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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.

Curators Silje Linge Haaland and Andrea Bakketun assigned an island to each participating artist with the mission to produce a temporary and site specific work.

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.

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Roman Signer, Ladder with Boots. Photo by Erik Reitan

Joanna Malinowska asked an opera singer to stand and sing on one of the isles.

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Johanna Malinowska. Photo by Erik Reitan

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.

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Miks Mitrevics living on one of the isles for the project "15 days of silence". (Photo: Juuso Noronkoski)

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Miks Mitrevics. Photo by Erik Reitan

Norwegian duo aiPotu measured an island, transporting a big tree from land by sea and using it as the measurement.

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aiPotu. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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:

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Idan Hayosh and Adam Etmanski transporting their work to one of the isles. (Photo: Juuso Noronkoski)

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.

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Julien Berthier. Photo by Erik Reitan

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.

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Tori Wranes

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.

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Sigmund Skard. Photo by Erik Reitan

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Siri Schippers Skaar, sound gong, 2012. Exhibition Weekend. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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.

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Øyvind Aspen. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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.

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Exhibition Weekend. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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Exhibition Weekend. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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.

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Kunstverein St. Pauli. Photo by Erik Reitan

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.
- The artists we chose were selected based on who, in different ways, would be interesting to challenge with the restrictions an isle provides.
- Getting to know their existing practice, also knowing that most of them would work completely different faced with the landscape at Fitjar and the challenges of an isle.
- Some of the artists work a lot with documenting actions in landscapes similar to Fitjar, and what is left is the documentation of their actions. We wanted to show the action when it happened, showing their failing and trying, and then the audience could document it in their own way. Maybe it is exactly the fragility and honesty which is needed (to make the audience wanting to tattoo an isle on their chest after seeing the show) to move towards the reality of a site. Without being to pragmatic, and without meaning reality as something non-mystical or non-magic, rather the opposite.

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.

Thanks Siljeand Andrea!

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Serina Erfjord. Photo by Erik Reitan

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Marla Hlady. Photo by Erik Reitan

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Idan Hayosh. Photo by Erik Reitan

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Exhibition Weekend. Photo by Juuso Noronkoski

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Axel Linderholm. Photo by Erik Reitan

All images courtesy of the curators.

Sponsored by:





Do you remember Technoviking? He was one of Youtube's sensations in 2007. Millions of people admired his dancing skills and undeniable male magnetism but to this day, his identity remains a mystery. The technoviking video has been blogged, commented, shared, emailed and sparked numerous parodies.

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Image credit: Wafaa Bilal

Wafaa Bilal has installed an inflatable Technoviking avatar at All Saints Park in Manchester for AND, the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art (running this weekend and you should run there too if you can, it's that good). The gigantic head is linked a twitter account and in order to breathe life into it, people have to tweet about it otherwise Technoviking will go flat and dance right back to oblivion again. So go and tweet #technoviking to keep him alive!

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Image credit: Wafaa Bilal

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Image credit: Wafaa Bilal

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Image credit: Wafaa Bilal

Pop culture and astute social comments cohabit in this work like in other works by Bilal. Meme Junkyard is fun and a bit silly of course but it also invites us to reflect on the promises of constant connectivity, on the meaning of 'going viral,' of generating almost unlimited levels of attention before fading back into disinterest. What happens to the technoviking (as well as to the other meme that will soon lay to inflate and deflate in the meme junkyard) is similar to what awaits our ego when other web users stop re-tweeting our rants, linking to our blog posts (oh please let that never happen to me!), or thumbing up our status on facebook.


Wafaa Bilal talking about Meme Junkyard: Technoviking

And the one and only:

Wafaa Bilal is going to discuss his work this Sunday at Cornerhouse. The event is free.

AND, the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art remains open all over Manchester until 2 September 2012.

Other works by Wafaa Bilal: Subversion in the Arab Art world, A few words with Wafaa Bilal, Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art goes politics - Wafaa Bilal, ...and Counting.

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Space Maintenance / Lost in Space, 2012. Installation view at EB&Flow, London

Time machines, false memory, earthly landscape, moon rock gardening, flying saucers, lunacy, galactic adventures and the occasional rabbit. That's the world sketched by Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser. Roughly speaking, Sue is a printmaker and Hagen is a 'New New Media' artist but together they are more than the sum of their parts, they are We Colonised the Moon.

The work of WCTM is clever and nonsensical, dreamy and rooted in techno-scientific experiments. It is driven by its own logic. I'm not sure that the interview below is going to lift the whole mystery behind their work but i certainly had a lot of fun in the attempt.


