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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Given my notoriously campy taste in music, you will be relieved to know that i'm going to carefully avoid reviewing the music side of Barcelona's International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art. What's left then? Fashion, a bit of advertising and the SonarMàtica exhibition.

Sonar's participants' fashion sense was tamer than i expected this year. Hop! Hop! Let's move on to the festival's advertising campaign which have, so far, shown an unconstrained taste for shocking, surprising and amazing. Taxidermied animals, Smiley, people with pee stains on their pants, creatures of worrying genetic heritage, notorious fraudsters and even Maradona have starred in Sonar's posters and promotional videos. Have a look at the photo set of Sonar's most provocative ad campaigns and at the video that the festival created back in 2001. That year, broadcasters refused to air the original video but didn't object to this ridiculously censored version.

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One of the images for Sonar 2008

This time, the Sónar image is on the safe side but it is nevertheless striking. The heroes of the posters and video are cute majorettes from the world of dreams, who have lost their bearings in the land of the living as a result of calls from a fiendish telephone booth. Follow their 14 minute long adventures:

SonarMàtica is actually what usually brings me to Sonar. The title of the exhibition this year was Mecànics. It aimed to give a platform to some of the driving forces behind nowadays' artistic and mostly DIY creation: mostly centres of production based in Barcelona (with notable exceptions such as MediaLab Prado in Madrid) which were given the opportunity to showcase ongoing projects and postgraduate projects but also to organize workshops, tours and open rehearsals.

Mecànics is the third and final exhibition in the SonarMàtica XIXth Century trilogy, a research project drawing comparisons between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century. Unlike the two previous exhibitions, Et Voilà!, which highlighted the relationship between magic and technology, and Future Past Cinema, which looked at the recovery of pre-film formats in contemporary, Mecànics had a fairly diluted identity/ The reason for that lays probably in the fact that the exhibition was showcasing the best of what Barcelona makes in art production center rather than exploring with brilliance and cohesion a defined theme. The result is rolllercoaster that leads you from gems to strikingly weak pieces.

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Lovers of interactive tables were having a blast this year

I caught myself thinking i shouldn't have bothered. This edition of SonarMàtica had decided to write off SonarCinema, Digital à La Carte and also the artists talks and debates i had enjoyed so much last time i was there (unless, damn! i've missed it). A few projects i've (re)discovered in the exhibition made it worth the trip though:

The Sounds of Science (los sonidos de la ciencia), developed by Jay Barros during MediaLab Prado's Interactivos?'09: Garage Science workshop, uses off the shelf and mostly recycled equipment to create audio visual remixes of sounds and images captured from the urban micro-environment, to "lay-down" some beats and frequencies that serves as a musical score for a visual display of what exists beyond the realm of our everyday vision. At the heart of the project is a home-made microscope designed with a CCD sensor from a camera and the lens from a CD player. Image processing programs analyze various samples from protozoa gathered in urban environments and turn them into algorithms which provide the basis for visual and sound composition.

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L'Orquestra dels Luthiers Drapaires (the Luthiers Drapaires Orchestra) is made of spectacular robotic instruments that have been created out of technological waste found on rubbish dumps and in the street. Telenoika has decorticated the waste and enhanced it with a little help from circuit prototyping and acoustic research.

"Luthiers Drapaires" is proof that the waste we generate provides enough raw material to build sophisticated devices. Besides, the growing amount of tools and information available online provide everyone with the possibility to access the knowledge needed to turn rubbish into artworks.


Video by mediateletipos

For Sónar, the orchestra was composed of a percussion set made of electromagnetic pistons; a theremin made from two radios; an adapted television which works as an oscilloscope; a guitar made of string, a crate of wine and the engines from a hair removal machine; and a set of automated tubular bells.

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Prepared Turntable, 2008

Yuri Suzuki brought some much-needed poetry to the exhibition. He displayed some of his charming Physical Value of Sound pieces but also a 2004 piece called Jelly Fish Theremin. The movement of a fish in a horizontal bowl controls the sound, air- conditioning, the visual image and lighting.

Small gold fish were swimming inside the instrument at Sonar but the original work used a jellyfish: I used jellyfish as the control center, since jellyfish are made up of 98% water, and I thought that the will of the water would be reflected in the movement of the jellyfish, if only a little. If we were able to create a space controlled by jellyfish, wouldn't it be the ultimate place of relaxation?

