This Friday, the National Football Museum in Manchester is opening a new season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts. One of the highlights of the programme is Out of Play: Technology & Football, an exhibition that explores the impact that new technologies have in the development of the game but also on the way it is experienced by fans around the world.
Out of Play: Technology & Football brings together works by designers, artists, scientists and fans who explore and demonstrate how football and new technology overlap in today's society.
The works on show range from a robotic soccer robot to the Soccket energy generating football, from the ever irresistible and painful Leg Shocker to the world premier of Jer Thorp's immersive installation The Time of the Game. The result is an interactive exhibition that brings into a highly popular museum an entertaining but also critical and provocative view of the impact that technology has on 'the beautiful game.'
The show opens tomorrow and i'm looking forward to visiting it in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime i caught up with curator John O'Shea. You might remember John from his work as an artist. When he isn't busy growing Pigs Bladder Football from living animal cells and developing his other artworks, John is the Art Curator and Head of visual art programme at the NFM. He has spent the past two years embedded in the museum with the goal of establishing an art and technology exhibiting and learning programme from scratch.
Hi John! First of all what can technology do for football? How does it impact the game itself on the football pitch? Excuse my very boring remark but it's always the same game of men running after a ball after all...
Over the past few years, some interesting questions related to technology and football have emerged. For example, during last year's world cup, goal-line technology was introduced following many debates around whether or not football should remain this 'primitive' game or whether technology should intervene on the field.
Connecting with these concerns, last year, the National Football Museum commissioned James Bridle to write a piece about it. In his essay, Spectacular Sports Visualisations, Bridle analyzes football and computer vision technology.
We also collaborated with the festival FutureEverything on a body of works that looks at the intersection of data and football. The commissioned work was the Winning Formula futuristic newspaper by the Near Future Laboratory.
But even data and computer vision fit a conventional story of technology, it's about control, about making the game more consistent.
The exhibition Out of Play is different, it's not about showcasing the latest advances of technology but about looking at the more unusual points where technology and football are intersecting. And the outcomes are often weird, unfamiliar.
The Time of The Game is the major new commission which will be presented within the museum's immersive, 180 degree wrap-around, cinema space. Developed by Jer Thorp with Teju Cole and Mario Klingemann, the work brings together almost 2000 photos made by football fans at the same time as they were watching last year's World Cup. The images show private spaces, public spaces, pubs, etc. Most were taken inside people's homes. What they show is a communal moment shared by people from Nigeria, Brazil, England.... Smartphones equipped with cameras are now almost ubiquitous, you find them everywhere even in poorer countries and it's that technology that makes it possible to represent this moment shared globally by football fans.
There is also a lot of humor in the show. We sometimes forget that football is fun. During our exchange of emails you mentioned the rather unpleasant coverage that FIFA is having at the moment. Do you think this will somehow reflect on the exhibition? (no need to answer this one if you feel the question is irrelevant)
The National Football Museum is an independent museum that tells the story of football in England from the perspective of the fans. The scrutiny FIFA is coming under is not really a surprise for fans as many have been dissatisfied with the federation for years. And this crisis only highlights the poignancy of a work like The Time of the Game.
The reason for this title is that we are looking for a common ground between art and football. (There aren't many!) But one of them is that both football and art have origins in play, they're both about introducing play into something. And in football, just like in art, it is important sometimes to remember not to take things too seriously.
The Humanoid Soccer Robots?! You're going to show them? a whole team? Will they be playing?
With the art programme, we want to broaden the scope of what the museum displays and collects so we've been developing new collaborations and partnerships for the future. Plymouth University is one of those partners. They are the leader in the UK in humanoid soccer robots and participate to the competition organised by the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) since 1997. The robots might look a bit basic but the ultimate goal of the competition is to have them challenge a team of human football champions by 2050. This might sound outlandish but if you think about it, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. No one would have imagine it was possible 35 years before the chess match.
For the exhibition, we will have one of the robots on display and the Plymouth robotic team will come and do a demo (no precise date yet.)
The robot will actually be shown in the same display as Soccket and Leg Shocker. So that's science, art and design, all in the same display. The energy generating ball might look a bit silly but the premise is interesting. Imagine it used in refugee camps for example. Children would play and generate electricity through kinetic action. The third work in the display is Fur's art piece. By new media standards, Leg Shocker is almost an antique. As a museum, we want to be able to collect new media works related to football. As we go along with the art programme, the team here is learning a lot: how to maintain these media works, what role they play as provocative objects, etc.
Could you talk to us about World Scratch day, a series of football-based computing activities aimed at introducing children to code. How does it work? How exactly do kids use football to learn code?
Over the course of the day, 80 children in groups of 6 or 7 came to the museum and were able to create simple animation works related to football, make simple games or work with Sonic Pi software to make their own version of the match of the day theme song. It was like a little hackathon for kinds. Ultimately, what we'd like to do is see groups come and use the museum over the weekends to learn some coding.
Next, i saw that artists are in residency at the NFM. Can you already tell us about their work there? What makes the robot lawnmower an artwork rather than just a robot lawnmower, for example?
We commissioned 4 artistic residencies that enable artists to develop works related to football clubs or to the communities around football. So far, artists were (unsurprisingly) more interested in working with more unusual communities than with football clubs.