Authentic Goods from a Realistic Future, at EB&Flow, London

Hello Sue and Hagen! I discovered your work a year ago, when you were showing '101 Harmless Scientific Experiments To Try At Home' at the Acme Project Space in London but you've obviously worked on many ideas and projects right after that. What are you up to this Summer?

Sue: This summer we have had two shows running, at EB&Flow in London and Villa Rosenthal in Germany. The shows are both mostly dealing with work we have done together over the last couple of years. Most recently we have been working on ideas about astronaut training and space maintenance, shooting a lot of videos and building moon rocks out of authentic moon dust simulant.

Hagen: This is definitely the direction we are focusing on now. Installation, video projection, artefacts, movement and performance. We started more 2D for sure because we came together through making graphic work, we continue to make prints but most of the time we're working on installations now.

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Taste of the Universe, 2012. Villa Rosenthal, Jena

You come from different backgrounds. Sue is involved in printmaking and illustration while Hagen used to work mostly with video and conceptual art. How did you two get to work together?

Sue: Pure accident. We literally bumped into each other at a bus stop in Norway. Hagen was in a residency programme at the Nordic Artists' Center in Dale (NDK) and I was visiting to make a short illustration project about forests and star constellations there.

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At NKD, Norway, 2008

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At NKD, Norway, 2008

Hagen: It all started a bit like RUN DMC and Aerosmith working together as studio neighbours.
When I met Sue I had just finished a DIY particle collision experiment in my studio. Whilst the first beam of the Large Hadron Collider was fired I was riding my bike in circles over wet paint for ages until I was hell dizzy!

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Idyllica (Nordica)

Sue: Dale is surrounded by the most amazing Norwegian mountain and fjord landscapes. We made an expedition to Sognefjellet, a Photoshop perfect wilderness, and had endless discussions about how reality is constructed. In the process we discovered some shared interests. We both had backgrounds in science and media. My parents were chemists. Hagen was a junior astronomer in an observatory close to Heidelberg in Germany. I worked for a spell in advertising and multimedia. Hagen had been an art director for a design agency.

Hagen: Through endless hikes and talks about The Clangers, YPS, Blue Peter, Particles, Heinz von Foerster, Constructivist epistemology and so on somehow we came to the point where we thought it could be an interesting idea to work on a project together.

Sue: The ideas we generated during this trip were so fun that I definitely wanted to work like this more. And it was obvious Hagen had absolutely no idea about printmaking!

Hagen: True. I thought only about my little A4 laser jet. Oh boy :) But she convinced me the quick cartoon style sketches I make for my works would work really well as silkscreens. So this is how a nature encounter, theory, two different illustration styles, childhood interests, professional skills and ink became the starting point for our collaboration ... and even our name WE COLONISED THE MOON is made in Norway. Out of this small joint illustration / print project it became now an ongoing and growing collaboration since 2008.

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Approved for all Ages, 2008-2010

You've '(re-)created' the smell of the moon in at least two exhibitions. How did you do that? How much of the result is the fruit of your imagination? Is this a pleasant smell?

Sue: Astronaut Charlie Duke, the tenth man to walk on the moon, said it was not unpleasant. The Apollo astronauts were drawn from the military. I think they knew what they were talking about when they likened the smell to gunpowder. Naturally this is their frame of reference but that's how we all interpret sensory information. I like the smell of burnt matches myself.

Hagen: No one can smell the moon directly of course. The vacuum in space prohibits this. But this gritty tacky meteor bombarded dust on the surface gets on to their spacesuits and back into the LEM. Then there is this massive reaction with oxygen and moisture. The loose molecules go off like firecrackers and generate the smell they experienced.

Sue: So, we had the smell synthesised by Steve Pearce, a chemist who is an international aroma expert in the UK. He makes flavours and smells commercially for his own company and had been approached by NASA some years ago to work on the smell of space for astronaut training.

Hagen: What's attractive to us about this phenomena is the strong link between smell and memory and the association with place, whether it's real or imagined is actually the crux the work we make hangs on.

Sue: Curator Caro Verbeek from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam knew we were working on the idea of space aromas and asked us to make a piece for her for the event "Do It Smell It" on olfactory art in 2010. We came up with the idea of a scratch and sniff postcard from the moon. A momento from a place most people will never go. A fictional memory.

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Moon Scratch Sniff, 2010

Hagen: Then in 2011 for a commission from The Arts Catalyst and FACT Liverpool we created an installation for the exhibition Republic of the Moon. Visitors could enter (on own risk) a film-set like test chamber. Periodically an astronaut resprayed an array of "authentic" moon rocks with synthesised lunar aroma. As longer you stayed in the environment as more you got pollinated with moon smell. After you left, the smell travelled for several hours with you on your clothes out into the city.

