The only thing i had ever seen of Ujino Muneteru was the poster of a rather fascinating sonic sculptural instrument he calls the Love Arm. It was 2 years ago at ars electronica. I keep hoping i'll see more of his work one day but in the meantime, lucky me! Vicente Gutierrez managed to meet the artist and together with photographer Martin Holtkamp visited him in his studio. Here's the result of their meeting:

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Muneteru in his studio, by Martin Holtkamp

Tokyo based sound sculpture artist and performer Ujino Muneteru's Rotators is a giant tweaked-out jewelry box of modern and out-dated technology. While many old objects are ubiquitous in Muneteru's work, its not the same old story of trash art. Muneteru works to discover new histories in material objects once discarded only to delicately care for them in hopes of restoring any sentimental value once lost. Tangled in Pop Art, Noise and some Dada, his conversions, performances and arrangements of junk and vintage are an insight into the role of materialism and what is of value in our lives- what is deemed junk or vintage or valid pop-iconography is largely up to the viewer. WMMNA caught up with Muneteru in his Tokyo studio to discuss the 'Japan-ness' of his work, all things junk and vintage and how dance culture fits into everything he does.

"my work is like plastic ikebana."

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The Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru.

You just returned from the Beautiful New World exhibition in China...how was it?

Well, I was in Beijing for two weeks setting up an installation of the rotators for an exhibition at the Long March space as part of Beautiful New World, it was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the relationship of The Japan Foundation with China. So I had set up the rotators to be there playing automatically. Before the exhibit, I did some shopping in China for some old materials for this exhibit to make it a little unique for China, like I did before in Vancouver. So, just like 10 days before the exhibit, in Beijing I bought an old drill, blender, vacuum cleaner and lots of lamps. I'd say that about 50% of the items were bought in China. In Vancouver, I bought 95% of the items for the rotators exhibit.

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The Rotators 'Robertson and Phillips' at The Western Front, Vancouver,Canada. Courtesy of Munteru.

A lot of your work relies on old things, so was it easier to buy things in China or Vancouver?

I think it was easier in Vancouver. There's just a longer sense of history of material things there. The part of people's lives that is concerned with material things is longer in western culture, I feel. In China, there weren't many second hand things- it was so hard to find old things or anything with sentimental value. Everything was so new and as soon as anything gets old, its thrown away or people sell whatever is metal to a steel company for melting these days. So a lot things are made of plastic. I mean, I've been to many modern cities in the east and west and that being my first time in China, everything was different and it was a challenge to collect older materials for my work.

Maybe in the future, in about 10 years or so, there will be more older things laying around to be used by someone else.

So how about in Japan?

Well, compared to western countries and China, both being foreign to Japan, well, I think we have a longer history of westernization. Westernization in Japan has been in effect longer so I think we've developed more of an appreciation of material things. Its a gradual process that takes years. With the way the cultural revolution went in China, I feel China's economy boom is like catching up- they are quickly developing western sensibilities for western things. You can see that in how fast Shanghai developed into a major international city.

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Platform for the Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesty of Muneteru

Ah, so how did Chinese people react to the rotators installation?

Well, people approached and looked at it as a mechanical piece. Like some strange kind of robot.

How does that compare to the way a Westerner would?

In Vancouver, visitors to the exhibit thought it was like someone's grandmother's home. I think their reaction was a bit more sentimental. Younger Chinese visitors seemed to be a lot more concentrated and their eyes were a fixed. I mean, they read more contemporary art related media like magazines and blogs and stuff- they tried to understand it or understood it and were at least sensitive to it but I thought that older people, especially those in the art world or 'industry', didn't seem to care so much. The same is true for Japanese older generations, too. But anyways, one night, I had wanted to do a performance at the gallery but I couldn't so we set up the rotators at a club- it was great, a great space too. You know, it was like a cool club in any big city but it felt like- well, in other cities, I feel that some spaces are divided by scenes, like a rock club is for rock and a house club is for house, etc, but this place was like a beautiful fusion of it all. What added to it all was that it was really small like a Japanese live house.

