Angelo Vermeulen is currently in residency at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio to work on his latest project. Biomodd brings together ecology, game culture and installation art.

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Inspired by the case modding scene, a custom computer is built as a form of expanded sculpture. Inside the case, excess heat of over-clocked processors is recycled by an elaborate living ecosystem. The computer hardware is used as server for a new computer game. The objective of this game is to bring some of the main themes of Biomodd into an imaginative multiplayer game experience.

Both the computer structure and the game are developed with a group of biology, game and art enthusiasts. Exhibition visitors can also modify the piece: through playing they generate heat and hence influence the interior ecosystem.

Biomodd will have its own temporary character depending on each local version of it. Only parts of previous versions are integrated in each new structure.

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Biomodd preparatory study

The first Biomodd version is developed at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio. Collaborations are currently set up with departments of game design, electronic and computer engineering, telecommunications and biology. The objective is to compile an interdisciplinary team of 15-20 students.

All of the above intrigued me so i emailed Angelo and he was kind enough to answer my questions:

Can you give us more detail about the game itself?

Game description:

- a multiplayer environment that is graphically and/or conceptually inspired by the ecological theme of the project,
- the game can be graphically very simple and strongly conceptual (e.g. The Marriage of Rod Humble) or more sophisticated in its visual style (e.g. The Endless Forest of Tale of Tales)
- the game concept will be developed through group discussions with all involved participants (including students from departments such as Biology and Engineering)
- a more profound interaction with the ecosystem than just heat exchange can be envisioned:
(a) a feedback system in which parameters of the developing organisms are fed back into the virtual world; in this way a metaorganism could be created living in both worlds simultaneously
(b) an interactive system using simple forms of robotics to manipulate the ecosystem from within the virtual world (‘The Telegarden’ is a classic example)

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How far are you in the development of Biomodd?

The Biomodd version I am building at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab is the very first one. Several other curators across Europe and the US have already shown interest to support subsequent versions. At the moment we’re finishing a first prototype. It’s a human sized transparent structure that contains several suspended computer components and different types of plant life such as green algae and vines. The computer runs Linux (Fedora) and its monitor will be suspended downwards to illuminate a bed of fast-sprouting seeds. Basically, we’re testing how close we can bring together the biological and electronic world. At the same time we’re also exploring potential game concepts.

You use recycled parts for eco-related concerns?

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Yes, partly for that. At the end of each version the art work is completely disassembled. Participants can take what is useful for them and I will keep some elements that can be integrated in a subsequent version. All the remaining components are donated to recycling centers and thrift stores.

There’s also a conceptual motivation for using parts of previous versions in a new one. Essentially, this creates a very physical link between all the versions. It connects all the works. Apart from the re-use of electronics, every version will inevitably contain the “presence? of all previous collaborators. I function as a sort of gateway for the whole undertaking and through me ideas and concepts from participants will be passed on to each new group. The re-use of material components further strengthens that aspect.

However, not only electronic components are recycled, I am also using microscopic algae that have functioned in several former art projects of mine. In 2004 I created my last algae installation piece for the exhibition ‘This Place is Dreaming’ in Brussels. I kept the algae in a dormant stage in my studio since then. I took a dried sample to the Aesthetic Technologies Lab and currently I am reviving the cells so I can use the same algae in Biomodd. Another thread that links a sequence of art works and experiences…

The @Lab put the recorded webcast lecture online.

Photo credits: Jeff Lovett & Angelo Vermeulen.

UPDATE: on Saturday the exhibition Multispeak in de Witte Zaal in Ghent (Belgium) will open, featuring Biomodd. A live video steam will be displayed together with the first part of the Biomodd documentary made by filmmaker Morgan Riles.

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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.

Some of the most popular images on my flickr stream are those game-inspired flags that Vuk Čosić introduced to the Next2006 audience a few months back.

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From left to right: Pac-Sweden, Nipong, Tetriss, US Invaderz.

The Game Flags have finally moved from pixel to textile and are on display at Art Radionica Lazareti, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

More flag images.

In case you have some time to kill in front of the screen, here are some vids for your personal enlightenment and hopefully pleasure.

Adam Zaretsky´s just announced a 3 part documentary about his VivoArts lab, in particular the last one which focused on transgenic quail and pheasant embryology.

Part 1, 2 and 3.