Sue: At the moment we are also doing a lot of "Live Moon Smellings" using helium balloons and pins! We have enough smell left to pollinate an area twice the size of the Olympic stadium.


Enter at Own Risk, 2011 at FACT, Liverpool

What's behind the name We Colonised the Moon?
Do you feel bound to do certain types of works that involve science, space because of it? If, for example, you'd decide to develop vegan cooking projects one day, would you do it under a different name?

Sue: I guess it's really a kind of band name. A comment one of us made when we saw how lunar the glacier region we visited in Norway looked. It just stuck.

Hagen: The truth is the name comes from an encounter with an electricity pylon. Surrounded by this pristine wilderness the pylon looked like the first man made structure on a virgin planet -- which more or less then created the idea that this might be what it looks like when we start to colonise the moon.

Sue: So no, we're not necessarily all about science or space or pylons. We just started there.

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The WCTM Pylon, somewhere around Sognefjellet, Norway, 2008

By the way, Hagen can you tell us what are the scope, objectives and functions of the Institute of General Theory?

Hagen:

The Institute of General Theory is a project of indeterminate duration, for anything. It operates in an undefined area, in the grey zone where there is no distinction between fiction and science, art and craft, independent work and self exploitation; between game, experiment and paid work, between experimental and studio space, or between museum and university.
Jean-Baptiste Joly, Akademie Schloss Solitude, 2007.

After I graduated in 2001 at Merz Akademie Stuttgart, the Institute of General Theory became, besides my daily agency design job, my independent playground for experimental projects. Then, when I became a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2005 the Institute turned into my full time artistic career. It's my operational format and combines pretty much everything I am interested in since early childhood until today in a professional dilettante way.

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Institute of General Theory, 2007, at Hall Farm, Vermont, USA

I have another question for you, Hagen, your short bio says that your "artistic practice is exploring the gaps and connections between art and science to create New New Media." I sometimes write about the connections between art and science so i'm interested in your mentioning of the gaps between them? What are the most interesting/fascinating gaps between art and science? And should they remain gaps or should they somehow be made to disappear?

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Hagen: Working with scientists is mostly fun and generates often interesting results for both sides. But academic artistic research makes me grumpy! There is a lot of art-science-art, science-art-science that takes itself way too serious that even tumbleweed would stop to roll. New New Media is Post Artistic Research, liberated from University fantasies about how things should be done according to the most recently developed textbooks.

Sue: I grew up with the Clangers and Blue Peter and a DIY attitude to life. What I like about the way Hagen operates is I can walk right in and join in without worrying if we do it right. Misunderstanding is actually even productive.

Hagen: In the last couple of years there is so much sophisticated theory that it is sometime hard to see the art behind it. I am not saying my own work is not based on mountains of theory but I like to offer the observer first an enjoyable view and if he wants he can go and discover as much more as he wants in my landscape and not the other way around.

Sue: This suits me too. I think theory like technology should not be the thing you notice first.

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101 (Mostly) Harmless (Almost) Scientific Experiments to Try At Home (video)

Last summer, you were showing 101 (Almost) Harmless (Mostly) Scientific Experiments to Try at Home in London. Could you share some of them with us?
And explain us how we could replicate one or two of them home too?

Hagen: Haha! The biggest experiment was definitely being holed up together for two months in ACME Project Space, a studio in Bethnal Green. Two options, homicide or art.

Sue: Indeed! Normally we work together on and off for say a couple of weeks max at a time and in between the work goes on online. This was altogether a different experience.

Hagen: The project was inspired actually by a children's book on science from the 1950s I think. You know the kind of thing. Make Your Own Atomic Bomb in 5 Easy Lessons.

Sue: What people want to get up to in the privacy of their own homes is their business. Mostly I guess it does not involve black holes but I think amateur science is a great tradition which should be encouraged. So we decided to tackle anti-gravity with an electric hoist, built our own design for a future satellite disguised as an asteroid and began a campaign against cosmic rays.

Hagen: From what I learnt the Scottish Enlightenment seems to have taken place mostly in the pubs of Leith. I have no problem with that. Dilettantism was always a powerful driving force for progress and only in recent times has it become this negative aftertaste. I am very happy to be a professional Dilettante!


101 (Mostly) Harmless (Almost) Scientific Experiments to Try At Home

Any upcoming projects, exhibition, residency, public presentation you could share with us?

Sue: The next thing we are definitely participating in this year is a special three day "Kosmica" festival at Laboratorio Arte Alameda with curator Nahum Mantra in Mexico City. "Republic of the Moon" will also travel on from Liverpool too and some more actions are in the pipeline.