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'The Savage's Plastic Ikebana Session' 2007. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

You've adapted a new title for this particular installation of the rotators in Beijing, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ah, the name, well, 'the savages' has a couple meanings, the first is referring to media art. A lot of the artists that were part of the Beautiful New World exhibit use computers or newer technology in their works and well, I don't. The technology I use is pre-1985 so it's a reference to being somewhat archaic, uncivilized and to a point- savage.

The other way of looking at the name is that it is a reference to an ancient tale of China and Japan, like 2000 years ago, it's kind of a long and messy story, but it really did influence the naming of this particular exhibit.


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The Rotatorhead which controls it all. Photo Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

Great, back to rotators for a minute...a majority of the materials in your work are western, and if I didn't know you were Japanese upon viewing your work, how would I know this was done by a Japanese artist? What is Japanese about your work?

Well, It's really easy to get lots of objects for my work in Japan because there's so much old technology laying around in old recycle electronic shops. Every time i find and buy old junk things, I want to clean them up and polish them, make them nice again- presentable. The fact that there are many western things in the rotators, clicks with the idea of it being like a grandmother's room- you can get the sense that these things are or were precious because they had a home, they were once loved.

I think I put some love into combining and assembling them in such a way that in the end it's a sound sculpture. But I think my work is very neat, clean, organized and the layout is very proper. It's like a japanese bento, ya know? [laughs] Very organized, its own structure and aesthetic is present there. When I have assistants helping me, I tell them, "make it like a Japanese bento." Sometimes I say my work is like plastic ikebana because of its precise arrangement.

You said it so easy to get things in Japan because of a high turnover and I'm thinking- is there a relationship in your work to the record levels of mass consumerism in Japan?

Japanese people want to have the latest thing so they buy what's new and ditch the old at recycle shops. In this area, there are so many recycling shops that are formal companies, they have many trucks and assemble and gather peoples old goods for sale in shops, there is so much recycling going on here and that works out for me. I like to take that junk and re use it.

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Another shot of The Rotators. Courtesy of Muneteru

So do you see a difference in what is junk and what is vintage?

Some junk or cheap things may be vintage in a few years as they appreciate over time, but thats an interesting point, I will say that everything in the rotators is junk!

I read on your website, "the neatness and cleanliness are a very core of Japanese authentic beauty...a wild chaos can only exist as the subject of exoticism."

Yeah, thats true, I like it, I need it.

Ok. what's the message in rotators?

Well, its DIY. With an emphasis on physical means- just using your hands and body to make your own things- sculptures or instruments- using technology in your own way and not letting it dictate function. You know, its like a computer, the keyboard is made for your fingers, and we shouldn't limit our thinking to that way. I try to find the opposite way and do it. With the rotators, I feel I am reversing that relationship, that I am in control of technology, not vice versa.

But everywhere I look technology is getting more function specific and smaller? that's good, no?

Well, especially, in Japan! Japan excels at making things smaller and for now, thats the direction most technology is going, smaller and smaller, micro and nano. But I think it's too small for people and we're leaving something out. I remember in 1978, at a video game arcade, I saw an arcade game booth drop set into a table, like a sit down cabinet and that changed video games forever, since then, things have been getting smaller and smaller, but there are ergonomic limits, you know? I don't like using small buttons, I like older stuff, things that truly follow the human form for function. I mean, in the cyber world, there is no weight, nothing physical, no heaviness, and I like using real, bulky things, I don't want to lose that.

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Ozone - So Provided by Mizuma Art Gallery. Courtesy of Munteru

So is rotators a toy or musical instrument? Is it interactive?

No, it is not interactive, but I want to make it more interactive in the future and work in that direction, I am planning and working on a human-scale, ergonomic, drum machine. Interactive is next!

Ok, I have to ask you, you mentioned dance culture as an influence in your work, please explain!

Well, I like drum machines. I love the beats. And I'm interested in making sounds, especially sounds with a groove. I want to make music and do live performances and its all about the beat in dance so I like to use low frequency sounds, like using a blender- it gives off a nice low sound. And about dance music, well, I like thicker, more embellished beats like Prince- he had an influence on me in terms of the music.

I wanted to make, I wanted a groove.

Great! So what's next for you and rotators?