Related: Adam Zaretsky on Future Body (part 1 and 2)

"Videogame Violence & Effects on Youth" is a documentary directed by Edmund Wong, a graduate student at San Jose' State University (via videoludica.)


Part 1 (Introduction & Background on Games)

Part 2 (Mortal Kombat & the ESRB), 3 (Doom & the Columbine Massacre), 4 (Addiction and GTA Controversy), 5 (California Videogame Law), and 6 (Causation & Correlation. Final Thoughts.)

"The virtual communities created by online games have provided us with a new medium for social interaction and communication. Avatar Machine is a system which replicates the aesthetics and visuals of third person gaming, allowing the user to view themselves as a virtual character in real space via a head mounted interface. The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviours normally reserved for the gaming environment."

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That was the blurb i read on the website of Charming Disaster , an exhibition featuring several works created by students of the Royal College of Art’s Design Products department (thanks Noam for telling me about it!) What i like about Avatar Machine is that, like the One Eye Ball but unlike several similar projects i've blogged in the past, it's not just about coming up with a nice, funky, geeky project before everybody else, it is also a very eye-pleasing work. I love the way that the designer pushed the concept further by making the user wear the costume of an avatar, i imagine that it allows observers to participate (albeit in a much more discreet way) to the experience. So i asked design student Marc Owens to tell me more about the work.

How does it work technically?

The system works in a very simple way. The user wears a body harness, which has three 2m long aluminium rods protruding from it, to form a type of tripod. A wide angle pinhole camera exists at the point where all three rods meet. The camera is pointing directly back at the user. The video footage being recorded by the camera is transmited to the monitor inside the headset so it can be viewed by the user. Therefore the user can see themselves in the third person, from head to toe on the monitor interface.

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It is WoW that inspired the kind of costume that the player has to wear in your installation, did i get that right? Any reason why you chose to refer to WoW?

You are correct in thinking that the project is World of Warcraft inspired. As the worlds most popular online game, the asthetics and characters of WOW are the most easily recognisable, also i wanted the character i created through the costume be be large in stature, so the user could experience a sense in invincibility when controlling the avatar on the interface. Also, WOW, is more classically fantasy based than other MMORPGs, like second life for example, so that is an element i wanted to bring into the experience of the product.

Thirdly, i am ashamed to admit, quite a fan of World of Warcraft!

Which kind of behaviour did you observe when visitors of the Charming Disaster were playing with your work?

At the Charming Disaster show a few weeks ago, the screen within the headset burned out after an hour into the performance. So only one or two people had the opportunity to experience the system. However since then, i have carried out some avatar sessions in Hyde Park, allowing ample room for the user to do as they wish, and behave as they like.

The types of behaviour i observed were all quite similar. That being, everyone was quite cautious with their movements to begin with, moving around with baby steps as they slowly got used to controling their movement from the third person perspective. After a few minutes, users began to gain confidence not only with faster and more fluid movement, but also began to mimic the types on movement that they imagined the avatar would demonstrate, ie: stoping around and swinging of arms. Another element to the type of behaviour i observed was that after getting used to using the system, users felt comfortable enough to approach passing 'humans' and observed their reaction through the interface.

All images courtesy of Marc Owens.

nOtbOt, by Walter Langelaar, is a self-playing videogame. Viewers who try to get hold of the controller can only be disappointed as the interface is controlled and deranged only by the reactions to its own virtual environment in a kind of loop where the bot is driven by the joystick and the joystick responds to the bot.

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An old Logitech force-feedback joystick was modified so that it is used as input data to control a 'first-person' videogame. The view-angle data generated by the virtual player is sent to a PD app, which in turn loops the incoming data back into the force-feedback system of the joystick. The robotic maneuvers are projected in real-time in front of it.

Human interaction with the game/controller becomes obsolete, resulting in a completely erratic form of [art]ificial intelligence.

Video.

The work is part of the Gameworld exhibition at Laboral, Gijon, Spain. Runs until June 30.
Via Yves Bernard.

More controllers: [giantJoystick], Voodoo Doll controlled game, five joysticks combine to move the single PacMan, hard-wired devices, SweetPad replace joysticks to allow three persons to play Quake 3 Arena with tenderness, RoboGamer, a robotic system which plays video game together with you, Rehearsal Joypads, Control Freaks are devices that attach to everyday objects or living thing, eTech - Tom Armitage.

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