The Open, by Mattia Casalegno, is a mask that wraps around your face and forces you to smell a fresh patch of grass and listen to your own breath.

34hheh_img3518.jpg

The device defines also a sensory territory constructed by the rhytm of the breath, which is diffused from the headphones with a 1.5 sec. delay.

The work plays with the Deleuzian notion of ritornell, and about the quality of sound to define a territory. The space defined by the sound of breathing is in a state of costant imbalance between the physical act and its sensory perception and traces an unstable relationship with the intimate environment the garment reproduces.

I usually do not accept submissions -no matter how fantastic they are- on my blog. There are several reasons for that. The main one is that i prefer to see and experience the work before i write about it. Another reason is that long overdue stories are already preventing me from sleeping at night (yes, it's that bad!) But once in a while there's a submission that makes me want to go further. Hence the following conversation with Mattia Casalegno:

34_img3514_v2.jpg

How long are participants advised to wear the mask to make sure that they really get the experience? Are they willing to wear the mask longer or do they report feelings of discomfort (physical or not)?


They can wear it as long as they want. There have been people who wear it for few seconds or several minutes, some who were allergic and some who just refused to wear it. Others came back to experience it several times. In the room there's also a chair similar to the ones you could find in a psychanalyst office, and overall the setting is meant to be inviting.

Despite the chair, after a certain amount of time, the experience can become slightly unsettling due to tightness of the mask. I liked the idea of constructing an experience that is comfortable but at the same time disturbing, enveloping but claustrophobic. Inside it's warm, and you can hear your own breath, which usually induces relaxation and security, but after a while you feel the tightness and realize that the sound of your breath is actually delayed, resulting in a distorted experience.

34_img3416.jpg

More generally, what were the reactions of the people who tried the mask on?

Actually, they were very disparate. Some people instantly freaked out, thinking of all the other people's faces that worn the mask. Other just liked the idea to lay down and relax for a while. Some had memories of their childhood, others speculated about death.
There's obviously something very primordial in the act of putting your entire face so close to the soil, something referring to the earth, the womb. But also something very sexual which not only refers to the birth, but to an act of exploration, immersion and abandon implied in sex, which is an irresistible and frightening power. I first had the idea for this piece thinking about sex with my lover but later I found out that it had more to do with a universal experience and has multiple meanings.

3pp4_img3420.jpg

The Open, as you write, "plays with the Deleuzian notion of ritornell, and about the quality of sound to define a territory." Can you expand on this? Why for example did you associate breathing with turf?


I liked the idea of sound defining a territory and I tried to apply this notion to the project. Deleuze and Guattari in "Thousand Plateaux" talk about the capacity of structured sounds, notably rhythm, to define a space: an example the birds who negotiate their interaction spaces with their refrains - which is the english world for "ritornell", or the child who softly sings a song in the dark. The refrain is the first hint of a stable and quiet center, the primordial will to organize chaos. The idea of rhythm emerging from chaos belongs to any cosmogony, but what happens if, instead of externalizing such a process, we trace it from the inside, and thus define a kind of "inner cosmogony"? We could then define territories between our sensory system and our unconscious, libido, fears, etc. As we enter the mask, the refrain is our own breathing, but the territories thus delineated somehow don't overlap, are slightly conflicting because of the delay, there's an inconsistency between the act and the perception of it.

Did you try to convey other kinds of experience(s)? Maybe a reconnection of the urban dweller with nature (if a piece of turf can be called nature of course)? Or an attempt to make them engage with senses that are less solicited by our dominantly visual culture?

Yes, the sod can be a reference to nature, although a very rationalized and domesticated one. This kind of grass reminds us of the idealized landscapes and the organized fields of the English garden, a symbol of dominion of man over nature, if we want. The fact that the experience gets slightly anxious underlines somehow this kind of schizo-relationship with Nature, where we we are captivated by our natural environment but also afraid of it.

Why did you name your piece The Open when people's face is so dramatically enclosed inside a mask?


I wanted to play with this duality of proximity and distance, this exaggerated physical proximity and the space left between the perception of an outside and an inside, the environment and the self. The title is also borrowed from the name of a book by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, written in 2002: "The Open: Man and Animal," in which he investigates the opening of such a space and the differences between being human and animal. Maybe this goes a bit too far from the original idea for this piece, but I like this quote:

"What is man, if he is always the place―and, at the same time, the result―of ceaseless divisions and caesurae? It is more urgent to work on these divisions, to ask in what way―within man―has man been separated from non-man, and the animal from the human, than it is to take positions on the great issues, on so-called human rights and values."