Well, I've got a live performance coming up soon, with Chim Pom, this young art collective. Two of the members used to be my assistants a few years ago when I was making Ozone-so, Ryuta Ushiro and Yasuyaka Hayashi. Other members are students of Aida Makoto. That's Chim Pom and they have a different way of making music but its really physical and focuses on objects too, in a realistic way. So we're going to have a live performance together. I'm thinking of a Berlin exhibit next year.

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Flyer for Sunday's performance. Courtesy of Muneteru

And any news on the Love Arm series or ozone-so for fans out there?

Well, I am not working on it now because i've been so busy with the rotators but in the future I will for sure continue it and work on Love Arm number 5, haven't started yet, but I will. And ozone-so is currently being exhibited in Germany now, and it will be exhibited in Berlin next year, in March, I'll go there to do a live performance too.

The live performance with Chim Pom will be Sunday the 28th!
at Open studio *3.0 in Tokyo. And on December 22nd, I'll be performing in Harajuku at the LaForet museum with several other performers.

Thanks so much Ujino for sharing and discussing ideas in your work- we had a great time at your studio! Thanks!

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When Ingeborg van Lieshout from Bright magazine told me that she had a list of talented young graduates whose works would be shown during the BrightLive '07 exhibition in Amsterdam, i asked her if i could have a peek of her list.

The work of Dennis de Bel particularly stands out from the pack. Not because of one of his work in particular but because most of his projects are extremely well-designed, witty and playful.

Dennis graduated in June'07 as an Interactive Media designer at the Willem de Kooning Art Academy, in Rotterdam. He is currently following the master-course Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute, also in Rotterdam.

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I love the Naaitafel. Does it really play music? What inspired this association of music with sewing? Some kind of textile fetishism?
What was the most difficult aspect you encountered while working on this project?

The naaitafel was actually the last one in a series (of three) associative-objects. When I look at (everyday) objects I associate them with other objects and their similarities in form and/or function.

I also work going out from words or combination of words such as with the mijsjes to come to a new object..

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mijsjes

For the sewing machine, I found it looking very much like a retro-futuristic record player and of course the fact it works with a
needle also helped forming the idea (naai-tafel = sew(ing)-table, instead of turntable). I tried to make it work using the already existing needle but then the record wouldn't fit in nicely, then I tried mounting a needle underneath the record using some kind of slider mechanism (like the laser lens in a cd player) but that proved to be too time consuming as I had to complete the project on time for the graduation exposition (in Las Palmas, Rotterdam). So I decided to just fit in a dc motor, a record player-platter and 'faked' the sound using a small mp3 player and amplifier with a speaker. It's too bad it's not really working with the original needle, but the naaitafel as an object suggests enough in my opinion. The hardest part was de-constructing the sewing machine to make place for the dc motor, mp3player and amplifier, as the bottom part of the sewing machine was full with heavy iron axles to transport the sewing thread and was put together with weird, i guess sewing-machine-only-screws, so none of my screwdrivers would fit and had to drill out some of them.

What exactly is a Nootzuiger? It produces sound as well, right? How does it work? Once again you have associated a retro-looking device with a more contemporary and musical function. Are you particularly attracted to old objects?

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The nootzuiger (noot=note, zuiger=sucker, as in 'dustsucker') is a harmonium (air-organ) build into an old Miele vacuum cleaner. So again, form and function of two (household, everyday) objects are associated and literally combined. It makes a really nice sound, but its too bad I had to get rid of the vacuum-cleaning function to fit in the keyboard. As with most of the other objects (naaitafel, stratenspeler) this one is constructed from stuff I found in the garbage. The old harmonium and vacuuum cleaner were lying around in my studio and one day I saw the connection between them and started building. I love to build.

I'm also in love with aesthetics of 60s and 70s plastic design stuff and it was pretty hard to find a nice looking sewing machine for the naaitafel.

The association between vintage and contemporary is coming form the very utopian thinking designers from the 60s and 70s whose designs I still find very futuristic thus quite 'contemporary'.

How does the Stratenspeler work? Which technology did you use?

aaa0strat.jpgStratenspeler stands for streetplayer, street- instead of record-. I wanted to use urban textures to make music, or at least convert them into sound.

