Forays is a low profile (that's their words) artist group strung somewhere between New York and Montreal whose work focuses on the research and creation of open-source minor architectures and low-tech modifications of everyday life.

Forays is Adam Bobette and Geraldine Juárez.

Geraldine Juarez is a self-taught designer and an artist from Mexico City based in Brooklyn, New York where she is a Senior Fellow at Eyebeam and play around the city with Forays. She is a drop out of Communication and Graphic Design of a university in Mexico City and worked in advertising for several years doing visual effects in Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. Her current interests are low-tech crafts and artifacts. Most of the time she obtains her supplies in trash bags, by freecycling or by hacking public sites.

Adam Bobbette is a writer, researcher and artist based in Montréal.

What started as an innocent conversation between Geraldine and i about the Postal Gown she was modeling around Williamsburg during the Conflux festival escalated into a fully-fledged interview about her, and mostly the works she's currently working on together with Adam. Here we go:

Postal Cocoon

Hey Geraldine, you write that you find your supplies in trash bags, freecycling or by hacking public sites. Sounds interesting but we'd like to get more details. How does one hack a public site? can you give us examples too? And what is freecycling?

G:. I read once that hacking is the creative adaptation to immediate circumstances. I switched not so long ago from purely digital work to more analog and tangible object production and I had to learn electronics from scratch, a bit of code and a whole lot about materials. I started hacking the city accidentally. I was working a lot with paper and electronics and I needed something that I couldn't afford. Looking online for alternatives I found it freely available in the public infrastructure of the city: the postal office. Not paying for my source material was a complete delight and I pushed it forward. Picking stuff from the street in New York is nothing new, everybody does it. There is a royal amount of quality waste all around the city. However there is an easier and more social way to get specific things that you need. Freecyle is a simple yahoo list that let's you ask and offer things for reuse. Most of the time the craft materials are just surplus so you get perfectly good stuff for free. Often I found just what I needed and it was an opening to start wandering around the city to get what I need and most important, interacting with the moneyless layer of New York City.

Together with Adam Bobbette, you work on the Forays projects. How did you get to meet and work together? Does each of you have his or her own skills and knowledge that complete the other?

AB. Like yin and yang? Like milk and tea? Like diamonds and roughness?


G:. it's actually not like that at all, we don't really like each other. We met in Eyebeam. I knew he wanted to work with steam and I thought that was wicked but he was too cocky so I didn't want to talk to him. One day I stole a little kaleidoscope from his desk. I confessed to it and then we found out that we both were into folding stuff, trash and useless things. He is a luddite and I'm more geeky. He speaks French and I speak Spanish, so it helps to create confusion.

AB. We always have experiences to share about crossing the American border, which is a strong bond.

G. Also, we really work hard to keep it low and that's really encouraging. Adam has trouble with authority while i have it with sustainability and environmentalism. He likes space and i like materials. We both find waste inspiring. We like the idea of creating pieces that make you realize your space and environment in a more beautiful and accidental way. Since we come from different worlds we are constantly questioning what it really means to step into these arenas like activism, art, architecture. We are also really afraid of how art goes, and we don't know how to slip in and come out clean. And yeah we don't like each other.

AB. Which makes for this great productive confusion. Collaborative work is mostly frustrating.

G. And there are others we work with too, wonderful, distant others.

AB. And some of them like you, Jerry.

G. Sure.

AB. We do a lot of our own stuff and sometimes just fall into each other's projects mid-way, towards the end or drop out from the beginning. But it's definitely important that we are surprised by what we work on individually. Or, it's great to be surprised by how differences end up overlapping.

Beach Mat Cocoon

One of your pieces Field Notes addresses the ways in which the delineation of interior and exterior or private and public space can be used towards political ends. Using cocoons, you and Adam propose open source architecture and hacked materials as forms of grassroots activism. Can you give us more details on that? Which materials you use? And how the cocoon can be turned into OS architecture?

A-- G: The basic nature of the cocoon is to turn the structures and infrastructures of the city into a vehicle for experimentation. It might need space, it might need a certain material, it might need a certain action to hang it. When a cocoon needed certain materials, it made us go and find it around, explore sites and slip into and through cracks to get it. This gives us the chance to hack infrastructures. When the cocoon needs to be used you have to look for space: a scaffold, a tree, a fire escape, which enables reclaiming some lost space. Also, the cocoon is meant to be a tool for tactical occupation, like in the case of More Gardens --


AB. A kick ass New York City community garden advocacy group that saves community gardens from being destroyed by the city

G. -- Either for tree sitting or for creating a temporary squat, when you slip into a cocoon you slip into a tool riddled with the potential of continually evolving.

AB. With the cocoons we weren't really so interested in focusing on the objects but on the whole network, the whole approach that building and thieving, freecycling, skill sharing and trespassing gets you into. I mean, we personally really cared about the objects but that was not what we wanted to show to the public. That stuff is personal. What we do care about is pointing in a direction; towards techniques of trespass, of building, of acquiring materials. It was important to provide entry points into the very material circumstances and consequences of art making.

The kind of materials we were using were things like construction netting hacked from construction sites. To get them you climb up inside scaffolding and cut out some chunks. We also used modified Tyvek postal envelopes grabbed for free from post offices around New York. And, 1 dollar beach mats. These are the main materials, but there is tones of other stuff, mostly culled from construction sites, hardware shops, outdoors shops and the street.

Open source architecture refers to the way that we hoped to distribute a process of building, not instructions on how to build a particular thing. We had to break codes and hack systems to build the cocoons and what we are interested in distributing are the techniques we used. We don't think any body would be really all that interested in reproducing the objects we produced, but the techniques could help people build their own stuff or at least take an adventurous approach to buildings. We are just hoping to pass on a very basic program for experimental architecture.

Postal Cocoon

What does one of these cocoons look like exactly? Can you sleep in it?

A-- AB. People have said they look like many things. Some people think they look like body bags, which I kind of like. Some people think they look like jewels, some say they are just hammocks, some don't really know what to make of them.

Yes, you can sleep in them. We have and will continue to. There is this whole experiential side, as you can imagine, to sleeping in trees and hanging up against scaffolding, strapped to some edifice under construction like you were, well, a little larvae grafted to structures. Which you are already, with or without some cocoon.

G. They are really a simple hammock. However the material and the way in which they are built, make them what you want them or need them to be.


And how about the Craigslist chapter of the project? How did it go and did it encounter the kind of response you were hoping to get?

A-- G. Well, Adam got all those emails. Actually the Craiglist chapter are the origin of the cocoon. He was trying to advertise free space for people to occupy as well as describing this kind of poetics of squatting. Squatting not only as a political strategy but also a creative architectural endeavour.

AB. Craigslist is a funny place. It was really a way for us to talk to an audience that would otherwise have little relation to this kind of work (though maybe we're making bogus assumptions). And, yeah we had great responses ranging from sincere interest to total confusion to pick-up lines.


I like the "swing actions�? a lot. How did the public react to the swings? Do you know if the idea has spread around?

yes-three.jpgA-- AB. It's pretty hard not to love swings even when they are set in places they shouldn't be; they are pretty benign objects. Everybody loved them, from construction workers who would tell us we 'gotta patent that shit', to passersby, and of course, kids. But this is why they can be a decent introduction or gateway to more intense experiences of disruption, or of bending and twisting space.

G. I was just the trooper. I had to wait in line to use the freaking swing. The pictures I took are beautiful though.

Did you ever get into trouble for installing swings and portable squats?

A--G. Not a real problem. Some building porters that double as mini-cops...

AB: So many people in New York city are mini cops...

G. Some have come to us to ask what the hell we are doing, but often people give us a break to finish or even let us keep going. You would be surprised by how many public servants are tamed by the word "art". It's really the best antidote or word you can use to dissolve confusion and tension. We just published recently 'How to Unload bags and Practice Failure', a description of getting busted and the function of the "artist�?. Why don't you read it. It's my favorite project.


I want to know more about 100% Local Irradiated Food. And that TV set that you turned into an Edible Excess Machine. What was the impetus for that project? How does the EXM work?

A-- G. Oh! The EXM doesn't work.

AB. It is a symbolic machine. We have been inspired by freeganism for quite some time and wanted to build a machine that spoke to the very interesting contradictions of freeganism, the same contradictions that underlie so much of our own work. I was excited about the machine because of the way that it spoke to all of these interesting problems of the excess/consumption, host/parasite relationship.