Matthew Plummer Fernandez was curious about lawn mowers with computerized systems to design patterns on football pitches. Forest Green FC already has a robotic lawnmower which has its own algorithm for cutting the grass, it 'decides' which areas need to be cut more, which ones need to be cut less. It creates its own version of a field. Matthew wants to understand better the algorithm on board o the lawnmower and then create an online identity for this lawnmower and make it 'the 12th man' of the team.
The other residency has Jen Southern and Chris Speed were interested work with Workington Uppies and Downies. Uppies and Downies is an ancient version of football - a game with no rules. Thousands of men try to move the ball in a scrum up the hill or down to the harbour. The artists placed GPS trackers on some of the men and will be making work based on the data obtained.
Now i'm also curious about your own work at the museum. You head a rather edgy art program in an institution that doesn't usually cater for the traditional art crowd. I think this is a great opportunity you have there! i'm quite jealous. But how do you navigate the desire to show good art and the need to please the 30,000 visitors the museum welcomes each month?
Certain languages, certain conventions are used in established art institutions. At the National Football Museum we have our own etiquette: Interactivity is a given, for example. You can touch things. And the museum is not a white wall space. So the question for me was "How should art fit into this environment?" The challenge here is to exhibit art in a way that is sensitive to both the work and the environment.
The National Football Museum has some challenging displays such as one dedicated to the weapons of hooligans, or football disasters. It also raises critical questions, like the Football Association ban of women playing football on its premises until 1971.
There is sometimes this assumption that making bold statements in an art museum context is going to have a huge impact but often artists are just making a gestures to people already informed about the issue they're trying to address. Basically, the established art community is often just talking to itself. The National Football Museum, I feel belongs more to the public realm and the works in the show have the potential to influence anyone among our visitors, not just a self-selected audience.
Out of Play opens on 19 June at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK. It remains open until 19 July 2015.
Aernoudt Jacobs is an artist fascinated with sound in all its forms and possible expressions. He collects fields recordings around the world but he also creates installations based on Bell's photoacoustic effect that reveals the sonority of any material hit with a strong beam of light, builds sound microscope that magnifies the freezing and melting process of water or suspends coils, magnets and 1000 tin cans into the air to play with the laws of electromagnetic induction and generate tiny vibrations that produce sounds. It is as if everything in the visible and the invisible world provides him with endless opportunities for sound exploration.
Like most of his other installations, Jacob's latest work is half scientific experiment, half art piece. It involves using a membrane made of electroactive polymers as a sort of "living" speaker to autonomously manipulate the playback of a recording he made in a Romanian forest. Which might sound a bit confusing in words but gets instantly clearer if you take a look at the video that documents it:
Under their peaceful, impeccably engineered and elegant appearances, Jacob's installations evoke phenomena that pertain to perception, psychoacoustics, physics and scientific processes. Alluring as they are on youtube and on the pages of his website, his works gain all their dimensions when experienced in situ. Sadly, i never got that chance. Hence my desire to interview the artist:
Hi Aernoudt! I was expecting you to have trained as an artist or musician but i discovered in your bio that you studied Architecture in St. Lukas Ghent. How did you get to go from architecture to sound? How is your architectural training helping you approach your work with sound?
First there was sound/music then I discovered architecture and after that I came back to music/sound again in a professional way. Sound never really left me. I needed more freedom, the kind of freedom you rarely find in architecture. I left the studies after 4 years because real creativity is only a very small part of the job. Anyway that is how I perceived it. But the study itself is extremely broad and it gives a lot of insight. So I never build anything, I did a few years of assistance.
In a way, making sounds/installation is a very architectural process. And a lot of elements of the studies just came back in my actual work (like technological research, using 3D software, material science, philosophy, anthropology, ...) I'm very glad with that background. I just regret that the aspects of acoustics in architecture or even aural architecture was not developed at all in the courses at that time. I think my path would have been completely different if I would have started the studies today. I hear and read that a lot has changed in this regard. Also much more research and publications have been done in the field of building acoustics. There has been an exponential increase in knowledge during last 25 years. And still yet too many buildings have awful acoustics, even spaces where acoustics should be a primordial preoccupation.
There is no sound without space, that is the link between sound and architecture. And I think it is also the main reason why you find a lot of composers who studied architecture.
You are sound artist. But your installations are visually very elegant. Could you talk to us about the visual aspect of your work? How important is it to you? And how does it complement the sound work?
I am an artist that works primarily with the medium of sound. The seed of any work starts with a sonic aspect, and so to speak it progresses from that in a visual way. In general I never disconnect the sonic from the visual in my installations. They are always in tandem. Only a few times I was commissioned to make a 'speaker or headphone' installation because of certain limiting situations (like a public space or imposed infrastructure, ...) and even then the sound was indirectly evoking images.
The visual is also quite important because I tend to work on the transition between what you hear and what you see. The visual is a kind of an interface that brings the medium into motion, into the space, or into something that you can listen to. This interface can be highly technological because I am interested in phenomena, science, experimentation. Or it can be low-fi because I'm an autodidact mostly interested in carrying out research by myself, interested in the first hand experiences of phenomena. In fact, I see it a bit of prolongation of my field recording work where I hunt for sounds or when I try to grasp the origins of sounds.
A couple of your works investigate the photoacoustic effect, a discovery made by Alexander Graham Bell. The technique consisted in creating sound by exposing certain materials to focused beams of light. Light creating sound! That's pretty fascinating. Do you know if there are applications of this effect in non-artistic contexts? Have you ever dreamt of everyday life applications of the photoacoustic effect?
Actually there are a couple of applications that came from Bell's photoacoustic research: fiber-optic communication and the CD player. But those inventions came only definitively through many years later when lasers were invented.
