Earlier this year, Jeremy Hutchison sent emails to manufacturers around the world, asking them to produce a fairly simple and common item. He added a special requirement though: the product had to be imperfect, come with an intentional error. Moreover, the worker was in charge of deciding which kind of error, malfunction or fault he would add to the good. The artist reassured the factory that, whatever the result, he would pay for the faulty object.
The outcome of the experiment is fascinating. Sometimes, the object was shipped in bits and pieces because the worker decided they would simply damage it after fabrication. Most of the time, however, the dysfunctioning good demonstrates the creativity and imagination of men doing repetitive gestures day after day in the factory: a comb without its teeth, a walking stick turned into a nunchaku, a football ball that is anything but round, a pair of sunglasses without the space for the nose, etc. The objects are amusing but they also give their makers/designers a presence and identity we would otherwise not think of giving them.
"[Err is] about creating deliberate miscommunication," Hutchison told Creative Review, "forging a moment of poetry within a hyper-efficient system of digital exchange. It's about an invisible global workforce, and their connection to the relentless regurgitation of stuff. It's about Duchamp and the readymade, but updated to exist within the context of today's globalised economy. It's about the rub between art and design, the mass-produced and unique, the functional and the dysfunctional."
Hutchison kept track of all the email exchanges, all the skype conversations he had with the people working in the factories. At first, the answers he got expressed bafflement and perplexity.
Soon enough though, some kind of conversation emerged...
Jeremy's project toured the blogs and design/art magazines but i finally got to see it in detail a month ago, when i visited New Sensations, a competition and exhibition organized by the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4 to highlight works made by some of the most talented students graduating from universities and colleges across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
No matter how much i had read and seen about his project, i still wanted to interview Jeremy. Here we go:
Hi Jeremy! One of the most charming parts of the Err project is the exchange of emails and instant messaging conversations you had with employees of the manufacturing companies. I noticed that at some point, they would inform you about the working conditions of the workers. How did these details about TVs in the dinner rooms, women dancing in the park and meal times arise? Was it a question you asked or did the information come spontaneously? Do you feel that they emerged as a kind of self-defense against the assumptions we might have in 'the West' that the workers are treated poorly or are they the result of some personal relationship you managed to created over the exchange of emails?
Well, I set out to develop a personal relationship to the people who make things. Something beyond 'producers' and 'consumers'. I wanted to disrupt a relationship based on a capitalist exchange, where communication operates within strict linguistic codes: price, quantity, customs port. I wanted to introduce a different register into these conversations, to ask what they watched on telly, what music they danced to, what they thought about while they worked.
Obviously this information didn't come spontaneously! But everyone's curious about everyone else. So as our conversations lost their economic anchor and drifted into strange territory, a kind of unspoken permission was given. We talked about Indian cigarettes, Shanghai dragon-boat racing, the Colombian drugs trade. In exchange for pictures of my newborn son, they sent me images of factory dormitories, production lines, workers' canteens. Sometimes they wanted to dispel my Western perceptions. Sometimes they simply wanted something else to talk about. Either way, we exchanged a lot of trust, curiosity, and emoticons.
Were you expecting to struggle so much to get your request understood? The football ball that looks like a football ball but isn't one seems to have caused a lot of trouble for example. Can you also explain us what happened with the ball?
To be honest, I didn't expect a single response. My request was absurd: factories normally take orders of five thousand - not one. And certainly not one with an error. So I guess it came down to finding people who were willing to engage with the absurd, who wanted to know what would happen.
I found a factory in Pakistan that makes 100,000 footballs a month. I made friends with the Sales Director, Waleed. He agreed to make an incorrect football, but without his boss knowing. Every person in the production line made an error: the patches were in the wrong places, the stitching was terrible, the bladder poured out. It was lovely.
But ironically, the error went further. I got a frantic call in the middle of the night: Waleed was at the customs port. The authorities had seized the ball. When he explained than an Englishman had ordered a ball with errors, all hell broke loose. They said it was illegal to fabricate incorrect products, and they would revoke his company's trading licence. I explained that this product wasn't incorrect since it was exactly what I'd ordered. Days passed: nothing. Lost in the bureaucracy of Pakistani customs, I eventually got through to the high commissioner in Islamabad.
She was very apologetic, and explained that 20kg of heroin had recently passed under the radar at Sialkot customs. So everyone was feeling a bit paranoid. She issued a document stating that "the sculpture/artwork looks like a football but in fact is not a football and primarily this object is not for using as a football but is an artwork." But it was too late: someone had destroyed the ball, and it disappeared without a trace. I never quite found out who.
But Waleed and I are still friends.
I was also interested in hearing more about the meaning and narrative that some of the employees injected into the final artifact. For example, the comb that you cannot use to comb even got a name and a whole text justifying its use to 'a completely different section of society its unique something out of this world.'
Well, the comb was made in a small factory in Kolkata. My contact Manoj explained what happened when he relayed my request: 'everyone thought I have gone mad or mis-read your enquiry as everyone in the world strives to improve not to create error.' It seemed like the entire factory was involved in my dysfunctional comb. "We have named it IMPICO because first it was impossible to make and then when we eventually made it, it was impossible to use. So Impossible Comb = IMPICO." Manoj was curious about the market: How would I sell it? Who would buy it? I said I wasn't sure. So I suggested we make a print ad. He wrote the copy, and I did the art direction.