Basically, parasitic activity requires the very consumer society it deplores in order for it to survive. Freegans would be impossible without the excess generated by consumer society. Their activism, their scavenging, which is a totally justified protest against this consumption at the same time depends on it. So, in their own ideal world they would not exist. In a way they are fighting for their own disappearance as a group. That's interesting.

What the machine is supposed to do is allow you to turn absolutely anything (garbage, bricks, old tires) into edible waste by irradiating it and swallowing a laxative. A perfect circle. A perfect impossibility. If it were true, at a certain point, you would end up turning your own self into edible waste.

We built it as a workshop at Eyebeam. Jerry and some excellent workshop folks built a commercial around the EXM. We hope to eventually get a feature in Martha Stewart's magazine.

G. I have a crush on garbage bags so I really wanted to do something directly with them. The idea came up actually because someone told us that you can actually create x-rays out of a tv.

So the project is meant to raise attention to the enormous amount of waste we produce everyday, right?

G. We are trying to make clear the fact that while everybody goes green, local and organic our waste will remain there. It's about excessive consumption. If everyone is really really interested in being sustainable, how about eating your own waste? THE EXM is as retarded as green capitalism.


There's a strange little device on your website. It's called Bucky and seems to implode. Can you tell us something about it?

A-- AB. This is Jerry's killer project and she thinks more clearly about it than I but we do share this distrust of Mr. Bucky Fuller. He is still someone that we have to contend with, maybe one of the most important idols that we have yet to destroy. He is really this figure head of all of this naïve technological optimism that threatens to murder anything that was once dangerous and/or interesting about sustainability.

G. The Bucky is an exploding microcosm contained in a dome. It simulates the illusion of cheap and easy sustainability and environmentalism based on the commodity. Saving the world has became a commodity that you can buy in Whole Foods and every other shop on the block and it's really pathetic. Why is being green even an interesting future? Honestly, it looks all the same to me.

AB: Isn't it just the same as the present except that people will feel guiltless about their consumption, about their excesses? You know, I feel like sustainability even has enough room in it's future for things like solar powered tanning salons and ways to power your television set by the energy emitted by burning your own calories. And all sorts of other "neat�? stuff.

JG. For me, a sustainable future based on consuming "with the earth in mind" is the ultimate social disaster. I prefer to stop preparing for the upcoming natural disasters and start acting on the social disaster around me, like consumer capitalism.


The Bucky's are based on Fuller's Geoscope: This globe that allows you to see the big picture and help humanity somehow to "anticipate and cope with inexorable events". Bucky I is a forest made of money that explodes. Pure illusion. My Bucky is meant to mimic the actual fragility of 'Space Ship Earth'. Green or not. I really want to destroy this illusion of "saving" the world going "green". I don't think we are going to "save" it. But i do believe we have to go more dark in order to learn how to live on it from now on.


During the last edition of Conflux, I saw you walking around with your friends wearing some pretty Postal Gowns. How can I make one? Can you give us a little step-by-step?

A--AB. Regine, haven't you heard how damn stubborn Jerry is with instructions these days? She avoids them like she had a nut allergy or something.

JG. Uff. Don't even get my started. What's with this obsession for systematization? Yeah i don't like instructions, but actually some people really dig instruction sets and they even think they allow you to show how instructions for anything always rely on some impossibility and the unthinkability of chance.

postalgirls.jpgWell my allergy to instructions is that i don't think there is a possible way to break down into steps things that are not technical, and maybe i really want to move over the technical. I like to share information yes, but i think we have to subvert the way we share it some how too. Instructablism is getting a little boring to me. To make a Postal Gown first you need to get some material for free by any means. And this can be as broad as you want. Hacking, thieving, freecycling. You have to make an effort to avoid money exchange. You have to learn how to step into strangers homes (it's really weird sometimes as well as interesting), receive something and take responsability of it.

Once you got your material:

(You need a pattern and a sewing machine)

1. Cut your pattern

2. Sew both parts together,

Thanks Geraldine and Adam!

All images courtesy of the artists.

Sponsored by:

portraitCU.jpgIt might come as a surprise but i actually do not like design. I don't care about lemon juicers, that new phone all my ifriends want me to itry, "interactive and playful" lamps, lamps on top of a horse, chairs that change colours and sing, tables that "communicate with your remote partner", lamps that you can punch, lamps that juice lemon (though i quite like the chairs that do the same job), etc. Still, every year i grumble but go to the Salone del Mobile in Milan and other furniture gigs. It's because i do know that some designers can amaze me better than many techno-art geniuses. Eelko Moorer is one of them. Quite often my admiration for a creator seems to dwindle over time because of the way they repeat themselves or because my own interests shift. Didn't happen with Eelko's work. I discovered his Stilts a few years ago, i remember that they left me so dumb i even forgot to take a picture of them, then i fell in love with the rubber bearskin, i'm still laughing at the Emergency Games: A Manual For Extreme Experiences In The Danger Of Your Own Home and that was just the beginning.

Eelko Moorer studied at Utrecht School of the Arts (The Netherlands) 3D design and shoemaking before setting up his own studio and developing products for fashion, performances and works on the borderline between art and design. In 2003, the year he was nominated for the Rotterdam Design Prize, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London where he received his MA in Design Products in 2005 exploring new territories and contexts for his work. Based in London, he now works on a freelance basis for companies, individual customers and on self-initiated projects.


I have never asked this question to anyone so far because it is kind of cheesy but i cannot help it this time. Where do you find your inspiration? How do you get all those ideas?
Do you envision a particular type of user before or when you design a new piece or do you just go ahead, follow your inspiration and see what happens later?

Design for me is a vehicle for exploring larger social and cultural ideas that I am interested in. The start of most projects therefore is from a personal motivation and interest and themes always seem to revolve around nature-culture, body-desire, interior-exterior (society). I move from the personal to the generic. I mix everyday myths and facts for which I find inspiration in literature, film, material culture studies, newspaper articles, etc. From these elements I construct users that are fictional.

I am interested in what psychological effects contemporary life has on the individual and what possibilities for design there are in this area to design new sensations for the desensitized. tired of feeling and seeing.

I find that today’s designed environment has too much of the same conventional products, focusing on comfortability and the practical, that are the result of a too much systemized and industrialized society. On the contrary I believe in the value of difference, co-existence and the eccentric.

In the production process I explore the personal and the expressive in relation to the anonymous and the mechanized and through playing with form and meaning and through association I communicate ideas as well as through their function. The ideas and proposals are often critical and ironic at the same time.

Next to this I also work a lot from material experiments that I do. I believe that materials and techniques speak to you and technology is never neutral, that machines have politics behind them. Reflecting on form and meaning I analyze these material experiments and so see what they tell me in that context and how they relate to themes I’m interested in.


At the Salone del Mobile in Milan you exhibited In The Jungle Groove, a site specific installation made of swings, vines and suspended objects. Can you explain us what you were trying to achieve with this work? How do you imagine that people could use it?

Milan is all about the aesthetics of interior objects and not really about concepts of living, so I decided to present an alternative living space, a new experience, with new behaviors and new and unique designs.

I found that today’s home has too much of the same conventional products, focusing on comfortability and the practical. The contemporary home has become a passive and merely consumptive transient non-place filled with electronics.

0aadagroouve2.jpgI wanted to design a living environment that was more about the emotive and physical and that would explore the values of discomfort, danger and especially play. The Jungle proposes a new interior space, literally and metaphorically. The Jungle is a hide out, a retreat from the outside world, a place to escape inward, a redesigning of the home as a place to reclaim the self.

In its form I was exploring the cultural meaning of the jungle as image and as a theme in relation to modernity as it emerges in popular culture with its connotations to the internal of the mind, the exploration of the unknown and as a the projection of man’s fears and desires.

I wanted to specifically use ‘environmental storytelling’, like it is also used in amusement parks like Walt Disney’s, or theme hotels as Las Vegas’ ‘The Mirage’ for example. This story element is infused into the design of the physical space and so gives meaning to the user’s experience.

Using associations to pre-existing stories already known to users through books, film, television, comics and other media allows the user to enter physically into a space they may have visited before in their fantasies. And so to evoke and make concrete memories and imaginings through which they can wander and with which they can interact.

Such a pre-existing story provides structure to the experience but is therefore in danger of limiting the imagination of the user by definition. It is, 1, by designing only an atmosphere and not fill the story in too much that there’s still enough room left for the user’s mind to wander and imagine themselves Tarzan, Jane, Liane The Jungle Goddess, King Kong, Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness’, etc.

