Back from a quick visit to the Royal College of Art Summer Show in London. I stayed 3 hours there and only managed to speak to 5 students, that's how ridiculously inefficient i am.
Because they spend most of their time in an artificially lit environment, city dwellers have long stopped paying attention to those natural night lights coming from billions of light years away: the stars.
With his project Urban Stargazing, Oscar Lhermitte attempts to have us raise our head again up to the stars in the city sky by adding new constellations that narrate contemporary myths about London. Twelve groups of stars have been designed and installed guerrilla-style at different locations in the city. They can only be observed by the naked eye at night time and from the ground they look so uncannily like the old constellations that you might never notice that any change has occurred. Each of these new constellations have a story that is directly relevant to the Londoner.
Take the V2 for example. This constellation refers to the bombing of London during the Second World War. During 'the Blitz', V-2 rockets were hitting London over a period of several months, destroying over a million of houses and killing around 20,000 civilians. Bethnal Green tube station was used as an air-raid shelter but on 3rd March 1943, after a false alert, 172 people died of suffocation while rushing into the shelter. The V2 constellation now shines above Bethnal Green.
Lhermitte told me the fascinating story behind the Mosquito constellation. It has recently been discovered that the London underground houses its own peculiar species of mosquito. Apparently, they mutated from the bird-biting form that colonised the underground when it was built in the last century to a variety that nips rats, mice and maintenance workers. Underground mosquitoes are reluctant to mate with their outdoor cousins, indicating that they have become a separate species -- a process that normally takes thousands of years rather than decades. These underground mosquitoes naturally deserved to get their own constellation.
Each constellation is a triangulated structure made out of clear ø 0.6mm nylon line, ø 0.2mm polyethylene braid, ø 0.75mm fibre optic and a solar powered LED. During the day, the battery is being recharged by the solar panel and the circuit switches ON the LED when it is dark enough to observe stars.
Check out the google maps that points to each constellation with their corresponding coordinates.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to the omnipresence of computers, cell phones, gaming systems, and the internet, a broad audience has traded its past reservations against technology for an almost insatiable curiosity for all things technical. Against this background, unprecedented new tools and possibilities are opening up for the world of design. In addition to sketchbooks and computers, young designers are increasingly using programming languages, soldering irons, sensors, and microprocessors as well as 3D milling or rapid prototyping machines in their work. The innovative use of powerful hardware and software has become affordable and, most of all, much easier to use. Today, the sky is the limit when it comes to ideas for experimental media, unconventional interfaces, and interactive spatial experiences.
A Touch of Code shows how information becomes experience. The book examines how surprising personal experiences are created where virtual realms meet the real world and where dataflow confronts the human senses. It presents an international spectrum of interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of laboratory, trade show, and urban space that play with the new frontiers of perception, interaction, and staging created by current technology. These include brand and product presentations as well as thematic exhibits, architecture, art, and design.
The comprehensive spectrum of innovative spatial and interactive work in A Touch of Code reveals how technology is fundamentally changing and expanding strategies for the targeted use of architecture, art, communication, and design for the future.
New media art, interaction design, digital art, communication design, interface design, art&tech, etc. Define them as you like, the works in this book celebrate, in an unfussy, feisty way, the emancipation of computer code from the hands of programmers.
A Touch of Code takes a snapshot of the state of interactive art and design right here right now. If you're looking for a book with historical context and a panorama of what is going on all over the world this might not be the book for you. The works covered are very recent, there's no date next to the title of the pieces selected but i'd say that very few -if any- of them were developed more than 10 years ago. Most of the works were created in the USA or in Europe. With a surprisingly high emphasis on works from German-speaking countries. Which is fine by me, i don't tend to follow German magazines and blogs so i'm often in the dark as to what artists and designers are doing over there.
The book doesn't embarrass itself with much text. There's an introduction by Joachim Sauter from ART+COM, another one by the editors of the book. Other than that, all you get is the usual description of the works and a few lines that comment each chapter (Look, Touch, Explore, Engage and Intervene.)
Still, A Touch of Code is a joy to pore over. It's like a fast, efficient and snazzy blog about interactive installations. The images are fantastic, the design is impeccable, I discovered many young artists and designers (i was actually appalled by the extent of my ignorance) and felt the need to reconnect with artists i had not seen in ages.
Take a look at some of the goods you'll find in the book:
Siren Elise Wilhelmsen 365 Knitting Clock that knits 48 meshes per day, and produces one two meter long scarf per year. Knitting 24 hours a day, and a year at a time as a physical manifestation of time, they knit one mesh every half hour all day long, and in a year they each produce a two metre long scarf.
By the end of the year the yarn can be changed and a new year - and a new scarf - can begin.
Cycloïd-E is a sound sculpture composed of five horizontally-articulated tubes which swing in unpredictable patterns and produce musical tones. Each section of the armature is a different instrument that emits a sound dictated by its position and speed of movement. The video of the work in action is impressive.
Mischer'Traxler's cake decoration machine is made of a rotating platform, icing gun, a motor-run arm and a silver dragées spout. The machine perpetually repeats one production step, first the icing lines then the sugar beads, as the cake rotates. It goes on until the customer stops the process.
txtBOMBER by Felix Voerreiter generates on the fly and prints out political statements using an Arduino processor and seven markers.
Fühlometer, by Richard Wilhelmer, Julius von Bismarck and Benjamin Maus, draws a luminous emoticon over the Berlin sky. A software reads emotions out of the faces of random Berliners, the system processes the resulting mood data and turns it in real time into this gigantic smiley.
The Self-Made Carbon-Copy Paper Printer is the result of two constraints: no original and no traditional printing method. The printer was hand-made using carbon copy paper. The software was developed for the printer using processing to read the bitmat image and control an Arduino driver. Wherever there is a black dot on the bitmap image, the printer-head hits the paper, leaving a mark. The printer's hardware and software solutions reference the work of do-it-yourself and maverick open-source communities.
Three Pieces, which was housed during several weeks in Victorian Palm House of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, is a robot that plays the traditional Chinese dulcimer with its many bamboo fingers while the surrounding foliage hides an ensemble of robotic chimes. The robot performers, which are connected together, are conducted by the living and ever changing elements in the Palm House: moisture content of the soil, plants, temperature, animals, visitors.
Joseph . L Griffiths 's Drawing Machine #1 (To Your Heart's Content) is a stationary bike with a spinning front wheel that powers an apparatus that draws circles on the surface using coloured markers. Meanwhile, another drawing element makes other doodles based on the side to side motion of the handle bars.
Views inside the book:
ASPECT Magazine releases periodically DVDs documenting works by 5-10 artists working in new or experimental media. The videos of the pieces can be viewed in their original version or accompanied by the audio commentary of an expert. The commentators usually start with a description of the work then they go deeper by bringing the work in the broader context of history/art history/history of technology, by revealing anecdotes about the career of the artist, by explaining the technological challenges of the work or highlighting the issues the artist wanted to raise.
This week, i've been watching Volume 16: Lo-tech and Volume 17: Hi-Tech. The first presents nine artists who work with basic, or in some cases antiquated technology. As its name indicates, its 'hi-tech' counterpart features ten artists working at the intersection of new ideas in art and technology.
There were only a few names that were familiar to me in Lo-tech and Hi-tech and that's good, i'm all for discovering new artists. One of the reasons of my ignorance might be that i tend to be a little too enwrapped in Europe and most of the artists and commentators in both volumes are North Americans (one notable exception is Arie Altena presenting with his delightful Dutch accent Marnix De Nijs's Beijing Accelerator.)
I'll just highlight a work that blew me away. Nikhil Murthy's video Two Crashes (1926/2007) juxtaposes special effects that were regarded as "high tech" at the beginning of the 20th century to what was considered "high tech" at the beginning of the 21st. The first film is Buster Keaton's The General (1926) that shows the most expensive stunt of the silent era: a real wood burning steam locomotive driven onto the burning bridge, where it collapses. The second scene shows the spectacular crash of a real Porsche Carerra GT in the film Redline (2007).
The artist slowed-down and sped-up the video extracts according to data from two notorious stock market crashes: the ones of 1929 and 2008. The two clips are then edited together by rapidly flashing between the two films. Because of their differing speeds different combinations are seen throughout the video. It is always the same scenes, there are only two of them, yet the construction of the ensemble is mesmerizing. What is most annoying however is that i can't find the video online, just the extract on ASPECT's website.
New media art can do with it as much introspection and analysis as it can get and ASPECT does that in a very approachable yet precise and professional way.
Image on the homepage: Stephen Vitiello, Something Like Fireworks, 2010.
It was time i'd interview Niklas Roy! Jonah Brucker-Cohen had a fantastic talk with him for gizmodo but that was 4 years ago. And there are video portraits about Niklas Roy online but there are in a language i can't quite master. Niklas is one of the most facetious characters of the 'new media art' world. His dance machine without 'annoying Dj", moving curtain, 'distributed' fountains, white cube gallery in a box, physical teapot inside a Commodore cabinet or his electromechanical version of the game Pong are certainly witty, absurd and at times, even hilarious. But don't let the jesting fool you. Behind the playfulness of Roy's machines, lay much irony and lucidity about the world of art & tech he belongs to.
Hi, Niklas! Why do you feel the need to invent 'useless things'?
Well, I guess that engineers and designers which usually invent machines and devices mainly do that in order to solve a problem with their inventions. Or they want to make an existing process more efficient with the help of technology. But such efficiency-driven approaches exclude a vast field of possible inventions. I find it very interesting to explore this field as it promises to be very free.
Do you really believe that your works are useless?
Somehow, my creations often end up in art exhibitions. So the question is, how useless is art? I strongly believe that art is useful for the health of society in some sort of balancing way. From that point of view, my machines might be a bit useful.
It is a bit daunting to interview you. I'm not sure i can trust any of your answers. Especially after having had a look at the WIA < > WIA project for which a fictitious African artist set up an installation that consisted of a public toilet in Linz, that appeared to be hooked up via Internet to an African village's well. Why did you chose to trick ars electronica? Was it really a spoof? Surely they must have known there was something fishy in the work?
Ars Electronica is the leading Media Arts institution. Their pole position makes them define trends and create hypes. Unfortunately, I often cannot agree to those hypes - which feeds the rebel in me.
Melissa's - let's call it 'performance' - started when Ars Electronica released a 'call for proposals' for an exhibition as part of Linz' culture capital program. This open call was more or less a very clear wish list of what they'd like to show. This open call would have made a good briefing for companies which focus on designing interactive installations. But it was not suitable to address artists which should stimulate the society by expressing their own positions. My application as African artist Melissa Fatoumata Touré began as a little fun experiment. I submitted precisely what Ars Electronica asked for and spiced it up with some toilet humour. I wanted to know how they'd react to such a rather ridiculous submission. It worked out far better than I thought: As I heard later, Melissa's toilet project was the first that got accepted by the jury - and they were even a bit sad that the other submissions didn't even come close to the 'quality' of Melissas proposal. Well, this is what the jury said.
To answer your last two questions: As far as I know, the organizers really had no clue what was going on until Melissa presented her work via Skype and with a live video broadcast from her uncle's internetcafé in Africa. That happened about three weeks after the opening of the exhibition, as far as I remember. But you should not forget that they've never seen Melissa before this presentation. It was all organized just via email and phone calls. There was a lot of imagination involved. On both sides actually: I also could just imagine what the organizers in Linz would think about Melissa. And during the long process of preparing the exhibition and the installation, I often had the feeling that Ars Electronica wouldn't believe Melissa's identity anymore and that they're already playing with me.
I like your explanation of why Melissa is 'the perfect dream of every new media curator.' And i couldn't help but smirk at 'her ideas are distilled media art mainstream.' Could you elaborate on this? What are 'distilled media art mainstream' ideas? Do i perceive a certain disenchantment/fatigue with media art theories and ideas? Or am i completely wrong?
I'm not even sure if ideas and theory play such a big role if you want to become successful in this field. Here are some simple lessons that I've learned so far:
1st: Don't be an artist. You should be an architect or have a background in biology, or something else more or less unrelated. Melissa was actually a computer scientist. Talking about Melissa: Your gender also plays a role. Being a woman beats being a man, as women are extremely underrepresented in this field.
2nd: No matter what you're really up to, I can recommend you to also make some experimental electronic music. This adds an interesting layer to your personality. Your level of musicality doesn't matter as that's the point where the experimental part starts.
3rd: Buzzwords and -topics are your friends and your source of inspiration. You might consider to become active in the fields of biotech, sustainability or, of course, Facebook.
You explain that you created the Vektron modular because sometimes you need to listen to some strange zoundz. That sounds (to me at least) like a lot of work just for the sake of listening to some strange zoundz. I was wondering how often you create a work just for your own amusement. How much are you influenced by the possible feedback from public, the future reaction of the audience during the creative process? Do you give it much importance when you are developing a new work?
Building this synthesizer was actually an attempt to add an interesting layer to my personality. But I didn't want to write it so clear on my webpage, as this would have caused the reverse effect. Ok, now serious: I regard the development of things like this experimental Synthesizer as both, spare time fun and hands on research. I do that as often as possible as it often leads me to new ideas. The hard thing is actually to organize life an a way that you have so much spare time where you can work really free.
I was very impressed by the little video documenting the Reinventing Television workshop you headed a the Valand Art School in Gothenburg. Can you take us through a couple of projects that turned old tv sets into 'storytelling machines'?
This was really a nice workshop. Anna Kindvall, one of the directors of Malmö's Electrohype biennial was teacher there at that time and invited me. The idea was to take old TV's and build new machines inside or with them. I often built TV's out of cardboard boxes when I was a child and don't get me wrong, now, but I think when something was a lot of fun to do in childhood, it's always nice to make the same things with art students.
My Little Piece of Privacy is a curtain that moves along your studio window to protect you from the gaze of passersby and achieves precisely the opposite. I have the feeling that it is also the kind of idea that the 'creatives' in advertising and communication agencies would love to steal for their clients. Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have people from advertising ever approached you with a request to adapt one of your projects for their client? Is it something you'd be happy to do?
This installation is indeed an amazing attention-magnet. But the installation makes so much sense because it is just about a little hyperactive curtain. If the curtain would be replaced by a moving advertisement, it would be just poor. Maybe the 'creatives' which wanted to steal the idea also realized that. At least they didn't contact me and I haven't heard of any spin-offs, yet.
I guess the previous question calls for the upcoming one: The first time i saw your work was at Transmediale where you were showing Pongmechanik. You were still a student at the udk in Berlin at the time. As far as i can see you're still a happy independent artist doing exactly what takes his fancy. How do you do that? Do you have any advice for talented media art students who would like to actually have a career as media artist and not as 'creative' doing websites for an 'interactive design' company?
I think I answered that already in two different ways: My personal trick is mainly to organize life in a way that I have a lot of time (and at least enough money) to work on things that I find interesting. Working in a company will not really help, as this takes too much time.
How did you start being involved in media art? What attracted you in this field?
It was actually many years ago, when a friend took me for my first time to the Transmediale. I was working in the film business at that time, creating visual effects for feature films. This Transmediale visit caused two things: On the one hand, I've never seen so many interesting installations at one place before. I loved the way how technology was used in this very creative way. And on the other hand, I saw that there's plenty of space to make even more interesting things with technology. That's why I started to get involved in this field.
I saw the International Dance Party once in an exhibition in Amsterdam. i was alone in the room and could afford to throw away any kind of inhibition. But you must have witnessed the effect it has on a group of people. How do people react to it usually? Are they very self-conscious? Or rather extrovert?
Like the curtain, the IDP works amazingly well. But of course, there's a little bit of chain reaction involved. If one person starts to dance, it doesn't take long until the whole room takes off. The sad thing about this is, that I really like how the machine opens and closes and how it transforms its shape. People which are just dancing don't recognize that, as the installation always stays in full party mode. If that's the case, I sometimes try to convince the people to stop dancing. First they don't approve my suggestion, but if they do, they love the installation even more afterwards.
Has anyone ever bought the Beginner Set "Junior IDP"?
That's my main income!
Any upcoming project or exhibition that you'd like to share with us?
Yes, there's this exhibition in Barcelona's DHUB opening soon. The vernissage is on June 21st.
And then, there's another exhibition, called 'Paranoia' which is still going on in Lille's Gare St. Sauveur. Charles Carcopino curated this really great show. I can 100% recommend it and it's still running until 15th of August.
Photography used on the homepage is by Martin W. Maier.
One thing that has puzzled me for years is the passion some people profess for the Louis Vuitton monogram. It's not that it's unsightly, it's just that the reason why some girls ruin themselves for the joy of sporting that insipid brown thing on their arm is beyond me. That prejudice against the brand has held me back from visiting the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton each time i was in Paris. I went a couple of times to the Fondation Cartier and to the Fondazione Prada in Milan but i couldn't get past the name of the Espace Culturel. Until last week when i decided that it was only fair to get rid of my narrow-mindedness.
It didn't start so well. I wasn't allowed to take any photo, not even of the artworks i had copiously photographed in other venues. When i asked why i wasn't allowed to take photos i was told "Because it's not allowed." The exhibition itself, however, made much more sense than the answer i had just received. The artworks selected makes you bounce from the poetical to the humorous to the downright dangerous. Plus, the LV cultural center team hands out hard cover catalogues of the show like other distribute b&w copies of press releases.
"Somewhere Else" showcases the work of eighteen artists for whom expeditions are the starting point of artistic endeavours.
Some try to relocate their creation in order to define them separately, some work on work installations while some others produce their creations outside of its conventional environment. Such undertakings have, in fact, led to a new artistic movement which is primarily based on encounters with new spaces and other human beings.
The title of the work that Joanna Malinowska presents in the gallery directly refers to Ader's last performance. In Search of the Miraculous, Continued.../part II is a continuous video shot of a solar-powered boombox playing Glen Gould's recording of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. The equipment was abandoned in the Canadian tundra, its sound fading in the wind. Notes of Bach and Gould might be forever audible if the installation survives storm, snow and winds. But this, of course, would be truly miraculous.
Fabrice Langlade was showing the plans and model of a porcelain bridge he hopes to build one day on the steppe of Mongolia.
Fernando Prats, who will represent Chile at this year's Venice Art Biennial, celebrates the expressive work of the physical elements. Sometimes he's there to nudge and help natural elements. Other times, such as in Acción Chaitén, he merely records the result of nature's endeavors. Acción Chaitén documents the destruction wrought by the Chilean volcano which, when it erupted in 2008, covered an entire region in ash.
Despite his wide notoriety, i confess that i had never heard of Marc Horowitz before. But did he make me laugh! In 2005, while working on a catalog shoot for Crate and Barrel, he managed to sneak in the words "dinner w/ marc 510-872-7326" on one of the pages of the catalog. The catalog was distributed, he lost his job but received more than 30,000 phone calls. He spent the following year driving across the country and having dinner with individuals he had never met. He documented "The National Dinner Tour" in charming pictures and blog posts.
The Marc Horowitz Signature Series is a set of 19 performances aimed at 'improving' the lives of the citizens he encountered. He planted an "Anonymous Semi-nudist Colony" in Nampa, Idaho, inviting passersby to shed some pieces of clothing and bounce around a park with him. In Craig, Colorado, he enticed people to bury their problems in a park plot. My favourite is the video he shot in Walsenburg, Colorado where he reenacted the techno viking dance session in a junkyard.
For Horizon moins 20, Laurent Tixador & Abraham Poincheval spent 20 days digging an underground tunnel in Murcia, Spain. They advanced one metre a day and sealed it up behind themselves as they went. Like moles.
Other artistic expeditions: Rentyhorn, making the legacy of colonialism visible, The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment, Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula.
I had never heard of Laurent Montaron before last week. I was preparing a trip to Paris and going through the list of exhibitions open when i stumbled upon a small photo of a Catholic saint and, far more interestingly i should say, a press release that mentioned the artist's interest in the history of media from the appearance of mechanical modes of representation in the late 19th century up to today's different digital forms.
Off i was to see Montaron's solo show at the galerie schleicher+lange. The exhibition is small with only three pieces, each of them strong, perplexing and unlike anything i've seen anywhere else recently.
Phoenix awaits the visitor right as they step into the gallery. An antique Phénix, a wax-cylinder phonograph launched in 1902 by French mail-order company Maleville, is laying on a wooden stage. Someone has to come and activate the phonograph for you. During a few minutes, the time it takes for the needle to go from one end of the cylinder to the other, one can hear the voice of a person speaking in tongues. No sense can be made of what is said in the recording.
When he patented the phonograph in 1877, Thomas A. Edison -who ironically was suffering from increasing deafness- wasn't thinking about musical recordings. He saw the invention as an instrument that would provide a kind of immortality by preserving the human voice well after the person had died. It was a 'machine to record the last words of the dying'.
"My intention," the artist has said in an interview with curator Daniel Baumann, "was not only to transform these questions about the advent of the media into images -- although I do believe that to some extent the questions are being asked in the same way today as they were a hundred years ago -- but also to make the experience of death part of the work. As in a number of my other works, the physical medium is wearing out as we listen and we're witnessing the death of the sound. In a way the viewer remains the sole repository of the memory of the work."
The second work in the exhibition, Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette ("Slow Portrait of St Bernadette", 2011), is a slow-motion 16 mm film loop with the camera moving across the face of the saint.
Bernadette Soubirous was a miller's daughter who made the fortune of a small market town in the SW of France. In 1858, she reported apparitions of "a small young lady" and required that a chapel was built at the site of her visions. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage. It is said that after her death, Bernadette's body has shown no signs of decomposition.
The worked i found most amazing is Minolta Planetarium MS-15, a large-format photograph taken inside the planetarium in Memphis, in the United States. All one can see at first is a starry sky. After a while, the eye wanders and realizes that, in the foreground, there is the dark silhouette of the machine that projects the images of the stars inside the Planetarium.
These works subtly remind us that while technology has provided us with new means of perceiving and representing reality it has not necessarily brought us closer from 'the truth' for it has also given rise to new ways for questioning reality.
Laurent Montaron's work homes in on the paradoxes attendant on our awareness of modernity, and simultaneously on the tools that shape our representations, revealing the sometimes irrational element of belief involved.
The exhibition closes tomorrow. Make haste and visit the galerie schleicher+lange if you're in Paris this weekend.