Let's pretend it's November 2010 and i'm writing a perfectly timely report from the STRP festival in Eindhoven. Well, i did try at the time (cf. The Physiognomic Scrutinizer and Pattern Recognition - Art for animals) but that was very far from making justice to the programme. STRP is one ambitious art & tech affair which most of the taxi drivers who dropped me to the old klokgebouw venue unceremoniously called 'The Party'. STRP does indeed offers one hell of 10 day long party:
The last edition of STRP attracted almost 30,000 visitors. They came for the concerts and parties of course, but also for the performances, exhibitions, screenings, live discussions, conferences, games and workshops.
The exhibition was particularly exciting with its mix of low tech and high tech. Zilvinas Kempinas' Double O which i had seen only in contemporary art fairs so far is made of just two fans and a strip of recording tape. You switch on the fans and hey presto! you get a sculpture that hovers between sheer poetry and vintage tech. At the other end of the spectrum were works such as Acclair's Art Valuation Service (AVS) that monitors your brain activity as you visit STRP's art exhibition.
For the first time since its creation, STRP dedicated part of his enormous exhibition space to a survey of the work by a young artist. They had the magnificent idea to chose Lawrence Malstaf, an ex-theatre set designer who's been quietly building his artistic career in the mid-1990s. The international new media art circuit discovered Malstaf's work a couple of years ago and his installations have been gracing the likes of ZKM, Vooruit and the Japan Media Arts festival ever since.
Malstaf's most puzzling and iconic works were there. From the now world famous vacuum-packing experience provided by Shrink....
... to the ars electronica anointed Nemo Observatorium:
And then there were pieces which are equally noteworthy but might not have attained the same media-attention just yet. Such as a belt to navigate invisible architecture, the moving labyrinth of Nevel...
... a duo of conveyor belts running very slowly in opposite directions. Rolls and wheels hidden underneath add a tactile dimension to the experience.
I was both attracted and horrified by Shaft which has you laying with your face under a transparent shaft where plates hover and dance until they collide and break on the bulletproof glass. Just. Above. Your nose.
More goodies awaited in the other exhibition rooms:
Lyndsey Housden & Yoko Seyama's Transient Landscapes is a performance installation that constructs and re-constructs the architecture of a room. On entering this field of vertical white lines performers as well as visitors can shape the space into patterns and images reminiscent of cityscapes and landscapes.
I felt immensely sorry for the poor electric fish brought from the Amazon River to be squeezed in a tank, endlessly photographed by curious visitors and form a choir based on their sonified electric fields.
Colin Ponthot's Monster Happy Tape is a blob of used audio tape hanging from the ceiling. By grabbing one of the yellow cables with magnetic heads at their extremity, visitors could play back sounds that might have been registered on the tape. A particular success with the kids who probably needed to be explained what a tape and a walkman are/used to be but also how physical sound can be.
There was also a big plush cat in the adjacent room:
A few months ago, the Waag Society in Amsterdam teamed up with the Netherlands Genomics Initiative and the Centre for Society and Genomics to launch the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award which invited emerging artists and designers to submit projects involving the exploration of Life Sciences. The works selected were to be developed together with the country's most prestigious genomics centres.
You might have heard of similar initiatives in the USA or in the UK but mainland Europe doesn't have such a strong tradition of setting up collaboration between research centers and artists/designers. Hopefully, the DA4GA award will pave the way for more partnerships of the kind both in The Netherlands and in the rest of Europe.
The winning projects were revealed last month: a bullet proof skin, an ecological bioreactor and an opera performed by mutated worms. The winning proposals will be exhibited from mid-June until the end of December 2011 but the curious blogger in me wanted to have a sneak peak of the 3 projects before they go on show. In the coming days i'm going to dedicate several posts on the winning works as well as on the award itself. And i'm opening the series with the Microscopic Opera!
Hi Matthijs! I had a look at your portfolio and unless i missed something it seems that you haven't worked much with genetics so far. Did you find it difficult to get to grips with this rather techy field? How much of a challenge was it to approach genetics as a visual artist?
No, I didn't have any experience in this field. When I started working on this project I read Denis Noble's book The Music of Life, which I can recommend to anyone, to become a little bit more familiar with systems biology and genetics. For me as well as for the scientist from NCSB brainstorming on this project together was very interesting. I thought it would be a lot more difficult, but it turned out to work great.
Can you give us more details about what you hope to realize with this project?
In my project I'm using common research tools, but instead of using them for scientific research I use them to create an art piece.