And, 2, on top of that by entering this immersive and associative narrative environment the user can play via swinging on the vines and arrange and re-arrange by knotting the vines and objects in the space to his own liking. This provides space for game play and interaction. Room to play, to hide, and to perform. Within the given structure they can D.I.Y. their own plots and so experience the characteristics of interactive play such as freedom, power and self-expression.

People can use elements of it in their homes. I can also see it used in a hotel environment for example.

What I wanted to present in Milan is an idea, an atmosphere, a theme that I could continue working in. Right now I am designing more things for the jungle that are more product oriented and that can be sold.


Is the Jungle related in any way to Emergency Games?

Both the Jungle and the Emergency Games deal with exploring ‘play states’ (deep play, role play, etc) with the aim of designing a more creative and physical interaction with the home environment. While the Emergency Games sets out a direction and is a bit darker, the Jungle is a first attempt to materialize the idea in a lighter way.

You seem to be fascinated by rubber. Why this interest for the material?

Rubber is child- and toy-like. It transforms objects into a toy-like plastic reality. Into some sort of projected mental space where desires and fears are concretized and fictions and myths begin taking shape.

There’s desirability to it whilst at the same time being quite cheap looking and pulp, a bit subversive. It looks hard but is in fact relatively soft. There’s an element of ‘bad taste’ to it that I like.

Besides that there’s something magical for me about casting. Releasing an object from the mould and then having ‘a double’ or many ‘doubles’ that are exactly the same, and they way their meanings and relations to each other change, is something that keeps on captivating me.

Perch, 2005

What motivated our work Bird People? What were you exploring with that project?

I was exploring what psychological and therapeutic function designed objects can fulfill as props for living and the new typologies that could derive from this.

The story was about somebody that feels completely absorbed in his mechanized routines of everyday life, cannot relate to society anymore and because of this he feels dislocated and depressed. He feels unreal and wants to experience his physicality again, to release his desires, to let his animalistic side out again. He wants to set himself free, to become a bird literally.

Results were a perch chair: A new typology of a chair that asks for balance and concentration and the user takes a position that is protective and completely introverted.

The Balcony seat lets you experience a feeling of taking off, a feeling of falling over. It puts you in a contemplative state deriving from the existentialist notion that you can only experience life’s meaning in the face of death.
On the right, Tube Shoes, 2005

The Bat shoes enables to act out, to reclaim the public space for desire through play. Here the user is experiencing himself, but he also becomes a performer because by doing a surreal intervention, he transforms a mundane daily routine of traveling on the tube and produces some sort of myth.

And how did it end up in the Evening Standard and other mainstream media?

It was presented on the TV-set that hung in the jungle, a small part of the jungle installation in Milan. Somebody of the Evening Standard newspaper wanted to feature it. When they did, the Press Association put it on their website and it started rolling from there: ITV’s six ‘o clock news ran it too that day and it kind of escalated a little bit after that ending up on BBC’s Breakfast Show on TV, BBC radio and Irish national radio, various other pulpy newspapers and a lot of blogs all over the world.

You recently explained me that the objects that you design are not mere commodities but some desirable pieces? Can you explain what you mean by that?

I was more talking about that commodities have the characteristic of being as smooth, anonymous, impersonal as possible. The personal is then added via an atmosphere created through advertisement. I am interested in designing objects and products that would combine the personal and the associative with the anonymous and mechanized in its actual physical appearance. So the object or product would completely become an image and the image the object/ product. So the entire object/ product’s content and meaning are projected out onto its skin. There’s nothing behind its surface and so the object/ product quite literally becomes completely superficial.

The bearskin for example is maybe the most extreme example of this. It is an object that is completely useless in comfort and not practical. Yet at the same time extremely desirable via its associations. The object is a play with form and meaning, change of context, transformation and scale and the references and associations that come out of this.


The rug refers to a lost exotic romantic world of hunting and intimacy that has been replaced and subverted by a toy-like plastic reality. It deals with the human desire for some ‘otherness’, but at the same time can also be understood as reference to a larger cultural and critical context (hunting trophy - man over nature, a nod to animal rights...).

The original model has been executed by hand in clay. From this a silicone mould has been made.

The materiality of the object plays with attraction through an almost carnal sensuality due to the handcrafted surface and at the same time a rejection of softness and presence of immateriality through the use of rubber and the objectʼs reproducibility. This play with attraction and rejection creates a fetishistic desirability, an erotic anesthesia.

How did you get to design Footwear for Rui Leonardes?

I know Rui from RoXY, a former nightclub in Amsterdam, where we both were hanging out a lot in the early to mid 90’s. We didn’t see each other for years until we met at the RCA-bar in 2003 where we both just started studying. He studying Footwear and myself Design Products. We’ve kept in contact ever since and he then asked me to do some shoes at some point. We share a similar kind of attitude so it combined well together.

Why do some of the shoes you design look so uncomfortable?

Well, the stilts for example look uncomfortable because they are. The idea was not to make wearable footwear necessarily, but more footwear that could function as a therapeutic prosthetic object with a psychological function for the user. It lets the user experience his own body making him conscious of the flesh through strapping on the stilts in a bondage kind of way and via balancing on the tips of the heels.

Oh! Btw, is there any place where I could buy a pair of “Wellies??

I’m afraid the company went bust a short while ago.


I usually think of you as both an artist and a designer. Are you comfortable with my blurring of your “label??

I always look for the ambiguous, the in-between spaces, the borderlands, or twilight zones, both in work and in life because these areas provide me with a feeling of freedom, inspiration and this is where identity and difference are negotiated. I see these territories as places where new perspectives and thoughts are being born.

Besides that, a lot of the work that I do balances between the descriptive of the arts, but contains the process, the context and the prescriptive elements of design.

On the left: Wonderland, 2001, in collaboration with Zjef van Bezouw

Where do you think that you “fit??

I see myself as a multidisciplinary designer. A designer because I use design methods and design research and that’s the context I function in. And multidisciplinary since I am moving on and mixing the boundaries of design, fashion and art, because I think different ideas and stories function best in different contexts. In general I guess you could describe my work as couture in a way if you like: conceptual and theatrical atmospheres and experiences that are often handmade and function as one-offs, or small series, exhibited and sold in galleries.

Let us put aside design for a moment. Which artists do you find most inspiring and why?

At the moment I would say:

I love Franz Kafka. Especially ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’. How he transforms everyday reality and actions in surreal and absurd adventures. The way he psychologically drags you into his twisting and turning so you are totally confused yourself and so lets you feel the absurdity of systems and constructed realities. Also I love his ‘Observations’, who are beautifully sharp and short.

Antonioni’s L’Eclisse for how he portrays the feeling of loss of human intimacy and natural context of the protagonists by putting them against a man-made landscape of technological progress and modernist architecture. Together with a slowing down in time this makes the actors seem disjointed and lost between all that materiality. He makes alienation and estrangement feel so tangible and look so beautiful in that film.

J.G. Ballard’s novels in which his protagonists are conditioned and where they take action via some sort of release exposing an underbelly of a seemingly perfect social model. Although his earlier writings are a bit too SF for me, the later works deal with the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments and are more subversive and surreal in a subtle way.

Books like Cocaine Nights, Crash, Super-Cannes show visions of a nearer dystopian future that’s very well possible, or might even already be here. And in doing so, like all SciFi, showing a portrait of tomorrow, but actually talking about today.

Henry Miller because reading his books give me a feeling of being centered in what life really is about: experiencing total freedom regardless, the energy and joy of life, faith in chance, things like that.

Mike Nelson’s fictional narrative environments because they are so incredibly immersive and imaginative. Sometimes it feels the spaces are alive and spirited. I like the way he connects literal and highly detailed familiar looking spaces with abstract ones and leaves detailed traces that are humorous, slightly subversive, surreal, etc.


The artists that make the drawings for the covers of those pulp magazines and the anonymous designers/ makers that have made the objects that can be found on carboot sales and flee markets.

Thanks Eelko!

didi-photo.jpgDi Mainstone is an insanely talented fashion designer. She trained in fashion design at Central Saint Martins College of Art, London. Her work was soon sold at Selfridges, Urbanoutfitters and Harvey Nichols. Further design collaborations included illustrations at Jimmy Choo. Following a series of experimental fashion collaborations with engineers, dancers and architects, Di joined Sara Diamond at the Banff New Media Institute to investigate wearable technology and create a series of electronic fashion garments, Company Keeper and Emotional Ties. Shortly afterwards Di started collaborating with founder of XS Labs and electronic textiles expert Joey Berzowska. Together they produced Skorpions, a set of kinetic electronic garments that move on the body in slow motions. Acting like parasites of the skin, they breathe and pulse, controlled by their own internal programming.

