A couple days ago, Eyebeam in New York City opened what by some has been called their best show so far. It is titled Untethered, and was curated by visiting fellow Sarah Cook to be "a sculpture garden of everyday objects deprogrammed of their original function, embedded with new intelligence and transformed into surrealist and surprising readymades". Many pieces are from Eyebeam's fellows, residents or affiliated artists while a few external people were invited to participate as well.
The show works well as the open-plan warehouse on Chelsea's 21st Street is being transformed in a wonderland of white plinths with obscure objects on them, many of which invite to be touched, looked at, and discussed about as in all cases, their traditional function has been tampered with in one way or the other.
In Sarah's words: "a show of objects that have been tinkered with, invented, and allowed to be "generative", that is, open to experimentation and other use. Untethered presents a deliberate reference to Jonathan Zittrain's notion of "tethered appliances", technologies, such as iPods, or that contain proprietary software and are tied to single uses or networks."
As the range of modifications is wide, here's a few examples and favorite pieces.
Joe Winter, an Eyebeam alumni, has created a beautiful solar system called Xerox Astronomy and the Nebulous Object-Image Archive, which centers around a photocopier. The piece consists of the machine, sitting in a sort of cubicle and several robotic light sources, moving around it. The machine keeps making copies which somewhat resemble a photo of a night sky. For Joe, "the sculpture at once models the movements of distant bodies and presents itself as the the primary object of observation, creating a self-reflexive, self-imaging media production system". A very interesting take on science as narrative and it's dependency on the frameworks that the production of what we consider to be factual knowledge is happening in.
Kelly Dobson of MIT Media Lab is showing her responsive hacked technologies, including Blendie, Toastie and a vacuum cleaner, all of which are part of her Machine Therapy series. It's a well-known project, but it's still incredibly strong in the way that it establishes a link between an arbitrary appliance and its users (and their bodies). Plus the videos are too hilarious not to be watched again:
Germaine Koh from Vancouver presents a work from her from her Fair Weather Forces series. As Eyebeam is at the tip of 21st street and thus very to the Hudson River, she installed a sensor for the current water-level which is remotely linked to a velvet rope barrier in the gallery. As the water changes, the height of the barrier will almost unnoticeably change and act as an ambient display for the natural surroundings of the built environment. (Especially interesting to watch since there was flooding forecast on the night of the opening.)
Sascha Pohflepp's (disclosure: that's me) Buttons is a camera that, instead of taking a photo, takes a moment. It then connects to the web to find someone else's photo that happened to be taken in the very same instant and displays it. The project aims to comment on photography as an increasingly networked practice and uses our trail of data to to create a connection between two strangers on the basis that they did the same thing simultaneously: press a button.
A highlight for me was Michel de Broin's work. His piece Great Encounters consisting of two refrigerators, joined by a single piece of acrylic, results in "their solitudes uniting, through a canal connecting their inside worlds." His work questions the roles that we attribute to everyday objects and in doing so gives them sort of a new personality. The way in which that happens reminded me a lot of Roger Ibars' concise Self-Made Objects. Another piece from the same series, which kind of became the eye-catcher of Untethered, is his piece Dead Star-a sculpture made from household batteries. All at the end of their life-cycle and previously used in all kinds of appliances, they slowly drain until there is no more energy in them. Although not on show in New York, his Shared Propulsion Car from 2005, a pedal-powered car, is great as well.
And there's more. Jessica Banks created an interesting table as part of her Cubed series which is levitating on a magnetic field, there's Thomson & Craighead's Unprepared Piano that plays random MIDI from the web (and has the Star Wars theme as its Hello World), Paul DeMarinis' hacked metronomes Hypnica, JooYoun Paekʼs bicycle disguise made of garbage bags, a chandelier by Ayah Bdeir and again Jessica Banks, Hans-Christoph Steiner's hacked PDA's, Max Dean's self-erasing clock and Nor_/d's reactive architecture-photos of all of which you can find here.
Show's up through October 25th in New York's Chelsea. For more information about the individual works, Eyebeam have also put interviews with all the artists online.
