I've been covering a few editions of the Interactivos? workshops so far and have usually focused on a couple of my favourite projects. Today however, i thought i'd ask two of the workshop leaders/teachers to give us a broader overview of the workshops, how they evolve, why certain directions are being taken, what the mood is like over these two intense weeks of work, etc.

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Image Medialab Prado

The teachers tend to change according to the theme of the workshop. This time i met Simone Jones and Alvaro Cassinelli.

Simone Jones is currently an Assistant Dean and Associate Professor of Art at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto where she teaches in the Integrated Media Department. Her work includes kinetic sculpture, film, video and performance.

0apercetvehicle.jpgOne of her recent works, Perfect Vehicle is a three wheeled vehicle that is approximately 11 feet long. The machine has sensors that monitor her breathing. Breathing (the rate of the rise and fall of her chest) controls the speed of the vehicle. This machine and the driving performance were filmed on the Bonneville Salt Flats (near Salt Lake City, Utah) in 2006. 'The idea is to create a "science fiction" type of environment where the body is displayed tethered to a vehicle against the surreal backdrop of the Salt Flats;' explained Simone. 'This is the third machine that I have built that is made specifically for my body and is worn in a performance that is filmed.'

Alvaro Cassinelli is Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo, where he is involved in the development of the Meta-Perception Group. Alvaro gained fame with the Khronos Projector and when i saw him at the Medialab Prado in Madrid, he was not only co-heading the workshop but also developing a new project for Sonarmatica in Barcelona. The theme of the exhibition this year, Future Past Cinema, attempted to create links between the past and the future of Cinema under a single vision. boxedEgo embodied perfectly that concept by the way the installation combine several pre-cinematographic techniques in order to create a new magical, "out-of-body" experience (stereoscope, diorama, peep-show box and pepper ghost effect).

Video:

Here we go now:

The Interactivos?'08: Vision Play workshop took place from May 30 to June
14. That is just 2 weeks and i found the projects quite ambitious. Such a
short period of work has its advantages and downsides. But how do you cope
with the stress of having everything ready and working in just 15 days? What
are the trick to get the work done in such a limited period of time?

Simone Jones:
I believe that one of the reasons that the projects get developed successfully in such a short amount of time is because Interactivos attracts such a talented and diverse group of collaborators. Everyone is aware of the two week deadline and this seems to push people to donate their time in a concentrated way - the stakes are high and the time is short so people cluster together in intense working groups to get the job done. We also relax together at the end of each work day - this gives us the time to get to know one another and build strong relationships (share ideas; brainstorm solutions to problems). Another aspect that contributes to the success of the workshop is the lack of ego among the participants. Because the teachers are flexible with what they "deliver" to the students (the teachers really "respond" to the needs of the group) there is no real agenda. This helps people feel that there is no "hierarchy" of knowledge. All of us are respected as individuals whose strengths emerge from participating in a diverse group. Of course, it is no secret that the work gets done because people work really, really hard too!

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Image Medialab Prado

Alvaro Cassinelli:
I think the "trick" may be three-fold: first, the selection process was quite serious: a lot of effort was put into selecting projects that were enough original and at the same time somehow overlapping, so the skills and resources could be shared. That worked pretty well.

Then, I'd like to stress the fundamental role of the contributors. This is a great formula. Everybody is motivated from the start (artists want of course their projects to succeed, and contributors come to the Medialab willing to learn, but also with a very generous, selfless attitude. With a little bit of luck the teams work quite autonomously. Now, of course, now and then there were some problems: one has to consider for instance that many contributors are also artists in real life, and that the leading role of the "artist" during the workshop may be a little artificial; Plus, individual approaches and interests may conflict: some contributors may push the technical side (because they want to try and improve their skills), while others may rather enjoy doing the concept/artistic critique.

Interesting as those approaches may be, the problem is that there is a very limited time for developing the project, so it is important that somehow the roles stabilize at a certain point, and people choose very concrete responsibilities. To ensure that this would happens, this is perhaps the role that was given to Simone and me, but I have to say that we were quite lucky because most teams worked very efficiently from the start. That being said, Simone and me put a lot of accent on the "critique sessions" (at least one serious meeting with the artists and collaborators for each project), which not only helped clarify the ideas but sometimes threw a completely new light on the project.

The third reason I can think of that may explain the "trick" is of course the Medialab people! there were there for us all the time, always available and with a very positive attitude.

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Expanded Eye, work in progress

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Expanded Eye, by Anaísa Franco

How do you work as a teaching team? Do you divide projects between Simone, Alvaro, Julian and the rest of the Medialab team? Or are your skill so complementary that everyone has to be everywhere?