I found this statement on the project website particularly interesting: SKORPIONS reference the history of garments as instruments of pain and desire. They hurt you and distort your body the same way as corsets and foot binding. They emphasize our lack of control over our garments and our digital technologies. Our clothes shift and change in ways that we do not anticipate. Our electronics malfunction and become obsolete.


You specialize in interactive couture, not the geeky kind but rather a stylish and feminine one. On the other hand you've worked for modern and mainstream labels such as Urban Outfitters and Topshop. Do you foresee a (near) future when we will be able to buy the kind of interactive or kinetic garment you create on the high street?

The more fashion-led work that I’m interested in may take a little longer to be embraced by the high street, as its whimsical approach is wedged somewhere between fashion, technology and art. Not so long ago I designed a series of therapeutic emotion-sensing garments called Company Keeper and Emotional Ties, with a team at the Banff New Media Institute. Whist the project was avant-garde in its concept; specific technological and aesthetic elements of the dresses were seen as being highly marketable:

Company Keeper and Emotional Ties (BNMI 2005) by Di Mainstone, Sara Diamond, Tom Donaldson, David Gauthier, Jan Erkku, Greg Judleman, Jeroen Kaijser, Mireille Dore and Haydar Saaied

I love to work in this way, and believe that unabashed, fearless experimentation is necessary to pioneer new concepts and mechanisms that may ultimately become commercial. This said, interactive fashion is certainly getting increased industry profile - established investigative fashion designer Hussein Chalayan has tickled the imagination of the fashion world over the past seasons with his electronic couture experiments, whilst newcomer Angel Chang is designing technology driven fashion as the basis of her range. With this gradual and inevitable evolution, both the fashion industry and the consumer need to be allowed to fully absorb the meaning and possibilities of electronic and interactive fashion. Collections will not only have to be exhibited with fresh vision, to highlight the interactive nature of the clothing, but also be manufactured in an entirely modern way. Because of potential production issues it may be a year ors two before we see intricate electronic fashion in outlets such as UrbanOutfitters and Topshop, however I feel certain that the consumer is ready to accept new modes of fashion interactivity, with or without electronics. Clothing that can be reconfigured for example, to offer two or more purposes, or DIY fashion that invites the wearer to design and manipulate the silhouette and aesthetic of the garment:

Reconfigurable Dress by Di Mainstone, made at XS Labs

I love the idea of modular clothing that can be linked to a friend or friends to tell a story or reveal new function, or clothing that can slot into the urban environment to offer shelter, privacy or entertainment. In short, we need more future-forward, playful, therapeutic attire that can be used to dissolve social distance, raise topical issues and most importantly unleash conversation!

Apart from the cost of developing an interactive garment, what stands between creating avant-guarde prototypes of garments and their mass-production?

Having spent 4 years as lead design at London fashion house Soochi, I am painfully aware of the hazards of manufacturing even the simplest item of clothing! All manner of mayhem can occur when constructing a basic printed t-shirt, so to then expect traditional clothing manufacturers to sew electronics into garments without a string of potential catastrophes is unrealistic.

If successful mass-production of electronic fashion is to come about there needs to be a three-way merger between the interactive research environments, the fashion industry and the consumer electronics companies. A mutual dialogue and infrastructure needs to be set, outlining modern methodologies for safe construction of smart garments, basic electronics training for clothing manufacturers and appropriate cross-disciplinary working environments for sampling and experimentation. Many of these methodologies are already in practice on a micro-scale in research labs such as XS Labs, Philips Design and Distance Lab.


The Skorpions collection, which you developed together with Joey Berzowska, is amazingly beautiful. Do you see them more as sculptures or pieces of clothing?

I see the Skorpions as portable body sculptures! Canada Council for the Arts largely funded the collection, and as such Joey and I preferred to approach the project with a conceptual, artistic vision. As an investigative fashion designer this was a fantastic opportunity for pioneering experimentation - technically in terms of engineering fabric and Nitinol (the shape memory alloy that enabled movement in the dresses) and architecturally through garment construction and radical pattern cutting. I was able to treat the body as a canvas or landscape to explore, manipulate and distort, without focusing on the immediate comfort and usability of the everyday.

Are they comfortable to wear during a whole evening?

Although Skorpions are designed using soft natural textiles such as leather, raw silk and felt, the dresses are not intended for daily usability, instead their shell-like forms roam the body like a rampant fungus, wrapping, restricting, concealing and exposing!

Having worn all of the dresses, I can tell you that each evokes a unique ambience in the wearer.


Slofa (the portable upholstered sofa-frock!) is deliriously squashy with its bulbous skirt and curvaceous headrest…after wearing the dress for 10 minutes it leaves you feeling giddy, relaxed, lethargic and seriously ready for a doze.


Skwrath, on the other hand is constructed with quilted leather, its amour-like bodice holds you upright like a warrior, whilst rigid interlocking plates encircle the thighs, making you feel robust and indestructible, until you need to go to the loo… then you’re in trouble. So in answer to your question – no Skorpions are not ideal evening attire!


In a paper presented at Ubicomp 07, you and the XSLABS team wrote that the garments "have intentionality". Can you explain us what you mean?

When Joey and I embarked on the Skorpions project we decided that we did not want the dresses to respond to any kind of environmental sensory data, but instead to have their own internal programming. We likened the dresses to organisms that clamp to the wearer or host like parasitic body adornment moving and pulsing to express a particular sensation or feeling! With so much current focus on sensory data we were happy to shift away from this, enjoying the Skorpions lack of control and the uneasy sense of anticipation felt by both the occupant of the dress and those in close proximity.

Video of Enleon: kinetic electronic garment

What or who inspired the Skorpions collection?

The Skorpions collection was created in a collaborative environment at XS Labs, part of the Hexagram research institute in Montréal; as such it is a wonderful catalogue of ideas and possibilities.

Technology was our starting point; Joey who had recently worked with the team to produce Kukkia, a dress that integrated filaments of the shape-shifting alloy Nitinol, was keen to further her experimentation with this material. Intrigued by the concept of kinetic couture, we were both eager to explore how Nitinol might be used to distort and reconfigure the body. Early on in the development of Skorpions we began to weave a narrative thread, which bore a family of five dysfunctional animal-inspired creatures: Skwrath, Slofa, Luttergill, Enleon and Glutus. These mythical souls allowed us to build a series of dynamic character moulds, which subsequently dictated the architecture, colour, mood, and movement of each dress.


Another artistic direction came from my then recent trip to Barcelona, where I found myself captivated by the work of Spanish architect Gaudí. This influence became evident whilst defining the dress silhouettes - instead of following traditional pattern cutting methodologies, I treated the garments as malleable architectural structures, encasing the mannequin with foam and fabric to create 3-dimensional skins, immediately sketching on their surface to define the seams, sometimes using only one spiraling line to intersect much of the body:

Joey and I would not have been able to develop the Skorpions without the brilliance of the XS Labs collective, a talented team of dynamic individuals, all of whom held a pivotal role in the design and implementation of the collection. These were: Daviid Gauthier, Marguerite Bromley, Marcelo Coelho, Valerie Boxer, Francis Raymond and Damir Cheremisov.

Thanks Di!

Don't miss the videos of Di discussing the inspiration behind the Pioneering Skopions collection: Enleon- a kinetic dress from the Skorpions collection; Di talks about the concept behind the name Enleon; Luttergill – a kinetic dress from the Skorpions collection; Di sews conductive thread and Nitinol into Glutus; Di makes a kinetic hat.

All images courtesy of Di Mainstone.

ZEMOS98, a collective based in Seville (South of Spain), engages mainly in audiovisual activities which they regard as a tool for a possible education and re-education opposed to the one offered by the media and global culture.

0aaazemos98.jpgSince 1999, the collective organizes the zemos98 audiovisual festival. They are currently busy preparing the next edition of the festival which will take place on March 24-30, 2008. The international call for audiovisual video creations is out and the deadline to send your works is November 10.

But ZEMOS98 cannot be reduced to a video festival, the group is also publishing essays, organizing exhibitions, producing and/or directing documentaries, etc. I've been following with a growing interest the activities of ZEMOS98 for a couple of years now and when Pedro Jiménez emailed me to inform me about one of their latest projects, i jumped on the opportunity and asked him if he'd find some time to answer my questions.

