This Friday, the National Football Museum in Manchester is opening a new season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts. One of the highlights of the programme is Out of Play: Technology & Football, an exhibition that explores the impact that new technologies have in the development of the game but also on the way it is experienced by fans around the world.
Out of Play: Technology & Football brings together works by designers, artists, scientists and fans who explore and demonstrate how football and new technology overlap in today's society.
The works on show range from a robotic soccer robot to the Soccket energy generating football, from the ever irresistible and painful Leg Shocker to the world premier of Jer Thorp's immersive installation The Time of the Game. The result is an interactive exhibition that brings into a highly popular museum an entertaining but also critical and provocative view of the impact that technology has on 'the beautiful game.'
The show opens tomorrow and i'm looking forward to visiting it in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime i caught up with curator John O'Shea. You might remember John from his work as an artist. When he isn't busy growing Pigs Bladder Football from living animal cells and developing his other artworks, John is the Art Curator and Head of visual art programme at the NFM. He has spent the past two years embedded in the museum with the goal of establishing an art and technology exhibiting and learning programme from scratch.
Hi John! First of all what can technology do for football? How does it impact the game itself on the football pitch? Excuse my very boring remark but it's always the same game of men running after a ball after all...
Over the past few years, some interesting questions related to technology and football have emerged. For example, during last year's world cup, goal-line technology was introduced following many debates around whether or not football should remain this 'primitive' game or whether technology should intervene on the field.
Connecting with these concerns, last year, the National Football Museum commissioned James Bridle to write a piece about it. In his essay, Spectacular Sports Visualisations, Bridle analyzes football and computer vision technology.
We also collaborated with the festival FutureEverything on a body of works that looks at the intersection of data and football. The commissioned work was the Winning Formula futuristic newspaper by the Near Future Laboratory.
But even data and computer vision fit a conventional story of technology, it's about control, about making the game more consistent.
The exhibition Out of Play is different, it's not about showcasing the latest advances of technology but about looking at the more unusual points where technology and football are intersecting. And the outcomes are often weird, unfamiliar.
The Time of The Game is the major new commission which will be presented within the museum's immersive, 180 degree wrap-around, cinema space. Developed by Jer Thorp with Teju Cole and Mario Klingemann, the work brings together almost 2000 photos made by football fans at the same time as they were watching last year's World Cup. The images show private spaces, public spaces, pubs, etc. Most were taken inside people's homes. What they show is a communal moment shared by people from Nigeria, Brazil, England.... Smartphones equipped with cameras are now almost ubiquitous, you find them everywhere even in poorer countries and it's that technology that makes it possible to represent this moment shared globally by football fans.
There is also a lot of humor in the show. We sometimes forget that football is fun. During our exchange of emails you mentioned the rather unpleasant coverage that FIFA is having at the moment. Do you think this will somehow reflect on the exhibition? (no need to answer this one if you feel the question is irrelevant)
The National Football Museum is an independent museum that tells the story of football in England from the perspective of the fans. The scrutiny FIFA is coming under is not really a surprise for fans as many have been dissatisfied with the federation for years. And this crisis only highlights the poignancy of a work like The Time of the Game.
The reason for this title is that we are looking for a common ground between art and football. (There aren't many!) But one of them is that both football and art have origins in play, they're both about introducing play into something. And in football, just like in art, it is important sometimes to remember not to take things too seriously.
The Humanoid Soccer Robots?! You're going to show them? a whole team? Will they be playing?
With the art programme, we want to broaden the scope of what the museum displays and collects so we've been developing new collaborations and partnerships for the future. Plymouth University is one of those partners. They are the leader in the UK in humanoid soccer robots and participate to the competition organised by the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) since 1997. The robots might look a bit basic but the ultimate goal of the competition is to have them challenge a team of human football champions by 2050. This might sound outlandish but if you think about it, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. No one would have imagine it was possible 35 years before the chess match.
For the exhibition, we will have one of the robots on display and the Plymouth robotic team will come and do a demo (no precise date yet.)