Hagen: Also in September my latest work as the Institute of General Theory, "A Bucket full of Particles" will be part of On Dilettantism a wonderful show curated by Frank Motz at Halle 14, at Spinnerei in Leipzig, Germany.

... and of course ... (say it loud now!) ... NO COSMIC RAYS!

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NO COSMIC RAYS, 2012

Thanks Sue and Hagen!

Authentic Goods from a Realistic Future is at EB&Flow, London until 1st September, 2012
Coming up:
On Dilettantism, Halle14, Spinnerei, Leipzig will open on 15th September and run till 18th November, 2012. It does look like a wonderful show indeed.
Kosmica Mexico will land at Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, from 27th to 29th September, 2012
"Space Adventures #1" at Villa Rosenthal closed a few days ago.

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Image courtesy LABoral

A few days ago, Chris Salter, along with his collaborators Sofian Audry, Marije Baalman, Adam Basanta, Elio Bidinost and Thomas Spier, premiered n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain.

The cutting-edge light and sound environment is an homage to Iannis Xenakis' Polytopes which at the time of their development (1960s-1970s) were regarded as pioneering and radical. Reading articles about the Polytopes, you realize that many of the concepts and structures used to describe them are part of today's new media art and interaction design language: large-scale "multimedia performances", "immersive architectural environments", etc. Xenakis' Polytopes were live performances that merged electronic sound, light shows, and temporary structures. They made the indeterminate and chaotic patterns and behavior of natural phenomena experiential through the temporal dynamics of light and the spatial dynamics of sound. But as ground-breaking as they sound, the polytopes are still relatively unknown.

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Iannis Xenakis,Polytope de Cluny, Paris, 1972 (photo)

Salter's n-Polytope re-imagines Xenakis' work as short performances as well as a continuously evolving installation, both steered through a sensor network utilizing machine learning algorithms. And i'm going to pretty much copy/paste the press release now:

"The 'learning' network studies the rhythmic and temporal patterns produced by the light and sound and helps in generating a totalizing, visceral composition that self organizes in time. LED's and tiny speakers are suspended through the space on a single ruled surface, creating a walk-through performance environment which continually swings between order and disorder, akin to Xenakis's original fascination with the behaviors of natural systems. Creating bursts of light as well as evolving patterns, the behavior of the LED's suggest cosmological events, like the explosion of stars and supernovas. While the LED's create a changing space of bursting points, colored lasers that bounce off the surface of fixed and changing mirrors generate fleeting architectures of lines and shapes that that appear, flicker and disappear before the visitors' eyes. Counter-pointing the intense visual scenography, multi-channel audio from the small speakers as well as the larger environment fills the space, shifting between sparse natural and dense electronic textures - noisy bursts, clangerous, gamelan-like lines and percussive explosions of sound. Across the architectural structure, the network of tiny speakers produce the behaviors of mass sonic structures made up of many small elements (sonic grains) creating swarms of tiny sounds that resemble a field of cicadas or masses of insects."

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Image courtesy LABoral

Check out this video on El Comercio : Chris Salter briefly explains the work and in the background you can get a sneak peak of the preparation of the installation at LABoral.

I haven't traveled to LABoral to see the installation/performance but i'm glad the new work gave me an opportunity to briefly interview Chris Salter. Salter is Associate Professor for Design + Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Hexagram Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology. The artist and researcher is currently working on Alien Agencies: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. The little information i found about the book sounds as exciting as its title. The publication will explore questions such as What does it mean that nonhuman matter "performs"? How can contemporary techno-scientifically influenced and produced artworks be understood under the term "new materialism" - the increased interest in the acts of nonhuman objects, processes and matter itself promoted by such scholars as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Karen Barad and Andrew Pickering? What can fields and practices fields such as Science, Technology and Society (STS), anthropology and sociology offer to current technologically molded practices in the area of "research-creation?"

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Christopher Salter works on his installation n-Polytope at LABoral. Photo: LABoral/Sergio Redruello

Hi Chris! Unfortunately i couldn't come and see the work in Gijón but i've been wondering what visitors can experience exactly during the performance? And since the piece is using machine learning algorithms, does the performance evolve over time and how?

This is a complex question but in a nutshell, what audiences experience is a kind of visceral journey from tranquility to chaos and back again, made manifest through light and sound that is partially choreographed (that is, organized and scored) and partially open to what happens in the environment. The techniques we are using (designed by my collaborator/student Québec based artist and PhD researcher Sofian Audry) come from a branch of machine learning called reinforcement learning - which basically involves software learning agents that interact with their environment in order to achieve a goal. The agent seeks to achieve its goal despite the fact that there is a high degree of uncertainty about the environment - in other words, the agent doesn't know until it does something and is then "rewarded" in either a positive or negative manner. Hence the term "reinforcement." The agent's actions thus influence not only the state of the environment in the present but also can affect the environment's state in the future.

