More projects seen at the RCA Summer Show. Chris Hand has made a fascinating object called 139,590 Devices which challenges designers to turn into objects the names it generates and prints on a piece of paper. Just press the button and on the screen will appear three words whose combination always seem to make perfect sense: wireless road rage communicator, dog-mounted love alarm, gardener's neighbourliness matcher, gps-based group hug finder, peer-to-peer frustration reducer, domestic happiness announcer, pensioner's obsession matcher, community homesickness reflector, etc.
You can't predict which words will come up as the process is random. The only rule is that the first one relates to a technological or social context, the second one to an emotional situation and the last one to a function.
Funny how each time, you can't help imagining an object that does not exist and that you've never heard of. Natural instinct has us fill the gaps between the words.
Chris even designed scenarios and devices for such randomly named objects. One was meant for people living in boring towns. It's a little object that sends you a small electro-shock each time you arrive at a certain location. By passing repeatidly by that point, a pavlovian conditioning takes place and after some time users won't need the device anymore, their heart will start beating as they come near the location and the boring city will be filled by as much thrill-generating places as they wish.
Thought that nothing can beat the Hulger? The Strijk-O-Foon (which i'd roughly translate as Iron-O-Phone) works only for Siemens mobile phones though. Plug the iron, wait for a call (or ring a friend) and get the Strijk-O-Foon experience in its full hot glory.
Via Squeaky from.
In the second series, Detritus (III - XIV), the artists focused on travel anxiety and created airline sickness bags that breathe when closed but start hyperventilating as soon as they are opened.
How does Detritus work? "There is a photocell that measures light, it just acts like a switch," explains Pravin Sathe. "When the bag is closed the photocell gets no light. We have it programmed so when there is no light it breathes slowly. When the bag is opened and the photocell receives light, the program tells it to breathe fast. The "breathing" is caused by a servo motor with two strings on either end attached to the side of the bags."
The objects comment on "ubiquitous computing", which promises to animate household items. In this case, items which do not appear to be computerized, particularly not for any practical purpose.
There's also the fear that ubiquitous computing can be harnessed to develop Improvised Explosive Devices and lead to technological paranoia. The artists hope to append their own ideas to ubiquitous computing reaching outside its helpful or nefarious aims into something more amorphous and ask the question: "Do inanimate objects have a life?" (more)
The next series the duo is working on are umbrellas that "breathe" as more carbon dixodie is added to the room (ie, more people in the room, the more an umbrella opens, the less people the less it opens).
nOtbOt, by Walter Langelaar, is a self-playing videogame. Viewers who try to get hold of the controller can only be disappointed as the interface is controlled and deranged only by the reactions to its own virtual environment in a kind of loop where the bot is driven by the joystick and the joystick responds to the bot.
An old Logitech force-feedback joystick was modified so that it is used as input data to control a 'first-person' videogame. The view-angle data generated by the virtual player is sent to a PD app, which in turn loops the incoming data back into the force-feedback system of the joystick. The robotic maneuvers are projected in real-time in front of it.
Human interaction with the game/controller becomes obsolete, resulting in a completely erratic form of [art]ificial intelligence.
More controllers: [giantJoystick], Voodoo Doll controlled game, five joysticks combine to move the single PacMan, hard-wired devices, SweetPad replace joysticks to allow three persons to play Quake 3 Arena with tenderness, RoboGamer, a robotic system which plays video game together with you, Rehearsal Joypads, Control Freaks are devices that attach to everyday objects or living thing, eTech - Tom Armitage.
After having completed a series of challenges, visitors enter the OSTECK Future Lab and Escape. The room displays an array of surveillance and counter-surveillance prototypes likely to be used by spies in a speculative near future. The pieces, created by some of the most famous UK-based (interaction) designers, are clever and sometimes humorous but they also provide us with more opportunities to think about the implications of future spy and surveillance products and how far we'd want them to invade our lives.
A first selection of the gadgets (rest will come later!)
Noam Toran and Nick Williamson propose to replace your leg with a super-powered limb. You'd run faster, jump higher, climb sheer walls, the tail-like end would enable you to grip and wrap around things like an octopus, or dangle from tall buildings.