Simone:
I found that we had similar yet diverse skill sets so that we could separate from one another and work on projects that needed our individual skills. This worked really well and allowed participants the freedom to move between the teachers when they needed something specific (technically speaking). We all contributed to the conceptual development of the projects (this is a great time for the teachers to work together in the critiques without having to focus on the technical problems of the work). I assisted participants with electronic and mechanical problems; Alvaro was great with his knowledge of physics, vision and programming; Julian helped a lot with augmented reality and 3D software. We didn't formally work this out beforehand - we simply responded to the individual projects as they were being developed.

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M.A.S.K. (My Alter Self Konciousness), by Jordi Puig

Alvaro:
No, we didn't divide the projects between the teachers, although of course we naturally got more involved in some projects and less in others. But we tried to constantly monitor the advancement of each project. That was not coordinated at all. Instead, we would discuss from time to time about the problems that were arising and think about how to solve them (directly, or by trying to recruit for a moment a contributor from another project). As for me, that meant that my contribution was "interrupt-driven", which was extremely tiring but exciting at the same time.

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Why this focus on "Vision play" when, as Alvaro puts it "The "magic of the cinema" no longer amazes us because we have become totally accustomed to it." What are the paths which should still be explored? Beyond higher resolution? Flatter screen? or more realistic 3D experience?

Simone:
This is an interesting question. I think "Vision Play" refers to perception, which is a huge topic that an artist can explore from a variety of positions and with a variety of media. A friend of mine says that "there are always more ways to see" - I love this idea because it points to the complexity of perception and I think this is even more relevant today because of the ways that technology challenges and mediates our experience of the world. Presence (live and virtual) is completely related to perception. We navigate between live and virtual experiences without thinking about it; "vision play" challenges artists to create artworks that engage with this "shifting ground" that characterizes our perceptual connection to the world.

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Stage Fright, by Nova Jiang

Alvaro:
Ah! that question again ;) In fact, I loved the theme from the start, precisely because it was an opportunity to depart from the mainstream computer graphics technology and aesthetics. An opportunity to play with light, mirrors, motion and reflections in search of "illusions" - as we all did when little, when one's fascination could easily be caught by the patterns of light at the bottom of a cup of tea (a "catacaustic": a fascinating name too!). There were some projects like that, and although I secretly wished there were more of this kind (and less projects involving computers and displays - as my own by the way!), what we got was really interesting and original in its own way.

In any case, "vision play" was clearly not imagined as a workshop to develop "flatter screens" or "more realistic 3D experiences"; among the project proposals (totaling 98!), there were some that pointed in that direction and I think we consensually rejected them easily on the basis that this workshop was for exploring unknown territories, not an R&D laboratory...

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I find the dynamics, open-ness and spirit of the Interactivos? workshops very unique. What is your opinion about it?

Simone:
I agree completely. The environment at Interactivos is like no other experience that I have had. All "residency programs" are intense but Interactivos is different because you participate as a contributer to the group and the overall spirit of the projects rather than as simply an individual artist. Also, the people at the MediaLab are AMAZING! They really set the stage for the spirit of the workshops (and Madrid is a magical city!).

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Image Medialab Prado

Alvaro:
Well, for me it was very unique of course!!. A fantastic experience. And I was very lucky to share this teaching experience with Simone, with which we had a very good communication (I hope she shares this opinion with me too! ;) I just think the workshop should be a little longer - but this may be a feeling we all shared at the end, and that
we all would have shared even if the workshop was made a little longer. Most of us just wanted more of the same. Anyway, I think this is how it works, this is the very essence of the workshop: a fleeting moment that reunites capable and imaginative people for a few days in order to try some magic formulas - the actual magic will crystallize in the future. (Another remark: I think the Medialab need to have the mechanical workshop - now in Matadero - in the the same building as the electronic/computer workshop, this may increase the efficiency of the work being done. It seems that this will happen very soon, when the new space will open.)

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Esther Polak and Pablo Ripollés

The participants of the workshop are asked to use open hardware and open code tools. Apart from the lower cost factor, what makes these open tools really worth working with? Are they already as sophisticated, efficient and reliable as other tools?

Simone:
I find that Open Source software and hardware allows for a completely different approach to learning (specifically learning within a technological framework). For example, when I first began learning electronics (in 1989), the information that I was taught was cumulative and came from a localized environment (within a school). This environment was specific to Toronto and grew slightly once I had graduated and met more people within my local artist community. As I got older and became more experienced and had more exhibitions, my community grew but this was completely contingent on my ability to "physically network". Today people can access vast amounts of information via the internet. Online communities have extended and sometimes surpassed local communities in ways that I could never have imagined in 1989. I buy and download information from the web instead of going to "specialized" bookstores. Open Source communities post code online. "How to" books proliferate. I have observed people adapting code and hardware solutions to their own projects. Learning is more of a "cut and paste" experience than a cumulative one. This is extremely interesting and challenging for educators who design curriculum with specific "learning outcomes" that are derived from a cumulative process of knowledge acquisition. Knowledge is shared at Interactivos in the same way that knowledge is shared and acquired from the internet and open source communities - an individual has a specific problem that needs to be solved - the approach to solving the problem is directed outwards to a "community" that responds to the question at hand. I think this is a wonderful way to learn - a person is able to build a "toolkit" of knowledge. However, I also think it is still important for people to be able to contextualize what they have learned. This often occurs slowly and cumulatively. Time is a key factor in the overall learning process.

