If i were a man i'd want to be either Idris Elba or Garnet Hertz. You know Elba, he was gangster Stringer Bell in The Wire and a detective in Luther. Now Garnet Hertz is neither of that (to my knowledge) but he's the guy everybody wants to talk to at media art, tech or design conferences because his works play with several levels of engagement: from instant entertainment to deep reflection on DIY culture, design processes and technological progress. Hertz makes robots controlled by cockroaches, video game systems that you can literally drive around, he gives talks about Zombie Media and has just crafted a magazine about critical technical practice and critically-engaged maker culture that puts us all (us being media people) to shame.
And now for a more rigorous bio of the artist:
Doctor Garnet Hertz is a Fulbright Scholar and contemporary artist whose work explores themes of technological progress, innovation, do-it-yourself culture and interdisciplinarity. His work often involves building real-world technologies that are designed to take his audience into a speculative future gone humorously astray. In the process, Hertz's work inverts the idea that technology needs to be faster, more efficient or higher resolution: innovation is born out of human emotion, historical tradition, and creative obsession.
Hertz is Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine, is Artist in Residence / Research Scientist in Informatics at UC Irvine and is Faculty in the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design.
Hi Garnet! I'm very intrigued by Videodome. Can you explain us what the experience of using it will be like? Can the person whose head is inside the big helmet move around? What will he or she perceive and how? And is what they see broadcast in any way to a broader audience?
Videodome is a project that I'm developing that explores different types of virtual reality without the use of a computer. Instead of a computer, I'm using a large number of miniature "spy" videocameras connected to many televisions. At this point, the project has two main physical structures: a helmet-like globe containing the cameras and a two meter diameter geodesic dome covered in televisions. These two components will be configured in different ways -with inner-and-outer facing cameras and screens, for example- to creatively explore the process of mediated sensation, perception and reality.
The initial configuration simulates being inside of someone else's head. To do this, I've constructed a wearable panopticon-style helmet - a clear plastic globe with a diameter of 45cm that has 48 cameras that face inward toward the person's head. Each camera is connected with cables to a flat panel television, and the group of televisions are arranged in a dome with screens facing inward. The screens form a low-tech VR-style cave that show the person's face turned inside-out.
At this point, this project is local and live with no transmission or recording - it's goal is to be analog. If I was going to do recordings of the camera array, it might be fun to try to do it with a mountain of VHS VCRs.
A major theme in my work is the exploration of inefficiencies and intentionally doing things the wrong way, and I have a recurring interest in poking fun at virtual reality. I love graceful kludges, rural folk machinery, and chindogu, and building Videodome is like trying to build a realtime immersive imaging system with parts that don't cost more than $10.
From a technical perspective, the project is a RAID - a redundant array of inexpensive devices - and is easy to reconfigure. It's just a $10 camera, a cable, and an old television multiplied many times. The cameras can be positioned to face outward on the helmet, or the camera cluster can be put on a dog or a tree - or the televisions can be arranged on a floor, in different shapes or on the side of a building. For me, it's a return to the spirit of video installation artists like Dan Graham or Nam June Paik when the format of video still had a sense of technological magic.
When my sons (aged 7 and 9) first played with a typewriter, their perception of it is that it was a very fast computer that instantly printed letters as fast as you typed them. And - if you think about it from the perspective of the time it takes between hitting a keystroke and when the letter is rendered on paper - the typewriter beats a supercomputer every time. In a similar way, an analog video camera is like a streaming video server with zero lag - typewriters, analog video cameras and other devices from media history are still very high performance and interactive devices in their own limited ways. The project is aimed at exploiting the high performance component of an old technology - it's a bit of a novelty at a time where digital cameras are thickly layered in technical infrastructure. You just plug an analog camera and it's instantly streaming video, although your network is only as long as your video cable.
The project is influenced by a few projects, especially Michael Maranda's Sphereorama (1991), Kenji Kawakami's 360' Panorama Camera (1995), and Hyungkoo Lee's Objectuals (2002) - and the idea to use a mountain of cheap cameras initially came from my friend Jason Torchinsky. It's scheduled to premiere in San Jose at an exhibition that Madeline Schwartzman is curating related to her book "See Yourself Sensing". The piece is not in the book, but I'm very happy the project is included in the show - in my opinion her book is the most brilliant contemporary art books I've seen in a long time.