Today normal people use plastic surgery to change their appearance, spies might want to take a more extreme step in order to improve their physical capabilities and ensure they get ahead in business. They would purposefully amputate their limbs in order to be refitted with such sophisticated prosthetics.
Other replacement limbs could give you weirder and wilder skills. What gadget-arms or gadget-legs would you choose?
James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau contributed to the show with a dark-corner cam that watches where children dare not look – under the bed, inside the wardrobe, behind the curtains... wherever scary monsters might lurk. You wire a camera into each of your friendliest toys. They watch the dark; you watch your monitor.
Another speculative gadget is the electromagnetic sniffer muzzle that converts electromagnetic fields into tickling electrical sensations that tell the trained dog if bugs or cameras are nearby. Sniffer dogs could identify and patrol precious surveillance-free zones, keeping ordinary people out.
The emf antenna is wired into the smell part of the brain to give the dog an extra sense (replacing smell with emf sensitivity), it picks up on research being done into technologically mixing senses. This principle is called sensory
Images: limb from Noam Toran; emf muzzle from Tony Dunne, CCTV in the dark (the one on the right) courtesy of James Auger.
September 2004. My first Ars Electronica. I knew nothing about media art and loved everything i saw there. When i look back i'm a bit less elated, though i still won't listen to the party poopers whose favourite game is to sneer at what they see in Linz. Each year i feel like a kid in Wonderland at Ars. Anyway, three years after my first ars, i still believe that the Seven Mile Boots are one of the most extraordinary piece of art i've ever seen at the festival. This pair of boots allows their wearer to wander through virtual space. When walking, users stroll through the net, when standing still they can listen to several chat rooms simultaneously. They were created by Laura Beloff, Erich Berger and Martin Pichlmair.
A few weeks ago, i was participating to the Mobile Music Workshop together with Martin and lucky me! he agrees to answer a few questions.
Martin Pichlmair is a media artist, practitioner and theorist whose art works have been exhibited at prestigious festivals such as ars electronica, ISEA and microwave. He is also working as assistant professor at the Institute of Design and Assessment of Technology at the Vienna University of Technology. His research focuses on theory and practise of interactive art and design - from game design and physical interfaces to open source development models and community media.
You received a doctoral degree in informatics and work as assistant professor at the Vienna University of Technology. This is a serious background and i suspect that your current job is keeping you busy. So how did you get into art? And how does your work at the University connect with your art practice and vice-versa?
I always knew that I want to do art. I chose to study computer sciences because I thought that learning technical skills is more important than what an art university can teach me ... That kind of thoughts you have when you are nineteen. Before studying I did drawings and etchings, programmed some simple computer games, and wrote poems and theatre plays. After some years of studying informatics I had to re-approach art from a more technical perspective. Through a friend I got the opportunity to join the Ars Electronica Futurelab for a couple of months. That was like a crash-course in media art. The supervisor of my doctoral thesis, Peter Purgathofer, also kept pushing me towards media art. Through him I was able to marry my profession and my other profession.
Of course my job is keeping me quite busy. But I was hired to research and teach exactly what I need for my art practice - and the other way round. Everything connects quite well. On good days it feels like getting paid to do your own media art projects. On bad days I realise that I often have to travel afar to get inspiration from fellow artists, since my university is a technical university.
I first got across your work at ars electronica when they exhibited the seven mile boots that you developed together with Laura Beloff and Erich Berger. Can you explain us what was the impetus for that project and what were the biggest challenges in developing the piece?
Like so many of my art pieces it all started with a device. Laura brought along an iPaq, a pocket PC, after we both agreed that we want to do a mobile piece together. While both of us embrace technology we are still concerned with the lack of imagination in technology and especially mobile communication (you can see that clearly in Laura's
There were a lot of challenges while doing this art piece. That's why it took so many years. The biggest was for sure that we are living in different countries. Laura and Erich lived in Norway most of the time, back then. We only met every couple of months, but then we worked very intensely for a few days or weeks. Then there were of course the expected, typical technical challenges of mobile art pieces: weak machines that use too much power, unreliable sensors and cabling, the choice of the right materials, etc. We had to switch sensors a couple of times, and I think I programmed the software at least thrice. When it comes to exhibiting the piece, the most interesting challenges are the preconceptions people have about boots. But those are a part of the art piece. People quickly attach to them and project their very own expectations and imaginations on the boots.