Pedro is involved in what looks like a thousand activities, online works, graphic design, educational projects, film production, activist projects, etc. He's also an audiovisual artist and has participated to various exhibitions like borderhack 2.0 or big b[o]ther at the Walker Art Center. He co-directed documentaries such as Peatón Bonzo and is part of a group of documentary directors, cádiz.doc

Together with Chiu Longina, Pablo Sanz Almoguera, Juan Gil and José Antonio Sarmiento, Pedro writes on what is, imho, the best blog about sound art: mediateletipos. He also writes freelance for publications including >>forward, and

Other members of ZEMOS98 are Rubén Díaz, Felipe G. Gil, Juan Jiménez, Sofía Coca, Irene Hens, Cristina Domínguez, Benito Jiménez, Ricardo Barquín, Francisco González.

Pedro originally answered my questions in spanish, i translated them in english but if you'd rather read the interview in spanish, just click here and scroll down.

Photo by Benito Jiménez

What is the story of ZEMOS98? And who is behind the collective?

ZEMOS98 was born as a group which produced videos. It started as something quite simple and humble, without any big ambition other than making short movies over the Summer. The first important moment was when some of us agreed on the idea to organize a festival where we could screen our own productions and start to show those from other film makers. The event kept growing and turned out to be our most important and well-known event: The ZEMOS98 Audiovisual Festival which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in March 2008.
The group became bigger and bigger as our activities went bigger. From a voluntary and non-profit spirit, it became a way of earning our lives for some of us. From a small town, El Viso del Alcor, with 15 000 inhabitants, 30 km from Seville and far away from its metropolitan area we have finally settled in Seville, the capital of Andalusia.

Today we are still a group involved in audiovisual productions but most of all we are interested in thinking about exhibition formats for what we call the "audiovisual culture". It cannot be reduced exclusively to video art, to short movies with cinematographic undertones, or to audiovisual shows. Instead it draws together in the different formats i've just mentioned and it is further enhanced by our interest in music and other artistic practices (theatre, performance, literature, etc.), the reflexion, the edition of books and our own website which is a publication/blog dealing with contemporary audiovisual culture.

We have always regarded internet more as a living space, but we've never said that we make culture for internet. Instead we have used the technology as a tool and it is clear that the technology that can be located online is the one that we've used the most.

This theoretical and practical background has allowed us to create a company which produces and sustains economically the Festival Audiovisual ZEMOS98 and our own productions. This company has also allowed us to turn our vision of culture into a professional activity.
It enables us to work on other projects for other clients, as it happened for the exhibition Repeat Please: Cultura VJ (main page) which was commissioned by the Instituto Andaluz de la Juventud (Youth Institute of Andalusia).

All of the above has enabled ZEMOS98 to survive, if we had kept our efforts on a pure voluntary and non-lucrative level we would probably have had to dedicate our energy somewhere else.

Nowadays we are 7 people working all year long on our activities and during the festival, our number doubles as we invite other people to join us and work on the production and curating tasks. But as years pass some collaborators come and go and for some reason or another they are now involved in other kind of activities.


ZEMOS98 was born in 1995. Have your objective and role changed since 1995?

ZEMOS98 keeps on re-inventing itself bit by bit. We strongly believe that one of our best asset is the constant self critique. Back in 1995 our main objective was to finish a short movie about mutant zombies. Nowadays the projects are much wider and more ambitious.

Let's say that in terms of content and scale of vision we have changed. We've learned so much since 1995 as we have associated our education -ever since we were at school and even more when we were studying in the university- with our own artistic practice.

Most of us have studied disciplines related to audiovisual communication and image, we have also gained much knowledge in post grads and by becoming autodidacts in computing, technology and education.

Despite all that, there are things which have not changed such as the way we regard culture as a medium for social action. Cultural processes are educative processes, for us who are the first involved but also for the public in general who visits the festival and reads our publications.

This union between education and communication has been part of our philosophy for a long time. And deep down, we know that such vision of culture implies a political vision, that's why we have never hesitated to take part in social movements such as the foundation of Indymedia Estrecho or the one of the Plataforma de Reflexión de Políticas Culturales (Platform for Reflexion on Cultural Politics) which protests against the Contemporary Art Biennale of Seville (BIACS).

Pablo Sanz

How about the way your work is perceived and recognized? Do you find it easier to get what you want today or does each year bring new challenges?

We are a very multidisciplinary group and the perception that people have of ZEMOS98 is that we kind of have a finger in every pie. That's not exactly the case, but what is true is that we have extended our scope and in turn it has expanded thanks to the network.

We are probably more involved in particular fields than in others but that flexibility sometimes allows us to become some sort of bridge between proposals which would otherwise have very little point of contact with each other.

We have taken great care of the communication of the ZEMOS98 "brand" and the media support, both local and national, is quite important. This key, the one of the media, is fundamental if one wants to obtain public fundings.

Politicians do not really know how to identify where and who are the key actors of the cultural production but what they do know is that if the press is talking about one of them, then it might be worth their attention. It is a sad situation but we cannot complain either as we know how to play that game.

In any case, during the last edition of ZEMOS98, we had to face issues of space for some of the musical activities as some people just couldn't get in and we are quite worried about that. However, not all our activities meet with an immediate success in terms of attendance but we are not obsessed with numbers anyway.

ZEMOS98 9th edition, picture by Antonio Iglesias

ZEMOS98 has recently decided to remunerate the authors that take part in the official section of its audiovisual festival. Why do you think that festival organizers and sponsors take it for granted that the authors do not need to be remunerated? Why is it still so difficult to recognize that artists have the right to be paid for their work?

As far as we are concerned, the decision was quite simple. No one questions the fact that musicians performing in a festival should get paid. The same goes for the company which prints the promotional posters of the festival. Why shouldn't the audiovisual works, which are part of your programme, get some remuneration?

One often assumes that the fact that they enter a competition to get an award is enough. But we have never believed in awards and now that we can afford to pay them we have decided that the best way to contribute to the creation of new art works is to remunerate their authors.

That's something which ought to be taken for granted and we are doing our best to convince other festivals to do the same, there should be a general remuneration even for works which might never receive the first prize but nevertheless deserve to be part of the official programme.

We know that there are other festivals that do the same but we are also aware that some museums do not even regard it as an issue. They usually have this idea that as a newcomer, you should be grateful to be allowed to present your work in their venue.

The other point is that we think that remuneration for an exhibition increases the value of what we are screening. Besides, we are taking our cue from a legal void as we are paying for a right that usually only collective entities such as SGAE (General Society of Authors and Publishers of Spain) get paid for. The good thing is that everyday less artists subscribe to these entities and this in turn allows us to pay directly the people who created the video, without intermediaries.

The point is not whether we believe or not in laws or copyright but we think that if we distribute money this way and if other join the initiative, a whole circuit of works of major quality might emerge. Or at least one could see the dawn of a different way to generate profit for a short movie.

Apart from the now famous audiovisual festival, what are the other activities of ZEMOS98?

We've already listed a few.

But beyond the festivals, we always end up doing projects that emerge from the festivals, such as the exhibitions but also the publications. We have released 5 DVDs presenting the highlights of the festival, one each year starting on the 5th edition of the festival. Until today we have published two books which have had an important impact.

0anolofol.jpgThe first one Creación e Inteligencia Colectiva (Creation and Collective Intelligence) is our "best-seller" because it's the one that people have downloaded the most. It's a collective book which gathers together what happened during the 7th edition dedicated to the collective intelligence, but what makes it interesting is the fact that it expands the scope of the festival through the very pertinent contribution of the most relevant experts of this field in Spain. The book is still a valuable reference today for anyone willing to understand the creative, legal and social dimension of the phenomenon, way beyond the copyright issue and the current system of author's rights.

Last year we released a collective pack titled La Televisión No Lo Filma (Television does not film that) which gathers some thoughts and essays on the possibilities offered by the tv medium. The pack also contains a DVD we have created to propose alternatives to television.

The books are available for download in PDF format both in spanish and english.

Now we are working on a book dedicated to the 9th edition of ZEMOS98 and to the exhibition co-commissioned by the Fundación Rodríguez: Panel De Control.

We are also spending some time traveling and giving talks on some of the topics that we publish. We actually enjoy doing that as it allows us to get to know better other festivals, other projects and the cities where we are invited. We have recently published a book in PDF format about Digital Culture and Participatory Communication (download the PDF).