Judging by the reaction the project OutRun received in gaming, gadget, vehicle blogs and magazines, have you ever thought of modifying the work and giving it a commercial existence, making it something that rich kids could buy?
The original car is actually for sale, but it's priced at $100,000 - so it would take a very rich kid to purchase it. I've floated the idea of purchasing the original car to a few obscenely rich people like Jay Leno but as of right now it's still for sale. There was a glimmer of hope when the billionaire owner of Lego, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, drove the original project in Denmark. He clearly had a lot of fun driving the project - and he had the money to pay to replace anything he crashed into - but I don't think he thought I was serious when I proposed to trade him for one of his Ferraris.
I generally don't pursue the monetization or commercialization of my projects - I tend to enjoy focusing on research and the exploratory prototyping phases of technological development. At this point I'm comfortably paid to do my artwork, so I'd rather spend my time focusing on building new projects.
That said, if anybody is interested in the original vehicle or working on porting the concept into a more commercially viable platform, I'm open to ideas.
And more generally, have you ever been tempted to work more closely with the gaming industry or any other industry? Surely they'd welcome creative people like you?
I used to work in the design industry through advertising agencies, film production houses, and by doing product prototyping, and at that time my slogan for much that work was "Making Your Shitty Idea a Reality". There were a few exceptions of situations where you have a blank slate and a blank check that I found enjoyable, but for the most part I've found it uninspiring.
There are significant exceptions to this - I think of Julian Bleecker at Nokia for example - I think there's a lot of room in research positions that might be rewarding. It also may be that most of my experience in industry was in the 1990s when I had a thinner portfolio and CV; maybe there are a lot of places that would be a good fit.
I generally like the quirks of the art world and academia; I usually find my colleagues in these environments to be interesting, intelligent and strange in a fun way. Both of my current appointments - full time at UC Irvine in Informatics and part time at Art Center in Media Design - are great because of the people and the projects they're working on. Paul Dourish, Gillian Hayes, Don Patterson, Geof Bowker, Anne Burdick, Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, Chris Csikszentmihalyi and everybody else I work with - they're all brilliant and fun to be around. And for now I generally get to do whatever I want, so I can't complain.
You wrote in your statement page: "I believe that industry and academia often draw false distinctions between experts and amateurs, hardware and software, mind and body, and science and creativity, and my goal is to meld these polarities in the projects I develop. Many of our greatest social challenges and technological opportunities now lie in these connection points." How can experts / amateurs connection lead to technological opportunities? Also what can experts learn from amateurs?
I'm interested in leveraging DIY, hackerspace and amateur cultures for a number of reasons. I believe that innovation and breakthroughs happen when individuals go beyond their standard frames of reference and discipline to learn new skills on their own: breakthroughs often require us to become amateurs in a new field, in other words. During the process of learning new things, we often cobble together materials, figure things out informally, and explore things on our own. For this reason, DIY culture and doing things in nonstandard or non-expert ways are useful models for how innovation is done.
I've also seen a significant cultural surge toward DIY electronics, physical computing, and hands-on "making" over the last decade. The turn toward physical making is partly due to people being tired of mass produced consumer Walmart culture - they're tired of having disposable, spiritless and generic junk. DIY electronics is also partially in response against the trend of conceiving information and knowledge as virtual things. Platforms like the Arduino - which started out filling a niche within the physical computing community - has grown to be quite widely implemented in multiple fields of design.
I also think that higher education has become increasingly detached from physical objects. I think that this is a mistake: I believe that innovation and education needs to be engaged with the real world, get dirt under its fingernails, and learn the skill of working hard at problems that are often ambiguous. Universities needs to combine hands-on construction and skill with advanced knowledge and concepts in order to effectively innovate in research - and for workforce development.
If i understood correctly, the hand-made zine on critically-engaged making were printed in only 300 copies and given out for free. i do suspect that far more than 300 people would love to get their hands on it. Most would even be happy to pay for it. The content is brilliant, so is the format. Are you planning to change the distribution model?