One of Marx's major quarrels with capitalism was the alien relationship it creates between the worker and the product of his work. I'd been wondering about this relationship, and how it might be altered: What if we lived in a world where the factory worker claimed authorship over his creation? What if narrative was injected into the object? How would this affect it?
Perhaps the intellectual activity they were required to perform caused a momentary jolt in their position, inviting them to insert meaning, humour, personality into their work. I think they enjoyed it. Apparently the man who chainsawed the acrylic chair to bits found it rather cathartic: 'The feeling was great after he cut the chair piece to piece... he was happy and enjoyed the process'. He told his boss to thank me, so that was nice.
I don't think it's my job to take a moral stance on things - more to ask energetic questions. So rather than reinforce pre-existing arguments (e.g. capitalism / anti-capitalism), I wanted to see what would happen if you lodged nonsense into the mechanics of a hyper-efficient global machine. To manufacture error.
But this project didn't come out of nowhere. It was triggered by an article I read about the Apple Mac factory in Shenzhen. Consumer hunger for iPads had reached such dizzying heights that life on the Chinese assembly line had become pretty devastating. The management had attached nets around the building, to catch people who were throwing themselves off the roof. One worker told the newspaper that 'he would deliberately drop something on the ground so that he could have a few seconds of rest when picking it up.'
An intentional error is a strange idea - illogical, oxymoronic. And fundamentally human. So in some ways, Err is simply a continuation of this worker's gesture. It's a moment of respite from the endless repetition of the global production line.
Err is a tremendously successful work. It has been exhibited in various venues and was discussed in countless blogs and magazine articles. Are you tempted to come up with a project that somehow continues or Err in the future or explores other sides of goods manufacturing?
Well the simple answer is that Err isn't finished. Next year, the confusion that this project performed in mass-production will belch out as a luxury brand. It'll look like something you know, but somehow everything will be wrong: a marketing platform sabotaged by its own miscommunication.
I want my work to deal with what's out there: mass production, emerging markets, Skype, consumerism, economic meltdown. So I've found manufacturing a useful vehicle to engage with the chaos of the 21st Century. While I want to avoid formula at all costs, I do have a couple more projects that operate in a similar realm. One of these will launch at Paradise Row gallery, and another might materialise this summer as an outdoor sculpture for the Southbank Centre, London.
Finally i was intrigued by the bitter-sweet projects you developed in Palestine and Israel. You seem to have adopted the role of the unlucky and innocent British tourist who puzzles Israeli with labels written in arabic and cycles against separation walls. Is it possible not to take a stand and judge when working in Israel and Palestine and exploring the political and social situation? Were the situation and relationships between people different from what you had expected from what the press tells us?
My experience in Palestine / Israel was transformative. I found two sides shouting different languages over an 8 metre high wall. People crawling through sewage tunnels to see their families. Semites making anti-semitic slurs against other semites. Nothing made sense. So what does a white middle-class English boy do in a conflict zone? He rides into concrete walls, drives around roundabouts, buys milk from shops that aren't selling it. Somewhere in the noise and confusion, I realised a few things. That it's essential to remain impartial - but impossible to do so. That confusion may be more productive than resolution. That things aren't supposed to make sense.
So while it's important to stand by something, to have an opinion, I think its more important to offer an alternative. Because whatever beliefs I hold true, I'd like to hold them lightly, flip them over, even toss them into the wind.
All images courtesy of Jeremy Hutchison.
This is the second time this year that i've encountered the work of the design collective. I discovered their work in Spring when i was attending a press conference at CCCS - Strozzina in Florence. Sven Jonke, Christoph Katzler and Nikola Radeljkovic had wrapped transparent tape all over the courtyard of the venerable Palazzo Strozzi to shape a self-supporting cocoon for people to crawl inside. For Z33, they've left the gaffer tape in Vienna and Zagreb (where they are based) and used nets to turn the whole exhibition space into a giant playground that can be explored horizontally as well as vertically. The idea might look incredibly simple but the result evokes floating architecture and flexible, aerial "landscape" as much as jungle gym.
I was beyond happy when Nikola and Christoph accepted to discuss their work with me. The interview focuses mostly on the Net at Z33 and on the Tape walk-in installation i saw in Florence but the Numen/ For Use website will, i'm sure, give you many more reasons to admire their work.
Sorry if i'm going to start on a very trivial note but one of the first questions that popped into my mind was "how about security?" I'm sure your installations are perfectly safe and sound but is 'health and safety' ever an issue? Are there any special measure you have to comply with and did they ever get in the way of your creativity?
Christoph: Security and safety is always the thing we fight with. Since we are educated as applied artists and since we do a lot of set design in theatre we are aware of all the problems concerning statics and security.
It is part of every daily reality. Especially when you make something in public space you have to fight with a lot of law issues. But often they are rather idiotic issues. It is bizarre to see how different countries and different organizers are putting weight and importance concerning law on totally different things and how they ignore others totally. But it is also interesting that in art institutions law is very often not seen so super strict like in other fields. This is one reason why I like to work there.