It consists of a little box made from wood from a kitchen cabinet and contains a 12volt dc motor which is hooked to three 1.5volt batteries so it turns about as fast as a regular record player (I also fitted a variable resistor, potentiometer to influence the 'playing' speed and thus the pitch of the sound. The dc motor turns around the arm of an old record player which is fitted with a small condensor mic instead of a regular needle. The mic is ingeniously connected to an small amplifier and speaker which amplifies the sound of the texture where the stratenspeler is standing on. It works on batteries for mobility. You can place anywhere and so create a loop of the sound of the place it's standing on.

While some of your works are clearly art pieces, others look more something you would expect from an interaction designer, where does your work stand exactly?

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Kijk_die_abolo

I'm not sure where my work stands at the moment. Maybe it fits in the straightforward 'Dutch-design'?

I find most of my pieces to come out best in an art context (gallery, etc.) Although I'm aware of the fact some objects I design are more products then actual 'art'.

When an idea is just an aesthetic one, it will be 'design' and when it's, for example, a critique on massmedia its 'art', but i find both art and design interchangeable, exchangeable and compatible.

I like both aesthetic art and design as well as, for example, activist or critical art and design. I try to use either 'style' or way to make my point, whatever is relevant to communicate my vision and ideas.

My main point being is to astonish people and/or give them a laugh.

Thanks Dennis!

You can see Dennis' work on November 30 and December 1 during the BrightLive '07 exhibition. organized by independent magazine Bright at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam.

Related: Textron, the Sewing Machine VJ, Vacuum Bag furniture, Vacuum cleaner music, Vacuuming digital trash (and interview with Martin), Vacuum cleaner to capture goblins, Sale Away, Hoovering the carpet away, and Free Range Appliances in a Light Dill Sauce.

Mouna Andraos was showing her Power Cart in the streets of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) yesterday, offering alternative power to passersby in need of charging their mobile phone.

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The mobile unit is inspired by street vendors, knife sharpeners from India, refills of gas in Africa, fake Gucci bags in Paris and chair massages in New York, the Power Cart looks and feels like another service for the city of today. Where ever you might be in the world, hail the Power Car for a quick fix. The Power Car owner will turn the crank for you and get the electricity you need, one minute of cranking at a time. With a little help from the solar panel.

More images.

Jean-Baptiste Labrune recently pointed me to this excellent overview of "Walking as art." Here's a new project to add to that list:

The Energy Harvesting Dérive turns the popular Heelys roller sneaker into a platform for generating electricity from human motion.

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Electricity harvested from rolling powers a microcomputer and lcd display embedded on the shoe to deliver random directions for a pedestrian to follow. Arrows and text show up on the screen display telling the wearer which direction she should travel next -- North, Northeast, Southwest, etc.

Depending on the speed of rolling, directions appears on the screen every 15 to 20 feet. They invite the wearer to follow a random zig-zaggy path that mimics in physical space the mathematical simulation of the random or drunkard's walk. The design motivation behind the sneakers' functionality is also informed by the Situationist practice of the dérive.

The addition of locative technologies such as GPS is feasible, but the intention of these shoes is rather to incite their users to get lost and explore territory outside of their typical transport routines. The shoes force their owner to make choices about whether or not to challenge urban obstacles or interrupt automobile traffic when instructed to move in seemingly hard to traverse directions. Participating in an Energy Harvesting Dérive thus fosters an exploration of the city and its flows. It reveals the impacts of urban planning decisions and encourages users to act out and playfully brainstorm alternative modes of transport and energy.

Besides, The Energy Harvesting Dérive, developed by Christian Croft & Kate Hartman, hopes to promote discussion in the realm of sustainable energy development and alternative transportation design.

Documentation about the making process.

The project will be presented at dorkbot NYc on September 5, 2007, at 7pm and during the Conflux Festival in Brooklyn on Sunday, September 16, 2007, 12:00pm — 5:00pm.

Related: Net_Dérive, the city as instrument.

More walking: the Walking Machine, Self-Sustainable Chair, Walking the Cabbage, Uniblow Outfits, the muk.luk.flux boots, etc.