And if you understand japanese...



For a pretty accurate and smart review of the exhibition with videos, just run to mediateletipos.

Image on the homepage courtesy Yuri Suzuki.

Wanting to Be You is a suit that allows one ardent fan to distinguish themselves from the crowd at film premieres. The suit is comprised of a projector, speakers and a light system, controlled by an portable media player. The suits emits hysterical screams louder than the standard fan collective. As the target star approaches confessed messages are projected. When the wearer gets the attention from the object of their devotion, the suit rejoices by bursting into a climatic display

The work was exhibited a few weeks ago at the work in progress show of the Royal College of Art in London. Given my recent obsession with everything Demis Roussos, i couldn't help but imagine myself wearing it for his next gig and i asked Ross Cairns, student at the Design Interactions department, to explain us what the suit was about exactly.

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Why did you chose to engage with the (sub-)culture of fandom? Did any particular story or person triggered this interest?

I must admit my real interest came when I discovered the story of Mark Boardman. He's an ardent celebrity spotter with over 4000 autographs, his own celebrity testimonials and now if your not on the A-List, he's not interested. His website alone is true expression of devotion, I love it. But this suit isn't for him. Possibly he has surpassed the status of 'fan'. Through his connection to fame he has become an object of fame.

I started hanging out at London's Leicester Square during film premiers as I was so intrigued by fandom - that strange mix between aspiration and devotion - that i think we all have in us. The way people interact at premiers is amazing. Like the frenzied girls I stood between who were passionately screaming after every second word whilst arguing over the tactical advantages of where they stood. Or, every passer by who asked who the celebrities were when really only 10% of fans there could really see anything.

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Have you ever tested the suit yourself? With what outcome? Do you really think you can find a true and dedicated fan of some celebrity who will be brave enough to wear it?

It's great to play around with - but it's not ready yet! As for myself, possibly I'm a little too introverted and stand-offish to use it, but the extroversion it causes to the wearer is enjoyable. Whether my fan who will wear this is truly dedicated to a celebrity remains to be seen. But my aim is to make them seem more truly dedicated than anyone else. Of course even if I were able to exceed my ambitions it may be tactfully ignored by the film stars. But as a vehicle of expression I'm interested to see any reaction from other fans.

Has the idea of 'being a fan' anything to do with standing out from other fans? Or isn't it more part of being in a group of shouting and like-minded people?

I think both. By being a fan you express an interest to be part of a collective. This could be apparent in that fans further back in the crowd scream, cheer and shout even when they can't see what is happening. But at the same time you use your fanaticism to define yourself and distinguish yourself from others. This could be a bit emotive and sincere, like placards people bring to express affection. Ultimately if the aim is to grab attention at premier, it is competitive.

Do you plan to keep on working on the project and bring it any further?

Yes certainly, there's a lot to be done. In the show was my initial study of how to realise the technicalities. Now I'm in the process of designing a more robust suit. Then, hopefully, I'm off to catch a premier or two.

Thanks Ross!

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BOOM, the work in progress show at the Royal College of Art in London is on until February 11. Run to Kensington Gore now. You won't regret it. Architecture and Animation reserve some excellent surprises. And so does the Design Interactions department.

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Under its rather unassuming name, The Toaster Project is probably the most ambitious project of the show. It is also a clever and humorous reflection on today's most burning issues such as sustainability, industrialization, mass consumption, child labour, DIY culture, etc. Its author, Thomas Thwaites is trying to make an electric toaster, from scratch. Beginning with mining the raw materials. And yes, that means extracting oil to make plastic and even processing his own copper (to make the pins of the electric plug, the cord, and internal wires), iron (for the steel grilling apparatus, and the spring to pop up the toast), mica (around which the heating element is wound) and nickel (for the heating elements! The end result (which will hopefully see the light of the day for the RCA Summer show in June) will be a fully functioning toaster.

The extraction and processing of these materials happens on a scale irreconcilable with that of a mass product that Argos sells for a few pounds throughout the UK and that performs the very mundane task of toasting your bread every morning. The result of Thwaites's endeavour might not be as neat and clean as the Argos model. But maybe i'm being unnecessarily bitchy here. See for yourself what the designer is exhibiting now:

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The installation re-creates the first attempt by the designer to melt mineral and turn it into iron using hair dryers. He later tried with a leaf blower and then used his mother's microwave and china to finally obtain iron. And here is the original toaster model:

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In the designer's own words which i pasted below:

The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past. To redress the balance I'm making a mass produced object by hand - creating a domestic product on a domestic scale.