The robot will actually be shown in the same display as Soccket and Leg Shocker. So that's science, art and design, all in the same display. The energy generating ball might look a bit silly but the premise is interesting. Imagine it used in refugee camps for example. Children would play and generate electricity through kinetic action. The third work in the display is Fur's art piece. By new media standards, Leg Shocker is almost an antique. As a museum, we want to be able to collect new media works related to football. As we go along with the art programme, the team here is learning a lot: how to maintain these media works, what role they play as provocative objects, etc.
Could you talk to us about World Scratch day, a series of football-based computing activities aimed at introducing children to code. How does it work? How exactly do kids use football to learn code?
Over the course of the day, 80 children in groups of 6 or 7 came to the museum and were able to create simple animation works related to football, make simple games or work with Sonic Pi software to make their own version of the match of the day theme song. It was like a little hackathon for kinds. Ultimately, what we'd like to do is see groups come and use the museum over the weekends to learn some coding.
Next, i saw that artists are in residency at the NFM. Can you already tell us about their work there? What makes the robot lawnmower an artwork rather than just a robot lawnmower, for example?
We commissioned 4 artistic residencies that enable artists to develop works related to football clubs or to the communities around football. So far, artists were (unsurprisingly) more interested in working with more unusual communities than with football clubs.
Matthew Plummer Fernandez was curious about lawn mowers with computerized systems to design patterns on football pitches. Forest Green FC already has a robotic lawnmower which has its own algorithm for cutting the grass, it 'decides' which areas need to be cut more, which ones need to be cut less. It creates its own version of a field. Matthew wants to understand better the algorithm on board o the lawnmower and then create an online identity for this lawnmower and make it 'the 12th man' of the team.
The other residency has Jen Southern and Chris Speed were interested work with Workington Uppies and Downies. Uppies and Downies is an ancient version of football - a game with no rules. Thousands of men try to move the ball in a scrum up the hill or down to the harbour. The artists placed GPS trackers on some of the men and will be making work based on the data obtained.
Now i'm also curious about your own work at the museum. You head a rather edgy art program in an institution that doesn't usually cater for the traditional art crowd. I think this is a great opportunity you have there! i'm quite jealous. But how do you navigate the desire to show good art and the need to please the 30,000 visitors the museum welcomes each month?
Certain languages, certain conventions are used in established art institutions. At the National Football Museum we have our own etiquette: Interactivity is a given, for example. You can touch things. And the museum is not a white wall space. So the question for me was "How should art fit into this environment?" The challenge here is to exhibit art in a way that is sensitive to both the work and the environment.
The National Football Museum has some challenging displays such as one dedicated to the weapons of hooligans, or football disasters. It also raises critical questions, like the Football Association ban of women playing football on its premises until 1971.
There is sometimes this assumption that making bold statements in an art museum context is going to have a huge impact but often artists are just making a gestures to people already informed about the issue they're trying to address. Basically, the established art community is often just talking to itself. The National Football Museum, I feel belongs more to the public realm and the works in the show have the potential to influence anyone among our visitors, not just a self-selected audience.
Out of Play opens on 19 June at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK. It remains open until 19 July 2015.
Internet Yami-ichi (japanese for Black Market) is a flea market where people sell Internet-ish things face to face.
The last edition of the market took place in Amsterdam on 9 and 10 May. More precisely at the Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, a (vast) space dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary art productions from Flanders. Any kind of art and with an emphasis on innovation, cross-over, interdisciplinarity, and artistic guts. Some of their events are in dutch but a big part of their programme caters for the international audience. I've only been to De Brakke Grond twice but what i've seen so far was critical, witty and resolutely embedded into contemporary culture.
The goods on sale at Yami-ichi were both smart and silly. I bought a little mirror to stick on a phone and observe/photograph scenes and people i wouldn't normally dare to watch openly (i'm not one to take the metro and ignore fellow travelers), all sorts of things made or baked to the glory of internet memes and a fabric patch with a glue gun sewn on it. And some mystery eggs. One thrown in a plastic container by JODI, the other enclosing the url of a Fresh Unpopular Video. I was also made a member of the institutions of Resolution Disputes, participated in a 'hate mail writing' workshop and got myself (fake)photographed in the company of Stefan Simchowitz (whom ignorant me had never heard about before.)
Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market is not just a place to throw your wallet around. I quickly found out that it also offers a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in art&tech, hacking, and contemporary culture in general. Artists, designers, art students and hackers were selling objects, offering food and DIY workshop, participating to hilarious performances (singing a cappella the sound of dial-up internet, for example.) And pretty much anyone who's someone in art&tech (whatever that means) had made the trip from Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Brussels or Rotterdam to 'browse' around. It was internet but in the flesh. I didn't count the number of visitors but De Brakke Grond did. Apparently, over 1900 visitors turned up over the Yami-ichi weekend! 'Zeer succesvolle editie'!
All of the above would probably make more sense if i actually showed some images from the event and commented them briefly. There you are:
By the way, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD] was one of my favourite projects at the market. It's far brainier than the other pieces sold/exhibited and hopefully i'll find a moment to come back to it in a later post. But in the meantime (and if i don't come back to the work on the blog), do check out this interview that Daniel Rourke did with Rosa Menkman for Furtherfield.
Last year, the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio that explores peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness, travelled to Asia to follow the path of the symbol of globalization: the massive container ship. The group came back with amazing stories, images, videos and with a set of radioactive Ming vases made from the toxic waste of our electronic gadgets.
Along their journey, Unknown Fields investigated Rare earth element, a set of seventeen chemical elements which are all metals that are often found together in geologic deposits. What makes REE important to our times is that they are used for computer memory, rechargeable batteries, night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, phones, energy-efficient lighting, solar panels, and many other electronics and green technologies.
China is the number one consumer of rare earths, they use it mainly in the manufacture of electronics products for domestic use as well as export. Since the 1990s, China is also one of the world's main producer of rare earths. A large proportion of the country's rare earth production is located in the west of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo Mining District oversees the largest deposits of rare earth metals yet found.
The giant industrial complex is one of the most polluted regions on the planet. It processes 100 thousand tons of rare earth concentrate per year using the sulphuric acid-roasting method and for every ton of rare earth concentrate produced 10,000 cubic metres of waste gas, 75 cubic metres of acid-washing waste water, and one ton of radioactive residues are generated.
To accompany the film that documents their adventures, Unknown Fields Division crafted a set of three ceramic Ming vases, using mud extracted from one of Bayan Obo's gigantic radioactive tailing ponds. The toxic sludge, which contains acids, heavy metals, carcinogens and radioactive material, was transported it to London where it was tested for radioactivity. After that, the mud was given to sculptor Kevin Callaghan who turned it into elegant vases which silhouette evokes the Ming dynasty porcelain Tongping Vases. Once a family global superpower, the Ming dynasty presided over an international network of connections, trade and diplomacy that stretched across Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, built on the trade of commodities such as imperial porcelain.
Each object is made from the amount of toxic waste created in the production of three items of technology - a smartphone, a featherweight laptop and the cell of a smart car battery. Besides, the vases are sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of each item.
The three Rare Earthernware vases embody the contemporary global supply network but also the long-lasting impact that our thirst for technological goods has on the environment. They will soon be shown at the What is Luxury exhibition in London:
These three vessels are artifacts of a contemporary global supply network that weaves matter and displaces earth across the planet. They are presented as objects of desire, but their elevated radiation levels and toxicity make them objects we would not want to possess and in this case the museum vitrine serves to protect us from the exhibit on display rather than the other way round. They are the undesirable consequences of our material desires.
Rare Earthenware is a work by Kate Davies and Liam Young of The Unknown Fields Division in partnership with the Architectural Association. Photography by Toby Smith. Ceramics by Kevin Callaghan and the London Sculpture workshop.
A few weeks ago, i visited the graduation show of The interactive Architecture Lab, a research group and Masters Programme at the Bartlett School of Architecture headed by Ruairi Glynn, Christopher Leung and William Bondin. And it was, just like last year (remember the Candy Cloud Machine and the architectural creatures that behave like slime mould?), packed with very good surprises. I'll report on a couple of them in the coming days.
I'll start nice and easy today with the Eye Catcher, by Lin Zhang and Ran Xie, because if you've missed the work at the Bartlett show, you'll get another chance to discover it from tomorrow on at the Kinetica Art Fair in London.