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Image Medialab Prado

Alvaro:
This is a very general question, I mean this attitude towards open source tools is not particular to the Medialab-Prado workshop. I do use such tools even at my work at the University. There is some controversy here of course, but as for me, I like to use such open tools in particular because I can be sure there is a community using them, a community that is precisely open to any newcomer (just click here, download, and find some fanatic in your immediate surroundings wishing to "convert" you and explain the mysteries of the hardware/software to you - and all that for free!). As for how efficient and reliable these tools are: this depends, but in the field we are now discussing - I mean, interactive media arts, right? - I think these tools definitely have their place. In the worst case, at least for prototyping. I am thinking in particular about Processing, but if you think about openFrameworks, it potentially enables the fastest processing a particular computer can give you (but the initiative is yet not nearly as developed as Processing is).

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Theo Jansen visiting Medialab Prado

Thanks Simone and Alvaro!

Sponsored by:





Back to the latest Interactivos? at Medialab Prado in Madrid. Subtitled Vision Play, this edition offered artists and other creative people the opportunity to create prototypes for exploring image technologies and mechanisms of perception, using open hardware and open code tools.

When it comes to exploring image technologies in a striking and poetical way, i'd say that Karolina Sobeka is certainly one of the most talented artists i've ever met. A couple of years ago, she developed the mesmerizing wildlife backseat projection which she showed in several countries. This time she was in Madrid to bring into being the Immodesty project.

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Image courtesy of Emanuel from tagr.tv

This system is a prototype for a portable image recording system based on cheap, disposable multiple cameras positioned along a path. Controlled by a microcontroller, each camera can be assigned an individual time delay.

The aim of the project was to create an affordable platform which enable all kinds of temporal-spatial experimentation. Their first prototype for example, tried to re-conceive or visualize a spatial perception which expands the body's point of view in space. Check out the videos on the project website to get a clearer idea of what the project is about.

What was the inspiration the Immodesty project? How did you come up with that idea?

My background is in animation and video, and I've always been interested in making videos whose structure is manipulated at a very basic level, frame by frame, and that say something about our perception of time or space or point of view. These three elements are normally linked as the camera simulates our experience of visual perception. If we disassociate them, we can step outside this experience and maybe 'cheat' the laws of physics. There is something magical about seeing physical reality from a point of view that this reality precludes.

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Screenshots from The Matrix (image the raw feed)

The kinds of videos I wanted to make would call for the multi-lens camera set-ups (which do exist -- and which were made famous by the bullet time effect from Matrix -- but are very out of financial reach for an independent artist). So when I had an idea for a video that would require a fast and long vertical movement of the camera, Interactivos? call came along for 'Vision Play' projects. During the workshop I wanted to create a reconfigurable recording system, which could be used to create many different kinds of content, a tool for artists to experiment with, as well as to demonstrate one kind of recording paired with one kind of display. Since I've been interested in the viewer's interaction with an image and in the bodily experience of space, I ended up going with recording moments in time from multiple points of view, and building narrative with them. The narrative would unfold as the viewer explored these moments by moving through space. The change in perspective gives the viewer new information about the scene she's watching. It is a similar experience as when you walk by an open door and only see a fragment of the scene at a time. Your movement reveals the space and the story. When you come back to the doorway the scene is different, the story has advanced. In the installation the viewer would be able to approach the story from either direction, and once she's seen the entire 'moment', a new one will be loaded that shows another moment in the same story.

I think this is a nice metaphor for the scope of our attention, always moving from detail to detail to sequence them together in a sense-making pattern.

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Image courtesy of Emanuel from tagr.tv

Immodesty seems to be very complex from the technology point of view. Which kind of challenge did you encounter while developing it and how did you overcome them? Did the difficulties make you modify any aspect of the project?

In a way the technology to make it possible existed already when Eadweard Muybridge was arranging his cameras sequentially along the path and triggering the shutters -- the complex part is turning it into a portable, modular system that's affordable and easy to experiment with. For a while the biggest challenge to creating a system like this was the expense of technology, but today the prices of cameras are dropping, it's conceivable to use lots of them for one project, and it is possible to imagine it as a tool for experimentation. The cameras are also getting smaller and lighter, which make it possible to make a portable rig and to manipulate and position the cameras more freely.

