thrill and Thrilling Designs, two publications which try to formalize the aspects of the experience of being thrilled. And because this is proper research, they even created thrill-equations which include variables like euphoric value, valence polarity or the strong emotion coefficient.

Having that somewhat formalized, Thrill Labs and a gentleman named James Conran teamed up and applied for one of the British Wellcome Trust's grants to create a harness which can be stripped to people on rides and would capture their emotions. "The technology for recording extreme emotions is there, it's just a question of bolting together the right parts". So they did and successfully created a setup which allows to record audio, video and different vital signs like the heart rate of someone on a ride, as well as their current acceleration.

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Mockup of Fairground: Thrill Laboratory at Dana Centre

After demoing this device, they were approached by London Science Museum's Dana Centre to create a three-week Fairground show which would include three "classic British fairground rides", the Miami Trip, the Ghost Train and the Booster to their venue in South Kensington. Each ride exploring a slightly different theme (pleasure, frisson and visceral delights), the main challenge was how to convey the subjects' experience on the rides in the yard to the audience inside the Centre. Dressed like Russian engineers in red overalls, Brendan and his colleagues from Shunt created a whole "carnival of experimentation" around the rides. The the images and data from individuals on the rides was streamed into the center (with wi-fi dropouts unintentionally but effectively adding to the drama) where there it was just displayed upstairs and interpreted by an expert downstairs.


Footage from Oblivion: Thrill Laboratory

Since then, there has been increasing interest in the research of thrill, with the Fairground performance being repeated at the iconic Oblivion ride at Alton Towers, which claims to be the world's first vertical drop roller coaster. There Brendan worked with a team of psychologists to survey 80 riders and collect their data into what became "a real monster of information". This eventually hints at the more serious side of thrills-there is a big market for developing technology and methodology of these extreme experiences. There has been little research so far in that area, especially in terms of design since most of these rides more or less stand upon 100 years of tacit knowledge and not rules and methodology.


A robo coaster

The ultimate goal, of course, would be designing a cybernetic ride with actual biofeedback from the individuals on it, always adapting the ride to their emotions and sensations. A little hint of that might be the internet-infamous robo coasters, some of which are already in use at Legoland California.

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Airphoria: Terminal 2 at Shunt

And, for everyone who wants to have a controlled near-death experience of their own: Brendan and Thrill Laboratories will perform their Airphoria: Terminal 3, a.k.a. The Death Slide, this Friday (11th) evening at Shunt in London, which is located under the arches of London Bridge. Go scream!

Related story: Thrill Laboratory.

I'm back from Asturias which was as lovely as ever. We even had real vegetable to eat this time. The LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón was opening Banquete_nodos y redes, Interactions Between Art, Science, Technology and Society in Spain's Digital Culture, an exhibition initiated by Karin Ohlenschläger and Luis Rico.

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View of the LABoral shop and of the inauguration party right above it

The press conference started with a string of surprising figures listed by LABoral's Director Rosina Gómez-Baeza Tinturé. In its 14 months of activity, the centre -which has given itself the mission to foster the interaction between art, society and technology- has hosted the work of 261 creators (45 of them come from the region of Asturias), 54 workshops given by some 90 teachers to more than 3000 participants. Add to that many concerts, conferences, debates and other activities. Amazing, even for a space that covers more than 14.000 m². Which reminds me that it would be good to come back one day on the design and architecture of the centre. The public bathrooms only are worth the visit, i feel like stepping inside 2001: A Space Odyssey each time i enter there.

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LABoral bathroom and a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Banquete_nodos y redes presents more than 30 digital and interactive works that critically and creatively explore the notion of Network as a shared matrix, not just from a technological perspective but also from a socio-cultural perspective. I'll be back with a lengthier overview of the exhibition and a small interview with its curator, the art critic Karin Ohlenschläger, later on but right now i wanted to share with you one of the best projects i saw in Gijón last week.

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You've probably read about Clara Boj and Diego Diaz before, either in some media art catalog or on this blog, i interviewed them a few months ago about their project AR Magic System, their Lalalab studio and their interest for the visualization of wifi networks.

For the LABoral exhibition, the Valencia-based duo developed a sightseeing telescope named Observatorio (Observatory).

Observatorio builds upon Boj and DIaz' 2004 project Red Libre Red Visible (Free Network, Visible Network) which was born in an optimistic time when it seemed possible to achieve an utopia made of wireless, open communication networks managed by social groups offering services to the local community. At that (not so distant) time, several city governments offered free access to the WiFi network, sometimes in the entire city. The CMT (Telecommunications Market Commission) denounced those city governments for unfair competition with telecom companies, the free wifi municipal projects were canceled, and grassroot groups started installing, maintaining and extending open WiFi networks throughout Spain.

Today, some companies have adopted new tactics based on the deceptive slogan "Share your WiFi". Companies like FON, and commercial projects such as Whisher and Wefi exploit the current infrastructure of access nodes to the Internet in urban space to provide coverage to the whole city if it were an open, shared structure.