Yes - the project is called Critical Making and I the documentation for the project is at http://conceptlab.com/criticalmaking/. There's been an outpouring of interest in expanding this project and there are clearly a lot of people involved in DIY or maker communities that don't fit into the "family-friendly kit-based weekend-project" focus of Make Magazine. The initial idea was to do an actual photocopied zine with a bunch of people I admire and to give it away for free - although this has become a much bigger project with almost 350 pages of content from about 60 contributors. It's nicely grown into a pack of zines, a little like Ginko Press's "McLuhan Unbound" project.
I'm still going to give the 300 copies away for free - and I'm making a special edition for the contributors - but I haven't yet determined what to do after my initial run. I'm currently talking to some different people and presses, and I'm open to ideas.
At this point, I'm not inclined to just slap an open source license on the content and put a PDF of it online. I'd ideally like the project as only available as a photocopied object that somebody hand produced - but I realize that this may not be practical. I'd consider an academic or art press, distributing it through the contributors, or returning to a zine model of people sending cash in an envelope to an address.
There's an interesting push against electronic books happening - instead of the format of physical books dying, there's a fresh crop of bookmaking work that fetishizes the physical page. I wouldn't term it as a "zombification" of books, but a useful opportunity to rethink what physical components of a book are valuable.
For my Critical Making project, if people want copies or are interested in this as a publishing/distribution project, let me know. I'll send you a copy too, Régine - but the contents of this collection of zines is a whole other conversation... we should talk about it after I've shipped them off.
One of my favourite projects on your homepage must be the customized taco (food) truck that would go around communities and give D.I.Y. laboratory for circuit bending. Is it going to happen soon?
This project, with an official title of Repurposing Obsolescence: Teaching DIY Science, Technology and Engineering Practices to Adolescents in Underserved Communities, will design, develop and test Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hands-on workshops to introduce and teach middle school kids in underserved communities technology and design by customizing and repurposing e-waste technology, like old electronic toys. Right now the major outcome of the project will be the creation of a workshop kit that covers the processes of learning DIY electronics for distribution to after school programs and other informal educational venues.
My team has implemented a number of pilot projects over the last three years that demonstrate the ability of hands-on DIY electronics curricula to motivate and encourage students and to enable them to acquire a deeper understanding of core engineering, mathematics and science concepts by introducing creative and artistic use of circuit bending,ì the creative short circuiting of electronic devices that make sound.
I'm interested in extending maker culture into different environments, and I think the approach is useful in getting kids interested in learning about how things work. In this project, I'm particularly interested in reaching out to communities that normally wouldn't have the resources in their schools to explore art or electronics. Sadly, California has a growing list of schools that have slashed art or any items that aren't part of the standardized test structure. Hands-on education - with shop, woodworking and art classes - have been removed from most schools. This is doing an incredible disservice to kids, and it's especially bad in communities that don't have a lot of resources. It's not teaching people how to think, be creative or holistic problem solving - it's teaching people how to memorize things to get a high score on a test.
I think circuit bending is a great antithesis to a standardized test. It doesn't have one right answer. It uses your hands. It makes noise and can be dangerous. It can be very simple or incredibly complicated. It involves genuine exploration and discovery. In a nutshell, I think it's a better model for how life works than a test on paper, and I think the United States would be a better place and have a more skilled and creative workforce (and more interesting artwork) if more kids were taught things like circuit bending at an early age. The scientific hypothesis of the project is that this approach will lower barriers to experimenting with custom-built electronic instruments and lead to greater participation and success of people pursuing secondary education.
So, my challenge in this project is to develop hands-on workshops, kits and curriculum that work within the educational system of the United States, or at least Southern California. I also want it to work for people with English as a second language, and as a result have translated prototypes of the curriculum into Spanish, Chinese, Korean and French - but within Southern California, Spanish is my main focus.
My vision is to extend this work through the development of a mobile D.I.Y. laboratory to more easily bring our specialized infrastructure to underserved communities. In other words, have a vehicle that acts as a "bookmobile" to bring specialized resources to groups and communities that lack educational infrastructure. The initial idea for this "makermobile" would be to have it in the form of a customized taco (food) truck, a common component of Los Angeles and Orange County culture. This vehicle would transport workshop mentors and specialized tools and would serve as a public platform to disseminate the workshop materials. I've envisioned that the vehicle would need to be really cool - with lowrider hydraulic suspension, nice rims, and a cool paint job - as a form of propaganda to get kids excited.