This project posed many challenges, for example designing and building a modular reconfigurable rig, that would at the same time provide the rigidity and near-perfect alignment for the cameras. We ended up creating a wooden module for each camera that could be angled independently in the horizontal plane and that still allowed the cameras to be tilted and adjusted by hand. Most challenges were overcome after a lot of head-scratching thanks to the great help of the awesome collaborators and instructors at the workshop. One problem however that we couldn't go around was the inconsistency in the time delay between the triggering of the shutter and the camera capturing an image, which made impossible the precision necessary for achieving some nice time effects. For the next version of the project I'm planning to use different cameras, hopefully solving this problem. This time we used the Dakota disposable digital cameras, the least expensive option, and which I liked because of utilizing the hack developed for these cameras when they came out, though it might have proved to be more of a trouble than benefit.

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Image courtesy of Emanuel from tagr.tv

Creating the interactive display also posed some challenges. We had barely any time to put the installation together and could barely give enough consideration to the spatial arrangement, and to making sure that the size of the image and change in the projection felt correct in relationship to the viewer's movement.

The project plays with spatio- temporal situations. Can you describe the kind of experimentation the multi camera system can give life to? Did any application emerge over the course of the development that you had not thought about before?

0aaimmodestyi8.jpgI think it would be interesting to record things impossible to experience physically: extremely slowed-down time flow while the movement in space is fast, or camera movement in the 'frozen instant' combined with a display in a 'augmented reality' system. For example I would like to create a spherical rig to record spherical video (the cameras would all be triggered at the same time and the images stitched into a large spherical map) that could be explored in a custom interactive display. It could be used for exploring movement and perception not possible through our physical bodies: for example my initial idea to create the vertical camera movement, in a video shot from a point of view of someone who is jumping higher and higher, way beyond human capabilities. I can also imagine it being used as a 'wearable' recording system, lightweight enough that it could be carried around while recording.

Many people brought many different ideas to this project -- from an architectural point of view it could be used to create 'virtual spaces' or 'expanded screen'. Someone working with stereo imagery, like Alvaro, would be interested in creating stereo videos using parallel camera paths. It could serve as a kind of a 'total view' mirror.
Several ideas came up also for using it interactively and hopefully we'll be making some of them real soon!

Do you plan to develop the project any further?

Yes, definitely. What we developed at Interactivos? was a very imperfect prototype, which demonstrated only one simple application. There is definitely plenty of room for improvement and for taking it into many different directions. I'm planning to use different cameras that will allow more flexibility: automatic download or even real time image capture, perhaps video recording capability, etc. Hopefully we'll be able to bring to life some of the ideas that came up during Interactivos? and I'll be able to create more videos and installations.

I'm definitely open to any ideas people might have for using it, and once we have our second prototype that's a little more stable it would be great to make it available for different kinds of projects.

Thanks Karolina!

Waaaah! Two whole days without airports nor art exhibitions. Which means that i'll finally have some time to write about several shows and events i visited over the past few weeks.

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Barajas airport by Richard Rogers

Talking about airports i have the feeling that i've spent so much time this year at the gorgeous Terminal 4 of Barajas airport that i should probably update my dopplr account and write that my home city these days is MAD T4. My last visit there was when i went to check out the results of the Interactivos? workshop at Medialab Prado.

The theme of this edition, Vision Play, called for projects which used open hardware and open code tools to create prototypes for exploring image technologies and mechanisms of perception.

The projects selected saw their lucky authors guided through the whole development process by Álvaro Cassinelli, Simone Jones, and the Medialab Prado research group integrated by Julian Oliver, Pablo Valbuena and Daniel Canogar.

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Reina Sofia Museum Extension. Photo: Philippe Ruault

Going to Medialab Prado is always a great pleasure, there are tortillas de patatas all over the city, Medialab's headquarters are located in the heart of Madrid's cultural district, a few meters away from the Jean Nouvel-revamped Reina Sofía Museum, and now, right in front of Medialab Prado there's one of the most stunning Herzog & de Meuron's work ever: an ex-power station turned into the social and cultural center of Caixa Forum's Obra Social. The architects played one of their usual abracadabra tricks and removed the base of the building to leave a covered plaza under the brick structure, which now appears to float above visitors' heads. The roof is no less admirable wrapped as it is in rusty steel panels. Alongside the building is one of those vertical gardens that made the fame of French botanist Patrick Blanc.

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Caixa Forum, Madrid. Image Duccio Malagamba

The presentation of the projects realized during the workshop at Medialab Prado took place on June 14. There weren't quite as many visitors as there were spectators cheering in front of their screen to see the football match opposing Spain to Sweden that evening. Still, the place was packed, the show was exciting, there were free beers and artists delivering a moving Oscar ceremony-style performance, saying how wonderful the workshop had been and thanking everyone that had made their project possible.