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Obervatorio reflects on this scenario by informing viewers about the current state of wireless networks located in the area where the device is installed. The sightseeing telescope, installed on the Laboral tower, tracks and shows where Gijon's wifi networks are located in real time. You can visualize them on the screen of the telescope, swing it around and see which areas have a denser wifi coverage, and get additional data such as which ones among these networks are open or private. Because Observatorio is programmed to try and connect to any open network available in the area, it can send the information from the observation tower to the exhibition hall, where it is displayed on a big screen. If there is no open networks detected in the area, Observatorio remains separated from the main exhibition space, located in another building. A modification of these networks is also offered, showing an ideal configuration in which the local residents of large areas in the city could gain or share access to it.

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Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial

After having installed Observatorio, the artists discovered many more open nodes than they expected. While testing the project at their studio in Valencia, they couldn't find more than 5% of open networks. In Gijón the percentage is higher, around 30% in the LABoral area.

From the tower Observatorio can reach theoretically almost the whole city of Gijón. The device comprises a high power uni-directional WiFi antenna with a 30º aperture, able to detect wireless networks within 1 to 4 kilometers depending on the number of obstacles encountered; a video surveillance camera with a telephoto lens with the same aperture as the WiFi antenna; and a viewer which, like a periscope, offers a real time image taken by the camera, with the WiFi networks detected by the antenna placed geographically on it.

Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain, until November, 03, 2008. The exhibition will then travel to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, March-July 2009.

More sightseeing telescope: The timetravel telescope, the Jurascope and the Elastic time and space telescope.

Also related: Wifi Camera Obscura.

The Influencers is a Barcelona-based event which explores controversial forms of art and communication guerrilla, presenting independent projects that play with global popular culture, infiltrate the mass media, and transform fashions, consumption and technological fetishism.

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One of Paglen's patches

It was one of the very few conferences i shouldn't have missed this year. Well... i did. But life has its little consolations and the videos of The Influencers have just found their way online. Most of them at least, the missing ones will be there in the next few days. In the meantime, hurray! There is Trevor Paglen (video) and Brody Condon (video). There's also wondrous Santiago Cirugeda (video), he speaks in spanish and one day, maybe one day, i will translate his talk and publish the text here.

First of all a little present. I've got one free pass for a reader interested in attending Mediabistro Circus which takes place in New York on May 20 and 21. The two-day conference focuses on the digital platforms and trends that are changing media today. Just send me an email (reg at this domain's address) explaining why you'd like to go and i'll forward the details of the most charming/desperate/convincing reader to the organizers of the event.

An overview of the programme: May 20: the publishing industry's transition to new media, successful business models, blog power and finally video and social media. May 21: mobile media, the editor of digital news for the New York Times discussing the passage to online publication and user experience design (believe it or not i'm taking part to that panel!)

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Scenes from the 2007 edition of Conflux

Next! One of my favourite events on this planet is Conflux, the festival of psychogeography which gathers artists, technologists, psychogeographers, urban explorers and experience designers from around the world in New York every year.

The organizers have recently opened their call for project. Deadline for submission is May 31.

0aaludensbannner.jpgAs promised two days ago, here's more details about Homo Ludens Ludens, a new exhibition which reflects on the various roles fulfilled by play in our digital era. Homo Ludens Ludens opened on April 18 at LABoral the Center for Art and Industrial Creation which means that i was back in Gijon, Asturias, land of monster squids, rosy cheeks, deep-fried and vegetable-free diet, gorgeous landscapes and sidra thrown all over your favorite sneakers.

Homo Ludens Ludens is the last episode of a trilogy that LABoral is dedicating to the world of game. Following Gameworld and Playware, HLL explores play as a key element of today' s world, highlighting its necessity for our contemporary societies. There are more than 30 works on show, so you can expect several installments about Homo Ludens Ludens.

The title of the show, Homo Ludens Ludens , alludes to the taxonomy of human evolution. The human being used to be regarded as a Homo faber (man the smith or man the maker in latin) for the control they could exert on the environment through tools.

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Image credit: LABoral/Enrique G. Cárdenas

In 1938, however, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga introduced the idea that man is also an Homo Ludens (a "playing man"), a man for whom amusements, humour and leisure played an important role in both culture and society. Philosopher Vilém Flusser went further. For him, we are living in a society which, instead of working, generates information by playing with a technical apparatus, implying a transition from the myth of the creator towards a player. Playing can therefore be regarded as an act of emancipation.

The exhibition speculates on the emergence of a Homo Ludens Ludens - the contemporary player of games.

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Among the many installations and documentaries i was really looking forward to see at LABoral was Bagatelle Concrete which Martin Pichlmair had mentioned a while ago in an interview i had with him.