Related: Interview with Sarah Cook
The artist walked around the Conflux area with his Vertical Bed in a suitcase, found himself a nice spot, anchored his prostheses above subway vents or other rigid contact points and stayed there sleeping in an upright position for 40 minute intervals several times in a day.
Concealed harnesses ensure that Jamie didn't fall over. He also wore noise canceling headphones and double-mirrored sunglasses, padded with little cusions to keep his eyelid closed. In case of bad weather, an umbrella clips in the infrastructure for shelter.
The project is designed for the visual performance of an alternate way of occupying urban space, born partly out of fantasies of minimal need and elegant futurism, and partly out of fears of the dehumanization of space. Occupants will absorb the vertical structure of urban architecture into their bodies. The vertical sleeper is in a constant state of readiness, never succumbing to collapse. Homelessness is most often marked by the forbidden act of lying down on the sidewalk, an act that the vertical bed circumvents.
The Static Obesity Logging device, part of Target set of projects, can be installed almost anywhere. The casing of the innocent-looking device conceals a computer, digital and analogue inputs and outputs and a camera. The system is able to remotely calculate Body Mass Index and communicate the data via wired and wireless networks.
The purpose of the device is to raise a series of slightly disturbing questions. Surveillance technologies are becoming increasingly important and invasive in our daily life (especially in the UK). How far can it go? Could we envision that one day surveillance technology will have a role in healthcare? Could it provide some help in the fight against obesity? What would then be the potential uses (misuses?) of this data by others? How much would this affect our civil liberties? Do we really have a voice to protest the Big Brother society?
Funniest project seen at the RCA show. You won't need my explanation, just have a look at the video:
Signs of Life was created by Freddie Yauner (of the highest popping toaster in the world fame) a graduate of the Design Products department, Platform 11 . Because it was exhibited where you'd expect to see an emergency exit sign i did believe that it was a real one for a moment.
Another project from the RCA Design Interactions show. This one made me laugh so much:
In wealthier neighbourhoods, the size of the house and how well maintained the garden is, often represents status.
The Grass Scanner is a device designed by Alice Wang to measure how green the grass is. Using 3 Pantone Color Cue devices, it takes reading from 3 random patches of the grass and outputs a Pantone colour code for one to compare. With the codes, one can refer to the PARKTONE cards which contains average grass colours of Royal Parks and other green areas in the UK for people to match up with their own garden.
As grass condition in different areas of a given park may vary, each area was measured several times before an average of the data was used to create the PARKTONE card.
Relate: Mugs for a perfect tea.
Quite a few projects made my day over there. The ones of Yuri Suzuki for example. That guy is so talented it should be illegal. He's an artist, musician and now a fresh graduate from the Design Products department. His project is concerned with revamping and giving new forms and meanings to the almost obsolete turntable, a device which very few of us still have in their house. We don't buy disks of CDs anymore either. Nowadays music is more abstract and immaterial than ever. Sound has been reduced to data.
Sound Chaser looks like a little toy train that rides on record rails. You can align and connect each chipped pieces of second-hand records one to another and compose a new track that the train will play.
The TipTap, developed in collaboration with Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad, is a little hammer that reveals the dormant sounds around us.
A small metal tapper housed in the object taps out a rhythm on any object or surface that you hold it near to. The rhythm is set either by the user or can be defined by the controller. Alternatively, a beat can be taken from your favourite record, allowing you to play along while keeping perfectly in time. The TipTap can also synchronise with other users to make a social tapping experience.
The Prepared Turntable is an analogue answer to the digitalized DJ. The turntable has 5 tone arms, each of which can have its volume controlled by its own fader. Users can make or play music with special loop groove records.
The Finger Player is a wearable record player. Insert your fingers into one of the little rings, play the record just by holding your hand over the disk and feel the physicality of making sound.
Sound Jewellery conceives sound as something precious that you can offer to a friend or wear as a memory of a shared laugher, a romantic conversation, any sound moment from your daily life. The record is made up of components which of course you can play but they can also be worn as bracelet, brooch or other pieces of jewellery.