I'll be detailing some of the projects over the next few weeks. Today i asked Barcelona-based Eloi Maduell Garcia to talk us through his Augment(0)scope work. Inspired by visualization and optical devices from XVIII century, this instrument allows spectators to take a peek trough its lens and discover an interactive projection, a circular panorama made of hundreds of pictures culled from the Greenpeace-Spain photoblog fotodenuncia. On this website, users from all over Spain are posting and tagging environmental misdeeds that are in urgent need of receiving more attention from politicians in the country.

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Your original proposal involved a "box will be hanging on the ceiling over user's head". the final installation is different. What made you change your mind about the setting? Are there other elements of the projects which had to be modified due to some technical or other aspects that emerged during the working process?

Well the initial idea was something more similar to a "periscope", i liked the idea of building something coming from the Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas from Jules Verne, something that in my imaginarium is related with old times and technology which was my intention. The problem that changed my initial design was so simple : with the materials that we had available in MediaLab workshop it was too difficult to build up a mechanical object which could give power and signal to the hardware (VGA + USB serial port wires) and which could be able to rotate freely 360º. It's a really basic and mechanical problem, that tells us about the limitations we have with "electrical" and so "digital" art, we can't get rid of being wired to power!

We solved the problem by making the structure stand in a rotatory base with the computer and all the hardware on it, so then the problem was restricted to give power to the whole rotary hardware system, so just 2 wires (+ - ) . We looked in the industry for rotary connectors but what we found was so expensive that we decided to do one DIY ourselfes : on the floor base we fixed 2 cooper discs separated by a small step and on the rotary structure we put 2 cooper heads which were contacting the bottom cooper discs, so then the upper structure was turning over a central axe with weels and gived us power to the whole hardware.

That was the basic change over the initial hardware design, it was important for me to try to keep the 360º capacity of rotation, to give a sense of freedom of immersive rotation. By giving a real rotation range, people could feel and understand that turning in the real world meant a turn in the virtual world, reinforcing the idea of freedom inside the visualization orientation.

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Image courtesy of the artist

In the software side also during the process with collaborators some simplifications were done because there were not that many coders in the group, so we decided to make it more simple, and basically meant to forget about using Augmented Reality techniques in the set. At the same time those techniques after the collaboration process were partially not needed at all so we decided to don't use them.

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Why did you choose to keep a "vintage" and early cinema look to the project? How important is the retro design for augment(o)scope?

0aadaloookkkk9.jpgWell in fact it was part of the initial idea, to return to the very basics of immersive engineering, where just lenses and perspective drawing could give people from XVIII century the feeling of being in another reality. The intention was to make something similar with present technology, but the outside look of it should remind us the "old times" to show that in fact, just the vision technology around this installation had changed, the "fair" attraction that the piece produces is closely the same as back in time.
That's an important part of the piece, to keep a vintage look on the outside, but a present technological hardware on the inside.

Augment(o)scope tells us about time passing by, it's an optical instrument coming from the past that told to us about present and so future times. That's why half of the project is the box look, the other half is the content visualized inside. The installation suggests that nothing has changed at all since then. Environmental conscience hasn't been developed that much as technology for example.

Can you discuss the content of what users can see inside the device? Why did you choose to display this kind of data (once again it seems different from what i could read in the original proposal written down in the forum page)?

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Image courtesy of the artist

First of all i've to say that my initial proposal wasn't really closed when i got to the first presentation on MediaLab and i was looking for a collaborative process from the early stages of the project so the group would be able to discuss the content and the way things will happen inside the installation. That's why the original proposal changed or evolved from an initial display to a different one, that was an important part of my needs on that workshop.

We made quite a lot of discussion sessions with all the group about which data to use and how to interact and finally we decided to communicate with Greenpeace Spain which has a website called fotodenuncias which is a photoblog where any user could post picture on a map in Spain to denounce environmental misdeeds. They accepted to collaborate so we got the whole pictures and locative data database from the mapXperience.com studio.

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Image courtesy of the artist

All these pictures and datas are made by individual people who are creating an interactive collaborative piece without knowing it at all. I liked the idea of putting the effort of many people together to empower or amplify their consequent actions.

At the end what we have inside is a collection of circular nested panoramas of the pictures from the website. From the user's point of exploration it gives a strange vision of a virtual landscape full of pollution, destruction and contamination. The user could move forwards and backwards with a lever and turn around to explore this several layers of blended panorama's.

Are the images geo-located?

On the present version they're not geolocated. The images inside have been chosen to "match" as if they were part of a continuous panorama. For example image i has some relation with image i+1 and i-1. When i say "relation" i mean, for example, that if in "image i" we've a coast line and the sea line in the horizon, then image i+1 has a sea line also and a the line of the horizon is closer to the last one. At this stage, it was more important to give an idea of a continuous landscape than its geolocation. In next versions i'd like to implement some kind of geo-located distribution (as that was the original idea and concept of orientation). We already have the data associated with each picture so it's totally doable.