Our latest audiovisual work is a long-motion documentary, made in collaboration with ZAP Producciones. It gives a very peculiar vision of the important role played by football in the integration of immigrants. Football is the most important sport in this country and it has actually provided us with a very interesting perspective to explore the theme of immigration. More information on this website (english presentation of La Liga de Los Olvidados).

Screenshot from La Liga de Los Olvidados

Some of the audiovisual art works of ZEMOS98 are distributed on an international level through the project HAMACA, a new distributor of Spanish video art.

Then on a more personal level, Pedro Jiménez distributes his videos through this webpage and some of us presents their own projects (whether they are personal or not) on the blogs which have been recently created on our website.

0aaculturavkk.jpgYou are organizing the exhibition Repeat Please: Cultura VJ for Eutopia 07, the II European Festival of Young Creation. The press release reads: "VJ has established itself as a discipline like any other within the contemporary art and performance scene?"

How did VJ become acclaimed artists? What are the reasons why we should regard VJs as artists? What are the main characteristics of their discipline?

Truth is that one of the aims of this exhibition was precisely to demonstrate that VJs are artists. Our vision of art is fairly wide but more importantly we have no intention to propose a vision which would be elitist or supracultural, Marcel Duchamp said that a long time ago and we trust him. Anyone can become an artist.

On the other hand, we have to face a professional reality where VJs are usually treated as interior designers of night clubs, in a strictly technical sense. However, we believe that most VJs are more related to DJs, in other words, to electronic music artists.

We all know that there are many DJs and very probably many among them are bad DJs, bad in the sense that their sessions bring very little sensations and their work doesn't go beyond the mere addition of songs and melodies one after the other. Something similar happens with the VJ although there are differences on various levels.

Eclectic Method

There are indeed some night club VJs which have probably much more in common with a light technician than with an artist. Many VJs are hired by the companies which provide the technical support.

But the artists we find interesting are those who have decided to get out of the club life or who go further and work with video installations or the ones who are involved in the research and programming of software-art.

The starting point of this project was to explore ideas of re-appropriation and sampling and as we were investigating the topic we realized that sampling is not one of the characteristics which best defines a VJ.

Most VJ snob the reused material and they often treat it as just support material. However, there are other artists --maybe the best ones? who regard sampling for what it is: a form that allows them to re-interpret the reality in which we live.

Fountain (v.3) by Benton-C

We never get tired of thinking that we are living inside images, so taking something from a movie, from tv or from youtube is nothing else than an act of reflexion on our own culture. But not everyone would agree on that point.

The characteristics that all the VJs have in common is that they have a clear interest in working live. There's a big component of performance in VJing as everyone thinks that one can really see your work in a live context, that's why we've been calling VJing for some time "the art of live video".

Whether it is art or not, it is nevertheless a contemporary cultural practice which deserves our attention, not only because of all the technological work which can be developed (sensors, multiscreens, etc.), but also because in a sense, VJing proposes a space time dimension which is different from the usual audiovisual narration. And that is something we've always found interesting.

The exhibition proposes to introduce and inform about VJing and we hope it will trigger some reflexion about the theme of the VJ as an artist.

Scott Pagano

How active and creative is the Spanish VJ scene? Could you tell us a few words about it?

The most interesting element that we'd like to highlight as far as Spain is concerned is the idea that not everything is produced inside the usual places that produce contemporary culture: Madrid and Barcelona. Instead, there are many places in the country, on the periphery, where we are located as well, where this kind of culture thrives.

Another characteristic is that the Spanish cultural scene is emerging. Although i do not think that it is very big, one can see the creation of initiatives such as the community which gathers people involved in VJ culture and enables them to get to know each other and work collectively.

Although there are many musical festivals in Spain and their number keeps growing by the day, it is strange to observe that even very important festivals like Sónar do not reserve an important place to VJs in their programme. This section of the Barcelona-based festival is quite superficial and generally speaking events related to the world of VJing are organized but, at the exception of the ZEMOS98 programme, they are only one or two years old at most. Nevertheless there have been some peculiar cases which turned out to be really interesting. LUX06 is one of them. Many important VJs from all over the world got to meet each other in Seville for this international meeting.

The movement is just taking off. Quite a few workshops are organized these days and an important VJ recently told us that now is the time to provide as much information as possible because the accessibility has this effect that anyone can become a VJ today using demo loops and presets.

Hence the importance of information, so that those who organize and curate festivals can get a better view of what is going on and who is who in the VJ world. We are trying to bring this vision, our vision, on the phenomenon and while preparing the exhibition, we have dedicated much efforts to showing what is happening now in Spain.

For the 8th edition of ZEMOS98 a couple of years ago you also set up Reclaim the Spectrum, an exhibition of artworks which engage with the electromagnetic space. How did an exhibition about something which is usually silent and invisible end up being part of an audiovisual exhibition?


It was an idea of the curator, José Luis de Vicente. We were looking for contents for this 8th edition of the festival dedicated to the possibilities offered by tv. We called it "Más allá de la televisión" / "Beyond Television" and we realized that José Luis' project would be perfect fit for the festival. And without hesitation we started to work on it.

The exhibition was actually very audiovisual because the works that make the radio spectrum visible precisely allow the visitor to watch and listen. We've always been interested in that theme and José Luis de Vicente's work for the exhibition and the conference helped us understand the topic much better. In fact the idea that "the radio spectrum is the real estate of the information society" is now engraved in our point of view on the subject.

Besides, in our daily activities, whether we are talking about intellectual property, cultural activism or society of control analysis, we keep on encountering many aspects similar to those discussed in Reclaim The Spectrum. The works which have been exhibited during the 8th edition of the festival could have been proposed in Panel de Control.

More information.

You are established in Seville. Could you name us a few contemporary artists from or based in Seville who should get more attention from the public (and why)?

We can mention three examples which are close to our interests and are part of the ZEMOS98 context although they are different from each other.

La Cosa Nuestra

There is María Cañas, a videoartist and archivist who collects in an almost maniacal way images related to the most typical myths of our culture. She has recently worked on the topic of Sevillan baroque style and its relationship with pornography. In the video La Cosa Nuestra which received a production support from ZEMOS98 she explores the figure of the bull. Before that she worked on the pig and organized a competition which offered as a first prize a jamón de bellota*. Each of María's pieces is an authentic audiovisual essay.

A very important group, with whom we have worked as well, is They are involved in various projects of media and social activism but from an architectural point of view. work on the cyborg dimension of the media-architecture and the social processes. They are currently supporting the creation of a wiki-plaza in Seville. They participate to the development of a very interesting and powerful global streaming platform called and they have recently organized several days dedicated to Media-Architecture.

We should also highlight the work of José Luis Tirado, his work might be less well-known than the one of other artists but he is curiously the most mature when it comes to teaming up audiovisual and activism. His reflexions on concepts of frontier, on the Strait of Gibraltar and immigration in general is quite meaningful. It is with him that we have realized La Liga de los Olvidados which we mentioned earlier and his long feature films are as interesting as the short one.

In Seville there are also exciting cultural initiatives in many fields, the musical one is interesting at many levels, from the
Hip-Hop of Tote King to the drone metal of Orthodox or Sr Chinarro and his Duchamp-esque pop. There are other figures, important albeit not famous. Maybe because we've worked with him we have to mention Pedro G Romero, especially his work with flamenco dancer Israel Galván and of course there are stars such as Federico Guzmán or the architect Santiago Cirugeda...

We actively stay in touch with most of them and through PRPC (Platform for Reflexion on Cultural Politics) we work with the city. This is a collective platform created two years ago to fight against the Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville BIACS.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

Apart from Cultura VJ and the Panel de Control book, we have a few other activities to keep us busy until the end of the year.

The most important one is the international tour of the DVD of the 9th edition of ZEMOS98, we are looking for art and cultural centers which might be interested in screening it.

We are also thinking of having traveling exhibitions, the Cultura VJ and the Panel de Control ones in particular. Besides, we are working on other projects for other cities. For example, the programming of a series of experimental music events called Experiencias Sonoras.

But we are now working hard on the next edition of ZEMOS98 which will take place on March 24 to 30, 2008. The international call for participation for short videos is out. The deadline to send the works is November 10.

What we can reveal you is that we are working together with Mar Villaespesa, a curator and friend, on a special edition of ZEMOS98 which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Muchas gracias Pedro!