I've recently got funding to develop the curriculum and hardware component of this project, but I don't yet have funding to buy a vehicle. As it turns out, purchasing a vehicle through a university or research funds is usually problematic - it doesn't fit into the standard categories of research equipment, especially a pimped out lowrider taco truck.
Do you think schools, and education in general, isn't doing enough to make young people 'techno-literate'?
I think kids generally get quite a bit of informal education around technology using computers, mobile phones or iPads at home. What they're missing is the opportunities to open up and learn about the mechanics of what's inside of the black boxes of technology, to go beyond a consumer of the technology. I want kids to move beyond downloading a game off of the Apple App Store - that's not technical literacy, it's just another format of consumption.
You are Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine with Geof Bowker, Cory Knobel and Judith Gregory. The objective of the lab is to blend "rich social theory with design practice in order to produce information systems and technology imbued with strong social and ethical values." Which kind of works are you developing in the Lab? Do you have some examples of projects that represent particularly well what the students are working on there?
Actually, within the last couple weeks this lab name has changed to "EVOKE" - Emerging Values, Ontologies, and Knowledge Expression - we're working on a number of different things, including a Values in Design workshop for doctoral students.
At this point we're still getting the lab set up, but we're interested in infrastructure, ontologies, values, big data, making, and how knowledge is formed and communicated. It's an intentionally big mix of topics that doesn't neatly fit into the format of something like a TED talk. I see the lab like a research group or design initiative, perhaps like a smaller version of the MIT Media Lab, that work on investigating complex issues, building prototypes and solving problems built on a foundation of serious social theory.
We have a lot of projects going on, including researching new forms of scholarship that move beyond linear texts, design by youth, and work that encompasses biomedical informatics. The first project that we completed at UC Irvine during summer 2012 was a design workshop for doctoral students, titled "Values in Design". Our mission in this project was to train researchers in a broad range of disciplines - including Informatics, Computer Science, Design and Science and Technology Studies - to produce new forms of information systems and technologies which express strong social and ethical values. It ran over the course of a week, and the format was a little bit like Project Runway - with teams designing technology prototypes - and an academic conference with guest speakers lecturing on design-oriented topics. It was a lot of fun.
Within the different projects through EVOKE, I'm primarily interested in making physical prototypes of complex concepts: I'm focused on what art can do to actually extend and add to research and science.
I hope you won't mind if i say this but you're an established artist. You're also teaching and holding academic positions. Could you point us to young, emerging artists whose work we should be paying more attention to? Either students or yours or just people whose work you stumbled upon online or at a Dorkbot meeting?
I have some student work that I'm very proud of, especially my graduate students coming out of Media Design Practices at Art Center. My favorite projects over the last little while are:
- Chiao Wei Ho, Slow Letter (2012). "The design of Slow Letter is based on the concept of Process-based Interaction which focuses on the process instead of the task itself. It is my challenge to the instantaneous interaction of user-centered design. It questions the essentiality of instantaneity and convenience in current digital service. What would the interaction be like when time and space are being elongated? We all have experienced the satisfaction of these digital devices around us, it can take us from point A to point B within no time. However, Slow Letter tends to discover alternative values outside of task-orientated interactions. The project reevaluates the weight of our words in the digital communication by elongates the process between point A to point B. It transforms instantaneity into emotional values and inject unconventional perspectives into the numbed daily routine."
- Alex Braidwood: Noisolation Headphones (2011). You've written about these at http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2011/10/the-noisolation-headphones.php - since you wrote that article an updated video of the project is here:
- Hyun Ju Yang: Measurement of Existence (2010). "This hypothetical device informs your quantum state within innumerable versions of our universe in the quantum state of the universe. The main idea is inspired by an equation, the measurement of existence from the relative quantum mechanics created by physicist, Everett who invented Many-World theory."
A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 27th November at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 29th November 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.
This week, i'm talking with Ruairi Glynn, architect, artist, curator, ex-fantastic blogger and if that were not enough he is also a lecturer in Interactive Architecture at Bartlett. His interactive kinetic installations have earned him awards and exhibitions across the world, from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the National Art Museum in Beijing. Ruairi Glynn was one of the first artists invited to fill in the Tank space at Tate Modern where he installed Fearful Symmetry, a glowing tetrahedron that glided above visitors' heads, danced and encouraged the public to become an active part of the performance.