Now for a more personal question. You have been working actively as a multidsciplinary artist for a decade. Yet, last year, you decided to move to the U.S. and attend the Design | Media Arts graduate program at University of California Los Angeles. This is imho the best school for media art and interactive design you could have chosen but what made you think you needed to go back to school? Did you feel that your practice was not enough and that you needed to acquire new skills?


I don't know, maybe was less about acquiring skills and more a need to put in prospective my work, to step back and see where I was going with all that. I was also working a lot with video and live-media performances and I wanted more time to experiment with different media and follow some obsessions I had in mind, so I felt that to fly to an other continent where I knew nobody was a good opportunity to
concentrate on my work. Also, I had an appointment with Johanna Reed.

The D|MA program has a great faculty covering almost any field of media art, the approach is very much oriented to any kind of media. It's a small and very intense program, you end spending all your time there, and get to see people so often that after a while it's like having a big family, I'm already sad this is my last year here.

Thanks Mattia!

Sponsored by:





Quick update from FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Proper report will land on your desk soon but here's a quickie before i head back to the exhibition.

Mascota_virtual.jpg

Yesterday, i participated to the conference and got to listen to some pretty interesting talks. Artists' talks in particular. The first speakers of the afternoon were Matthew Kenyon and Douglas Easterly from SWAMP (Studies of Work Atmosphere and Mass Production) + Tiago Rorke who presented their latest work, the Tardigotchi.

As its name indicates, the Tardigotchi is a hybrid between two pets: an alife avatar that descends from to the '90s Tamagotchi and a less famous but living organism called tardigrade.

tardigrades-are-invincible.jpg

Now tardigrades are starting to get like a house on fire with new media artists. Anthony Hall has been studying them for a couple of years and Andy Gracie used them to investigate the impact of electromagnetic fields and radio waves on microbial species. More recently he built robots that actively look for them. The tardigrades, also known as "water bears," are microscopic animals with eight legs. They can be found all over the world and are able to survive in extreme environments. Some can endure temperatures as low as -273°C (-460 °F) or as high as 151 °C (303 °F). They can stand 1,000 times more radiation than other animals and can go for almost a decade without water. They are also the only animals known to be able to survive the vacuum of space.

6_tardigotchi2.jpg

The alife avatar is a caricature of the tardigrade, its behaviour is partially autonomous, but it also mimics some of the tardigrade's activities. Tardigrade and avatar live side by side inside a portable computing sphere. The brass enclosure houses the alife avatar in an LED screen and the tardigrade within a prepared slide.



One can easily understand why SWAMP was fascinated in tardigrades. Their interest for the Tamagotchi comes from of the way this mundane piece of plastic was encouraging pet-owner behaviour similar to the one a human being would have with a cat or a dog. Would introducing biological life in the game interaction make a significant difference?

A Tardigotchi owner tends to a real and a virtual creature simultaneously.

Once a day Tardigotchi signals the owner that it is hungry. To feed the Tardigotchi, the owner must place it on the docking station and press a button to send nutrients. A syringe filled with moss-water is then directed through the silicon wall of the tardigrade's home where it pumps a small amount of food and fresh water. Meanwhile, the microcontroller relays the feeding animation to the alife avatar. After the motors have removed the syringe from the miniature ecosystem and pulled the apparatus back into a neutral position, the avatar loops through a short animation which displays his full belly.

5_tardigotchi5.jpg

You can contact the Tardigotchi through Facebook or by email (tardigotchi (@t) tardigotchi.com). When new messages are detected, a bluetooth signal is sent to the sphere, a small incandescent lamp is briefly turned on, which gently warms the tardigrade's enclosure, while also running a short animation showing the avatar basking in the sun.

hea44der.jpg

Meet the Tardigotchi in person until August 29 at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo.

99955i5arm2.jpg

Another look at the graduate projects of Design Interactions, Royal College of Art, in London.

Sitraka Rakotoniaina's Hyper Normal series of objects explores a possible 'Hyper-normal' space on the edge of normality, whereby a distorted experience of reality is induced because of physical or psychological stress, injuries, conditioning or training.

The first object Sitraka Rakotoniaina designed attempts to manipulate time, or rather the notoriously elastic perception we have of time. It flies when watching an action film and slows down when queuing at the post office. People who have been involved in car accidents have often reported how, in the few seconds before the crash, they had an experience similar to that slow motion effect called bullet-time. Warner Bros., the distributor of The Matrix, actually trademarked the term.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that in a situation of intense stress and, when experiencing things for the first time, the brain creates much denser and richer memories, giving the feeling that an event lasted longer than it has.