Up to now it was like this that either the ideas went without bigger problems into realization or they stopped very early due to some legal regulations.
How did you get to create The Net for Z33? Did they give you carte blanche or did you work on the idea together with the curator?
Christoph: We said, "we want to try something new." They said, "okay but we need the idea within two weeks", which was rather a short period for us to find something we really like. But the idea came actually easy and fast, which is rather rare, and we all were rather satisfied from the beginning.
In the video interview that you did for Z33, you explain that The Net is a testbed for a public version that could be installed between houses. Have you found a location already? Would you see it as a permanent structure or a nomadic one?
Christoph: YES, we are searching for a nice location in public to realize it there! In the opposite to our other walk-in installation (called Tape) it is much harder to find a location in the public space. Many of my friends would love to have it in there backyard to open the window and to jump inside for a sun-bath or whatever. But I do guess it would be difficult to find a location where all neighbors would give there permission to have "strangers" hanging around in front of there windows.
Another possibility would be to use one of those football-cages where kids are playing and to implant it there. It would be a different situation, but I think it still would work.
When i saw the Tape installation in the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, it was morning, there was a press conference, and none of the journalists was climbing inside the structure. Actually, i had no idea anyone was allowed to or even that anyone would think of doing it. The public is usually not supposed to climb into sculptures/installations. But somehow, i found the work fascinating enough. What is most important to you, that the public will want to engage physically with your work or that they are visually compelling?
Christoph: For us it is 100% important that the public can go inside and experience these works. Nowadays we write it in our contracts that the public has to be able to go inside during normal opening hours. When people see the installations most of them are curious, they want to go inside. But since you have to take your shoes off and crawl an all four it makes the social borders falling. They are starting to enjoy it together in a very communicative way although they often do not even know each other. This is nice! That's why we like to see it in the public. Maybe it is somehow like in a different world and some rules do not count anymore for a while.
The Tape shapes are very organic (at least to me.) How do they form? Do you have to work on computer models first to explore the sturdiness and elegance? Or is there rather much space for improvisation?
Christoph: We make just a simple model to test somehow the basic shapes not to be totally wrong and the rest we do on spot rather following our intuition. So there is no computer involved at all! We also do not draw or design a lot. It is basically just working, working working, because what ever you do it will always shrink into forms which are geometrically perfect! On spot it is a real rush and chaos, everybody is doing something. So in the beginning we often think we made some mistakes. But now we know that it is just the usual phase. We just go on and it is fine at the end.
You trained as industrial designers, but what you do now seems to be miles away from industrial design. Would you agree with that statement? Or do you feel that your practice evolved in a logical way and that, no matter what you are doing today, you are still true to your roots as industrial designers?
Nikola: It seems but it is not. Industrial design implies a certain awareness of the needs and wishes of the user and we consider the visitors of our installations in that way. Designers are constantly trying to personalize products and production, to humanize mass produced items. On the other hand, we are at the moment seriously working on industrializing our installations, in the sense that we are developing a walk-in installation which can be set over and over again. Our working process and professional ethos are still strongly influenced by our design roots and I find it stimulating to exchange influences and experiences from one field to another. The strict border between art and design is, in my opinion, totally artificial and absurd. Both fields are about visual communication of abstract values, about media and society, both use creative potentials to articulate spatial relations and both constantly refer to one another. It was like this even before pop art and after...
Does For Use still find time to design chairs and other pieces of furniture or have the more artistic projects completely taken over your time and energy?
Christoph: I am at the moment mostly into the experimental projects because I feel much more freedom and I see much more joyful feedback from the audience. But we still deal with design and I do guess we will approach different to that profession in the future and open up our borders.
Nikola: Since Christoph is avoiding design completely, I am probably dealing with design more that ever!-)
Thanks Christoph and Nikola!
You have until October 2nd to jump in the NET at the House for Contemporary Art Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium.
It was time i'd interview Niklas Roy! Jonah Brucker-Cohen had a fantastic talk with him for gizmodo but that was 4 years ago. And there are video portraits about Niklas Roy online but there are in a language i can't quite master. Niklas is one of the most facetious characters of the 'new media art' world. His dance machine without 'annoying Dj", moving curtain, 'distributed' fountains, white cube gallery in a box, physical teapot inside a Commodore cabinet or his electromechanical version of the game Pong are certainly witty, absurd and at times, even hilarious. But don't let the jesting fool you. Behind the playfulness of Roy's machines, lay much irony and lucidity about the world of art & tech he belongs to.
Hi, Niklas! Why do you feel the need to invent 'useless things'?
Well, I guess that engineers and designers which usually invent machines and devices mainly do that in order to solve a problem with their inventions. Or they want to make an existing process more efficient with the help of technology. But such efficiency-driven approaches exclude a vast field of possible inventions. I find it very interesting to explore this field as it promises to be very free.
Do you really believe that your works are useless?
Somehow, my creations often end up in art exhibitions. So the question is, how useless is art? I strongly believe that art is useful for the health of society in some sort of balancing way. From that point of view, my machines might be a bit useful.