It's been a fascinating conversation with a pleasant guy. We talked cybernetics, interactivity, puppetry and machines with a mind of their own. I hope you like the programme!
This year, even GAMERZ, an art&tech festival with a name that promises its visitors much joy and entertainment, didn't want to turn its back to the times of fear and uncertainty we are living. The festival was as playful as ever but with a slightly darker tone and with a selection of artists whose works question the worrying changes at work in society.
The opening of the festival took place at the gloriously Op-Art Fondation Vasarely, a museum designed by Victor Vasarely and containing some spectacular works of his. Sadly, the space is now equally famous for the state of disrepair of the artworks and of the building itself.
I've mentioned two of the works exhibited there already: Cécile Babiole's Bzzz! The sound of electricity and Benjamin Gaulon's Printball and i'm still working on a post focusing on the work of two young and ridiculously talented artists from Paris. Which means that i haven't much left to say about the exhibition at the Fondation. I must however mention the stunning Salamander:
Pascual Sisto used stock images of explosions from the movie industry as "digital ready-made" and collaged them with the After Effects software. The potentially deadly explosions are turned into sublime, hypnotizing fire works.
I can't find a way to embed the video on the blog so do me a favour and click over here to see the film.
The rest of the exhibition is spread throughout the center of the city of Aix-en-Provence. Let's start with Paul Destieu's solo show at the Seconde Nature space because, year after year, my first question when arriving at the festival is "What is Paul showing this time?" And as always (see Project NADAL and Fade-Out) his pieces were simple and brilliant.
Révolutions pits against each other two different moments in the history of the audiovisual media: the beginnings of home-made cinema and YouTube. The artist transferred the loading circle of YouTube onto the silver band of a Super8 projector, an object nowadays obsolete. The history of home-made video draws a circle metaphorically and visually.
Another work Destieu was showing compiled scenes of duels from the Star Wars saga to create a fight made of light and sound. The dialogues of the duelists can be heard in the room but the only image of the duel is shaped by the light emanating from two video projectors. They face each other at a distance, each at another end of the room. Below, smoke machines give shape and materiality to the projected beams that emerge in the dark and look like the fighting swords of the Star Wars warriors. A moment of violence and anger turned translated in darkness and white mist.
Apart from the screenings, games and installations, the festival also programed a series of performances. I saw a couple of them but the one that impressed me the most was by Feromil, the 'post-apocalyptic one man band'. The artist gave a concert using a metal detector as his main musical instrument. The performance was very raw, and very physical. Try wearing a gas mask while holding and moving around a metal detector for half an hour over a bass amp and you'll get the idea.
The room where My Computer Just Started to Smoke was exhibited at the Galerie Susini was filled with smoke that the computer was 'enthusiastically' inhaling, depending of the temperature variations of its processors.
The computer runs a software that navigates the internet exclusively through pop-ups that pitch porn, poker, and tricks that will make you rich almost instantly. The more pop-ups the computer encounters and opens, the more its processor heats up and, of course, the faster the fans are spinning. But that's not enough. To further 'calm down' the computer also inhales the smoke of the hookah.
At first sight, the work created by the Dardexcollective might seem to be merely mischievous. But it is actually a comment on computer animism and on the internet, a new world that promises freedom but delivers equal doses of mercantilism.
To be honest, i wasn't expecting to see GAMERZ invade the venerable Musée des Tapisseries (museum of tapestry) of AIx-en-Provence but the organizers used the entrance space to display several experimental games people could play with.
Hommage a New York, by Florent Deloison, is one of them. The game was inspired by Breakout, the video game released in 1976 by Atari, and also by the self-destructive sculpture created in 1960 by Jean Tinguely with the help of engineer Billy Klüver.
In Deloison's version, instead of breaking bricks, the player must destroy the computer code behind the game. You can never win and the game inevitably ends when vitals commands stop working. A big red button on the control panel is used to restart the game
If GAMERZ is for me the best festival to discover new names in art&tech, it is also a space where confirmed names are given 'carte blanche' to invade an exhibition space as they please. This year, Quentin Destieu and Sylvain Huguet, curators and founders of the festival, invited Rafael Rozendaal to spread one of his internet works onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the gallery of the Aix en Provence art school using mirrors and 5 video projectors. The experience of 'walking inside' a web page, moving through it, seeing your shadow cutting through solid chunks of colours is eerie.