In n-Polytope, the agent receives sensor-actuator information from the environment (the brightness of an LED or the amplitude of a sound, for example) and can either turn the LED or the sound on or off, receiving a reward for it. However, the environment around the agent (and the sensor) is continually changing, so it's hard to determine what steps the agent will take and what they will result in. In this sense, the performance is evolutionary in that each "time step" the agent takes is going to be different from the last.

On the opening day, we already had visitors who saw a performance earlier in the day and then one later tell us that they felt the performance was qualitatively somehow different - that it "felt" different. At the same time we have to "tame the algorithms" by shaping how these behaviors and actions are revealed to the public, particularly given that some of these processes take many minutes to unfold and are not entirely interesting in the long run. Sure, they produce patterns but patterns or the formal processes that produce them are not always intrinsically interesting from an aesthetic or affective point of view in and of themselves. This gets us to your next question...

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Image courtesy LABoral

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Image courtesy LABoral

The composition "self organizes in time". Does that mean that the work is going to surprise you? To create light and sound compositions that you had not forecast? 
And if that is the case, do you find it upsetting that you have to relinquish some of the control over the system?

The idea that something will surprise you is at the heart of the concept of "experiment." In science, of course, you want to somehow stabilize this over time and reduce the surprise so things can become consistent and deterministic (and thus, other people can repeat the experiment, achieve the same results and then eventually call this a scientific "fact"). In art, particularly art that utilizes these unstable computational systems, you hope to create the conditions to enable something surprising to happen and then hope it does! This is one reason why artists like Cage with his "chance operations," Xenakis with his "stochastic music" (i.e., music based on probability models) or us with these statistical procedures from machine learning (which are also similarly stochastic), are interested in using techniques in which the results can only partially be predicted.

The issue of relinquishing control is a really interesting question and I've found after working over many years with similar ideas that one is always in a moving target between something which is scripted/fixed and, at the same time, allows a certain degree of improvisation and self-organization in order to keep the sense of "liveness" - that is, something that is taking place right then and there in real time before you. This is the reason to explore these techniques - because ultimately you want to create an experience that renews itself and that maintains its "nowness" - its "life." Control in the real time context of performance is something that I think is vastly overrated! Despite using computational systems (which are at their heart, control systems) and techniques from probability, for example, Xenakis (or Cage, for that matter) was wholly in control of his work and we are too - in the sense that control involves plotting something out in time in some kind of purposive manner. But at the same time, you are never wholly in control because you are dependent on so many other factors, materials and things that have their own tendencies and predilections -- what my friend, the famous sociologist of science Andrew Pickering usefully terms, their "material agency" - their own way of producing material affects in the world.

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Detail of the structure of the installation. Photo: LABoral/Sergio Redruello

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The installation n-Polytope, tested by Chis Salter and his collaborators during his Production Residency at LABoral Photos: Courtesy of the artist

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The installation n-Polytope, tested by Chis Salter and his collaborators during his Production Residency at LABoral Photos: Courtesy of the artist

n-Polytope is using sophisticated technologies that didn't exist at the time of Xenakis' experiments, but apart from the technology what does your work bring that sets it apart from his "Polytopes"?

I think there is more that unites our different approaches than separates them, although clearly our own histories are very, very different than Xenakis's World War II experience. First, the similarities. The original idea to revisit the Polytopes came from two different directions.

The first is my general interest in the history of performative, technologically augmented "total works of art" I wrote a whole book published by MIT Press called Entangled that came out in 2010 about these performative histories) of which the Polytopes are an essential but unfortunately, mostly forgotten part. Indeed, in describing them Xenakis used terms like "interactive," "self-organizing," temporal acts, etc. that are part of our cultural vocabulary now.

The second is more specific to Xenakis' and my own interest in using formal systems (such as those from mathematics or statistics) to generate visceral, perceptual experiences for audiences that continuously slide from order to disorder and in this process, somehow manage to transcend these formal, abstract structures. What is different is clearly the historical and techno-social context that has radically changed since the Polytope de Montreal in 1967. The kinds of media environments that Xenakis had imagined that the Polytopes represent have become, in some ways, common and part of our own technical-cultural moment. Even though we are using very sophisticated techniques culled from current research in computer science and engineering, I think we bring to this re-imagining perhaps a more sober, less utopian approach to technology. Our approach is far less "Platonic" than Xenakis's in that we are interested less in creating a kind of ideal, perfect experience that would be achieved by the "beauty of numbers" or formal principles of geometric thinking but rather creating something less perfect: more fragmented, disordered and messy and whose actions and influence are open to the world.