It is a bit daunting to interview you. I'm not sure i can trust any of your answers. Especially after having had a look at the WIA < > WIA project for which a fictitious African artist set up an installation that consisted of a public toilet in Linz, that appeared to be hooked up via Internet to an African village's well. Why did you chose to trick ars electronica? Was it really a spoof? Surely they must have known there was something fishy in the work?
Ars Electronica is the leading Media Arts institution. Their pole position makes them define trends and create hypes. Unfortunately, I often cannot agree to those hypes - which feeds the rebel in me.
Melissa's - let's call it 'performance' - started when Ars Electronica released a 'call for proposals' for an exhibition as part of Linz' culture capital program. This open call was more or less a very clear wish list of what they'd like to show. This open call would have made a good briefing for companies which focus on designing interactive installations. But it was not suitable to address artists which should stimulate the society by expressing their own positions. My application as African artist Melissa Fatoumata Touré began as a little fun experiment. I submitted precisely what Ars Electronica asked for and spiced it up with some toilet humour. I wanted to know how they'd react to such a rather ridiculous submission. It worked out far better than I thought: As I heard later, Melissa's toilet project was the first that got accepted by the jury - and they were even a bit sad that the other submissions didn't even come close to the 'quality' of Melissas proposal. Well, this is what the jury said.
To answer your last two questions: As far as I know, the organizers really had no clue what was going on until Melissa presented her work via Skype and with a live video broadcast from her uncle's internetcafé in Africa. That happened about three weeks after the opening of the exhibition, as far as I remember. But you should not forget that they've never seen Melissa before this presentation. It was all organized just via email and phone calls. There was a lot of imagination involved. On both sides actually: I also could just imagine what the organizers in Linz would think about Melissa. And during the long process of preparing the exhibition and the installation, I often had the feeling that Ars Electronica wouldn't believe Melissa's identity anymore and that they're already playing with me.
I like your explanation of why Melissa is 'the perfect dream of every new media curator.' And i couldn't help but smirk at 'her ideas are distilled media art mainstream.' Could you elaborate on this? What are 'distilled media art mainstream' ideas? Do i perceive a certain disenchantment/fatigue with media art theories and ideas? Or am i completely wrong?
I'm not even sure if ideas and theory play such a big role if you want to become successful in this field. Here are some simple lessons that I've learned so far:
1st: Don't be an artist. You should be an architect or have a background in biology, or something else more or less unrelated. Melissa was actually a computer scientist. Talking about Melissa: Your gender also plays a role. Being a woman beats being a man, as women are extremely underrepresented in this field.
2nd: No matter what you're really up to, I can recommend you to also make some experimental electronic music. This adds an interesting layer to your personality. Your level of musicality doesn't matter as that's the point where the experimental part starts.
3rd: Buzzwords and -topics are your friends and your source of inspiration. You might consider to become active in the fields of biotech, sustainability or, of course, Facebook.
You explain that you created the Vektron modular because sometimes you need to listen to some strange zoundz. That sounds (to me at least) like a lot of work just for the sake of listening to some strange zoundz. I was wondering how often you create a work just for your own amusement. How much are you influenced by the possible feedback from public, the future reaction of the audience during the creative process? Do you give it much importance when you are developing a new work?
Building this synthesizer was actually an attempt to add an interesting layer to my personality. But I didn't want to write it so clear on my webpage, as this would have caused the reverse effect. Ok, now serious: I regard the development of things like this experimental Synthesizer as both, spare time fun and hands on research. I do that as often as possible as it often leads me to new ideas. The hard thing is actually to organize life an a way that you have so much spare time where you can work really free.
I was very impressed by the little video documenting the Reinventing Television workshop you headed a the Valand Art School in Gothenburg. Can you take us through a couple of projects that turned old tv sets into 'storytelling machines'?
This was really a nice workshop. Anna Kindvall, one of the directors of Malmö's Electrohype biennial was teacher there at that time and invited me. The idea was to take old TV's and build new machines inside or with them. I often built TV's out of cardboard boxes when I was a child and don't get me wrong, now, but I think when something was a lot of fun to do in childhood, it's always nice to make the same things with art students.
My Little Piece of Privacy is a curtain that moves along your studio window to protect you from the gaze of passersby and achieves precisely the opposite. I have the feeling that it is also the kind of idea that the 'creatives' in advertising and communication agencies would love to steal for their clients. Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have people from advertising ever approached you with a request to adapt one of your projects for their client? Is it something you'd be happy to do?
This installation is indeed an amazing attention-magnet. But the installation makes so much sense because it is just about a little hyperactive curtain. If the curtain would be replaced by a moving advertisement, it would be just poor. Maybe the 'creatives' which wanted to steal the idea also realized that. At least they didn't contact me and I haven't heard of any spin-offs, yet.
I guess the previous question calls for the upcoming one: The first time i saw your work was at Transmediale where you were showing Pongmechanik. You were still a student at the udk in Berlin at the time. As far as i can see you're still a happy independent artist doing exactly what takes his fancy. How do you do that? Do you have any advice for talented media art students who would like to actually have a career as media artist and not as 'creative' doing websites for an 'interactive design' company?
I think I answered that already in two different ways: My personal trick is mainly to organize life in a way that I have a lot of time (and at least enough money) to work on things that I find interesting. Working in a company will not really help, as this takes too much time.
How did you start being involved in media art? What attracted you in this field?