Martin teamed up with Viennese artist and researcher Fares Kayali to turn a pinball machine from the '70s into a musical instrument and, as he explained me at the time, The piece is a pinball machine that constructs music. It samples itself and manipulates those samples according to how you play pinball on it. We removed all competitive and all decorative elements of the pinball game and put digital electronics into this analogue electro-mechanical machine. While the gameplay is technically unaltered - all the bumpers and traps are still in place - the effect of playing is a composition instead of a highscore.

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Image credit: LABoral/Enrique G. Cárdenas

The more successfully the player interacts with the machine, the more intense the accompanying soundtrack gets. The piece maintains the roughness of the electromechanical original game, mixing physical sounds happening on the playing field with manipulations of their recordings.

A post written by Nicolas Nova a few days ago brought to my mind what Martin told me in Gijon when i was complaining that that damn pinball was way too difficult to play for me. Apparently the artists had to dumb down the machine. They bought it on eBay, not knowing that the '70s model was manufactured at a time when pinballs were extremely popular and the models issued had thus to be quite high level to keep players interested.

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Image credit: LABoral/Enrique G. Cárdenas

Concrète references musique concrète and bagatelle alludes to the history of pinball games. Bagatelle was an ancestor of modern pinball. Created in France for King louis XVI, it looked like a narrowed billiard table. The aim of the game was to get 9 balls past pins (which act as obstacles) into holes.

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Julian Oliver is participating to the show with an improved version of levelHead, the 3D memory game became an instant youtube and blog hit the moment it hit the online turf. The installation which uses physical cubes as its only interface is totally engrossing and nerve-challenging. On screen it appears that each of the cube's faces contains a little room and each of them is logically connected with the others by doors. In one of these rooms there is a character and by tilting the cube the player directs this character from room to room in an effort to find the way out. Some doors lead nowhere and will send the character back to the room they started in. levelHead challenges the player's spatial memory. Each player has 120 seconds to find the exit of each cube and move the character to the next. There are three cubes (levels) in total and, the mnemonic traps become increasingly difficult to avoid as the player progresses.

Video:

The game refers to one of the earliest memory systems which consisted in constructing imaginary architectures (memory loci) designed specifically for the purpose of storing information such that it could be retrieved by 'walking through' the building in the mind.

Today, domestic printers, digital tagging systems, address books and journals (on and offline) do the storage and indexing of information in exterior locations like remote databases or local file systems. Similarly, navigating in the real world increasingly tends toward dependence on external media and locative technologies.

With levelHead, moving from one site to another produces an imaginary architecture and positions this memory architecture as the primary means of navigation. Only one side of the cube will reveal a room at any given time and so a memory of the last room - of the positions of entrances and exits, stairs and other features - is necessary to proceed logically to the next movement.

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Image credit: LABoral/Enrique G. Cárdenas

The tangible interface aspect is integral to the function of recall. As the cube is turned by the hands in search of correctly adjoining rooms muscle-memory is engaged and, as such, aids the memory as a felt memory of patterns of turns: "that room is two turns to the left when this room is upside down".

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With their Massage me jackets, Hannah Perner-Wilson & Mika Satomi allow massage to enter the video game realm. The jacket is the joystick. By massaging more or less vigourously the back of a volunteer you get to control a fighting avatar. I had fun playing both roles. Being the passive massaged one is extremely relaxing as the designers had spread and repeated the commands all over the back of the jacket, focusing on the areas most likely to beg for a good rub. Now remembering where to massage in order to have your avatar jump or kick requires some practice but playing randomly will not necessarily prevent you from winning the battle.

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Massage Me session featuring Alessandro Ludovico, founder and editor of Neural magazine

I'm afraid the best piece of the exhibition for me was William Wegman's Two Dogs and Ball (Dogs Duet). Wegman has always been a favorite of mine (has someone else seen the Deodorant video? It shows him spraying his armpit with an aerosol deodorant until the can is empty, while giving a deadpan testimonial: "It feels real nice going on, and smells good, and keeps me dry all day.")

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In Two Dogs and a Ball, Wegman's Weimaraner Man Ray and his companion are mesmerized by a tennis ball which moves off screen. Wegman explained that all he had to do to obtain the comic effect was to move a tennis ball around, off-camera, thus capturing the dogs' attention.

During the press conference, Laura Baigorri --one of the curators-- explained that Wegman's video has been selected as an example of how the avant-gardes of the 20th century had introduced an element of play in the artistic practice.

The video is on ubuweb.

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Two Dogs and Ball (Dogs Duet) and Axel Stockburger's Tokyo Arcade Warriors - Shibuya. Image credit: LABoral/Enrique G. Cárdenas

My flickr set.

HOMO LUDENS LUDENS
runs at Laboral - Center for Art and Industrial Creation in Gijon, Spain (address and google map) until September 22, 2008.

Also part of the Homo Ludens Ludens exhibition: Art of War and El Burbujometro.

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