FAMULUS is an intelligent modified vacuum cleaner meant to substitute the desktop metaphor feature of the trash bin. How does it work technically? What inspired the project?
Technically it works over cable. So it is not mobile in that sense. A vacuum cleaner without cable is not a vacuum cleaner anymore. The cable is connected to a server that does all the work of receiving spam mail and turning it into noise. My problem with this piece is that the original device I started with is stronger than any art piece I can build out of it. The vacuum cleaner model I use, produced by the Styrian company Famulus in the 1930s, is already such a perfectly beautiful piece of design, it is very hard to retrolutionise. The project was of course inspired by both - the stupidity of the desktop metaphor and the masses of spam I receive every day. I think I have to redo this piece as FAMULUS2 before I ever show it.
Another project you worked on together with Laura Beloff is called Tratti. The devices generate noise and sound and music according to what the kid is looking at. Can you explain us how this colour code works?
The colour code started off as a technical necessity. The piece should be controllable to a certain degree. But we did not want to have any controls on the instrument itself. The colour system turns the surroundings that you play with into an interface, into a score. Different colours trigger different manipulations of the audio you speak into the device. Of course the mapping between a specific colour it is pointed to and what it generates out of it is arbitrary. That is how musical instruments work: If you train and stay disciplined you get an exact tune. But often it is more fun and rewarding to just fiddle around. Both ways of playing should be possible with the system we are designing.
A few weeks ago, at the Mobile Music Workshop, you mentioned that Tratti might look too much like a design piece. Is that a good or bad thing? Can you elaborate on that?
I would not say that TRATTI looks too much like a design piece for us, but it might do so for others. It is a very straight-forward musical instrument. Since it is aimed for kids it has to be manufactured to be very rugged. It has no decoration beside the colour of the plastic parts. And it features a very timeless - maybe even retro - style. You could shoot beautiful photos of TRATTI for glossy design journals. For this piece I think that fits very well.
It is interesting to see how differently and art piece is perceived when it is designed in that way. People compare it to devices and toys rather than to other art pieces. And they are asking us what is the reason for doing this piece and what the piece is for. No one would pose these questions if TRATTI was clearly an art piece. Personally, I do not care too much about the invisible permeable border between art and design but if we shift or cross it we should do so attentively and purposeful.
The clocks were done for an exhibition on Alice in Wonderland that I did together with the off-theatre group toxic dreams called "Jabberwocky". This piece is not interactive simply because you should not interact with time. I bought a bunch of clocks (I think there are seven) at flee markets and antique stores, opened them up and exchanged parts of the clockwork with a slow geared electrical motor. It is hard to tell what it is about them that makes them immediately fascinating. If you are in a room where seven clocks spin at different speeds, all of them faster than real time, it makes you feel odd in a very substantial way.
Is there anyone or anything you would like to work for?
Not really. I am not good in working for anyone but myself. Of course there are people I would like to work _with_. In the moment I am trying to get used to the fact that people work for me.
Any upcoming project you could share with us?
Of course. I would like to take this opportunity to point you to my (nearly finished) newest piece. It is called Bagatelle Concrète and based on a pinball machine from the 1970s. The piece is another musical instrument, 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. Bagatelle Concrète is related to and inspired by musique concrète and Japanese musical media art pieces like Fujihata's "A small fish", Toshio Iwai's music games, and Maywa Denki's instruments. I am submitting the piece to a number of
You seem to be a pretty successful young artist, having exhibited internationally and at the most prestigious festivals. Do you have any advice for young would-be media artists?
Thanks for the flowers. I do not think that I am particularly successful or well known, but if I am it is only because I work with the right people. Those come from very diverse backgrounds: photography, music, theatre, fine art, philosophy, film, sociology, design, etc. All of them are professional in what they do. That is maybe the most important advice I can give: Work with the pros while you are young. Learn from them.
It also helped me that I decided some years ago that I rather want to do few large art pieces than many small ones. That protects from getting distracted. Another important thing (that sounds quite trivial) is: work as good as possible. While critique of curatorial practices in media art is sometimes appropriate, one thing is sure; strong pieces supersede. That of course also involves doing pieces that attract and challenge the audience at the same time. The last advice: being a workaholic and having fun helps a lot. (Now I really feel like a professor ;-).