* First-class ham made from pigs which have only been fed only acorns (bellota)

Related stories: Book review: Audio-Visual Art and VJ Culture, VScratch, Remote Vjs control, Sewing machine VJ, PostVinyl, Tremor tactile music sleeve, Interview of UnitedVisualArtists.

The only thing i had ever seen of Ujino Muneteru was the poster of a rather fascinating sonic sculptural instrument he calls the Love Arm. It was 2 years ago at ars electronica. I keep hoping i'll see more of his work one day but in the meantime, lucky me! Vicente Gutierrez managed to meet the artist and together with photographer Martin Holtkamp visited him in his studio. Here's the result of their meeting:

Muneteru in his studio, by Martin Holtkamp

Tokyo based sound sculpture artist and performer Ujino Muneteru's Rotators is a giant tweaked-out jewelry box of modern and out-dated technology. While many old objects are ubiquitous in Muneteru's work, its not the same old story of trash art. Muneteru works to discover new histories in material objects once discarded only to delicately care for them in hopes of restoring any sentimental value once lost. Tangled in Pop Art, Noise and some Dada, his conversions, performances and arrangements of junk and vintage are an insight into the role of materialism and what is of value in our lives- what is deemed junk or vintage or valid pop-iconography is largely up to the viewer. WMMNA caught up with Muneteru in his Tokyo studio to discuss the 'Japan-ness' of his work, all things junk and vintage and how dance culture fits into everything he does.

"my work is like plastic ikebana."

The Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru.

You just returned from the Beautiful New World exhibition in was it?

Well, I was in Beijing for two weeks setting up an installation of the rotators for an exhibition at the Long March space as part of Beautiful New World, it was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the relationship of The Japan Foundation with China. So I had set up the rotators to be there playing automatically. Before the exhibit, I did some shopping in China for some old materials for this exhibit to make it a little unique for China, like I did before in Vancouver. So, just like 10 days before the exhibit, in Beijing I bought an old drill, blender, vacuum cleaner and lots of lamps. I'd say that about 50% of the items were bought in China. In Vancouver, I bought 95% of the items for the rotators exhibit.

The Rotators 'Robertson and Phillips' at The Western Front, Vancouver,Canada. Courtesy of Munteru.

A lot of your work relies on old things, so was it easier to buy things in China or Vancouver?

I think it was easier in Vancouver. There's just a longer sense of history of material things there. The part of people's lives that is concerned with material things is longer in western culture, I feel. In China, there weren't many second hand things- it was so hard to find old things or anything with sentimental value. Everything was so new and as soon as anything gets old, its thrown away or people sell whatever is metal to a steel company for melting these days. So a lot things are made of plastic. I mean, I've been to many modern cities in the east and west and that being my first time in China, everything was different and it was a challenge to collect older materials for my work.

Maybe in the future, in about 10 years or so, there will be more older things laying around to be used by someone else.

So how about in Japan?

Well, compared to western countries and China, both being foreign to Japan, well, I think we have a longer history of westernization. Westernization in Japan has been in effect longer so I think we've developed more of an appreciation of material things. Its a gradual process that takes years. With the way the cultural revolution went in China, I feel China's economy boom is like catching up- they are quickly developing western sensibilities for western things. You can see that in how fast Shanghai developed into a major international city.

Platform for the Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesty of Muneteru

Ah, so how did Chinese people react to the rotators installation?

Well, people approached and looked at it as a mechanical piece. Like some strange kind of robot.

How does that compare to the way a Westerner would?

In Vancouver, visitors to the exhibit thought it was like someone's grandmother's home. I think their reaction was a bit more sentimental. Younger Chinese visitors seemed to be a lot more concentrated and their eyes were a fixed. I mean, they read more contemporary art related media like magazines and blogs and stuff- they tried to understand it or understood it and were at least sensitive to it but I thought that older people, especially those in the art world or 'industry', didn't seem to care so much. The same is true for Japanese older generations, too. But anyways, one night, I had wanted to do a performance at the gallery but I couldn't so we set up the rotators at a club- it was great, a great space too. You know, it was like a cool club in any big city but it felt like- well, in other cities, I feel that some spaces are divided by scenes, like a rock club is for rock and a house club is for house, etc, but this place was like a beautiful fusion of it all. What added to it all was that it was really small like a Japanese live house.

'The Savage's Plastic Ikebana Session' 2007. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

You've adapted a new title for this particular installation of the rotators in Beijing, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ah, the name, well, 'the savages' has a couple meanings, the first is referring to media art. A lot of the artists that were part of the Beautiful New World exhibit use computers or newer technology in their works and well, I don't. The technology I use is pre-1985 so it's a reference to being somewhat archaic, uncivilized and to a point- savage.

The other way of looking at the name is that it is a reference to an ancient tale of China and Japan, like 2000 years ago, it's kind of a long and messy story, but it really did influence the naming of this particular exhibit.


The Rotatorhead which controls it all. Photo Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

Great, back to rotators for a minute...a majority of the materials in your work are western, and if I didn't know you were Japanese upon viewing your work, how would I know this was done by a Japanese artist? What is Japanese about your work?

Well, It's really easy to get lots of objects for my work in Japan because there's so much old technology laying around in old recycle electronic shops. Every time i find and buy old junk things, I want to clean them up and polish them, make them nice again- presentable. The fact that there are many western things in the rotators, clicks with the idea of it being like a grandmother's room- you can get the sense that these things are or were precious because they had a home, they were once loved.

I think I put some love into combining and assembling them in such a way that in the end it's a sound sculpture. But I think my work is very neat, clean, organized and the layout is very proper. It's like a japanese bento, ya know? [laughs] Very organized, its own structure and aesthetic is present there. When I have assistants helping me, I tell them, "make it like a Japanese bento." Sometimes I say my work is like plastic ikebana because of its precise arrangement.

You said it so easy to get things in Japan because of a high turnover and I'm thinking- is there a relationship in your work to the record levels of mass consumerism in Japan?

Japanese people want to have the latest thing so they buy what's new and ditch the old at recycle shops. In this area, there are so many recycling shops that are formal companies, they have many trucks and assemble and gather peoples old goods for sale in shops, there is so much recycling going on here and that works out for me. I like to take that junk and re use it.

Another shot of The Rotators. Courtesy of Muneteru

So do you see a difference in what is junk and what is vintage?

Some junk or cheap things may be vintage in a few years as they appreciate over time, but thats an interesting point, I will say that everything in the rotators is junk!

I read on your website, "the neatness and cleanliness are a very core of Japanese authentic beauty...a wild chaos can only exist as the subject of exoticism."

Yeah, thats true, I like it, I need it.

Ok. what's the message in rotators?

Well, its DIY. With an emphasis on physical means- just using your hands and body to make your own things- sculptures or instruments- using technology in your own way and not letting it dictate function. You know, its like a computer, the keyboard is made for your fingers, and we shouldn't limit our thinking to that way. I try to find the opposite way and do it. With the rotators, I feel I am reversing that relationship, that I am in control of technology, not vice versa.

But everywhere I look technology is getting more function specific and smaller? that's good, no?

Well, especially, in Japan! Japan excels at making things smaller and for now, thats the direction most technology is going, smaller and smaller, micro and nano. But I think it's too small for people and we're leaving something out. I remember in 1978, at a video game arcade, I saw an arcade game booth drop set into a table, like a sit down cabinet and that changed video games forever, since then, things have been getting smaller and smaller, but there are ergonomic limits, you know? I don't like using small buttons, I like older stuff, things that truly follow the human form for function. I mean, in the cyber world, there is no weight, nothing physical, no heaviness, and I like using real, bulky things, I don't want to lose that.

Ozone - So Provided by Mizuma Art Gallery. Courtesy of Munteru

So is rotators a toy or musical instrument? Is it interactive?

No, it is not interactive, but I want to make it more interactive in the future and work in that direction, I am planning and working on a human-scale, ergonomic, drum machine. Interactive is next!

Ok, I have to ask you, you mentioned dance culture as an influence in your work, please explain!

Well, I like drum machines. I love the beats. And I'm interested in making sounds, especially sounds with a groove. I want to make music and do live performances and its all about the beat in dance so I like to use low frequency sounds, like using a blender- it gives off a nice low sound. And about dance music, well, I like thicker, more embellished beats like Prince- he had an influence on me in terms of the music.

I wanted to make, I wanted a groove.

Great! So what's next for you and rotators?