9yyuarm.jpg

Rakotoniaina created a "Time Conditioning" prosthesis for the arm that aims at providing this same feeling of bullet-time. Not to avoid bullets that villains might shot at you on a rooftop but to enable users to catch flies with chopsticks. Because...

" Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything."
Miyagi-Karate Kid (1984)

898jjjjarm4.jpg

The training prosthesis slows down the moves of the user's arm, as if under water. After a period of adaptation the training device is taken off. Once freed of the prosthesis the user has potentially increased his anticipation skills.

The second object of the Hyper Normal series triggers a temporary amnesia, called transient global amnesia.

Amnesia can be seen as a reflex that acts as a kind of safety fuse in case of an emotional or physical overload. It usually occurs after a brain ischemia when memory is more sensitive to the deprivation of blood than other areas.

Called Beam Me Down, the "self-inducing amnesia" device has a discrete trap-door hiding a pump that quickly pushes air in and out the user's lungs, causing hyperventilation which leads to a brain ischemia that eventually causes fainting and a potential temporary loss of memory. Once the user has hit the floor, a counter weight pulls the trap-door shut, leaving no evidence save for the light beam shining onto the un-animated body.

00beam1.jpg

9iiibeam4.jpg

99uiiibeam3.jpg

I had a couple of questions for Sitraka:

By getting this self-induced amnesia, the person would be on a 'holiday' from their own life and personality. But would they have to go to a bland, neutral or unfamiliar place to provide the user with the full amnesia experience? A building that looks nothing like their house for example, to ensure that memory would come back as slowly as possible or did you think of some other location?

No actually. As it is a temporary loss of memory that can last up to 24h i presumed that it would be more convenient for the person to stay home.

However the device is designed with a counter-weight that pulls the trap-door shut, once the person has fainted. Hiding the mechanism inside the beam in order to leave no evidence of what happened.

The idea behind is that you would trick yourself by displaying fake clues about who you are and what you do. As you might try to recollect your memory, those fake clues would lead you potentially to new experiences that you would have never tried whilst being 'yourself'. A temporary amnesia could be a good excuse to explore some kind of parallel life, without risking to lose everything you have done so far.

And hopefully it would give you the necessary distance to get a better awareness of the condition within you are living.

bea777floor.jpg

How would you define the sense of 'hyper normality' your devices are trying to recreate? Do you have examples of everyday life 'hyper normality'?

The hyper-normal is a space on the edge of normality.
As I put normality as a brain-made experience of the world. Everything we experience via our 5 senses is readjusted by the brain that gives us our interpretation of our environment. And it is reality. The hyper-normality is just a distortion of the same reality that have been induced by injuries, body mal-function, psychological or physical stress, artificially via drugs or by sort of 'physiological hacking' like I try to do in my projects.

There are few examples of that I would call hyper-normal, but most of the time they are seen as abnormality, disease, mental illnesses etc. For example sleepwalking can lead to really complex behaviours, like driving to the gas station. We do not really know what causes this phenomenon, but what if we would be able to control it and accomplish tasks while sleeping. Stress as well, during a frightening event like a car accident. People usually talk about experiencing the few seconds before the crash in real slow-motion.
Which proves that our perception of time can be totally made up by the brain.

And what would it be like to extend normality to few of these phenomenons? New experiences or better understanding of what is a 'normal' condition, maybe.

0a0grapgh98h8.jpg

Do you plan to work any further on the hyper normal projects? With new prototypes or maybe by improving the existing ones?

I would like to, I think this space has got potentially a lot of depth to explore. I do not really try to make the prototypes 100% efficient as sometimes a good probe can convey the same message better. Because it can be more theatrical, dramatic, filmic or whatever it needs to be.

But I would be quite up for working with scientists as well to try to make fully working prototypes, but not on my own.

Thanks Sitraka!

All images courtesy of the designer.

4bobo6f0c_b.jpg

Postopolis was not all conference and free booze. One morning, a small group of Postopoleros set out to walk to the Colonia Doctores, a neighbourhood famous for its high concentration of vehicle theft and chop shops.

4687110556_2fa948eb3a_b.jpg

The cars we spotted in the area were quite something indeed.

4686485193_0g03_b.jpg

Our destination, however, was the razzle-dazzle Toy Museum.