A couple more images:
Performance art is very much in favour these days. This Summer in London only, The Tanks opened its gigantic space to 'art in action' and the Hayward inaugurated Art of Change, a showcase of installation and performance art in China.
Active Presence - Action, Object and Audience which opened last month at LABoral in Gijón has a fairly similar focus: performance and installation art. But with an added focus on audience participation.
Before this intro goes any further, i think i should exemplify the concept of the show with one of the works i found most engaging. Mentally and physically. Well... i slightly moved my head to the beat of the music while watching the aerobic class. Surely, that counts as a bodily experience.
That's right! An aerobic class! Mads Lynnerup has designed a series of gym equipment (my favourite are the weights shaped like jamónes) and invited local fitness instructors to use them as they please during their classes. Right in the middle of the exhibition space. Anyone interested in taking part can register and bring their leg warmers or whatever is suitable for aerobic, zumba or pilates.
In Plastic Gymnastic, the art objects are either hung on the wall or manipulated by sweaty palms. And the people you never get to meet outside art openings, are suddenly there in front of you kettlebell swinging and doing planks.
The work demonstrates Lynnerup's fascination with the similarities of two universes that appear to be very dissimilar. 'I think the two worlds have a lot in common, he explained. They are both obsessive and become fanatic in their own way (as in one thinks only about working out or making art etc.) and I like the idea that, as an artist in my studio, I am working out something.'
Active Presence - Action, Object and Audience is thus about performance and installation art but they are never dissociated from the role that the public takes in the exhibition space. Implicitly or explicitly. Physically or psychologically.
Or in curators' speak: The aim of the exhibition is the conflation of performance and installation into a diverse landscape of dynamic installations activated by the artists and/or the audience within the museum's gallery walls. There are works in which the audience take a more passive role, while the artists are the activators. Conversely, there are also installations whose existence depends upon the participation of the public. There is work that also functions in both domains. In all is found a unique territory betwixt and between genres where conceptually layered relationships uncommon to the experience of pure performance or installation reside.
Spectators have to be brave to engage with John Bock's Vas-Y! (which i'd translate as 'go on!') though.
Bock invited members of the audience to step inside a small house, complete with furniture and music instruments. But as soon as the door closes behind you, it starts moving on its axis and you feel like you are inside a washing machine. Or a hamster inside a wheel if you walk at the correct rhythm.
Video of what goes on inside.
Thom Kubli used the exhibition space as the setting for a Guiness Book record. He broke the world record of "The Longest Guitar Solo Ever Played." He managed to stand there --without ever taking a break-- playing the instrument during 17 hours, 21 minutes and 2 seconds.
If you think you can outperform Kubli, feel free to drop a line to produccion @ laboralcentrodeart org. They will give you the space, the guitar, a witness and stream your solo of guitar through their web.
I've no clue what Alastair MacLennan was doing balancing a tree on his head but it was the most exquisite and intriguing spectacle of the opening night.
Sergio Prego's rubber architecture of tunnels in the entrance of the art center.
More images from the show:
Active Presence, Action, Object and Audience was curated by Sergio Edelsztein and Kathleen Forde. The exhibition remains open until 25 February 2013 at LABoral Centro de Art y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain.
Another work i discovered at the GAMERZ festival in Aix en Provence a few days ago. And just like yesterday's this one give sound a visual presence. So visual actually that artist Cécile Babiole defines her work as a 'sound sculpture.'
Bzzz! The sound of electricity brings us back to the pre-digital sound, to a time when electric energy was so raw and new, that it buzzed, sparkled and vibrated. The work renders the sound of electricity audible and spread it over the ambient space. Six frequency generators comprising basic electronic components allow the electrical current to be modulated so as to generate slightly amplified sound vibrations.