The most banal-looking wooden frame takes thus a life of its own as soon as you come near it. It quickly positions itself in front of you, spots your eyes and starts expressing 'emotions' based on your own. Eye Catcher uses the arm of an industrial robot, high power magnets, a hidden pinhole camera, ferrofluid and emotion recognition algorithms to explore novel interactive interfaces based on the mimicry and exchange of expressions.
A few words with Lin Zhang:
Hi Lin! I think what i like about the frame is that it is so discreet and unassuming. You can pass by it and not even notice it. So why did you chose to make it so quiet and 'normal' looking?
Yes exactly, it's a really normal static object, which exists in everyone's daily life, so the magic happens the moment it begins to move. I was inspired by my tutor's art work finding "life in motion" - not all motion can provide wonder and pleasure in the observer, but playing with the perception of animacy in objects often does. There are many digital interfaces that have the appearance of advanced technologies and compete for our attention, but I think it is better to develop interfaces that rather than standing out, can sit within our normal daily lives and then come to life at the right moment whether for functional or playful purposes.
How does the frame respond to and communicate emotions? How does it work?
To start with, the height of passers-by is calculated by ultrasonic Sensors embedded in the ceiling. This is remapped to the robotic arm (controlled using the Lab's opensource controller Scorpion) hidden behind the wall which magnetically drives the frame to align "face to face" with onlookers. A wireless pinhole camera in the frame transmits the video footage of onlookers back to our software (built in Processing and using face-OSC) which analyses 12 values of facial expression such as width of the mouth, the height of the eye-brow, the height of eye-ball etc. That information then drives the reciprocal expressions of the frames fluid "eyes", controlled by four servo/magnets manipulating ferrofluid.
Do you see The Eye Catcher is mainly a work that aims to entertain and amuse or is there something else behind the work? Some novel interfaces, interactions or mechanisms you wanted to explore?
The Eye Catcher project is a method to examine my research question, which is to explore the possibilities for building non-verbal interaction between observers and objects through mimicry of specific anthropomorphic characteristics. It asks to what extend can such mimicry be deployed, specifically utilising eye-like stimuli, for establishing novel expressive interactive interfaces. We found that humans perceive dots, specifically eye-like stimuli, automatically as almost a hardwired ability, which develops at a very early stage of human life. By the age of 2 months, infants show a preference for looking at the eyes over the rest of regions of the face, and by the age of 4 months, they get the ability to discriminate between direct and averted gaze. Therefore, the eye is the foundation of human interaction upon which we build more complex social interactions.
What was the biggest challenge(s) you encountered while developing the work?
The biggest challenge is how to make the frame and two dots more animate - to not appear robotic but rather more natural. So we were really exploring how long reactions should take, how to select a suitable behaviour in response to peoples expressions, and how to provide continual unpredictable interaction to keep observers' attention.There's still a lot of questions to be explored, and even though its only ultimately 2 dots we're animating, the limitations are a useful constraint to work within.
Will you modify or upgrade The Eye Catcher for Kinetica?
Yes, we're working on it now for Kinetica Art Fair. We've already built a new frame that moves faster and more quietly. We've updated it with new Wi-Fi camera which provides more reliable facial recognition and smoother behaviour on the wall. The film you've seen is really only a prototype so its exciting to see how the new iteration will perform. We've switched round some behaviour too, to see how the public reacts. For example, at Kinetica we've programmed it to prefer to interact with children which should get them excited when it drops down to see them. In the future we'd like to build a more permanent piece using a 2 axis rail system rather than a robot arm. In theory the frame could then work on a much longer wall which would allow all sorts of new types of interaction.
Check out the Eye Catcher at the KINETICA ART FAIR on 16th - 19th October 2014 at the Old Truman Brewery in London.
Last year, news emerged that Russia's agency responsible for the Kremlin security was buying electric typewriters and "expanding the practice of creating paper documents" in a bid to prevent leaks from computer hardware. A few months later, The Guardian was forced to destroy the computer equipment that stored the NSA files provided by Edward Snowden. Diego Trujillo Pisanty saw reminiscence of the Cold War in these two stories and in other current news related to state espionage.
His This Tape Will Self Destruct machine prints self destructing documents. The documents merge images and texts extracted from Cold War fictions with excerpts from current secret documents. A short amount of time after they've left the machine, these documents burst into fire and their content is gone forever.