It was actually many years ago, when a friend took me for my first time to the Transmediale. I was working in the film business at that time, creating visual effects for feature films. This Transmediale visit caused two things: On the one hand, I've never seen so many interesting installations at one place before. I loved the way how technology was used in this very creative way. And on the other hand, I saw that there's plenty of space to make even more interesting things with technology. That's why I started to get involved in this field.
I saw the International Dance Party once in an exhibition in Amsterdam. i was alone in the room and could afford to throw away any kind of inhibition. But you must have witnessed the effect it has on a group of people. How do people react to it usually? Are they very self-conscious? Or rather extrovert?
Like the curtain, the IDP works amazingly well. But of course, there's a little bit of chain reaction involved. If one person starts to dance, it doesn't take long until the whole room takes off. The sad thing about this is, that I really like how the machine opens and closes and how it transforms its shape. People which are just dancing don't recognize that, as the installation always stays in full party mode. If that's the case, I sometimes try to convince the people to stop dancing. First they don't approve my suggestion, but if they do, they love the installation even more afterwards.
Has anyone ever bought the Beginner Set "Junior IDP"?
That's my main income!
Any upcoming project or exhibition that you'd like to share with us?
Yes, there's this exhibition in Barcelona's DHUB opening soon. The vernissage is on June 21st.
And then, there's another exhibition, called 'Paranoia' which is still going on in Lille's Gare St. Sauveur. Charles Carcopino curated this really great show. I can 100% recommend it and it's still running until 15th of August.
Photography used on the homepage is by Martin W. Maier.
If you want to see a penguin, you go to the zoo. If you're curious about dinosaurs and dodos, any natural history museum will enlighten you. But where do you go if you want to learn about spider silk-producing goats, anti-malarial mosquitoes, fluorescent zebrafish or the terminator gene?
Right now, you can only rely on good old internet. But in June, the Center for PostNatural History will finally open its doors to anyone interested in genetically engineered life forms. This public outreach organization is dedicated to collecting, documenting and exhibiting life forms that have been intentionally altered by people through processes such as selective breeding and genetic engineering.
The center maintains a collection of living species when it's possible. Otherwise they welcome the dead bodies of organisms of postnatural origin and in the absence of postnatural corpses, they present video and photography.
Along with its permanent exhibition and research facility for PostNatural studies, the center organizes traveling exhibitions that address the PostNatural through thematic and regional perspectives.
The center wasn't open yet when we visited Pell. All the images below were taken in the temporary studio where the collection is stored until the grand opening.
Hi, Rich! The Center for Postnatural History (CPNH) looks pretty unique to me but do you know if there are any center, organization or groups doing something similar anywhere else in the world?
We wouldn't want to stake our merit on claims of being first. There are in fact several natural history museums that have mounted exhibits that address issues of postnatural interest, such as the origins of domesticated Horses exhibit produced by the American Natural History Museum in NYC, or domesticated crops, such as the Seeds of Change exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, or the transgenic bull Herman, who is on display at the Naturalis in the Netherlands. However, these are the exceptions to the rule. None of these museums are actively collecting, or interested in collecting, domesticated or otherwise genetically modified organisms. The evolutionary history that begins with the dawn of agriculture and the domestication of animals and continues on towards genetic engineering and synthetic biology is documented in bits and pieces, but not in any central location. To our knowledge there are no other museums that take as their mission to collect and exhibit the lifeforms that have been intentionally altered by humans.
It's easy to understand why one can be fascinated by these modified organism but what made you decide to open a Center for Postnatural History? It's a huge commitment.
Around seven years ago I was introduced to the emerging field of synthetic biology by Chris Voigt. At the same time, I was researching evolutionary biology and was struck by the fact that there is such resources devoted to documenting the natural world, but that the participation of humans in altering that living world is so rarely presented to the public. When I began looking at the collections of natural history museums I noticed that newly engineered organisms were not only absent from the collections, but that there was little interest in collecting them. The rare exceptions of Herman the Bull in the Netherlands, or Dolly the Sheep in Scotland, both point to the symbolic roll that these organisms can often play as icons, while the vast multitude of genetically engineered organisms remain undocumented. This seems like a significant blind spot in the public consciousness worth addressing.
When you start reading about the Roundup ready corn, the Triploidy Atlantic Salmon or other modified plants or insects, it is hard not to be judgmental. Some of the modifications are quite positive of course such as the mosquito that doesn't transmit malaria. Still, i didn't detect criticism in your discourse so far. So what is your position/strategy? Do you plan to be as neutral as possible in your presentation of the information and let the public join the dots?
We take it as our mission to allow for people to have the experience of arriving at an idea on their own. Personal discovery can be an incredibly transformative experience. Language that comes with a predefined worldview can get in the way of a person finding their own language and framework of understanding. As a strategy we make an attempt to describe the postnatural world without using the language of industry, academia or activism. In practice, this is not always possible, but it remains the ideal goal. Forming one's own opinion can be a frustrating experience. We are sometimes contacted by people, months after coming across one of our exhibits, who are still wrestling with an issue. For us, this is encouraging. The issues are too important and too complicated not to be questioning our own assumptions and re-framing our own ideas in new ways.