The soundscape is best experience when walking inside the sculpture, going from one sound to another, seeing how the cables and loudspeakers slightly vibrate as if the electrical current was waking them to an organic life. The sound wave generator itself is at the centre of the circular structure. It was amusing to see how male visitors felt entitled to turn the buttons to control the sound. I guess any artwork that uses electronics is now regarded as being automatically 'interactive.' But this piece wasn't. Cécile Babiole did however use Bzzz! as an instrument for a performance she gave during the opening of the festival
By reinventing an obsolete low-tech sound wave generator in this all-digital age, Bzzz ! serves as a commentary on the history of technology and a tribute to unprocessed, unsampled analog sound : in a word, the raw sound of electricity.
Video showing the installation in action, along with a short interview with the artist (in french):
Also at the last edition of GAMERZ: Macro-videos for musicians in action.
I didn't get the chance to see Five Thousand Generations of Birds but the idea and its result are so seducing i thought i should write something about it. Five Thousand Generations of Birds was an exhibition located in the archipelago of Fitjar, on the West coast of Norway, - a landscape consisting of 381 islands, isles and reefs.
Roman Signer planted a pair of blue boots on poles on a reef. Not only is the reef in the middle of nowhere but it is not even visible when the tide is high.
Joanna Malinowska asked an opera singer to stand and sing on one of the isles.
Miks Mitrevics chose to spent 15 days in complete silence on one of the isles. All by himself and sleeping in a shelter he had built. He communicated through letters he sent on a floating mailbox in the sea. The locals brought him fresh fish to eat, sheep for company and magazines for entertainment on their own initiative.
Norwegian duo aiPotu measured an island, transporting a big tree from land by sea and using it as the measurement.
Five Thousand Generations of Birds showed art that interrupts, disrupts and transforms the landscape and the local community. In the end the exhibition -which lasted only a couple of days- all was back to normal. The islands, isles and reefs are ruling the landscape almost as if nothing ever happened. The only difference is that the local communities and visitors are probably looking at it with another eye.
Well, as i wrote, i wasn't there to experience it but that didn't prevent me from asking the curators to tell me about the project:
Hi, Andrea and Silje! The way you made Five Thousand Generations of Birds is probably as fascinating as what you made. Could you tell us about the challenges in logistics (transport, construction, shipping, etc) you encountered while preparing the exhibition?
Obviously, most of us were not used to these kinds of logistics. Working on tiny isles could be compared to working inside a bus, driving in circles in a roundabout, with the windows wide open, without seats, and without a driver. Still, it hasn't been more challenging or time consuming than we expected. We wanted the logistics to be an intrusive part of the process.
On the other hand, to actually live there and never be able to escape the context was more of a challenge than what we expected. After work every day, the artists where shipped to their residence at a small island called Engesund, and had to stay there until the local boat drivers started their shift around 10 o´clock the morning after. Some said that at first it felt like some sort of a claustrophobic art prison, but after a few days, this prison created an unique atmosphere and an open dialogue between the artists.
The projects were in constant change, not only due to artistic freedom, but also due to the fact that the exhibition space was regularly modified by storms, heavy rain, wild sheep eating the art, etc. This lead to quite a few problematic practicalities that had to be solved during the last days. Thanks to resources that seemed to appear as if by magic, and a lot of enthusiastic people, we were able to make it happen.
One example is the work of Julien Berthier (FR). After finding the geographical center of Fitjar and detaching it from its ground, he wanted to transport the 3,2 meters in diameter and 650 kilos center with a helicopter to place it on his isle. Fortunately the first windmill for a huge windmill park in the Fitjar mountains was being shipped at this time, and there was a lot of helicopters cruising around in the area, so one of the helicopter drivers agreed on shipping the center of Fitjar in between the windmill-work.
Another example is Tori Wrånes (NO) diving board. She needed to mount the board on a cliff wall for her performance. A good climber was required for this task. After talking to some of the locals it actually turned out that an Australian free-climber was hanging out in Fitjar, just waiting for adventures, he was booked and was a great recourse during the rest of the project.
All in all, several projects could not have been realized without us partly relying on the strategy of chance. A strategy that is used by many of the locals in Fitjar, they say you just have to spread the word, and everything is pretty much solved within an hour.
Ftgofbirds takes place on the archipelago of Fitjar which is made of 381 islands, isles and reefs. I suspect you must have met with some ecological concerns when you submitted the idea of organizing this weekend of site specific works. Did you have to meet requirements related to the land or the eco system for example? Did any of them force you and the artists to modify some of the projects or modes of operation?