I was reading the description of The Photophon Principle. It says that with the work you were trying to provide a certain kind of musicality: "but in the form of an installation, not of a playable instrument". Why was it important to underline that this is not about making music?
The research around the photoacoustic effect has multiple facets. And at that stage of writing I was primarily interested in presenting a work about a transformation process. Making a composition would ruin the perception of that installation. But just recently I had to make acoustic measurements on Photophon in an anechoic chamber. It would be very interesting to develop a composition in these conditions, then I would definitely treat it as an instrument. Sonically I was very much triggered by the digital sound that Photophon produces.
Making installation work or making a compositions are very different things. A composition is final once it has been published. It has a definite time factor. An installation is not. It is more flexible and it can evolve according to a different factors (space, situation, time, perceptive scope of the visitor, process of development). An installation will never be presented the same way twice.
Do you think it is best to understand the techy/scientific background of some of your pieces to appreciate them? Or can they be enjoyed purely for their sound and the experience they transmit?
The sound and the research of perception in my installations are certainly more important than the technology they use. That said the installations are part of a long process, I'm not interested in hiding completely the technology either. Technology and knowledge is a medium, it is a tool for research.
It also depends on what or how I want to present something. It is more a matter of focus.
Could you tell us about Overtoon which you co-direct with Christoph De Boeck? The objective of this platform and production facility is to 'support artists and give new impulses to the field of sound and media art.' How do you do that? I thought it was already difficult for young artists to support themselves so how do you manage to help other artists as well? And which kind of support do you provide them with?
Overtoon operates since 2013 as a platform for sound art and media art with a strong connection to sound. The platform has major a focus on production, research, residencies, distribution, sharing. Overtoon gives the possibility to develop further our own works, and it also offers yearly long-term residencies to artists with the aim to produce their works; they can also participate in our structure and benefit fully from our facilities. We are currently situated in a high-rise in the centre of Brussels.
They get a studio for one year and can work at their own pace on a specific production that we agreed on. During that year we follow-up the process, we hold regular meetings and we look out for possible partners or presentations. On a parallel level, Overtoon is also supporting the ongoing experiments of other artists; this is more short-time (weeks to couple of months) and depends mostly on request we get and the spaces we have available.
Besides this we organise lectures or presentation relating to the works we produce but it can also be anything touching the field of sound art (producing, presenting, curating, research, science, networks, history, expertise, future developments, ...) In the frame of the exhibition at Z33 we organised a symposium.
I also had a look at the list of artists who undertook a residency with Overtoon and their work is pretty impressive. Each of them has a really strong portfolio. How do you come upon and select the artists to support?
Indeed we are very glad with the responses and productions we have so far. Past yearly residents artists were Jeroen Uyttendaele, Jeroen Vandesande, Gert Aertsen and Stijn Demeulenaere. And this year we have Erik Nerinckx and Katerina Undo.
We don't write out calls. But we organise regular meetings with artist whose works we follow-up. We are open to propositions, and we are also in contact with curators. Sometimes these meetings evolve in time into specific projects, production or residencies.
Now i have a bit of a tricky question (and you can ignore it if you like). In general, our society is very 'visual'. I sometimes feel that it is not so simple to write about sound art. It's quite easy to just fall back onto a technical description of the piece, for example. If i look at the art section of mainstream newspapers, they are full of 'visual art' and 'music'. And sound art falls back somewhere in the middle. Do you feel that sound artists have a disadvantage compare to visual artists?
Not really, sound art has been evolving nicely past decades. I just find it a bit sad that the term sound art exists as a category, it is easy for theoreticians but it is not that interesting for the arts to have categories
On the other hand, as I see it, it is a great way to say that anything can be done with sound.
But I want quote Max Neuhaus (who coined the term sound installation in the sixties):
That work has been featured in Science magazine. While still in a research phase, the prototype has been presented during the exhibition KONTINUUM in Vienna which was organised by Roman Kirschner's Liquid Things. The development was in collaboration with EMPA, Angewandte and Liquid Things. I don't have any specific dates yet for final presentations.
There is a solo exhibition in Kristiansand Kunsthall, Norway that I'm preparing for early September. It is a big exhibition with one in situ work and different other works. It has already a nice title 'Once also this was a mutation' and many of the works deal with the idea of transformation. The exhibition is also part of the PUNKT festival and will feature live performances in the installations by Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, Espen Reinertsen and Marcus Schmickler. The exhibition is curated by Kjell Bjorgeengen.
Heliophone, based on the photoacoustic effect, will be presented in STUK, Leuven at the end of September. This will be accompanied with a small exhibition that lays out the complete photoacoustic research.
Image on the homepage by Kristof Vrancken.
Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite does exactly what its title suggests. Its 14 colourful arrows point you with impeccable accuracy into the direction of the nearest Costco (a warehouse club chain popular in the U.S.), monument or orbiting GPS satellite.
Drawing from ideas in psychogeography, locative technologies and the human sense of location, the work consists of networked electronic pointing devices built into individual flight cases. Each case contains the electronics required to control a pointer arrow held above the case by a telescoping antenna. At its literal base, the cases contain and represent the rational, networked, technologized information available on place and direction. From this base, the antennas extend this information up into a swaying field of poetic movements, governed by materiality more than information.