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Image courtesy LABoral

I'm also quite curious about the fact that n-Polytope is described as a "performance installation". Could you describe what makes the work performative? Why is it not a simple light show?

There are two scales of performance going on in the piece. First, there is, in the traditional sense of a performance, an event that takes place over a very specific window of time, that has a clear beginning, middle and end and has a specific dramaturgical or narrative shape - that takes the audience through a carefully shaped range of experiences - from a kind of meditative silence to absolute, almost apocalyptic chaos and then back to silence. We run five of these performances daily so people know what to expect - when you use the word performance, audiences understand that they should come in at a specific time and stay the duration and that if they wander in or out they will miss part of the experience. It is, of course, always difficult to create this kind of time in the context of museums or visual art exhibitions (think of works from James Turrell or Robert Irwin which, in one way or the other, force audiences into understanding/experiencing a different sense of time than one is used to in the shopping center/ browsing atmosphere of museums) so we are very clear that one should experience the work from beginning to end.

But there is also a second sense of performance. Indeed, why couldn't a light show be seen as performative? Why does a performance have to imply a human performer at all?

This is the core question underlying my current book project for MIT Press called Alien Agency: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. There is now a huge interest in science studies, in sociology and clearly in art and design in moving away from understanding performance as something that is a strictly human act and instead, emphasizes material actions or behaviors of techno-scientifically orchestrated things, transient objects and processes. We already see this taking place in the early days of cybernetics and indeed, this is one reason why we subtitle n-Polytope "behaviors" in light and sound. What one should observe and experience is how light and sound acts and unfolds indeterminately over time, that is, performs - particularly given the fact that this performance is not completely under human control but instead, based on the environment.

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Image courtesy LABoral

Xenakis worked on several "polytopes". How about you? Do you think that this is the first of many n-Polytope?

I think so. The Polytope LABoral is site specific in the sense that it is built for that particular, difficult space, particularly the acoustic design. As soon as the piece opened, I already started thinking of how we can change it to make it better and to resolve things that aren't working yet to our satisfaction. There is already interest from other venues in Europe, in Asia and in North America and they will have their own cultural contexts. So, yes, I think there will be other Polytopes to follow!

Thanks Chris!

n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis remains on view at LABoral until 10 September 2012.

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FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

This year's edition of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester brought a much discussed phenomenon to the fore: participatory culture. From Wikileaks to Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution, to the Arab Spring, participatory technologies have demonstrated their powerful political potential. The world of culture is harnessing the same connected energies with projects that involve citizen scientists cataloging celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy, crowd-curated photo exhibitions and of course the many projects created by artists and designers who either directly use collective action or bring it under a new light.

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FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

The festival is over but the exhibition, titled FutureEverybody, remains open till June 10. It is hosted in the spectacular 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the Museum of Science and Industry.

The show obviously focuses on the artistic dimension of new participatory technologies, giving a tangible and very approachable dimension to a phenomenon we tend to associate mostly with online practice. FutureEverybody opens with the work of an artist known for putting them spectacularly into practice: Aaron Koblin who, a few years ago, teamed up with Takashi Kawashima and thousands of online workers to create a $100 bill. But you all know Aaron's work so let me call your attention to some of the projects i discovered in the show:

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Daniel Jones and James Bulley, Maelstrom. View from the exhibition of the FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Over 48 hours of user-created audio is uploaded to the internet every minute, a figure that is increasing exponentially. Maelstrom by Daniel Jones and James Bulley draws on these audio-fragments in real-time and broadcasts them through suspended speakers. By organising these fragments based on their tonal attributes, they collectively form a vast instrument, whose properties are affected by global internet activity.

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Moritz Stefaner + Dario Taraborelli + Luca Ciampaglia, Notabilia, 2011

Wikipedia articles, especially new ones, are reviewed by the community to determine whether or not they meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines. Articles nominated for deletion are discussed collectively by the editors before they decided in favor or against keeping them. An administrator then reviews the debate and makes the final decision.

Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia analyzed Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions in the English Wikipedia. The result of their research is Notabilia, a visualization of the 100 longest discussions that stemmed from the proposal to delete an article.

I was less interested in the data visualization (which is obviously clear and competently designed) than in learning about the articles questioned and the reason put for forward for their remotion from the online encyclopedia. The entries deleted ranged from the surprising (Islamophobiaphobia) to the downright absurd (List of songs about masturbation, List of Playboy Playmate with D-cups or larger breasts). I've also noticed the high number of articles exposing dubious political or religious agendas.