What is the paper made of? How come it 'auto-combusts'?
The paper is normal thermal paper used in receipt printers. As the document is printed it is treated with glycerol and a potassium salt. When these two substances mix at the end of the process they react exothermically to produce fire, this reaction ignites the paper and the heat also blackens any unburnt parts of the document as it is printed on thermal paper. The chemistry behind this is actually a common GCSE demonstration so it's nothing too complicated.
i'd also like to understand how the documents are generated. They are "a mixture of images and texts extracted from Cold War fictions paired up with excerpts from current secret documents". Are they generated randomly? do you design them yourself?
I designed (or more accurately curated) the documents myself based on relationships I saw between images and texts. For example one of the documents contains the famous Mission: Impossible (1966) phrase:
"As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."
Presented next to an excerpt from an NSA leaked document reading:
Other documents focused more on visual aesthetics of devices and architecture, for example the parallel between the circular composition of the war room in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and the GCHQ 'doughnut' building.
Where do these images and texts from Cold War fictions come from? And where do you find the current secret ones?
The images and texts from Cold War fiction come from watching many hours of (usually very bad) Cold War film and television and manually curating extracts that relate to previously revised contemporary secret documents. Most of the extracts come from the early 007 films (Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker), the Mission: Impossible 1960s television series, Macgyver as well as other fiction films of the era such as The Conversation and Dr. Strangelove.
I initially intended to work with the original files leaked by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning but even after they have been covered in the news it is very hard to find the primary sources for them. The current secret documents I used come from different places, mainly non-government organizations and news agencies. Many came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their repository of NSA primary sources (https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/nsadocs). Some others came from The Guardian and their similar list of U.S. embassy cables summaries (now taken down but formerly http://www.theguardian.com/world/series/us-embassy-cables-the-documents) and The Intercept (https://firstlook.org/theintercept/documents/). Other documents were found throughout the web from all sorts of sources and forums with varying degrees of credibility.
Why did you decide to work with Cold War fictions documents instead of actual CW documents?
I did for a while focus on Cold War declassified documents, for example I did some reading around the STASI archive and even some pre-Cold war sources such as the recently disclosed Manhattan District History (https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan_district.jsp). However most of these documents did not seem as relevant as some of the things discussed in fiction. I think that in the Cold War way of thinking an omniscient machine capable of spying on everyone seemed like a holy grail. This comes across in discussions of satellite imagery and long distance radio networks in many films and television series.
I also find it interesting to think that the rhetoric in these fictions could have done some of the ideological groundwork that led to mass online surveillance. It seems that in many of these franchises (007, Mission: Impossible, Macgyver, etc.) it's fine for the government to spy, impersonate and assassinate local and foreign citizens if they have reason to believe that they are suspicious. The 'good guys' in these series overthrow governments, kill criminals without trial and have no regards for international agreements and human rights, but they do it all for the sake of national security so it becomes justifiable. This is where I see a real link between the fiction and a reality in which citizens are prepared to accept that unregulated surveillance is good because it will stop 'the bad guys'.
Do you see relationship with the 300 Years Time Bomb? because news and secrets are explosive in their own way too..
I see a link in the popular culture that both of these projects take from, I would say that action cinema was very relevant to my generation and that this ends up showing in my work. I also see a relationship in the way I explored the way we assign value to things based on their lifespan. The 300 Year Time Bomb gained historical value by existing 300 years whereas a self destructing document gains value by existing for a very short amount of time, meaning that only a privileged person will be able to read it.
I hadn't actively thought of the secret as explosive but I think it is implicit when I say that "The release of the NSA files will likely be part of this decade's history". I think that Snowden's leaked documents have caused a sort of explosion resulting in an accelerated process of questioning the ethics around online technologies, digital democracies and personal rights online.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests in the studio will be Anab Jain and Jon Ardern from Superflux. Superflux is an Anglo-Indian design practice: they are based in London, but have roots and contacts in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad.
Superflux is looking at the ways emerging technologies interface with the environment and everyday life and the result of their research is a rather extraordinary portfolio which explores deviant economies for India's elastic cities, climate change, political engagement, desertification, human enhancement, etc.
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 26 February at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.
Image on the homepage: 5th Dimensional Camera.