When i visited what is going to be the Center in Pittsburgh, i noticed a short presentation of the CPNH hanging on the wall the text ended with the names of some of the people who helped you set up the exhibit at some point. I recognized a few names of artists. What is the role of artists in Postnatural History? Which place will you give to their work in the center?
Artists on the whole play a similar role in the creation of a postnatural history museum as they do in natural history. There are experiences to be created, things that must be documented, stories to be told. The difference is that some artists are also altering the living world as a part of the artwork that they make. In some of these cases, if the changes they are making are heritable and thus "in-play" evolutionarily speaking, then specimens of these lifeforms may be collected by the CPNH and cataloged alongside the organisms produced by universities, corporations and other individuals.
How would you define your own role at the CPNH? Is still the one of an artist? Or rather a curator?
The word "curator" is commonly used in natural history museums to refer to the people who manage the various collections of the museum, such as "Curator of Mammals", "Curator of Mollusks" and so forth. Until such time as the collection becomes large enough to require more than one curator, I will hold the title of Curator of PostNatural Organisms.
I discovered your center at the Alter Nature exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt. I took with me some of the cards and they are colour-coded. 'green' is for 'transgenic', lila is for 'mutant', orange is for 'hybrid', etc. can you explain us the distinctions briefly? some are clear, others are more confusing to me...
These distinctions are significant, but not always separate or exclusive. Some may occupy more than one category. Some new categories may be added. Transgenic refers to a genetically engineered organism that has had DNA from one or more different species intentionally inserted into its genome. This kind of alteration is not possible with traditional breeding and was developed in the mid-1970's. A mutant has had its DNA altered through the use of chemicals or radiation to induce largely random changes to its genome. Mutations occur all the time in nature, but are sometimes artificially selected for or induced by people. Most of the traditional vegetables we eat are very different in appearance and taste from anything we find in nature. These are the result of spontaneous mutations that were selected for by people over many generations, in the case of corn, thousands of years.
Did you talk about the Center for Postnatural History to more 'traditional' natural history museums? How is the reaction of the curators and conservators over there about your own center? Would they invite you to set up a temporary exhibition in their space for example?
The response from natural history museums has been quite welcoming. We have been invited to meet with several of the largest natural history museums in the world. A common response from them is, "Why isn't anyone else doing this?" However, none are willing to devote their own limited resources towards this area. Generally speaking, the biologists who curate natural history museums have a strong interest in natural ecology and the environment. The idea of studying the human-created habitat of an organism that has been raised in captivity is generally seen as profoundly boring by them. However, we have received invitations to exhibit specimens from our collection within their museum and are currently in negotiations regarding this.
The Centre will have a permanent exhibition as well as temporary shows. What will the opening temporary show be about?
Our first temporary exhibit will be a regional survey entitled, "Cultivated, Invasive and Engineered: PostNatural Plants of the Appalachian Region". This will feature three themes. Indigenous medicinal and food plants that were cultivated by Native Americans and European settlers which have been collectively shared over time, such as Ginseng, Black Cohosh and Wild Yam, the direct ancestor of modern hormonal birth control. Secondly, invasive or "opportunistic" plants such as Kudzu, which was brought to North America as an ornamental plant from Japan at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and is now, lacking necessary predators, spreading rapidly across the continent. And lastly, newly engineered crops that are nearly ubiquitous in the US, but are highly controlled by the private corporations that own their intellectual property rights.
Are there specific safety regulations you need to comply with to open the center?
We follow the law. There is nothing within our collection that requires any kind of special permit. We have no special access as compared to anyone else. There are many things we might like to exhibit in their living form but are unable to do so. We see this however as an opportunity, and find ways of exhibiting the absence of the subject as a way of building a discourse around the issues of regulation, containment, secrecy and intellectual property.
Are you free to show any kind of modified species?
Newly engineered transgenic organisms must pass a regulatory process maintained by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they can leave the lab. As a result we are limited in what living organisms we are able to exhibit. For instance, the only transgenic vertebrate which we are able to exhibit are the commercially produced GloFish™ that expressed green, red and yellow fluorescent protein and thus glow under black light. These however can be purchased in many pet stores. We are however able to exhibit genetically engineered organisms that are dead. These were killed while at the lab with the support of the researcher in charge. Preserved specimens are not considered a contamination risk and are therefore not regulated by the US Department of Agriculture.
I was reading through the blog that documents your Smithsonian Research Fellowship and read this: 'There appears to be an interesting relationship between military incursion and specimen acquisition. Particularly amongst the rodent collection, one can see the location and approximate start and end dates of most of the major American military projects of the 20th and 21st centuries. Reasons for this appear to be numerous and will be explored further during our stay here at the Smithsonian.' Can you give us more details about this?