The absurd piece turns the human sense of direction into a mechanical performance and critically comments on the way our daily perception of the environment is mediated by technology. Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite will be part of the upcoming edition of the Sight & Sound, a festival that brings together digital artworks under a common theme. This year the festival explores the idea of being 'hyperlocal' and Daniel Jolliffe's piece responds well to S+S's exploration of the horizontality of networked art production and its contextualization within an ultra-localized setting.
Since i suspected that Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite was more than the sum of its very humourous parts, i contacted Daniel Jolliffe to know more about his work:
Hi Daniel! One of the striking characteristics of the work is how cheerful and colorful it is. What made you decide to make the installation so visually appealing?
For a long time I have been making works that use sculpture as a kind of camouflage for the electronic systems that give rise to a piece. Partly, this is because I think the idea that plain, or exposed electronics in a work puts ideas about technology in the viewer's head that come mostly from movie clichés about futurist robots and the like. Most people, when presented with an electronic system that is all diodes and motors and integrated circuits have a hard time knowing what is really going on. This means in turn that the possibility of being critical about the ideas in the work gets eaten up by the complex cliché of the technical system. As an artist I would prefer to avoid the discussion of how something works on a technical level, and encourage instead the discussion of what issues the work explores. So, I almost always put the electronic systems I use into sculptural forms that act as a kind of camouflage for the technical system of the work. For "Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite" (NCMS) I went to a lot of trouble to find certain colours for the sculptures and the cables in order to generate the visual feeling you are talking about-- the zone of technological encounter that is playful, non-threatening and hopefully beautiful. I think it also never hurts to employ some classic visual art strategies like colour to engage the viewer on a purely visual level to start off.
(Nearest) Costco, monument or orbiting GPS satellite(s). Why did you pick up the location of those three? Why not nail salons or art museum, for example? The answer to this threads into your first question, as the colour has a lot to do with humour. Lately I have been very interested in having some humour in my work. My performance/sculpture/web work One Free Minute had moments of humour, and I realized with that piece with how powerful it is to make make the viewer laugh. You can make them laugh, and then make them think. In NCMS, the whole premise of the piece is humorous: it's a kind of ridiculous system that actually works! It points to the nearest Costco (from the current show in Wroclaw, it is pointing to the nearest Costco in the UK), the nearest well-known monument (the Aleksander Fredro Statue in Wroclaw) and it goes into a third mode to track the orbiting GPS Satellites. You can, of course, find all these things in a few minutes on your cell phone. Even the current positions of GPS satellites are easily found online. On a more serious level, the three things NCMS points to are loose placeholders for the way we conceptualize places and location in the contemporary mind. Most people can conceptualize in their mind the route from their house to the nearest Costco, IKEA or major chain store. This is one way of thinking about location in the contemporary mind. Another is when you are talking to a friend on the phone or texting to arrange a meeting place: we could meet here, in front of this statue or there, in front of that yellow building. This is a kind of call to the collective memory of place. The third function-- pointing to GPS satellites-- tries to talk about how irrelevant that information is, and in turn about how abstracted and distanced we are from the machines that generate ideas of location in our minds. So the piece is kind of elaborate joke, but it's a serious one. I say this because I think that within the quick and efficient access to location data that we have on our cell phones, there is something lost in the human experience. This is really what this piece is about. It slows down the process of locating things, putting it into a ridiculous visual component form that hopefully makes you think about the the faster systems that we all actually use to find things in real life.
(Nearest) Costco, monument or orbiting GPS satellite(s). Why did you pick up the location of those three? Why not nail salons or art museum, for example?
The answer to this threads into your first question, as the colour has a lot to do with humour. Lately I have been very interested in having some humour in my work. My performance/sculpture/web work One Free Minute had moments of humour, and I realized with that piece with how powerful it is to make make the viewer laugh. You can make them laugh, and then make them think. In NCMS, the whole premise of the piece is humorous: it's a kind of ridiculous system that actually works! It points to the nearest Costco (from the current show in Wroclaw, it is pointing to the nearest Costco in the UK), the nearest well-known monument (the Aleksander Fredro Statue in Wroclaw) and it goes into a third mode to track the orbiting GPS Satellites. You can, of course, find all these things in a few minutes on your cell phone. Even the current positions of GPS satellites are easily found online.
On a more serious level, the three things NCMS points to are loose placeholders for the way we conceptualize places and location in the contemporary mind. Most people can conceptualize in their mind the route from their house to the nearest Costco, IKEA or major chain store. This is one way of thinking about location in the contemporary mind. Another is when you are talking to a friend on the phone or texting to arrange a meeting place: we could meet here, in front of this statue or there, in front of that yellow building. This is a kind of call to the collective memory of place.
The third function-- pointing to GPS satellites-- tries to talk about how irrelevant that information is, and in turn about how abstracted and distanced we are from the machines that generate ideas of location in our minds.
So the piece is kind of elaborate joke, but it's a serious one. I say this because I think that within the quick and efficient access to location data that we have on our cell phones, there is something lost in the human experience. This is really what this piece is about. It slows down the process of locating things, putting it into a ridiculous visual component form that hopefully makes you think about the the faster systems that we all actually use to find things in real life.
I had a look at the video of the work of course and believe it or not, i was actually amazed to see that all the arrows ended up pointing to the exact same direction. does it always work so flawlessly? Apologies for the dumb question but what happens when the nearest monument is actually 2 monuments located at the same distance from your piece?
I've just set it up at the WRO media art Biennale in Wroclaw, and watching it, I'm amazed too that it does indeed flawlessly point out the actual locations. The way it is programmed, it sometimes takes one or two of the arrow pointers a while to catch up. It's like the person in a group of people who finally agrees with the others about the right way to get to the restaurant. This makes me laugh almost every time.
There is no confusion about pointing to the nearest monument, and it does this spot-on every time. The way I get this information very low-tech. First I ask a number of local people where the most significant and well- known local monuments and meeting places are. Once i decide which one the piece will point to, I ask two or three local people to do that in real life. After that I turn the way they pointed with their arms (the angle, basically) into code for the piece. This way the arrows are just reproducing what a local person would do if you asked them.
Was there any challenge you encountered while developing the work?
About a hundred, but happily they are all behind me now! It took a long time to figure out how to get the arrows into the air and have them reliably point. I also did three different sculptural prototypes of the work before I came up with this one.
What's next for you? Any upcoming event, field of research or project you'd like to share with us?
I am working on some more work to do with humour. This piece is travelling a few places this year, to Montreal, then to the Museum of Nantes in France and finally to ISEA in Vancouver.
Check out Daniel Jolliffe's Nearest Costco, Monument or Satellite at the Sight & Sound festival in Montreal next week from 20 May until 24 May 2015. The programme is pretty good this year, Nicolas Maigret will launch another of his drone performances and Martin Howse will be doing a Earth Coding workshop.
In the South of Spain runs a river so red and soalien-looking that the Spain tourism board is marketing it as Mars on Earth. NASA scientists even came to the area to investigate the ecosystem for its similarities to the planet Mars.
Due (mostly) to the intense mining for copper, silver, gold, and other mineral in the area, the Rio Tinto is highly acidic, its water has a low oxygen content and it is made dense by the metals it carries in suspension. Its deep reddish hue is caused by the iron dissolved in the water.
Cecilia Jonsson visited the region to collect some of the wild grass that grows on the borders of the Rio Tinto. The name of that grass is Imperata cylindrica. It is a highly invasive weed and its other particularity is that it is an iron hyperaccumulater, which means that the plant literally drinks up the metal in the soil and stores high levels of it in its leaves, stems and roots.
The artist harvested 24kg of Imperata cylindrica and worked with smiths, scientists, technicians and farmers in order to extract the iron ore from the plants and use it to make an iron ring. The innovative experiment brought together the biological, the industrial, the technological and even craft to create a piece of jewellery that weights 2 grams. The project also suggests a way to reverse the contamination process while at the same time mining iron ore from the damaged environment.
While "green mining" aims for a more ecological approach to mining metals, The Iron Ring explores how contaminated mining grounds may benefit from the mining of metals.
Cecilia Jonsson's mining adventures are detailed in the e-book of the project but i found her investigation into the overlaps between nature and technology so fascinating that i contacted her in the hope that she'd agree to an interview. And lucky me, she did!
Hi Cecilia! I am very curious to know more about the way you, as someone who was primarily trained to be an artist, approach the science/technology side of your projects. Do you typically work with experts to assist you in your research? Or do you just learn the skills and work on your own? Or maybe a bit of both?
My constructions are a combination of hypothesizing outcomes plus trial and error, especially within parameters of biology, physics and technology. Informed by methods used in the natural sciences and empirical material in a site-related context. Mostly they take the form as installation which are the result of intense field work.
The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier claimed that the great error of the Surrealists was their own lack of faith: they tried to create the marvelous without really believing in it. "Objects" are often a living metaphor of their own history, their formation. To follow their trace through a wide flow of informative perspectives captures a reverberant relation of objective and subjective distinctions in a sort of intermingled morphology. Built on this quantitative data, the cluster eventually starts to web. When the notion of reality shifts into real it has become a concrete term. Which directs me to sites, material, methods and technologies including disseminated collaborations within other disciplines.
The Iron Ring is an incredible project. You extracted iron from plants and made a ring from what you collected. How did you discover the existence of those iron-containing plants?
Since iron is not the most toxic pollutant, has a low economical and symbolic value and can be virtually scooped up from everywhere, it was tricky to apply the idea to the knowledge base of present-day remediation processes. The research started around five years ago, from my interest for iron in its intrinsic qualities and paradoxical changes. I was looking into experiments of electro-culture, plant communication and how plants can be applied as analytical filters, as a mirroring of their own environment. I found some plants that are more tolerant to iron and are able to grow on this type of contaminated soils. But, most coherent plant studies about efficient iron uptake mostly targeted the human perspective in relation to high organic iron content as an effective adjunct in the treatment of iron deficiency and anemia.
The research was conducted for the project The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra from 2012. The installation shows an ambiguous process of an iron hyperaccumulating plant taking up magnetized iron particles that have been scraped of from a reel-to-reel tape of Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. On a later stage the iron was extracted again, glued back to the tape and played, resulting in a reinterpretation of The Four Seasons. This work is a predecessor to The Iron Ring were I was interested in taking a more straight functional and site-specific approach to the grass unique ability to extract and encapsulate iron.
The defined iron hyperaccumulating plant with a minimum required amount of 10000 mg/kg Fe revealed in research articles on plant physiology and biochemistry from the university in Madrid. The constructive study had been conducted on the naturalized weed Imperata cylindrica. Collected from the highly acidic (pH 1.6-2) riverbanks of the Rio Tinto in the mining district Rio Tinto in South-western Spain. That model presented me results and a first equation for the calculations of the Iron Ring.
What was the most challenging aspect in the project? Were there moments you thought it was a mad idea and you'd better give up on it? Or did you know right from the start that everything would go according to plans?
