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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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....

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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.

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Luchadores dolls dressed as Barbie:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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.


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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.

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