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Jamie Allen, Refractive Index. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Jamie Allen's Refractive Index is an ongoing art-research project that uses the large scale public media displays as a kind of camera obscura; inverting typical uses of the screen, and showing us what our screens "see" when they peer into the night sky. I'm not sure i understand what makes it a project that deals with collective action but i loved the rigorous research behind it as well as the way it was documented.

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Lawrence Epps, Human Resources. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

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Lawrence Epps, Human Resources, 2012 (in Switzerland)

Right in the middle of the exhibition space was a heap of miniature ceramic figures hand-made by 
Lawrence Epps. A few days before i visited the show, the Sykey Collective distributed 8,000 of these tiny workers in the streets of Manchester. Passersby were then invited to bring them to work, home, on business trips, holidays and document the figurines journey online, either on www.sykey.org and via twitter #littleclaymen.

I wanted to steal a figurine from the exhibition pile and take it with me on the train to London but being a stupidly well-behaved girl, i just looked sadly at them and walked away empty-handed.

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Jeremy Hutchison, Extra! Extra!. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Jeremy Hutchison's Extra! Extra! is a collection of newspaper advertising boards with headlines written by Facebook users on the project's Facebook wall. The messages are printed by the Manchester Evening News, and plastered on newspaper billboards around the Museum of Science and Industry site.

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Blast Theory, I'd Hide You. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Blast Theory was premiering their new game I'd Hide You. As is often the case with the UK collective, I'd Hide You is an online/offline game. Only performers play in the streets while the public can log online, follow them and play. Rules are detailed in the trailer:

Who wouldn't want to be one of the three performers with the cool outfits and gadgets running in the streets of Manchester?

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Helen Pritchard + Winnie Soon, Jsut Code. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Previously: An Ant Ballet at FutureEverything.

Entrance to the FutureEverybody Art Exhibition is free. The show remains open at 1830 Warehouse, Museum of Science and Industry, in Manchester until 10th June 2012.

More images by TAPE. I take photos too!

An architectural Time Machine by architect Heechan Park explores how to create an architectural time-based event.

As the machines blow vapour rings that double as ephemeral scent zones, the public not only experiences a visual performance of smoke vortices travelling through space, but they also perceive scents that are temporally spatialised and visualised.


An architectural time machine, mechanism of vortex air firing. From a performance at the Old Depot in London

I read about the installation while clicking through Ollie Palmer's website, and contacted Heechan to ask him more details about his mysterious machines.

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First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

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First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

Hi Heechen! An Architectural Time Machine 'creates a series of vortex air and ephemeral scent zone.' It also looks like a canon to me. How did you build it and how does it work exactly?

An architectural Time Machine project was started as looking at how one sense can be translated into other senses. In particular, there were speculative looks at the possibility that ephemeral and invisible elements such as rhythm, scents and air current could create dynamic and temporal architectural events like musical performance.

AATM create an architectural time-based event as blowing vortex rings with scents to rhythm, they unfold tempo in space. These give observers not only an unfolding spectacular performance of rhythmic vortex rings travelling through space, but also vortex rings and scents from the machines are temporally spatialised and visualized. Observers also can smell different scents from different machines and trace moving vortex rings. When the machines stop their performance blowing vortexes, the formed space gradually vanishes as the space is ventilated.

There is a great and unique mechanism firing vortex rings. The mechanism is electronically auto-controlled. As a mechanism controls the interval of vortex firing time, it brings accurate manipulating a rhythmic beating. To achieve this, I employed an 'Alternate rectilinear motion' mechanism, which is given to the rack-rod by continuous revolution of the mutilated spur-gear. Bungee cord in the barrel forces the rod forward to its original position on the teeth of the gear as shown below. As controlling speed of rotation of spur gear, machines achieved rhythmic beating of series of smoke rings.

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Sketch for vortex firing mechanism, Prototype 02

A stepper motor, which is mounted on main spur-gear, makes it possible to control the speed of rotation of the main spur-gear releasing the hammer-rod to blow air out. A stepper motor, which converts electrical pulses into discrete mechanical movements, is employed.

The results gathered in a series of experiments led the project to the next step of making the progressed version of the machine. Three different scales of machines were created. Each machine has different abilities of performance due to its scale and power of motor. For instance, each machine performs different travel distances of vortex rings and smoke capacity. These differences could be compared to different scale in musical instruments. The machines are named as Nolan, Van Eyck and Petit Manuel, who are cloud sculptors in J G Ballard's short science fiction 'Cloud sculptor of Coral D', who shape clouds with their strange glider having cloud-sculpting devices in the wing.