Another thing that is left for the next version is the text data associated with each image. Every image has a text related to it, so this text would be used a part of the texture and information augmentation in next releases.

So you plan to further develop the project?

Well, I have a good relation with the company which created the site and they are open to update the data from the new posts. That could be a way to keep updating the pictures.

Also there are some functionalities that i would like to add to the project as we had no time at all to develop them during the workshop and evolve the first prototype to a more clean and accurate version.

So yes i'm planning to keep working on it and explore other ideas related to the project. An object that let us cross the walls and see what's on that direction, orientation, space and from the past to the future ;-)

Thanks Eloi!

I might get what? 2 or 3 emails per day from people who ask me to write a story to promote their own event. I would love to help everyone but publishing every single call and event i hear about would be a full time job and i am not up for that one.

Besides, my readers know very well that they can find this sort of information on rhizome (who btw has a commission call for media art works running), networked_performance and various mailing lists. Wmmna is mostly about reports from exhibitions i've seen around which leaves no space to announcements. However, there are exceptions to this rule, wmmna is a personal blog and as such highly subjective, so once in a while (read every 6 months) i will blatantly favor organizations i like A LOT because i know each of them treat artists as well as they deserve. So here, dear readers, two calls for proposals which might give you the opportunity to get some fantastic holidays in Spain develop your own project in the best conditions you could dream of:

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Situation Room. Image Julio Calvo. Courtesy of LABoral

- LABoral is launching two calls. One is for a curator in residence. Curators and researchers interested in media and visual arts, gaming, robotics, architecture, design, ecology, science, technology, interdisciplinary and emerging forms of art are invited to develop a research and production project at LABoral, Gijon, for two months during 2008. Deadline is May 30 and if i wasn't already so busy answering all those emails from people who ask me to promote their events i would be very tempted to submit my candidacy.

LABoral is also calling for proposals from artists to develop a research and production project at LABoral for two months during 2008. Same deadline: May 30, 2008.

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Image Medialab Prado

- Meanwhile Medialab-Prado is also looking for the submission of projects to be carried out as part of the production-oriented Interactivos?'08: Vision Play workshop, which will take place from 30 May to 14 June 2008 in Madrid. The workshop aims to use open hardware and open code tools to create prototypes for exploring image technologies and mechanisms of perception.

The Interactivos? workshop will be lead by Álvaro Cassinelli and Simone Jones, with the participation of the research group Light, space and perception (Daniel Canogar, Julian Oliver and Pablo Valbuena.)

Deadline: 25th April.

Related: my previous posts about the Interactivos? workshops and about LABoral (i also wrote an article about them in Art Review a while ago.)

While i'm at it, i'll also mention (but i don't know them as well as Medialab Prado and LABoral) that NEW LIFE BERLIN is taking place in Berlin from June 1-15th, 2008 and artists are encouraged to apply for participation now.

The festival is organized by the wooloo and is open to international artists.

A few months ago, i started covering in details the projects developed at the Interactivos? workshop which took place at Medialab Prado in Madrid in June (btw they have a Visualizar workshop going on this week, with a Communication Applied Data Visualization Seminary on November 23 you might want to check out if you're in the neighbourhood). Well, i had kept another project in my closet for you.

Based on an augmented reality system, AR_Magic System allows users to exchange head with their neighbours. You stand in front of the computer screen, next to one or more persons and after a few seconds, your head appears on the shoulder of someone else and you get a new face yourself. I swapped head with Edgar Gonzalez while i was there and as i didn't like the look of myself with a beard, i'd rather show you a video of other experiments:


Video of AR_Magic System

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz work together since 2000. They have developed and exhibited their artistic and research projects all over the world. They have been artists in residence at the Mixed Reality Lab, National University of Singapore and did some research at the Interface Culture Lab at Linz University.

I've been following the work of Clara and Diego for a couple of years and because i was curious about their other projects, i decided to run a longer feature on their work.

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You started working on Free Network Visible Network in 2004. The main objective of the project was to "ask for the free access to the net and at the same time to make actions in the urban landscape as a way to create new meanings in the public domain." When you look back at your ideas at the time, how do you feel? In particular about the free access issue(s)? What were the biggest challenges you encountered and were not expecting while working on the project?

0aaaaawert6.jpgAt that time several situations happened in Spain that brought us to start the Free Network Visible Network project. Some city councils started to offer free wifi acces all over their territory and there were plans to extend this network to other places. But the Telecommunications Market Commision (CMT) denounced this situation as a kind of illegal competence for the phone companies. Even when in some cases those networks were only offering access to the services of a local Intranet, not to the Internet. All this kind of projects supported by the small cities administrations were brought to a stop, and only some voluntary groups continued creating wifi networks all over the Spanish territory. The same situation was happening in other places in Europe and USA.