I had actual figures on an expected iron content from the grass in Spain. I knew how to extract iron from organic material and had read about iron reduction and deoxidization processes. It was possible. The next step was to figure out the practical weight of how much bio-ore was actually needed for the process of making a ring of 2 grams. I made some calls to traditionally trained smiths to discuss my idea and I got suggestions on possible processes and an "about" quantity.
The greatest challenge was always the restricted iron quantity to create one ring. The problem isn't the metal but its proportion of mass (quote). The thin ring is a complex form to cast even with industrial produced iron. Cast iron is very susceptible to loss of metallization at high temperatures, such as the melt temperature required for the cast. A consequence of this is that with each new attempt we made there was a continuous formation of slag and an equal loss of iron. The inclusion of even small amounts of some elements can have profound effects. Because of the impurities in cast iron and its crystalline structure, it is a strong material in compression but weak in tension and very brittle. As a result, when it fails, it does so in an explosive manner, with little warning.
The project starts with humble plants and end up with a tiny little ring. But what I found amazing was the amount of craft, heavy industrial processes and knowledge required to go from plant to ring. What have you learnt about the flow of organic matter while working on the project?
From working with iron as material, the matter itself as well as on its interaction with the living. The Iron Ring has really broadened my understanding of the complexity of ecosystems. From the field to the laboratory-scale to craftsmanship and industry, I have had a proper opportunity to build collaborations with proficiency on a wide scale. Their engagement to think out of the box and the connectedness to sort of re-invent and re-discover iron production in our industrial age, has really made a strong impression.
The Iron Ring also highlights the toxic impact of mineral exploitation on the environment. However, you write in the description of the project: "The result is a scenario for iron mining that, instead of furthering destruction, could actually contribute to the environmental rehabilitation of abandoned metal mines." Could you elaborate on this rehabilitation of the abandoned mines? How would that work? What would it be like?
The abandoned mines in Rio Tinto are a no man's land. Apart from tourists who come to visit the unworldly sites, the area continues its forgotten glory to slump and erode. Rio Tinto has a dark, long history of being exploited for ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, copper, gold, silver and lead and due to its historical perspective the rightful ownership of the excavated mess is undefined and beyond present laws of remediation. To stabilize or reduce contamination of sites like Rio Tinto, you first need to analyse the soil and from that result, plant several different types of hyperaccumulating and tolerant green plants.
The project elaborates on this possibility to utilize the cleansing process of the naturalized grass, which overlooked ability is left unutilized. The project proposes to harvest the grass for the purpose of extracting the ore that is inside them. The idea of the ring is to complete the circle, to maintain the clean-up commitment. So that when the soil is stabilized, other native plants can be introduced to restore the biodiversity and help bring back the heritage of flora that was lost through the human activity.
There are many layers behind the "rehabilitation" statement. Which under controlled conditions could include the naturalized grass: Imperata cylindrica in a remediation process where its biomass is utilized for iron production. A larger harvest would also contribute to less complications and a more refined iron production with less slag and more iron in just two steps. Going back to the complexity of ecosystems and my second connotation of the "rehabilitation". Which is to utilize the already inhabited weed to be able to control its spread in the environment. Imperata cylindrica is an aggressive fast-growing perennial grass that can and has become an ecological threat. It's listed as one of the ten worst weeds in the world and is placed on the U.S. Federal Noxious Weed list, which prohibits new plantings. The grass does not survive in cultivated areas but establishes along roadways, in forests and mining areas, where it forms dense mats of thatch that shade and outcompete native plants.
The enigma of use- and exchange-value enchants me as well as the perspectives on precious matter and how it earns its cultural weight. Something that I think Ralph W. Emerson beautifully formulates in What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. A metal is deemed to be precious if it is rare and on account of its material nature and rarity, the high value is linked to its cost of extraction.
How long did the whole process take? From the moment you found the plants to the final realization of the ring?
From when the first plant community was found in Spain to the ring had become one continuous solid, 5 weeks of intensive work.
Could you explain what we can see in the photos of the installation Stratigrafi? What is the strange metallic sculpture?
Stratigrafi is a work developed in collaboration with colleague Signe Lidén. Thematically, we were exploring cavities, man-made places and fundamental changes of the landscape. Exploring the mine as an in-between space a geographical cavity between nature, ideas and technologies and how history works way through its forms. Signe had been in Kakanj in central Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bytom in Poland to explore coal mines. I had gathered material in relation to iron from re-vegetation institutes and large-scale surface mining in the region of the Iron Quadrangle, southeast Brazil. The installation intertwined our works where one was taken inside and introduced to impressions from these places. Representations, imitations, scent, recordings, objects and photographs from the sites.
The metal sculpture is a propane driven apparatus, a citrus distiller. The steam was forced through the citrus material and transported onward through the condenser where the temperature is lowered and consistently forms refined acidic drops and erosion. In the windows scorched wood were piled up and filling the room with intense scent. A video without sound projected an exotic landscape in one meeting with passing carts filled with iron ore. The light table consisted of oscillating reversal film, archive material, seeds, a small projection and an exhibition text written by Roar Sletteland. The visitor obtained an auditory access to these sceneries by putting their heads into listening boxes.
I'm also fascinated by the work Water extraction, Geneva. The work seems to be about global warming. Could you explain the installation?
Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009 was a site specific work consisted of three water extracts, three modified found light bulbs and one light sourced bulb. For the installation, the wooden planks in the floor of the exhibition space were removed, uplifted and were then used to create a platform and a bridged island to the work.