The organisms I use in the installation are C. elegans, used extensively in scientific research, for a wide array of purposes. Often this research involves C. elegans that have been given a mutation that is not visible under the microscope. As a handy tool, researchers give these worms an extra mutation that makes them move in a different way; they are twitching, or moving like a corkscrew, or they become really obese. In my installation I use these handicapped mutants, and translate their movement into sound. The worms are projected in real time on screens behind them. I want to control the movement of the worms to a certain degree with temperature and vibration, to create a composition based on an opera. I'm working on making the worms control a synthesized opera voice, and I try to use the same image analysis algorithms researchers at NCSB use.
With this project I try to research the artistic value of some research tools, and shine a new light on them. On the other hand I'm also fascinated by the worms, who have no idea of the world above them. We are like gods to these little lab worms, following them from their first cell division to their death, manipulating their bodies and mutating their DNA. Are we really like gods, or are we like the worms, unaware of the things above us in a different dimension, the biggest thing becoming the tiniest.
How did you get interested in this humble worm?
C. elegans has been used extensively as a model organism and a researcher introduced me to them. Not only does it move in an elegant way, like its name suggests, it's also the first multicellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced. Besides these nice aspects they are also easy to keep and you can even train them to some extent.
The results of the competition have been announced last month. Have you already started to work on Microscopic Opera? How is the collaboration with Netherlands Consortium for Systems Biology taking shape? Are they mostly your consultant when you need some feedback about the most scientific details or do you have a more symbiotic relationship with them? Do you work at their venue for example?
Yes I've started expermenting with the worms and doing some programming. I've also done a lot of discussing with the NCSB team, mostly consulting me on technical issues, but I'll also be working some more in their lab, which I'm very looking forward to.
All images courtesy Matthijs Munnik.
Olala! I'm ridiculously late with the remains of my reports from the Artissima art fair which took place in Turin last November. I posted a couple of quick stories a while back then got on a plane and left catalogues, scraps of papers, hasty notes and memories home. I know new year's resolutions are made never to be respected, but i do hope 2011 will see some form of organization in the way i schedule my reports.
The last edition of Artissima was good. But then i'd usually say such thing because i love art fairs. The booth ladies always wear fancy, sexy attires, none of them has ever heard about the existence of art blogs, i see free booze in my fancy press bag, the concept of a fair makes it possible to ask questions you'd never dare to ask in a gallery or museum, and there are more artworks than even i can absorb. The event this year took place at at the comfortable and luminous Oval - a pavilion built for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin.
Artissima offered dance shows, performances, mega structures made of trash (see Artissima - the House of Contamination) and a few young galleries and artists i was happy to discover. This post will focus on the installations i found particularly striking:
One of the most amazing, yet simple, works at the art fair was a light projection by Ulrich Vogl. Neatly aligned projectors from all brands and sizes were casting onto the wall of the booth slide images that, seen together, suggested the night-time skyline of a distant metropolis.
In 1997 Carl Michael von Hausswolf initiated a series of works under the title "Operations of Spirit Communication", inspired by his research on Electronic Voice Phenomena techniques. His ready-made machines were showing the possibilities of ghosts and other kinds of life forms living inside a certain space or inside the electricity grids. Unfortunately for me the lovely person in charge of the Niklas Belenius booth was a friend of the gallerist and he could not give me much information about this particular piece. He merely gave me the name of the artist and had me press a couple of buttons.
Superflex was showing the Anti-Piracy Machine, from its Free beer / Counter game strategies series. Anti-Piracy Machine models the struggle against counterfeit goods. One player (the 'pirate') places bootleg material (represented by potatos) into the marketplace (represented by the launching tube). The other player (the 'police') uses the subtle and finely-tuned instrument of the law (represented here by a hammer) to remove pirate material from circulation. Five points to the pirate for every potato missed, one point to the police for every potato hit.
Niklas Belenius's booth (again!) had photo documentation of John Duncan's installation The Rage Room, part of The Dream House in which each room is specifically designed to evoke a specific state of consciousness.
Susan Norrie's stunning video installation was dedicated to the people of Porong and East Java who are battling the biggest mud volcano in the world. In 2006, an eruption at the Banjar Panji 1 gas and oil drilling well created an environmental disaster in the region that continues to this day. Company officials claimed that a distant earthquake had triggered the eruption; others believed that the catastrophe was primarily due to the mining company's operational negligence.
The toxic fumes spreading from the well include hydrogen sulphide, which causes long-term neurological and physical effects. The mudslide inundated villages, leaving more than tens of thousands of people homeless. It is expected that the flow will continue for the next 30 years.
Lou Reed lighting a cigarette on the first track, side one, of the LP Take No Prisoners, recorded live at the Bottom Line, New York, May 1978. The sound is played through a microphone connected to the headphones output of a 1970s reel-to-reel tape recorder.
And a very happy new year to you dear readers.