Will Work For Food is a project about labour and barter economy. The bread earner is a robot able to draw and whistle “Happy Birthday? and “The Internationale?.

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To enjoy those precious services, all you have to do is pack some food (no money!) and send it to a given address. The WWFF vehicle will be posted to you in return.

I asked KH Jeron to tell us more about this idea:

When and how did you get the idea to set up the "Will Work For Food" service?

Before I started with WWFF I built a robot which did drawings for 7.50 € per hour. This was my contribution to the allgirls gallery Christmas exhibition last year.

I wanted to combine utopian ideas of the 50s and 60s of the 20th century which yearned for the liberation of humanity from any form of labour and the discussion about minimum wage in Germany.

The vehicle's batteries lasted for about 5 hours. So each drawing was sold for 37.50€. After that success, I thought again and decided to do a project where necessarily no money has to be involved. It was in January this year.

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Photo credits, Labor K1: Jana Linke & Juliane Zelwies

Given the feedback you got from "Will Work For Food", do you think that this idea of labour and barter economy could be pushed further and be a bigger part of our economy?

Well, i have never thought about of the barter model of wwff as a bigger part of our economy. There are already very successful marketplaces for cashless business like the largest free barter site or the former ubarter, now called itex in the USA. They say that itex processes over $250 million a year in transactions across 24,000 member businesses and 95+ franchisees and licensees.

WWFF is more about value and trust.
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What was the most unexpected food present ever sent to you?

Just the day before yesterday I received seven different glasses of homemade marmalade.

Can you tell us a few words about the robot itself? What's the technology you used?

Each of the vehicles is equipped with a ballpoint pen and loudspeakers. The melodies are stored on a micro controller which also
operates the speakers and the randomized movements of the motor.

I prefer to use servo motors, if they are cheap. Otherwise I use standard dc motors with a L293 (see PDF) as a h-bridge driver. The microcontroller is a PIC12F683 from microchip.

The main goal was to build a cheap robot (< 10€). It also has to be light and small. I can send it for 4.50 € all over Europe and for 8 € worldwide.

Thanks KH!

0arankindfer3.jpgI just realized today that although my stay in Zurich for the Digital Art Weeks last month was super short, there's still a couple of links and projects i'd like to share with you. High on the list is the paper DIY: The Militant Embrace of Technology that documentary director, independent curator and new media artist Marcin Ramocki presented during the DAW symposium.

Marcin sees his paper as an attempt to clarify some of the theoretical issues sparked by 8 BIT, a documentary about art and video games which he created together with Justin Strawhand.

His expose dealt with cultural practices involving the subversion of consumer technology, be it hardware and software. According to Marcin, if the DIY approach in the field of fine art is almost taken for granted, it is still relatively new in the world of consumer electronics and software design.

The PDF is online, Hurray! So i'll let you enjoy that fun and smart text and will just blog a few links to make the reading easier:

A Hacker Manifesto, by McKenzie Wark.

Artistic critiques of technology:

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Cell phone piano, each key on the keyboard is wired into a key on a phone so as you play, you are dialing

- when artists are actually hackers who break something they
shouldn’t be breaking, like in circuit bending. Paul Slocum’s Dot Matrix printer hacked to be a drum machine or Joe McKay’s cell phone sculptures.

- classical hack such as the early works by Cory Arcangel and Paul Davis opening and reprogramming of a Nintendo game cartridge.

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- structural game works, legal game modifications and machinima. One example of re-dressing the code is SOD, a Castle Wolfenstein modification by JODI.

- re-purposed and prepared hardware such as Study for the Portrait of Internet (Static) in which Lance Wakeling, Ramocki's own Torcito Project, Alex Galloway's Prepared Playstation and Arcangel's Two Projectors, Keystoned.

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Still from a video re-enactment of "E.T."

- remaking of a piece of software (and hardware), mostly retro-engineering and custom electronics. Plus, fake hacker websites, games rewritten from the ground up, alternative browsers and Hollywood movies. E.g minimal re-enactment of ET by Kara Hearn and Jamie Allen's custom 4 bit synthetiser housed in an old cigar box.

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