We were really worried about the privatization of digital space, due the control that some economic powers make over one of the more basic rights of citizens, the free use of the public space. So mainly we started the Free Network Visible Network project to collaborate with those groups of free wifi networks users and somehow to spread the idea of public space as something more than streets and parks.

Now, once the project is technically finished and has been installed in several places we still think that actions need to be taken to somehow make use of the digital public space with freedom. The situation with the big communication companies and legal practices it hasn't changed much. Even is much more restrictive than before and in some places of Europe people have been fined for using their neighbours' open wifi network.

One of the biggest challenges for us, apart from the technical difficulties, it has been the relations with institutions when we were showing the project at museums or official art spaces. It is not always easy to convince people from institutions to create a open wifi network and keep it running after the exhibition is finished. The notion of private property is very strong even for something as invisible as waves.

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Free Network Visible Network in Kyoto

What did the project teach you about the concept of public space?

Basically, this project not only represents the public space but it also allows people to experience it, in a hybrid dimension, as a combination of physical places and digital communication spaces. At present time we cannot talk anymore about public space without including all this non physical places that emerge when people talk, exchange information or play through digital networks. The combination of those territories, physical and digital, creates a new public sphere much more dynamic and changeable, rich in relationships and meanings. Free
Network Visible Network
is a very useful tool to help understand those relations, and what is our situation, as users-citizens in this new domain.

You have used augmented reality technology in several of your projects, one of them is BE CAREFUL, FRAGILE. How was it like to present a high-tech art work in ARCO06, a "traditional" contemporary art fair? What did you try to convey with that particular artwork? How did the audience react to it?

This project had a great success among the ARCO visitors. At some point we were even asked to shut it down for a little bit because so many people were playing with it that they were collapsing the area.

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It was our first time exhibiting at ARCO and we were really concerned about traditional art market and digital media collectionism. It is a very old issue and we ourselves were very interested about how the traditional art market system should be applied to interactive installations. Questions like producing pieces in series, technical needs and maintenance, etc were some of the questions we were discussing with the gallery owner and it was clear that digital media have specifications that need to be carefully addressed when selling a piece to a private or institutional collector. For us it doesn't make much sense to create a limited number series of a digital artwork when most of the time it can be contained in a cd and easily installed in any computer, even more when we are usually working with free software and our projects are registered under creative commons license. The
question was how to preserve the value of the uniqueness that traditional art market appreciate if anybody can download our source code from the web and make it themselves? It is traditional art market ready for this kind of situations?

So we did an interactive installation were a digital 3D modeled traditional vase was projected as it really was over a real pedestal. When visitors tried to touch it the vase fell down to the floor in a realistic way and finally was broken making a big noise. People were
very surprised when two pre-recorded persons (that were us) entered the scene bringing a new vase exactly identical and placed again over the real pedestal. This loop was repeated again and again each time people broke the vase. Somehow our piece exhibited at ARCO was a digital object and it could be infinitely reproduced.

It was really appreciated by the general audience and also by professionals and gallery owners. The audience was continuously playing with it, making the vase fall down again and again.

During the Interactivos? workshop in Madrid, you developed the very fun AR magic system. Can you explain us what made the work "magical'?

0aaaacviuh.jpgThe magical aspect of this project is that it uses a very intuitive interaction for playing with the identity of the users. People just need to look at themselves in the video projection, that it acts like a mirror, and they will see their face interchanged with another person.

It is really amazing how people react when they look at themselves and see another face that is smiling or talking and they can not control the expression. It is as if somebody had supplanted your identity. For us it was a real surprise how people enjoyed this very simple idea and they played during long time and called their friends for see how it feels to be the other. During the time it was exhibited at MediaLab in Madrid and later at Sonar Festival in Barcelona, almost everybody who played with the piece took a picture of their transformed face. We found dozens of those pictures at flicker, which for us is a sign of how people enjoyed the experience.

One of the most magical aspects of this piece it how it plays with technological simplicity but with a really complex universe of meanings about identity.

Do you plan to develop that project any further?

Actually the project as it was developed during Interactivos? it is just a small part of the whole idea due the very limited time of the workshop and the difficulties we found with some technical aspects.

We would like to thanks Zachary Lieberman, Martín Nadal, Damien Stewart, Javier Lloret, Blanca Rego, Julio Lucio y Jordi Puig for their help programing the software which is written in C++ using the openFrameworks library.

Basically we wanted to create a complete set of magic tricks, based on one of the first tricks registered on the history of magic. In ancient Egypt a magician interchanged the head of chickens and ducks and made people believe it was really magic. We will continue working on the piece; adding new tricks were users can play magic in a very intuitive manner.

You mentioned that you want to establish a new media community in Valencia. Can you tell us more about that project? Which shape will it take? What are its objective and what do you hope to achieve?