Well, I've got a live performance coming up soon, with Chim Pom, this young art collective. Two of the members used to be my assistants a few years ago when I was making Ozone-so, Ryuta Ushiro and Yasuyaka Hayashi. Other members are students of Aida Makoto. That's Chim Pom and they have a different way of making music but its really physical and focuses on objects too, in a realistic way. So we're going to have a live performance together. I'm thinking of a Berlin exhibit next year.

Flyer for Sunday's performance. Courtesy of Muneteru

And any news on the Love Arm series or ozone-so for fans out there?

Well, I am not working on it now because i've been so busy with the rotators but in the future I will for sure continue it and work on Love Arm number 5, haven't started yet, but I will. And ozone-so is currently being exhibited in Germany now, and it will be exhibited in Berlin next year, in March, I'll go there to do a live performance too.

The live performance with Chim Pom will be Sunday the 28th!
at Open studio *3.0 in Tokyo. And on December 22nd, I'll be performing in Harajuku at the LaForet museum with several other performers.

Thanks so much Ujino for sharing and discussing ideas in your work- we had a great time at your studio! Thanks!

_milkandtales.jpgThe British collective Milk and Tales is made of three young women who design interactive environments for cultural venues. I don't know how they do it but each of their new projects manages to enchant everyone: kids and their grand parents, Londoners and tourists, people for whom interactive environments is a new expression and old grumpy blasés like me who keep on complaining that interaction is getting tired and tiring.

Who is Milk and Tales? How did you get to work on interactive environments?

We are Arlete Castelo, Melissa Mongiat and Kelsey Snook.
We met on the MA Creative Practice for Narrative Environments (CPNE) course at Central Saint Martins, in London, and started working on projects together, in parallel to the course activities.

– We also have a set of rotating collaborators for different projects. We have been working with Dan Harris, Charles Ward, Matthew Olden and Rakhi Rajani on some projects, we are currently working with Chris O'Shea on a new project.

We started to work on interactive installations together as an offshoot from the course where we were fine-tuning our skills in creating narrative environments. A narrative environment is an experience or a place designed to communicate a story, is hopefully engaging and a place for dialogue. Interactive environments are inevitably linked to narrative environments. We’ve got a mix of skills and are very happy designing both.

HiddenLoveSong_5.jpg HiddenLoveSong_6.jpg
Hidden Love Song

Your installations seem to manage to get the broad public immediately engaged and entertained. At the same time, your works are very elegantly designed. Is one of you responsible for the "look" of an installation and someone else works more intensely on the sound technicalities or on the experience side of it? How do you work?

Arlete and Melissa have a background in communication / graphic design and Kelsey has one in in product and installation design. In concept phases, our skills blend to work on the experience of the user/visitor/passer-by – that is our focus and what attracted us to the MA CPNE. For design detailing and production though, we may be working separately on different parts depending on our expertise and we usually seek extra help for technological development, but this is always done in a collaborative spirit, so that in the end, we all have a say and all make sure we are working towards a cohesive whole.

How much do you manage to control the way people interact with your work? Which kind of unexpected behaviour have you witnessed with your installations? Any bad or good surprise? What have you learnt from the way people interact with your works?

We like unexpected behaviours, we see our role as providing a medium for people to be creative. However, for the interaction to work, we feel there needs to be a careful study of the context. We carefully plan the first spark, and then let it go from there.

Hidden Love Song

When we study the context, we're looking at factors such as the environment, the user, and the existing types of behavior in the environment. This enables us to set the foundation for a successful interactive piece, however, we enjoy when people find new ways to use our work and take ownership over what we do. For example, in Gamelan Playtime, we took time to study how people moved in the space and understood that everyone was in a hurry with no time to stop. We made it a priority for people to only have to stroke the wall while passing by for the interaction to work. However, when the installation was up, we realised people were stopping to pull and twist the buffers and were spending a lot of time discovering the different instruments and creating their own piece. They were seeking much more engagement than what we had anticipated. For the following installation of the same 'Keeping in Touch' series, Hidden Love Song, we provided a much more flexible and empowering medium, the scratch-off layer. People could scratch the wall to reveal hidden words or sounds, but they could also scratch in their own messages or simply draw. The piece was particularly nice because it wasn't precious, the whole wall was fair game for manipulation.

Gamelan Playtime

Gamelan Playtime was created for the Royal Festival Hall in London. What was the brief for that project? How easy or difficult is it to get such a prestigious and probably a bit conservative institution to accept your unusual ideas.

First we have to mention that we have been working with the Learning and Participation team at the Royal Festival Hall, who is one of our very innovative and most forward thinking clients. Their way of doing and thinking has been an inspiration for our work, and was really a true collaboration. We met Shân Maclennan, head of L&P through the MA CPNE network and she asked us to come up with an interesting experience using the RFH hoardings while the building was closed for refurbishment. The initial thought was that we could start with communicating Gamelan workshops held with primary school children in Lambeth. They wanted to bring back the life that usually inhabited the area when the building was open. Typical marketing posters campaign didn't seem to do that.

Gamelan Playtime

We came up with a broader program that we called 'Keeping In Touch' which would aim to communicate ongoing activities to the general public via an interactive system on the RFH hoardings for the entire duration of the refurbishment period. This system was made up of a tactile surface, sensors and a sound system which would enable a series of hoarding to go up every 2-3 months. This would keep a momentum with the audience until the re-opening of the hall, and maximise the use of the interactive system. Even though Shân could not commit to the program at the start, we ended up having 3 cycles on the hoardings, up until they took the hoardings down. Then followed PLAY.orchestra on the Riverside Terrace. Now the RFH is open, and we are still working with them on various interactive systems.

Where does the idea of PLAY.orchestra come from?


The brief came from the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) in collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra (PO). The PO wanted to communicate their Sound Exchange website, which enables the general public to download sounds from the orchestra and upload their own.

This installation was to take place on the Riverside Terrace which was not very busy, though a lot of people would pass by. Some people were using the seating in the area to take breaks. We needed to make it a destination point, for all audiences.

The Philharmonia initially thought of having their website on the hoardings for people to take part in the sound exchange. We thought it was all a bit too abstract for people to come by and want to 'exchange sounds' through a website interface on a hoarding. So we thought through what a sound exchange meant to begin with: it was about taking part in the Orchestra, learning about the sounds and sending your own for a composition to take place. We noticed on the website there was a page of the orchestra scheme with all the instruments laid out in their particular spot and the sound they each make. So there, we decided to recreate the orchestra scheme on a stage with only seats. Each seat was labeled with its instrument. When people would sit, they would activate the sound of the instrument. All together, they would hear an entire piece, either classical or specially commissioned pieces. Once comfortably sitting and engaged, people could further take part in the orchestra by sending their own sounds via their mobile phones. A composition was made with all the sounds received and took place on the PLAY.orchestra installation in the last two weeks of its showing.


It turned out to be a huge success that the Royal Festival Hall directors could witness from their office windows not very far away. We also have had quite a lot of demand for it from around the world. We are now in discussion with the RFH and the Philharmonia to make a touring version.

In general, how much do you have to battle to get your vision of a work accepted? Do you get carte blanche?

It is very rare to get carte blanche, we feel the biggest trick is to be resourceful! Our process is pretty rational and directly responds to a client's need, so it's does not feel like a battle to have our ideas accepted. The biggest challenge is always to fully understand the context, the client's desires and apprehensions, and then of course to make the idea work within budget...

Which kind of advice would you give to young designers who would like to work on similar projects? What are the pitfalls? What worked well for you?

We feel we've been pretty lucky with our opportunities, but our advice to new designers in the field— to see the opportunity to do something great in every brief, to think ahead and make the opportunity exciting even when the brief might not be. Gamelan Playtime's initial brief was just a hoarding design that could have seemed somewhat boring, and made with a very small budget. But where there's a will... Our first design had a great response and so the idea was allowed to grow. We also were careful to plan a basic interactive system that could be changed in a series of different installations, and luckily we were able to produce a series!


Is there any spot in London where you´d love to install a work?

Many spots... of course the Tate would be nice. An installation for the Olympics as part of a celebration, that would be great. The New York City Subway has a great art installation and tile art programme, which has really changed the experience of using their transport system. We would love a chance to do something similar for Transport for London. Tube journeys are just torturous, the NYC subway isn't a whole lot better, but when you are navigating the subway maze or arrive at stations where there is some kind of installation, you feel at least that your journey hasn't been all that bad. It's an opportune 'dead' time and space where people have the time to engage, if you can pique their interest.

Thanks Arlete, Melissa,and Kelsey!

All images courtesy of Milk and Tales.

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