The installation borrows the name of the famous tennis champion, except that the sole role humans can play here is the most humble one: picking up lost balls. That's if they dare to approach NADAL.
In NADAL's degenerated form of tennis, several tennis ball machines propel balls on a meticulously calibrated trajectory that animate and play with the architectural space.
The description of the installation was so succinct (something the French have not quite used me to!) that i decided to ask Paul Destieu a couple of questions about his curious machine:
The text on your website says that "The machine propels balls on a meticulously calibrated trajectory in order to generate a space emulation." Can you tell us how you calibrated this trajectory? How was this calibration designed (technically) and why you designed it that way? To what purpose?
The project NADAL is an attempt to develop a game of bouncing balls and trajectories which runs in loop through the space. This circuit is activated by 4 tennis ball machines, each of them functions as checkpoints for the balls and they are calibrated in order to shape a relay form. The calibration is also developed with a site specific concern, in order to produce some bouncing interactions and a vigorous circulation in the environment where it is integrated.
At the Fondation Vasarely, the circuit is based on a symmetrical pattern of trajectories and it produces a circulation all around the central column of the hexagonal shaped room. I use the several grounds/sides of the space - walls, ceiling and ground - to enable a physical activation and a confrontation with the architectural scale.
Are the tennis ball machines interacting with each other or does each one follow its own rules?
The installation is launched by a motion censor which aims at synchronizing the global circuit, then the machine is set in order to feed the other one. If the interaction between the 4 machines is reduced to a minimal level, the purview takes its revenge on the dialogue that is engaged with the architecture. The interaction is perhaps shifted to the relation between the machines and their environment which equally rules the system and articulates it.
When i saw the installation at the Fondation Vasarely i was particularly seduced by the sound. Then i was irritated, because the machine seemed to be happy to play on its own and no human was necessary, except to collect balls. I can't decide whether you made the project because you love or hate tennis. Or is project NADAL a twisted take on the ever so popular "interactivity"?
The sound definitely plays an important role in this installation. The motors produces a latent mechanical background noise punctuated by the impacts of balls. Depending on the speed of the balls, the bounces are more or less violent and echo through the space as an answer to the architecture.
The machines which are used in this installation are rudimentary kinds of tennis robots. Like every machines, their are designed with a margin of error and they love expressing it.
The project NADAL is an attempt to get close to a geometrical fantasy. By facing the limits of performance and failure, by challenging borders between a champion and a machine, it can be seen as one of the constant love & hate story (interaction) which shapes our relationship with technologies.
What are the minimum architectural space characteristics that the work requires? Is the effect of the installation completely different whether the room is larger, smaller, higher, etc?
The installation NADAL can be adapted to many configurations, but the most minimal one I could think of, still requires a basket for the machine to enable the reception of the balls and of course electricity. The first version of the project was supplied by a single machine that was looping on its own. I recently presented in Maribor, Slovenia, a version based on two arches facing each other, leading the visitor's flow on an orthogonal circuit around the looping relay.
I first imagined NADAL in an outdoor urban context, but it seems that the indoor configuration produced an efficient contrast out of the strength of the ejected balls compressed in a closed environment. That was my very late discovery of Squash, it felt like you could get a raw and physical taste of surrounding walls which could be a solid starting point of work.
In both of these practices, it seems that there is an hijacking process of the close environment. Walls and buildings loose their natures of physical borders to be turned into playgrounds. It was also my approach in this work, I tried to take advantage
Just a really quick post to tell you that if you live within a 4 hours by TGV radius from lovely Aix-en-Provence, you should head to your car or the nearest train station and visit the sixth edition of the GAMERZ festival. I had to chance to attend the opening and i can tell you it's good. Very good.
GAMERZ festival runs until the 19th December and spreads to various cultural centers all over the city. The focus of the festival is gaming of course but the installations, performances, robots, screenings, talks and video games by 85 French and international artists also reach out to other areas where contemporary art and new technologies interact. Not strictly and solely game thus but there's always an element of entertainment. And in many cases, a critical agenda as well.
Just a few images as a teaser and i'll be back with a series of reports when i'm done sorting out all the images and information laying in and around my lapotop.
You can visit the GAMERZ festival until the 19th December, 2010 in Aix-en-Provence, France.
I'm competing for the title of laziest art blogger this year so here's a very quick post....
If you're in Paris too, you might like to swing by rue de Turenne and see a couple of easy (on your brain) exhibitions at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. I had already admired the work of Paola Pivi in Milan a few years ago when she filled a disused ex-industrial space with a menagerie of white animals. This time the artist has hung 25 fake bear rugs in a perfect, cozy circle up and down the walls of one of the exhibition rooms.
Upstairs, KAWS exhibition, Pay the Debt to Nature prominently features paintings and giant versions of some of his star toys.