Valencia is a very dynamic city that is growing really fast but the media art scene is really unstructured, not to say non-existing. There are very good artists, of course, but there is no place to meet each other nor is there any kind of network to meet and collaborate. We have been living in Valencia during the last 10 years but with extensive periods overseas. Recently we decided to come back and install ourselves for a long period of time. We just opened our studio, LALALAB, and we would like it to become a kind of meeting point for digital media artist where they can produce their work, or find collaborators.

LALALAB is not an institutional media center but the idea is to explore the connexions with other production center as MediaLab Prado in Madrid or Hangar in Barcelona to create this network and to dynamize the Valencia media art scene. In Lalalab there will be workshops and artist presentations and we have a good collection of production tools to help other artists develop their works at the same time that we continue with our personal production.

Thanks Clara and Diego!

On 28/11 Clara Boj and Diego Díaz will give a talk on Research art: nuevos modos de hacer en las prácticas artísticas contemporáneas at the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Mallorca.

0aaaamagi2.jpgopensourcery is what you get when you throw a master of bewitching installations and a "real" magician right into a workshop dedicated to magic and illusion.

The workshop was Interactivos?, it took place in June at the MediaLab Madrid. The illusionists are Zachary Lieberman and Mago Julián ("Julian the Magician" in english.)

opensourcery is a performance which marries camera based technology with old fashioned close magic to manipulate a live video image seamlessly and create new tricks. The custom developed software is completely open-source (thus the title) and designed as a starting point for imagining a new language of tricks and techniques for magical expression.

A few questions to Zack:

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The coin follows the finger, then moves on its own + The magic eye reveals the chosen card

I suspect that it was the first time that you worked with a magician. How did the collaboration go? Did Mago Julián come with an idea asking for some technical help or did you develop the whole concept together? And did he teach you a few tricks you plan to use in your future work?

First of all the collaborate came out from the excellent advice of José Luis Vicente and Oscar Abril, two Sonar curators who noticed a similarity between how my performance Drawn works and how the magician Mago Julián uses an overhead camera to perform close magic.

It was the first time I've ever worked with a magician, and it was really surprising to see the differences in how we work and make work.
For example, magicians are very secretive about their techniques - it took a long time for Julián to warm up to showing me some of the "behind the scenes" while we were working together. I still have absolutely no idea how he does many of things he does live. In contrast, I was eager to demonstrate all of the techniques and hidden systems that make the projects I've worked on, like Drawn or Manual Input Sessions work.

However, there are many, many similarities too - Magicians are essentially hackers, in most cases of physical objects, but also mental processes, and my software hacking and his object hacking worked completely well in parallel and we completely understood each other from day one. Also, we both like to create in the audience a sense of wonder.

Since we didn't have a lot of time to develop the project during interactivos, we started with Drawn, and he spent some time learning and performing with it. I also spent time examining his close magic performance, and learning about the kinds of things he might need in a performance. What was amazing is that his magic is so good, he really doesn't need any help with technology, so it was a very nice starting point. We started to identify needs - for example, to take a snapshot of an object and reveal / hide that snapshot when it is covered, so that his act can have a certain amount of freedom. I recoded a great deal of Drawn (in order to make a clean, open source project) and we spent a lot of time just playing with different effects and ideas.

An amazing thing that happened was that Mago Julián and Punkie (his wife and partner in the act) started completely hacking the software. They would take different bugs or problems and flip them into remarkable tricks. Every day I would come to the workshop and Julián would be like, "We have to show you this!" The last trick, for example, when Julián reveals the card through a magic eye was completely based on bugs in the rendering. I cringed the first time he showed me (as a programmer I hate to see those bugs) but the cringe quickly became a huge laugh.


Video (excerpt) of the performance at Sonar / SonarMática 2007:

How does opensourcery work technically?

It's software that is programmed in C++, using the openframeworks library, that takes a live video image and composites it with synthetic graphics and then reprojects the results to create something which is seamless and looks just like live video. The software is based on Drawn, and is completely open-source.

During the performance a second operator (in this case the Magician's wife) works backstage to control the software, but it could be programmed to work with wireless devices or switches.

0aainteractivvvvvvv.jpgDo you plan to go any further in the development of this piece?

Yes, one of the nice outcomes of the Sonar performances is that we have been invited to several Magic festivals. For me this is very exciting because while I typically work in new media festivals, I have never even been to magic festival, let alone performed in one. We are going to develop several new tricks and refine the current ones.

Additionally, we have made the software completely opensource, and we will be making in early fall a manual and tutorials available so that anyone who wants to perform these tricks (or develop new ones) should be able to. We look forward to other people participating or using the software. While a magician almost never reveals his tricks, we want to do the exact opposite.

Thanks Zack!

*Previous episodes: I Thought Some Daisies Might Cheer You Up, Delicate Boundaries, Palimpsesto and Augmented Sculpture v 1.0. Interview with Marcos García from MediaLab Madrid.

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