The work looks at the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and the changes it brings with it. A glacier is important for freshwater storage, while glaciers also can be regarded as reservoirs for the production of electricity through their seasonal water flow. The project focuses on the melting of the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland, which over the past ten years has lost 6% of its mass. The raising temperatures in the region have a strong influence on the seasonal runoff regime of the alpine streams. Where the Rhone glacier runoff with the residues it brings with it, is the main water source for the largest freshwater reservoir in Europe, Lake Geneva.
You are currently in Venice for a residency at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa. What are you working on over there? What is the residency about?
It's a three months residency from February to mid May supported by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. I'm here to develop a new work, a hydrodynamic analogy that acoustically transcribes an interdependent exchange between external forces and internal positive feedback. The Venice lagoon is a delicately balanced natural system that combines to produce one of the largest wetlands in the Mediterranean. Land and water are intermingled. An urban Lagoon, a natural Venice as Marcel Proust captures the reverberant paradox relationship. The project explores the Venice Lagoon's sedimentary environment, its dynamics and composition and is developed in collaboration with the University of Padova at the Hydrobiological Station in Chioggia in the Veneto region.
After Venice, I will be in Helsinki for a collaborative project on magnetotactic bacteria as part of my participation in a research platform for Art and Synthetic Biology at Biofilia, Alto University. In the fall I will undertake a three-month's residency in Marseille at Triangle France. Let's say there are a few larger research projects under development and works that are more in the making for planned venues.
A quick post to let you know about the really REALLY nice book i received the other day. I can't stop playing with it. The publication celebrates Staalplaat Soundsystem's brilliant work.
You probably know them already. Geert-Jan Hobijn started Staalplaat as a record label in the 1980s. He then expanded his label with a radio programme, a record shop, a magazine and, around the year 2000, he founded Staalplaat Soundsystem, the artistic branch of Staalplaat. I've always been a big fan of their noise-making machines and performances that use all kinds of toys, tools, natural or urban settings and electronic junk. Think car horn concert, compositions for vacuum cleaners or washing machines, machines for the 'spirit of dead computers', toy cars driving over vinyl grooves, etc.
The book/turntable/music gadget was published after Hobijn won the Witteveen+Bos Art+Technology Award which goes every year to a visual artist whose work unites the disciplines of art and technology in an exceptional manner and for whom engineering is far more than a means to an end.
In typical Staalplaat fashion, the publication only serves as a pretext for letting people have fun with sound. It comes with a nifty paper turntable, a music instrument you activate by plugging in a small battery and i even got a pencil to play with the turntable. There's also a book, by the way.
Geert-Jan Hobijn, Composed Nature, part of the exhibition Om, 2014. Video Witteveen+Bos
The publication and the Art+Technology Award were accompanied by an exhibition featuring an indoor version of Staalplaat's Composed Nature inside the Bergkerk Church as part of the exhibition 'Om'.
Seventy trees were placed in the centre of the church. Visitors of the show could dial a phone number and select one of three compositions. Vintage kitchen mixers attached to the tree trunks were then activated and made the tree rustle according to the chosen composition.
Photo on the homepage: AV festival.
Adam Basanta, The sound of empty space
If you happen to be in Montreal this week, drop by the Galerie B-312 where composer and sound artist Adam Basanta has installed a series of works that play with self-generating microphone feedback. Each of the 3 works in the gallery examines, in its own witty and transparent way, the idea of sound as a mutable product of interdependent networks of physical, cultural and economic relations.
Amplifying and aestheticizing the acoustic inactivity between technological "inputs" and "outputs" - stand-ins for their corporeal correlates, the ear and mouth - the notion of a causal sound producing object is challenged, and questions are posed as to the status of the ʻamplifiedʼ. By building flawed technological systems and nullifying their intended potential for communication, the ear is turned towards the empty space between components; to the unique configurations of each amplifying assemblage.
In The loudest sound in the room experienced very quietly, a feedback loop between microphone, PA system amplifier, and speaker cone is enclosed within a soundproof aquarium. The sound level within the enclosure reaches an ear-damaging 120dB, approximately the loudness of a car horn at close distance.
Pirouette further explores the notion of amplification systems as self-generating sound producers. A microphone rotates slowly and triggers a tuned feedback melody as it comes nearer to one of the seven speaker cones. It takes nine full rotations of the microphone to reveal a skeletal version of the main theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet.
In the third work in the series, Vessel, the naturally resonant acoustic properties of a large glass jar are amplified, creating a feedback monody by varying the distance between speaker and microphone.
How could i resist the temptation to interview an artist who can not only turn the usually unpleasant microphone feedback into beautiful artifacts but whose past projects also include a performance in which he played Music for Lamps.
Hi Adam! Could you give more details about Pirouette? How does it work exactly?
In Pirouette, a microphone standing on a raised platform spins slowly, hovering over 7 suspended speaker cones. As the microphone hovers over each speaker, it enables a feedback loop: the microphone "hears" the speaker amplifying the microphone, and on and on until we hear microphone feedback or Larsen tones.
Usually, this type of feedback would be very loud. But in Pirouette, the feedback is tuned and controlled by computer algorithms to create a slowly evolving feedback melody. A custom made software is inserted between the microphone and speakers, filtering out all but a very narrow range of audible frequencies. The frequencies which are allowed to "pass through" the filter are the ones that end up feeding back. In this way, I was able to create a very precise sequence of tonal pitches - the main theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet - using feedback.