What makes the Smithsonian unique among museums, is that it is The National Museum of the United States of America. In some respects, the National Museum of Natural History is the biological memory of the State itself. One of the first things I noticed while there, was that there was a strong bias within the rodent collection towards places that our military has had a presence. The sites of wars, occupations and military exercises are all thoroughly represented. The reasons for this are many. In some cases they are collected by the military when they enter a new environment and are concerned about potential disease vectors, and the specimens eventually find their way into the National collection. But in other cases they are collected by Smithsonian researchers who are working in coordination with the military. Some of the larger collections of animals are from these situations and include: Fish and small mammals collected during the Operation Crossroads atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946; A large assessment of biological diversity at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site following the suspension of atmospheric bombing in 1964; And a large collection of birds and mice collected during the Project SHAD germ warfare tests at Johnston Atoll in the mid-60's. There are also a number of white lab mice and rats that were donated to the Smithsonian by the Walter Reed Medical Center and the National Cancer Institute who were developing them as model organisms to study the effects of radiation in the 1940's. These specimens all quietly tell stories of the movements, fears and aspirations of the United States. They serve as examples of how deeply intertwined our cultural history is with our natural history and are reminders of how the project of science is never divorced from the cultural context in which it is conducted.
The Center for PostNatural History will open its permanent space in June 2011 at 4913 Penn Ave. in Pittsburgh, PA.
* In case anyone was wondering, the book's not ready yet, apparently it takes more time to proof read it than to write it.
I've stopped publishing interviews a long time ago but once in a while i stumble upon someone whose work and ideas sound so relevant to my interests that i immediately get back on the interview track. A couple of weeks ago, Rui Guerra answered one of my facebook rants (which usually target museum press people who refuse to give me access to press images because i'm a blogger therefore 'images are not safe" with me) with a comment so smart and informative that i wanted to know more about his opinion about online strategies for cultural spaces.
Guerra is teaching, working and collaborating with the likes of V2_, Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre, Piet Zwart Institute and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. He is also the co-founder of ʻItʼs not that kindʼ (INKT), a studio focused on developing online strategies primarily for the cultural and creative sector. Besides working commercially, INTK develops artistic projects that explores the intersection of art, technology and society.
You're working on developing online strategies for cultural institutes. You've recently worked for two institutions that are beacons in the world of new media art, V2_ and LABoral. Can you explain us what you did for them? And if working for a cultural institute specialized in art and tech is any different than working for a more 'traditional' cultural center? Do they have different expectations and requests?
Rui Guerra: Cultural and heritage organizations, including new media art organizations, often regard their online presence as a marketing strategy. Their website and other online activities are traditionally run by a communication department (or public relations). This led to the current situation where websites are regarded as announcement platforms or brochures. Surely, there are exceptions but the current rule is to use online technologies as a marketing tool to attract visitors to physical locations. This scenario is changing rapidly. In 2001, the number of people who visited the four Tate museums was approximately twice as large as the number of visitors of the Tate website. In 2004, for the ﬁrst time in history, the number of online and ofﬂine visitors was comparable. Five years later (2009), the number of online visitors was three times as high as the number of people that visited all Tate museums combined. The rapid growth of a 24h/7 online audience is awakening organizations for the fact that websites are much more than just mere ﬂyers. An online platform with a growing world wide audience might very well be an extremely valuable ʻvenueʼ. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the near future, ofﬂine exhibitions would be just a marketing strategy to attract visitors to websites?
Online platforms have changed so rapidly that it might be important to revise current strategies. The online strategies that we at INTK develop together with organizations start from the point of view that a website is a platform in itself and that it is meant for an online audience. This is not a unique point of view, see for example, the ten principles that John Stack published at the Tate Online Strategy for 2010-12. The resulting online strategies can be quite comprehensive covering aspects in terms of content, context, business model, identity, interaction, communities, software and maintenance. So the changes that might occur due to a new online strategy are not just in terms of software but also organizational. Based on my experience, the ability to adopt new technologies does not depend directly on whether organizations include technology in their subject of interest but rather how fast and ﬂexible they are in adapting to changes and new ways of working.
In a previous online conversation you mentioned the catalogue issue and how institutions invest time, money and energy to print beautifully designed catalogues but pay little to no attention to the possibility of publishing the same content online.
What arguments do you use to convince them to modify their attitude? What can art institutions gain from providing their web visitors with an online catalogue? Does the catalogue have to be available for free?
Rui Guerra:I was often surprised how efﬁcient institutions are in collecting information to print in catalogues and how clumsy they are with publishing similar content online. Most of the organizations we've worked with do not need to be convinced to publish their content online. It is well-known that via the internet you can reach an audience that would be unthinkable 10 years ago. The urge to publish online is already there, what is missing are online publication models ﬁne-tuned to the speciﬁc needs of cultural organizations.
Let me describe some of the challenges my colleagues at V2_ and me have encountered while developing their online strategy. V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media, just like many other organizations, had two different websites: one used to announce news and events and an online archive where all activities are documented. This approach not only divided the visitors, it also doubled the amount of work for the already scarce human resources. The solution passed through merging the two websites. The announcement platform and the archive platform had to be one and the same. Now it sounds like a no-brainer but it was not obvious back then. How can you present fresh news while at the same time show a rich archive of the last 30 years? How can you stay light and engaging while at same time remain informative and interesting? These were some of the questions we had to answer. New content needed to be historically contextualized using archived information while at the same time visitors searching for historical content should be informed about recent developments or events.