I used CAD/CAM technologies such as laser cutting, SLS, CNC milling etc. Particularly these technologies make it possible to process rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) has already been practiced through my toy project. Rapid prototyping built a 1:5 scale model in order to test and prove a part of the machine before full scale fabricating. Moving mechanisms, sculptural shapes and the body frames of the machine were tested. Then this has led the constructing of 1:1 scale machine.

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The test of a machine, Van dyck

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Fabrication for three machines

The work sounds a bit sci-fi to me. Where did you get the idea for AATM?

You are right. I got an idea from 'Cloud sculptors in coral D', J.G. Ballard's science fiction, in which the three gliders shape clouds with strange machines. I got an idea regarding this project when I was in front of massive loudspeaker in a club. I felt energy of sound from the speaker crashing my body. I thought invisible energy could be translated visible dynamic performance.

But also, I have been very interested in Architectural time based event, looking at how observers can experience time moving in space as observing the performance of machines or devices in space.

Leonardo Da Vinci mentioned 'tempo', which referred to 'speed of time, 'musical' or 'harmonic' time. It might be easy explanation about AATM that it allows observers to experience 'tempo' in space with scents. A series of vortex air from machines construct ephemeral time based event. After travelling through space and time, it just vanishes as space is ventilated.

Here is the best quotation from Stephen Gage in order to help you to understand my inspiration from architectural time based event. "Once we consider architecture to be time based and enmeshed with the way that people perceive and use it, we find ourselves short of reliable conceptual tools that can be used to understand our craft. As an event or series of events in time, we can consider architecture as a performance containing both human and non-human changing protagonists"

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First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

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First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

The way the vortex rings remain perfectly circular as they rise in the air is impressive. How did you achieve that?

The vortex air generator is an old and traditional toy. It works with simple principles of physics.
Blowing a short puff of air through a circular aperture produces a smoke ring. Amazingly it travels as keeping its shape.

But, on a windy day outside, the machines could not have successfully performed. Strong wind destroys smoke rings immediately when it comes out from a machine. It's similar to the cloud sculptors of J.G. Ballard who could not perform when dark clouds were coming, which presage rain. However, it could be acceptable as it is the nature of performance, which is temporally affected by weather and site specific conditions.
It's not rocket science.

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A test for accurate vortex firing

The machine creates scent zones. But what do they smell like? and how/why did you chose that scent?

The idea of putting scent to my machines just came out as a funny idea. I thought my machines could create a funny event to make people smile. For example, I just imagine that when the machine faces a guy, it fires smoke with bacon scent, and if the machine meets a pretty girl, it might fire rings with gentle flower scent.

Basically, my time machines cannot make scent itself, but you can put all the scents you want in it.

When I was developing these machines, I found there are some great potentials with various scents. I came across George William Septimus Piesse, an English chemist and perfumer, who offered a music-inspired taxonomy of scents. Following his music taxonomy of scents, I made scent music cord. For instance, C major cord could be made with Orange flower, Almond and Southernwood scent.

I thought that my 8 machines could play scent music with 8 scents.
Imagine these ridiculous 8 machine play 'Over the rainbow' with 8 scents without sound!
You can chose various scent you want to have in various kinds of events, for example, my machines could have a unique event for Chanel's perfume, such as Chanel's new perfume launching event. And if you put a specific flavour into my machine, people can breathe and taste smell within the event that my machines create.

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Sketch for final prototype, Petit Manuel

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Plan for installation at the Portico, University College London

Are you planning to develop the work further?

I hope to develop AATM and want to enjoy making various events. I have made six AATMs. It was my Masters project at the Bartlett school of architecture, UCL.

It was definitely an architecture project about architectural time based events and I believe I achieved my aim to set up a theoretical base on my interest through this project at Bartlett. I think it's time to apply my AATM to various artistic events over architectural theory. I am keen on involving in various events wherever there is a nice atmosphere and fun people to enjoy my machines.

Also I want to have performances in specific places and buildings, which have their own architectural proportions. As AATMs make a proportional rhythm that the building or
place owns by generating vortex air, the rhythm of a building' proportion can be represented. For example, in a Greek temple, AATM might make rhythmic beating of
Fibonacci series. It might be a fantastic poetic performance in such a historic place.

I enjoy collaborating with Ollie Palmer, a designer of Ant Ballet. We have a plan to have an event next year. It's going to be really fun!

Any other project you'd like to mention?

At the moment, I have been making a small toy called 'Inigo', which is a part of architectural toy project. I have been devised a series of mechanical toys, Toys are printed in one piece by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), which allows multiple moving parts to be operated in one piece.

Please visit the web site of Experimental Toy Factory, which I founded last year.

Thanks Heechan!

All images courtesy of Heechan Park.

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