As well, the computer algorithms control the overall volume and amplitude envelope of each feedback note. As the microphone hovers over a particular speaker, the gain of the channel is adjusted based on how loud the particular feedback note is: if it gets too loud, the computer brings down the gain while if it is too quiet, the computer will compensate the gain and make it a little louder.
The description of The Sound of Empty Space talks about 'building flawed technological systems'. Can you talk about these flaws? What makes them interesting and how did you exploit their potential?
Well, the flaws are found in the ways I use or rearrange elements of commercial sound technologies. Pointing a microphone directly at a speaker is a basic error, the first thing you learn to avoid if you are working with amplified sound in whatever context. It is a flawed use of the equipment, in the sense that normally you would want the system to amplify something "worthwhile" (a musician, a speech etc). When feedback occurs, it makes the entire sound reinforecement system useless, because it is at its very basis a method to communicate information, and feedback nullifies this potential; it 'jams' the system, it is noise, it doesn't allow "sanctioned" sounds to be amplified.
So why do this in the first place? Well, I've been involved in making music in different contexts since I was about 12. As much as this is a fun thing to be involved in, I've come to realize that it is a huge industry - I like to call it the industry of 'self expression' - complete with industry magazines, blogs, and allegiances to this company or the other and whichever 'lifestyle' they are selling. I really dislike "gear-culture", but at the same time these are still very much my artistic tools, both personally and culturally: just like a folk singer has a guitar, I have microphones and amplifiers and speakers.
So in a way, arranging these elements in a flawed way - in a way that goes against the original commercial intent of the object - is my way of remaining creative with tools that are in many ways designed in a way which often limits creativity. I try to do this in a very non-antagonistic way: I'm not really interested in a grand rebellious gesture, but more in a gentler form of perversion. I am trying to make something beautiful, something that people can get lost listening to, out of this flaw or error.
At the same time, the more I think about feedback and the more I work with it as sonic material, the more I find it fascinating conceptually. It is an emergent phenomena, in that it relies on the configuration of microphone, speaker and acoustic environment. It reveals aural dimensions of architecture to which we don't have easy (visual) access to. There is no real "causal" element in the feedback chain - all the components are "passive" sort to speak - you can't really say that the speaker is producing the sound more than the microphone is. And in a sense, this is a really beautiful and powerful metaphor for listening in general: perceiving the sound of a guitar or a bird or your lover's voice has as much to do with one's own physiological or psychophysical attributes (for instance, the length of the auditory canal), one's intention (am I hearing or listening?), and the general context in which the sound is produced.
You are a composer and sound artist. Yet, your installation have obvious aesthetically qualities. Could you talk to us about the visual aspect of your work? Is it important to you? Does it complement the sound work?
Although my training is in sound and music, and I was never really involved in visual art, the visual aspect of these works is critical for me. As opposed to sound, which evolves in time, visual impressions are immediate, so it is really the way to get people curious about the work. With that in mind, I try to use a visual vocabulary that creates a mix of transparency and mystery. Transparency in the sense that I present my materials - microphones, speakers, amplifiers, cables - in a very matter of fact way: here they are, here is how they are connected together. At the same time, some elements are hidden - often, this involves the computer - and so even though we see these recognizable materials there is a sense of mystery or surprise with regard to the qualities of the sounds, or exactly how they are being produced.
With this exhibition in particular, I've been very interested in combining visual and sonic materials in a way that creates an intertwined web of references, and in this way create richer listening situation. The use of microphones, speakers and public address amplifiers - objects that embody communication and sound reproduction technologies - are obvious examples of this. Subtler references include Vessel's resemblance to an "impossible bottle / ship in a bottle", as well as Pirouette's visual reference to a rotating music-box ballerina coupled with the aural reference to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Even small details, such as the use of 7 speakers in Pirouette, reference the 7 tone scale in Western harmony.
Of course, not all of these will be picked up by visitors, and the works can be enjoyed on a "purely aural" level (if that even exists). But to me this is the biggest impetus to create sound art (as a separate practice from concert music): the potential to combine visual references, conceptual ideas, and sonic material (in all its richness and wordless intoxication) in order to create some sort of hybrid listening experience.
We live in a very visual society. And sound art is often reduced to just music. I also often find that art journalists, bloggers and critics (apart from those who specialize in sound art of course) are a bit at loss when it comes to writing about sound art.
Do you feel that sound artists have a disadvantage compared to visual artists?
I suppose so. It certainly is a more marginal practice in terms of number of practitioners and institutions, and general 'visibility'. Of course, it also has less commercial potential because it tends to subvert the idea of an art object in favour of an in-situ experience. At the same time, I feel people respond strongly to sound art for precisely these reasons, so I suppose there are two sides to the coin.
Any other upcoming exhibition, research or project you could share with us?
At the moment, I am hard at work writing some new chamber music pieces for instruments and live electronics, to be performed by Montreal-based ensembles Magnitude6 and Architek Percussion. In terms of sound art installations, I'm continuing to develop some of the threads evident in The sound of empty space, although with some subtle variations. In June, I will create a site-specific feedback installation for the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, NM, which will explore ideas of feedback as indicator of physical acoustic space in a very large spatial setting. This fall I will be in residency at Titanik Gallery in Turku, Finland, where I will work towards a new exhibition at the Gallery in the end of October 2015, which will examine relationships between instruments of mass communication, the materiality of communication signals, and subjectivities of listening.