(...)

This faintly ridiculous quest to make a toaster from the 'ground up' serves as a vehicle through which questions about economics, helplessness and life as a consumer can be investigated. The outcome will be a toaster that I imagine will bear a very imperfect likeness to the ones that we buy - a kind of half-baked, hand made pastiche of a consumer appliance.

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Bringing back raw material from the mine

Commercial extraction and processing of the necessary materials happens on a scale that is difficult to resolve into the humble toaster. This contrast in scale is a bit absurd - massive industrial activity devoted to making objects which enable us, the consumer, to toast bread more efficiently. However, this ridiculousness dissipates somewhat when you consider that life pre-toasters required stoking the fire when a piece of toast was desired.

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Trying to melt iron using a leaf blower

Part of the project consists of going to the places where it's possible to dig up these raw materials. Mining no longer happens in the UK, but the country is dotted with abandoned mines, some having been worked since before the 'UK' existed, but all currently uneconomical. We shot some footage at Clearwell Iron mine in South Wales before Christmas. It had an output of thousands of tonnes a week up until the end of World War 2 when it was closed. It is now run as a visitor attraction by Ray and Jonathan, a father and son team. Ray (who originally worked as a miner at Clearwell) was of the view that mining on the huge scales seen today (for instance in Australia) reduces humans to ants, with no understanding of what they're doing. His son Jonathan is more pragmatic, pointing out that it is the scale of modern industry that gives more of us access to toasters. Their points of view are not incompatible; the question becomes 'Are toasters worth the inhuman scale on which they're produced?'

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The only known deposit of Nickel in the UK has long since been exhausted. In Finland however exploitation of a huge deposit has begun. I'd very much like to go and bring back a lump of nickel ore from this remote industrial area, and make it in to an element for my toaster. I'm also trying to negotiate a helicopter ride to an oil rig in the North Sea to collect some oil from which I would try (and certainly fail) to make plastic.

The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past. For example, my first attempt to extract metal involved a chimney pot, some hairdryers, a leaf blower, and a methodology from the 15th century - this is about the level of technology we can manage when we're acting alone. I failed to get pure enough iron in this way, though if I'd tried a few more times and refined my technique and knowledge of the process I probably would've managed in the end. Instead I found a 2001 patent about industrial smelting of Iron ores using microwave energy. Microwaves are so much more convenient and so I tried to replicate the process using a domestic microwave. After a bit of careful experimentation through which I realised I was unlikely to blow the thing up or cook my insides without realising, I got the timing and ingredients about right and made a blob of iron about as big as a 10p coin. I'm rather proud of it, though it's only enough to make perhaps one bar of the grill to hold the bread. Still, it's proof of concept.

The project won't be a 'how is it made?' industrial promo or an anti-industry tirade either. It's about scale, the total inter-reliance of people and societies, the triviality of some (anti-)globalisation discourse, what we have to lose, and DIY.

All images courtesy of a href="http://www.thomasthwaites.com/">Thomas Thwaites.

I've posted 28, 237 pictures on flickr so far. Most of them fal into oblivion as soon as they are uploaded. Other generate an insane amount of 'favorite' tags. The latest in the band is one photo i took at the Fondazione Re Rebaudengo which is currently showing one third of the Turin Triennale. Proper report will follow. All i feel like saying right now is that it is a good art event. In a clinically clean sense. All is tasty, carefully selected, i just wish there were more surprises. Wait! i wish there were surprises. But i guess that no surprise is better than bad surprise.

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Alll that blabla to say that one of the most popular photos i made at the Triennale is the one of the Keyboard cemetery by Paul Chan. It is a physical referent to Alternumerics, a work on fonts that explores the relationship between language and interactivity by transforming the simple computer font into an art form that explores the fissure between what we write and what we mean. By replacing individual letters and numbers (known as alphanumerics) with textual and graphic fragments that signify what is typed in radically different ways. Alternumerics transforms any computer connected to a standard printer into an interactive artmaking installation.

The Torino Triennale runs until February 2009 in various venues.

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