0daentranceee.jpg

The MUJAM (Museo del Juguete Antigui de México) is a private collection founded in 1955 by Mexican architect Roberto Shimizu. Most of the toys were recovered from flea markets, bazars, suppliers, etc. They range from antique toys from the late 1800's up to popular plastic action figures, dolls and baubles from the '70s. Some of them are a bit uncanny....

weirdaut0.jpg

Dozens of thousands of toys are exhibited. A few millions are kept in a collection until they emerge to be used in thematic exhibitions. One of the greatest prides of the collectors is that the toys are displayed in quirky and original displays such as a renovated electricity transformer from the '40s, a space ship that used to be part of a fair ride, an old drugstore case, an aquarium, etc.

lasouco0upe.jpg

detailsoucococupo.jpg

closeuprequins.jpg

touslemondereg0arde.jpg

Luchadores dolls dressed as Barbie:

luchadragdrag.jpg

brriicabarack.jpg

Shimizu's son, Roberto Shimizu Jr. left his work as an architect to assist his father in the museum. We've been very lucky to have him guide us through the many rooms of the museum.

collectorshowingrobb.jpg

reqquinavion.jpg

The collection of G.I. Joe from all over the world (with an emphasis on the Chuck Norris looking Mexican G.I. Joe) is particularly impressive and valuable:

0jijoesubaqaur.jpg

touslesjijoesss.jpg

maskkkanimauxx.jpg

petitchevalll.jpg


Alba Mora's video A Mexican Toy Story

This 4m high masks used to grace the entrance of a music hall and hosted a pianist in its mouth.

autreboucheouvertt.jpg

46871lcuh8cbf4f_b.jpg

Along with hundreds of toys referencing the lucha libre culture, the museum exhibits Shimizu's fabulous collection of artefacts that have belonged to mythical luchador Santo:

lasbotasdesantooo.jpg

I can't believe anyone could ever be bored in Mexico City but if that ever happens to you, you know where to find a bit of entertainment.

More images in my flickr set.

How about more works from the Design Interactions work in progress show?

4332926263_2771665c98_b.jpg
Fashion Design by Aephie Huimi + Photography by Hitomi Yoda

Crowbot Jenny is a reclusive girl who prefers to spend time surrounded by technology and animals rather than with humans. To better communicate with the birds, she built the Crowbot. Perched on her shoulder, the crow-shaped robot can vocalize a variety of crow calls to control and converse with her bird army.

0acccrowboou8.jpg
The Crowbot: Technical Support by Louise Porter

Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!) developed the character to explore the world of animal intelligence and interactions. Placing the issues in the context of anime and manga is far from trivial as the genres frequently discuss complex topics about the future, technology and society.

Hiromi worked with two world specialists in crow intelligence, Prof. Nathan Emery and Prof. Nicola Clayton, who provided her with samples of rook calls (the ones flocking in London parks are usually 'rooks', not crows.) Hiromi then reproduced and used the calls to attract, repel and engineer the behavior of rooks in Finsbury Park and Hyde Park.


Crowbot test

Crowbot Jenny is also going to find her way in a film based on the character and the scientific research with the University of Cambridge. Finally Hiromi plans to write and perform outdoors a Crowbot Jenny song featuring crow calls - which will hopefully please the human crowd as much as the crow one.

Crowbot_Jenny_Anime_1.jpg
Illustration by Nasos (N.C.Empire)

The exhibition is on view until February 10th at the Royal College of Art in London.
Previously: The Gesundheit Radio.

0aindetractiondh89.jpg

On Wednesday i had an alas far too short look at the Work in Progress show of the Design Interactions department Royal College of Art in London.

4333716391_ea3cf4b246_o.jpg

4333716119_a2aceb0491_o.jpg

One of the projects i liked is by James Chambers .

Chambers postulates the existence of an experimental research group within Texas Instruments. Mostly active in the '70s and '80s, they called themselves the Attenborough Design Group (after the famous English naturalist) and examined how behaviours in nature could be applied to design.

Their first product was the 1972 Gesundheit Radio. Developed to protect early microprocessors from dust, the radio featured a sneeze mechanism that expelled dust from inside the casing every six month. A bellows system extracted dust from inside the unit, blowing waste from two outlets located on the front. Should the environment the radio lives in be particularly unclear, a convenient SNZ button enabled the user to activate the sternutation.

Gesundheit Radio from James Chambers on Vimeo.

Chambers is investigating the potential of other animal actions to be used as defense for a 'family' of between 3 and 5 products. In addition, he is re-interpreting the standing hard drive from last year (see video of the hard drive in action) as a portable floppy disk drive in the late 80's to fit in with the Attenborough Design Group timeline.

4328237237_9cc44b5deb_b.jpg
Various sneezing mechanisms developed by James Chambers (photo by d & r)

The exhibition is open all weekend and will close on Tuesday 9 February at 6pm.

 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10 
sponsored by: