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Shichong Li and The Candy Cloud Cyclone Chamber

Inspired by the environmental work of Diller & Scofidio, the performative and multi-sensory work of Bompas and Parr, and the nostalgia of 1960s event architecture, Shichong Li's project utilises sugar as a base element and 'centrifugal random fibre extrusion' fabrication (candyfloss) to build cloud structures.

Unsatisfied with the scale of the miniature clouds he thus produced, the artist and designer decided to build a candy floss cloud on an architectural scale, with sugar as an ideal base material for a floating semi- rigid architecture. Indeed, sugar can form structured space to be inhabited and engaged with in ways water cannot. These cloud formations create a medium between architecture and inhabitants which aims to stimulate communication and interaction.

Shichong Li's quest to build the ultimate and most efficient candy cloud-making machine is still ongoing. He has spent the past year making prototype after prototype. Often failing but always learning and fine-tuning his creations.

I discovered the Candy Cloud Machine at the graduation show of the Interactive Architecture Studio - Research Cluster 3 at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL. The unit, headed by Ruairi Glynn and Ollie Palmer, focuses on kinetic and interactive design looking at the latest robotics, material and responsive systems while at the same time borrowing from a long history of performative machines and performing arts.

I already mentioned one of the works developed over this one-year postgraduate course: William Bondin's research into self autonomous creature-like structures which take their cue on slime mold and very slowly navigate public parks. The other stand-out work for me was Chong's poetical, elusive and absurd Candy Cloud Machine. I contacted him to ask if he had time to tell us more about his candy cloud adventures.

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Candy floss maker low temperature test -25C

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Sugar feeding test

Hi Chong! What are the physical and technological challenges of creating clouds using sugar rather than water?

Whether they're conscious of it or not, I believe Architects dream of building clouds. Not in the narrow sense of a cloud, but rather architecture which is "cloud like", soft, , ephemeral, responsive, light etc. Water doesn't have to be the base component and so I explored sugar for its inherent properties.

The cloud-like architecture is candy floss. There are many challenges in making clouds using candy floss. These challenges can be summed up into two parts. The first one is the process of creating the clouds, the second one is to keep them floating in the air. During the process of creating candy floss, the tricky parts are the control of the heating temperature and the proper moment of sugar feeding. The heating temperature have to be controlled and stabilized between 186℃ to 200℃ and a proper amount sugar has to be fed continually. After the candy floss has been created, and because it is heavier than the air, it has to be blow up by in the air so that it creates a cloud. That requires me to design a system to control everything at the same time, which is complex but also interesting to design.

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The first candy floss making experiment

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Candy Cloud Cyclone Chamber test

Could you describe some of the prototypes you developed in your quest to make a candy cloud machine? Why do you think the experiments failed?

Sure! The first and second prototypes were built following a study of the mechanical principles to make a candy floss maker. The heating and rotating systems have to be tested properly and they will be the base of the next step studies. These experiments were successful in a way. But as the research moves along, the air control and generating system have became the biggest challenges.

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Laminar air flow generator (LAFG)

The third and fourth prototypes, for example, are wind tunnel systems, they were designed following the study of air driving system. The third one is called Laminar air flow generator (LAFG). Laminar air is a type of flow where the motion of the particles of fluid occurs in orderly straight movement. Compressed air is blown into a perforated wind box. The wind box has the shape of a circular ring surrounding the candy floss maker, which blows the candy floss up smoothly. I was thinking of using laminar air which is stable enough to hold candy floss. However, the results of the LAFG experiment show that the airflow looses a large amount of energy in the box and at the edges of holes. The outward-streaming airflow is too weak to drive the candy floss upwards.

The second air control system tested was a multi-fan system. In order to solve the problem of insufficient air flow in the LAFG, this design comprised eight powerful axial fans to blow air into the chamber directly.

Because the design used axial fans as driving forces, the airflow is no longer not laminar. A new problem was the vortex flow in the chamber. The vortex flow led to circulating air in the cylinder; air did not go straight up and candyfloss was sucked into the gap between the candyfloss maker and the fans, making all the candyfloss stick to the edge.

Despite the fact that the attempts of the Candy Cloud Machine air control system failed, these first experiences are worth studying. Firstly, the candyfloss itself is light, but the air power needed to drive it upwards cannot be low. Because the candyfloss structure doesn't have a surface which can hold airflow, the air can permeate the gaps between the candyfloss fibres. Secondly, small-scale installations are inappropriate to test aerodynamics. According to knowledge gained in the multi-fan system test, the circulating air has a strong influence on the vortex, as the air in the chamber is highly limited. The circulating air and the vortex interact with each other and destroy the air system. These experiences and lessons are an important basis for the development of the project.

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The shed in exhibition

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The shed in exhibition

The final project on view at the show right now is a cabin. Could you explain what the cabin is about? Why did you decide to show a wooden cabin rather than a modified candy floss machine?

The final fabrication machine- the Candy Cloud Cyclone Chamber, is too big to be exhibited so, inspired by the nostalgia of British Garden Shed Inventors, I've presented the project as an inhabitable portfolio. Visitors could search through the drawings, tastes and sugars, and examine the prototypes.

Now that your thesis is done and you graduated, are you planning to push the cloud machine further? To try and develop it until you reach the kind of candy cloud machine you were dreaming of?

Yes, the research of the cloud dream is still ongoing, and I am still trying to further develop the candy cloud machines. The fascination held by clouds offers designers a multitude of ways of thinking about space and designing in architectural practice. This story of clouds is a framework for future studies and design works. The role of designers and architects with an understanding of 'cloud theory' must be to use their knowledge to embark upon a 'higher' architectural approach.

Thanks Chong!

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Drawing of candy cloud machine central control panel

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Elevation of the final candy floss maker

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Section of the final candy floss maker

Also from RC3: Morphs, the architectural creatures that behave like slime mould.
Check also Pixelache's Cotton Candy experiments.

Sponsored by:

Last week, i mentioned my quick trip to Leiden to see the winning projects of the third edition of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award, an international competition that gives artists and designers the opportunity to collaborate with life science institutions carrying out research into the genetic makeup of people, animals, plants and microorganisms.

One of the winning works is The Living Mirror, a 'bio-installation' that combines magnetic bacteria with electronics and photo manipulation to create liquid, 3D portraits. The piece was developed by Laura Cinti & Howard Boland from the art-science collective C-Lab in partnership with AMOLF, a research institute focusing on nanophotonics and physics of biomolecular systems


Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

Living Mirror involves cultivating magnetotactic bacteria, a group of bacteria able to orient along the magnetic field lines of Earth's magnetic field. The artists collected the bacteria and used an array of tiny electromagnetic coils to shift the magnetic field, causing the bacteria rapidly reorient their body that changes how light is scattered. The resultant effect can be seen as a light pulse or a shimmer. Taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images, [C-Lab] programmatically harmonise hundreds of light pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture.

Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

I had a quick Q&A with the artists:

Hi Laura and Howard! The Living Mirror, to me at least, almost belongs to the world of magic.It uses software, hardware and wetware. It is a particularly complex project. How did you know it would work out in the end? And what were the biggest challenges you encountered during its development?

Indeed, as a work it has been a very ambitious undertaking that integrates quite complex processes of wetware, software and hardware. We had to work very closely with various types of engineering disciplines and work as engineers ourselves. Over the past few months we built several prototypes to help us understand how a magnetic culture of bacteria might work. In the beginning when we worked on pulling biomass our biggest challenge was to generate enough bacteria and have a system that could produce a significant magnetic pulling force.

The interactive art installation was aimed at producing real-time images using living bacteria - but pulling biomass was slow. When we discovered that these bacteria produced a shimmering effect in real-time we were intrigued and felt that this was a better phenomenon to pursue and also allowed us to work with much lower magnetic forces. By changing the magnetic field we were seeing bacteria rapidly switching direction in a synchronic rotation causing light to scatter and producing a visible shimmer. So the major challenges we have encountered so far has been cultivating these bacteria and producing the electronic boards needed for approximately 250 individual magnetic coils.

There are many unknowns in the project which is what makes it quite exciting for us - having living bacteria respond in real-time is not something we experience on a visual scale we are accustomed to and finding out whether this system will be able to produce shimmering pixels that can form a portrait image is to be seen in the weeks to come.

To see the shimmering effect we observe, please see these videos below:

Bacteria scattering light at different magnetic speed

M. gryphiswaldense on magnetic stirrer

In LIVING MIRROR, multiple pulsating waves of bacteria are made to form a pixelated image using electromagnetic coils that shift magnetic fields across surface areas. By taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images, LIVING MIRROR programmatically attempts to harmonise hundreds of light pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture.

Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

In the proposal you wrote for the competition, you say that "Recent years have seen the human body reconfigured as an ecosystem of mostly non-human bacterial cells. Together with fungi and human cells, these form our complex 'superorganism', an image the work seeks to renegotiate by literally reflecting and fleshing out these ideas." Could you elaborate what you mean by that?

Until recently, our understanding of human 'self' was, at least biologically speaking, thought to be 'human' cells. This perspective is now understood to include microbial communities and interestingly, these microbial cells not only outnumber our own 'human' cells but our bodies contain significantly more of microbial DNA than our own genome. (Our bodies contain a mere 10 per cent of human cells and 90 per cent microbial cells). In this sense our bodies can be seen as a 'superorganisms' - working collectively as a unified organism or an ecosystem.

As a liquid biological mirror, LIVING MIRROR draws on the idea of water as our first interface predating today's screen-based digital technologies. It points to the myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own image by believing it was someone else in the water reflection. Drawn into the image, he tragically drowned - a reminder of how we continue to immerse ourselves in similar mirrors as we extend our identity into the virtual. Simultaneously, the work highlights how contemporary science has shattered the idea of our own body by recognising that we are mostly made up of non-human bacterial cells. These ideas have shaped digital and biological understandings of our human self and are technically and conceptually reflected in LIVING MIRROR.

A living mirror is a very seducing idea. Do you see possible applications for it? Or was it just an artistic experiment?

Throughout the project we have been in communication with many leading researchers and there are certainly some specific technological overlaps (i.e. possible use of shimmer as a magnetic measurement or methods for orienting or guiding cells). As a display what can be seen is certainly different to existing technologies and LIVING MIRROR remains a research-based artwork.

Thanks Laura and Howard!

Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

Image C-Lab

Video of Prototype #2 with Magnetotactic Bacteria in Continuous Vessel (9 coils)

Flickr set + videos

The Living Mirror and the other winning projects of DA4GA are on view until 15 December at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden, in The Netherlands.
Previously: Ergo Sum - The creation of a second self using stem cell technology and The Fish Bone Chapel.

I discovered the work of Addie Wagenknecht a few months ago while visiting The Digital Now exhibition in Brussels. The young artist was showing Pussy Drones gifs. I didn't fully get what they were about at first but the more i looked at the porno-grotesque-aggressive images in the exhibition space that day, the more i thought she was a talent to follow. And indeed, the rest of her portfolio didn't disappoint. Addie made a painting using a drone as a brush, enrolled a stern industrial robot to rock a baby cradle, asked online sexcam performers to replicate classical paintings, and built a chandelier using CCTV cameras.

Addie Wagenknecht studied photography, traveled the world, completed a Masters at New York University as a Wasserman Scholar and right after that got a fellowship at Eyebeam Atelier, CultureLabUK and more recently at HyperWerk Institute for Post-Industrial Design and Carnegie Mellon University under Golan Levin at The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.

Optimization of Parenting, ABB Robot Arm, Digital Fabrication Laboratory,
(dFab), CMU School of Architecture, 2012

Asymmetric Love Number 2, Single Produced Sculpture (Steel, CCTV cameras and DSL internet cables), 2012

Now that the long, idle Summer hiatus in which i published roughly 0.7 posts per week is over, it's back to business as usual and i'm glad that Addie Wagenknecht has accepted to be the first artist i interview for the the new 'season'.

The Career Machine, Installation, Los Angeles, CA, 2011

Hi Addie! While reading the description of The Optimization of Parenthood (Part 1 and Part 2), i realized that i almost never encounter artworks dealing with parenthood in media art. Or, because the accompanying texts mostly talks about mother, should i say feminism? Do you see these two works as new ways of exploring and discussing feminism?

Theorists wrote and said this series is celebrating the death of the mother. It's not objective, it's subjective. At the time we developed this piece I spent a lot of time trying to decide on a title: "The Optimization of Parenthood" vs. "The Optimization of Motherhood" because those are very different in my experience. We were doing a residency at The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. At the time I was pregnant and wanted to examine this false sense of balance between parenting and career in America. How the process is transparent but the structure to function is a secret. The formula is often behind the closed door of people's homes (and psychiatrist's office). I found that being critical of the choice to be a parent, as a parent, is taboo. More so, being critical of the experience as a mother is censored socially if not outright denied by everyone around me. I watched the unraveling of the carefully crafted facade of women and family v2.0.

I think women of my generation were raised to believe that we can have it all, but that theory had never really been tested, our mothers gave us something impossible. At the same time, I was playing with materiality and preconceived notions of perfection within my own work. I wanted to let go of that in a playful way. I never wanted to be responsible for feminism, yet this particular notion made sense and I want to have the poetic liberty to give that away to someone else who really wants it.

The Optimization of Parenthood

The charm of the OfP rocking robotic arm is that it is purely industrial. What made you decide to use this orange factory-like robotic arm rather than a cute robot or even an almost invisible unobtrusive robotic system?

I wanted to highlight the repetitive nature of parenting in a way that was relatable in terms of gestural motion, but foreign in its implementation. The blatantly robotic arm evokes this idea of industry - mirroring the precise, reactive nature that parenting often demands. I wanted the arm to suggest this idea of impossible flawless perfection.

Anonymity, 2007

Anonymity [image from cctv feed], Public Performance at MuseumsQuartier Vienna, 2013

You recently wore the Anonymity accessory for a performance in Vienna. Could you tell us about the performance? How it unfolded, who participated to it, how passersby reacted to the black bars, etc.

Anonymity as a concept is addictive - especially when you're living in a major metropolitan city like New York. That is why projects like Pirate Bay and Tor are some of the most successful works of our time. They have a large scale participatory aspect allowing people freedom and a chance to challenge outdated ideas around copyright. It is one to many system, no one person controls it, there is so much beauty in that. I think we are reaching a point if we haven't already where anonymity is imperative to creativity.

The performance in Vienna was all about encouraging people to openly claim anonymity, as a public statement. While living in New York, I started to became aware that we were constantly under surveillance; I was being watched by security cameras, asked to show my ID to get into a building, etc. The pervasiveness of surveillance made anonymity more desirable. Surveillance has become so ubiquitous its become comfortable. We do not think twice or challenge it. We have become such a surveillance saturated society, in some regards we expect it. Anonymity is becoming a solution for some to protect destabilized identities, revolutionaries, and hackers. It is changing the way we define the face. Mask in public spaces are beginning to be outlawed. I think that the goal has shifted that we no longer want to become an individual, but to become anonymous. People who are able to maintain anonymity have a sort of tense, mystical quality, and we wanted to explore this in a literal, physical piece within public space.

The large-scale performance was commissioned by Bogomir Doringer for the "Faceless" exhibition at MuseumsQuartier. We provided 1,200 museum attendees with limited edition, wearable black bars that allow for preemptive non-disclosure. As they walked through the courtyard, a live feed was projected into the exhibition space. It intentionally occupied the line of criticism and play, allowing the surveilled to become the surveillance.

broken_link_1, 4.25" x 2.5", Lambda print, Austria 2013

I think Broken_links is the most irritating work i've seen recently. I keep coming back to that page -and feeling utterly silly in the process- in the hope that the images will eventually appear on the screen. I just can't help it. Did you realize that a work in appearance so simple would create such emotional response?

[laughs] Yes, that's one of the goals. It's looking at those instances when an algorithm, code, or search engine fails to properly interpret code. Essentially, broken_links is about capturing points of failure and glitches in their most literal form. The Internet is so volatile, yet at the same time it's completely cached and highly functional. Images, websites, and texts, are removed all the time without our knowledge as the user. Google, for instance, plays a powerful role because they're able to manipulate the availability of information. They show us what they want us to see, not necessarily what we searched for. So, I wanted to take the information bias, that false sense of trust, and run with it.

Black Hawk Paint, New York City, 2008

I was also very interested in Black Hawk Paint. Especially because I saw that you worked on it in 2008 and, at least in Europe, it's only more recently that artists and curators have started to work on the drone topic. Do you think that the work of artists who engage with UAV technology have an impact on how the public is understanding the issue?

Yes. I wanted to re-appropriate the drone technology as a tool for creativity, expanding the way people consider their potential use. I implemented a computer vision tracking system, and used the drone as a brush. The resulting images are abstract, and I consider the process of making the piece as important as the finished work.

I see Kyle McDonald's "Liberator Variations" he developed for FAT lab working in a parallel way. He noticed people's fear surrounding the Liberator and his response was to produce a series of remixed versions of the original file, transforming the 3D printed gun into a version of the OpenGL teapot, among other things. He wrote: "There is only fear when we feel disempowered, when we lack understanding, when we are censored, when we lack input and are instead being controlled."

Kyle McDonald, The Englishman (Liberator Variations)

You're a member of F.A.T. Lab. Can you tell us how you got involved in the group and how you fit into it?

I suppose I made enough provocations at some point to get an invite. [laughs] I also knew Evan, James, Steve and Geraldine quite well because we were more or less at Eyebeam together around the same time. I consider F.A.T. my friends and family. It's an honor to be part of the lab. They are all extremely talented and they've been an inspirations and constant supporters of my practice. It's really humbling.

Any upcoming project, exhibition, area of investigation you'd like to share with us?

I'm taking part in the first-ever digital art auction at Phillips NYC on October 10, where the piece "Asymmetric Love #2" will be auctioned. It is a chandelier made of steel, CCTV cameras, and internet cables. In November, at MU in Eindhoven is F.A.T. GOLD Europe, a traveling retrospective of F.A.T. Lab's work that originated at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in April. There will be a few new pieces in that exhibition which are forthcoming. Both of these are curated by Lindsay Howard. In early 2014 the exhibition "Blackmarkt" at 319 Scholes. The pieces for this exhibition are remixed off of items bought off the Silk Road/deep web. We are working on a series of jewelry made from drugs and bootleg items, which is a new space for me. The pieces look at how perception fulfills value, and the relationship of originality, copies and demand. Finally, in June will be my first solo exhibition in Europe at RUA RED Dublin, curated by Nora O Murchú.

Asymmetric Love Number 2, Single Produced Sculpture (Steel, CCTV cameras and DSL internet cables), 2012

Thanks Addie!

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Sitraka Rakatoniaina and Andrew Friend who will be talking about the aesthetics of scientific experiments but also about the human capabilities in sensing future events. They've explored this slightly debatable topic with a series of experiments inspired by the experimental evidence for the existence of physiological precognition, depicted the Sensing the Future paper written by Daryl J. Bem a social psychologist and professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina, Prophecy Program, 2013

One of the experiments in the designers' Prophecy Program project consists in perching an individual on an ultra-elevated chair where they will act as seismograph and predict earthquakes, exploring accuracy and specificity of psi and experience in landscape. A second one is an 'autonomous biological drone' which, inspired by bioenergetic capabilities of plants to sense humans intentions, would operate overhead monitoring human activity and emotions below. The last one is the working prototype of a 'Pre-cognition test rig' which acts as a big Russian roulette that fires at individuals while sensors pick up any body sign that they are indeed sensing the upcoming shoot.

As you can guess, this episode is neither typical nor tedious. Sitraka and Andrew's work, however, is far less fanciful than it might seem at first sight.

Pre-cognition test rig. Photo Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina

Test subject wearing the gears before firing the precognition test-rig

Balloon triggers


Autonomous biological drone

Model of the Tower for predicting Earthquakes

Prophecy Program - in front of the elephant door

The show will be aired this Wednesday 18th of September at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists

Alan Turing was a mathematician, a logician, a cryptanalyst, and a computer scientist (as i'm sure you all know.) During World War 2 he cracked the Nazi Enigma code, and later came to be regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. In the 1952, Turing was convicted of having committed criminal acts of homosexuality. Given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration, Turing chose to undergo a medical treatment that made him impotent and caused gynaecomastia. Suffering from the effects of the treatment and from being regarded as abnormal by a society, the scientist committed suicide in June 1954.

Inspired by Turing's life and research, Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon have devised a machine that attempts to answer a question which, at first, might seem baffling: "Who is normal?"

The Turing Normalizing Machine is an experimental research in machine-learning that identifies and analyzes the concept of social normalcy. Each participant is presented with a video line up of 4 previously recorded participants and is asked to point out the most normal-looking of the 4. The person selected is examined by the machine and is added to its algorithmically constructed image of normalcy. The kind participant's video is then added as a new entry on the database.


Conducted and presented as a scientific experiment TNM challenges the participants to consider the outrageous proposition of algorithmic prejudice. The responses range from fear and outrage to laughter and ridicule, and finally to the alarming realization that we are set on a path towards wide systemic prejudice ironically initiated by its victim, Turing.

Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013

I found out about the TNM the other day while reading the latest issue of the always excellent Neural magazine. I immediately contacted Mushon Zer-Aviv to get more information about the work:

Hi Mushon! What has the machine learnt so far? Are patterns emerging of what people find 'normal? such as an individual who smiles or one who is dressed in a conservative way? What is the model of normality at this stage?

TNM ran first as a pilot version in The Bloomfield Museum of Science in Jerusalem as a part of the 'Other Lives' exhibition curated by Maayan Sheleff. Jerusalem is a perfect environment for this experiment as it is a divided city with multiple ethnical, cultural and religious groups practically hating each other's guts. The external characteristics of these communities are quite distinguishable as well, from dress code to tone of skin and color of hair. While the Turing Normalizing Machine has not arrived at a single canonical model of normality yet (and possibly never will) some patterns have definitely emerged and are already worth discussing. For example, the bewilderment of a religious Jewish woman trying to choose the most normal out of 4 Palestinian children.

The machine does not construct a model of normality per-se. To better explain how the prejudice algorithm works, consider the Google Page-Rank algorithm. When a participant chooses one of the random 4 profiles presented before them as 'most normal', that profile moves up the normalcy rank while the others are moved down. At the same time, if a profile is considered especially normal, it would make the choice made by its owner more influential on the rank than others, and vice versa.

We are currently working on the second phase of the experiment that analyzes and visualizes the network graph generated by the data collected in the first installment. We're actually looking to collaborate with others on that part of the work.

Usually society doesn't get to decide what is good or even normal for society. The decision often comes from 'the top'. If ever such algorithm to determine normality was ever applied, could we trust people to help decide who looks normal or who isn't?

While I agree that top-down role models influence the image of what's considered normal or abnormal, it is the wider society who absorbs, approves and propagates these ideas. Whether we like it or not, such algorithms are already used and are integrated into our daily lives. It happens when Twitter's algorithms suggests who we should follow, when Amazon's algorithms offers what we should consume, when OkCupid's algorithms tells us who we should date, and when Facebook's algorithms feeds us what it believes we would 'like'.

What inspired you to come up with an experiment in algorithmic prejudice?

This experiment is inspired by the life and work of British mathematician Alan Turing, a WW2 hero, the father of computer science and the pioneering thinker behind the quest for Artificial Intelligence. Specifically we were interested in Turing's tragic life story, with his open homosexuality leading to his prosecution, castration, depression and death. Some, studying Turing's legacy, see his attraction to AI and his attempts to challenge the concept of intelligence, awareness and humanness, as partly influenced by his frustration with the systematic prejudice that marked him 'abnormal'. Through the Turing Normalizing Machine we argue that the technologies Turing was hoping would one day free us from the darker and irrational parts of our humanity are today often used to amplify it.

The video of the work explains that "the results of the research can be applied to a wide range of fields and applications." Could you give some examples of that? In politics for example (i'm asking about politics because the video illustrated the idea with images of Silvio Berlusconi)?

Berlusconi is a symbol of the unholy union between media and politics and it embodies the disconnect between what people know about their leaders (corruption, scandals, lies...) and what people see in their leaders (identification, pride, nationalism, populism...). A machine could never decipher Berlusconi's success with the Italian voter, it needs to learn what Italians see in him to get a better picture of the political reality.

Another obvious example is security, and especially the controversial practice of racial profiling. My brother used to work for EL AL airport security and was instructed to screen passengers by external characteristics as cues for normalcy or abnormalcy. Here again we already see technology stepping in to amplify our prejudice based decision making processes. Simply Google 'Project Hostile Intent' And you'll see that scientific research into algorithmic prejudice is already underway and has been for quite some time.

Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists

Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists

How does the system work?

The participant is presented with 4 video portraits and is requested to point at the one who looks the most normal of the 4. Meanwhile, a camera identifies the pointing gesture, records the participant's portrait, and analyzes the video (using face recognition algorithms among other technologies). The video portrait is then added to the database and is presented to the next participant to be selected as normal or not. The database saves the videos, the selections and other analytical metadata to develop its algorithmic model of social normalcy.

Any upcoming show or presentation of the TNM?

There are some in the pipeline, but none that I can share at this point. We are definitely looking forward to more opportunities to install and present TNM, as in every community it brings up different discussions about physical appearance, social normalcy and otherness. Beyond that, we want the system to challenge its model of prejudice based on its encounter with different communities with different social values, biases and norms. Otherwise, it would be ignorant, and we wouldn't want that now, do we?

Thanks Mushon!

One last project exhibited a few weeks ago at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal. You might remember that a while ago I interviewed Arthur Heist about the workshop Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets. Before that, i talked with Nicolas Maigret about The Pirate Cinema.


Organic polymers

This time, i had an exchange of emails with Mario De Vega to talk about Thermal, a performance in which he uses microwave ovens to alter the molecular composition of different materials. The work also uses custom-built hardware to sonify the electromagnetic activity produced by the overheating of the content of the ovens.

Hi Mario! Thermal is an audio-visual performance in which several objects are modified using a microwave oven. Now I'm sure you've been asked that questions many times but isn't it dangerous to put objects inside a microwave? The photos from the performances look a bit on the hazardous side to me. Do you have to take certain precautions?

I over-expose danger and confront human vulnerability through a frontal situation. Security advices are given before the performance starts and audience are free to leave the room. I give information and advice of possible danger.

Of course, by overheating a device which development comes from radar technology research from WWII, confronts a complex paradigm: the oven could explode during the performance, gases are highly toxic and electromagnetic activity aim to be materialized thorough acoustic pressure.

Thermal is a confrontation with our own vulnerability using an electronic device that mainly everyone can recognize, a device that modified nutritional facts, social interaction and climate. The action has a political content itself without intending being political as principle. It confronts and intimidates through presence, ambiguity, over-exposed information and acoustic pressure. It also has a visual aim. I'm interested in how electronic devices or arrangements suggest context through ambiguity, in other words, I'm interested in producing events and situations in which codes are visible but not completely "readable". We could be able, in this case, to recognize an object (microwave oven) but our understanding of things reduce our approach, resulting in a situation with dislocated semantic structure in which things are there, frontal and visible and more over we can not understand what is happening.



During the performance, you put materials such as wax, ceramic, magnesium, carboxylic acid, pvc, etc. inside the microwaves. Could you describe how some of them react? Did any of the material you used react in a way you did not expect?

This has mainly a sculptural mean; with Thermal I'm interested in research materialization, irritation and modification as main topics. I modify materials, amplify, expose the process and materialize the results through different outputs. Technically, by irritating the molecular composition of matter, microwaves reflection change by absorption. We can think this in terms that certain materials absorb more than others, and here absorbing means less reflection and less dynamic range in an audio event.
We can understand amplification through four semantic layers.

The first one has the aim to amplify electromagnetic activity, high frequency mainly into the 2.4 GHz range. For this I use SNUFF and LIMEN, electronic devices based on logarithmic detectors used to demodulate high spectrum electromagnetic signals into a human audible ranges.

The second later is luminal activity. Using mainly a custom amplifier (BABEL) to convert lumens into sound.

The third part is electro-mechanic, using mainly a contact microphone to amplify friction and mechanic activity produced by the oven, rotating plate movements, for example.
The forth and last is probably the most dynamic part, reduced in a switch. On / Off. I turn on and off the device in order to maintain tension and produce a dynamic event.

Window of the microwave oven during performance

More generally, could you describe what is going on during the performance? What can the audience see, smell and hear?

What you hear is mainly activity that in a normal situation humans would not be able to codify as acoustic pressure. I use electronic media to demodulate, amplify and over expose highly toxic electromagnetic pollution produced by an electro-domestic device used by 40% of the population worldwide. Burnt plastic and overheated corrosive materials are toxic; smell is an important issue for Thermal.

Moscow Biennale, Moscow, 2009

If I understood correctly, the main instrument for this audio-visual performance is the microwave oven. Did you have to modify the household appliance for the work?

No, the ovens are not modified. This would be a very complex and even dangerous task. For me it's even more interesting to use the devices as they are, I just simply amplify its activity.

Any upcoming project, event or research field you'd like to share with us?

Probably I should then here expose deeply my apologizes to delay this interview so long. I've been working in a solo exhibition in Mexico City during the last two years (SIN); the opening was on the 20th of June in a Museum located downtown named Laboratorio Arte Alameda. It's composed by 6 site-interventions, curated by Carsten Seiffarth and a retrospective salon curated by Michel Blancsubé.

An upcoming publication compiling 10 years of my work will be published this month, and an editorial project about thermal must be finished this year, as well as a vinyl edition with artkillart.

Thanks Mario!



If you're curious about Mario's work, head to Berlin Art Link, they recently visited the artist's studio.

Other works exhibited at Sight and Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc in Montreal: Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets and The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users.

Photo on the homepage: © Kimberley Bianca / transmediale. All other images courtesy of the artist.

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