As we started the process of getting permission to work at the islands in 2009, we already knew that we wanted to emphasize production on site, which meant no shipping of finished works from around the world. This strategy of course limited the amount of materials available, but increased the involvement with the local community and also saved the amount of transport needed.
Taking a look at the history of Fitjar and other places along the Norwegian coast, you don't have to go more than 60-80 years back in time to find documents of how people who lived on the islands had to risk their lives when rowing out to buy materials for their farms and houses. There are plenty of stories of people who drowned as their boats were caught by bad weather, and the only traces left to find were pieces of wood floating on the water. The stories have set a dark, uncanny backdrop for us as artists in our constant hunt for materials.
Concerning requirements we were not allowed to make any permanent marks in the landscape except from drilling a few holes with a maximum of 12 millimeter diameter on each isle.
This rule shaped some of the artists work. One of them, Øyvind Aspen (NO), worked with the idea of a tiny drilled hole as the only permanent, physical mark anyone could make and drilled a 13 millimeter hole in his island. The performance based installation was titled; "One out of two mystical possibly magical passages tumbling the hell away from this godforsaken place." His character Øy-vind (island-wind), a mixture of a hillbilly/magician/fisherman, was spotted cruising around in Fitjar on a scooter, flirting with the local teens, visiting the area, while handing out flyers with information of this proclaimed passage.
As the only inhabitants on the isles, the birds that usually live there were a big concern during the production, but as the hatching season was over, the birds easily relocated to the neighbour isles.
I'm also curious about the local communities. How did they react to the project?
The local community has been a very important part of the project.
We thought it would be a struggle to engage the local communities, but they proved us wrong every time we came up with a new idea. People have been curious and eager to work with us.
Ever since the municipality got involved, we have regularly visited Fitjar to have meetings with a local resource group who have been helping out with logistics, etc. Without this connection the project would have been very hard to conduct. A couple of weeks before the exhibition, we sent a very informal letter to all the residents at Fitjar, introducing us and the project and giving everyone an invitation to the exhibition. Approximately 2500 people visited Five Thousand Generations of Birds during the weekend, most of them from the area, and Fitjar is a small town of only 3000 inhabitants. We heard this after we left: "There is a new era in Fitjar. Before and after Erlend Helland, (the local taxi driver), attended an art exhibition."
Kunstverein St. Pauli, a nomadic gallery that came from Hamburg to join the programme brought a tattoo needle with them, so that people could get free island tattoos. Several artists, the crew, volunteers and the audience got tattoos with one of the islands surrounding Smedholmen.
What guided the selection of artists? And according to what criteria did you attribute an island to each one?
We are both artists, and wanted the strategies to be based upon artists inviting artists. The selection has been made from several criteria related to our intuition, association, our common sense of humour, but most of all we have have been working together for so many years that we just created our own sense of logic related to this project. This logic or these rules are hard to categorize or even grasp, and they have been changing alongside the constant work in progress.
Other important aspects guided our selection:
- We wanted to approach the process in the same way as we would do in our artistic production. The site is also a logical choice based on our own artistic production.
Each of the works created was temporary and site-specific but do you think that they might also leave something permanent behind them?
We wanted the exhibition to be temporary. We wanted the works to be seen within two days by the audience. For a sculpture-based work, this is a relatively short time, but for a performative work, the duration had to be up to 8 hours since we wanted all the works to be present at the same time.
There might be some actual physical traces of the works left behind, even though we wanted the landscape to appear untouched after the show was over, it was a strong request from the locals that we would leave some of it there. Roman Signer donated his sculpture "Ladder with Boots" to Fitjar. This can hopefully be seen for many years, and it's interesting to see what happens over time to a work that is meant to be temporary.
Other artists donated their works to the volunteers of the projects, some of the sculptural works can be seen in gardens around Fitjar.
The geographical center of Fitjar is also marked permanently with the pole Julien Berthier put down after ending his project.
The permanent effect will be easier to talk about later, after we have visited again, and after the stories related to the project have spread.
A local change should not be underestimated.
The documentation of the exhibition, and the tales of before and after, have been difficult, as the images and the words could romanticize this kind of artistic practice. The experience of being present during the exhibition was much more subtle and demanding.
All images courtesy of the curators.