We needed a model that would be simultaneously temporal and semantic. We implemented a system that allowed editors to relate content in a semantic manner and presented it in a well structured page. Besides that it was also important to include relations that only emerge with time. With that purpose in mind, we developed a ʻrelated contentʼ system that is presented in all pages and is driven by meta-information. All content is documented with tags but instead of showing the tags to the visitors, we use them to search for archived content and to generate a related items list. This is not much different from youtube related videos or from what a lot of bloggers do by manually linking new blog posts to previous related ones. It sounds like the obvious thing to do but when you think about it, you realize that such systems are not commonly used. The new website was developed using existing open source software (Plone) and new functionality was added as open source modules. The new software was in place within the ﬁrst 3 months followed by progressive adaptations until we achieved a quite stable system that can be downloadable from http://www.culturecab.org Currently, you can use V2_'s website as a research tool or at least as a comprehensive catalogue of their activities. Since the new strategy has been launched, V2_ online audience has tripled last year and recently, they had a video on youtube that has reached more than a million views.
About making content freely accessible online, we think that each organization needs to carefully think about a sustainable business model. Overprotecting content might drive you to oblivion and exclude society from a fundamental part of culture. On the other hand, you do not want to see others deriving proﬁt from your assets at your own expenses. There is a beautiful publication freely available online that is a great introduction to business model innovation for culture heritage (PDF.) Business models are an important part of a thoughtful online strategy.
How about the audience? Do we already expect to ﬁnd PDF of catalogues? Would we be curious enough to visit the online version of an exhibition? Or do we still cling to our old habits?
Rui Guerra:There are fundamental differences between an exhibition, a printed catalogue and an online platform. They have different goals and serve different needs therefore they are not mutually exclusive, in the contrary, they complement each other. You could say that exhibitions and catalogues are like snapshots of a given cultural context, they happen or are published at a certain period in time. Online platforms have the potential to be dynamic to evolve along with time. Theoretically, websites offer an unlimited amount of information and multiple views offer that information. With so much potential, one wonders why websites that offer a great cultural experience are so scarce? Again, I think we are lacking beﬁtting models. You can ﬁnd online exhibitions modeled after a book, after a DVD, after a physical space, after a geographic map, even modeled after an archival database. Applying old models, or dumping catalogues in PDF format online, is not going to get the job done.
We've recently launched the new online platform of LABoral, Art and Industrial Creation Centre, in Spain. LABoral exists only for approximately four years. In such a short time, they have organized more than 40 exhibitions, presenting more than 700 artworks and invited approximately 600 artists. During that period thousands of images, texts and videos were created. LABoral exhibitions are overwhelming in terms of information. The new online platform had to reﬂect that proliferation of content while at the same time take in attention the visitor's online experience. The website that resulted from their new online strategy uses a minimal design, basically it lives from its content. The pace of the
What could be the beneﬁt for a museum or an art gallery to have their online audience grow? Why, for example, would they want to reach people who might never be able travel and visit their shows?
Rui Guerra: The main beneﬁt of having a large online audience is surely not to attract visitors to ofﬂine shows. An increasing online audience might lead to a raise of the number of ofﬂine visitors but we think that is just a side effect of something more relevant. There is a clear interest in consuming information and in experiencing art online. In 2008, people under-25s already spent 36% of their leisure time online. Art organizations realize that it is essential to tap into this audience in order to reach a younger and broader public. To adapt to this new audience is their urge. The beneﬁts are diverse and might be not only for the organizations but also for the public in general. For example, the artworks that are accessible to the public represent just the tip of the iceberg when compared to the collections owned by cultural organizations. Either from space limitations or any other reason a large amount of our culture is not easily accessible. Organizations are already publishing much of their collections online, the process has been slow mainly because most works need to be digitalized. Currently digitalization techniques are relatively cheap and governments have been funding a big part of this process so you can expect an increase in speed. Nobody can predict the impact of this process but you can expect big changes. Think for example what Taschen has done in its early period when it published less known artworks in a magazine format.
The full beneﬁts of an online audience can only be harvested once organizations realize that websites are not just publishing channels but more importantly they are interactive platforms that allow audiences to engage with art in unique ways. The nature of an online experience is radically different from an ofﬂine one.
It cannot be expected that art originally made to be hanged on a wall will perform equally good on a screen. Adapting artworks that were made with one medium in mind to another medium does not always result well. The full potential of a medium can only be explored by works that have been conceived with that medium in mind. Such artworks are no longer rare and in fact there has been an impressive proliferation of digital artists communities making works that can only be fully perceived once experienced online. These art forms surely deserve more attention.
Over the past few years, curators, artists, other individuals or institutions have experimented with setting up galleries that exist purely online. Is that an experience you'd regard as meaningful and timely?
Rui Guerra: Yes there has been important precedents. Adaweb and runme.org are two examples that ﬁrst come to my mind. Runme.org is an online repository for software art which in a way represents an important generation of software artists. There also have been successful initiatives run by cultural organizations, such as, the Intermedia Art by the Tate and Artport by the Whitney Museum. However, once artists control both the means of production and distribution, as it is often the case with software art, one might question the role of institutions or even the role of online exhibitions. We have participated in an exhibition organized by JODI where these concerns where dramatically expressed. As curators of the show, the duo decided that no computers would be presented in the gallery. Instead a silent manifestation was organized where the URLs of all projects were paraded in gigantic banners throughout the streets of Dordrecht in the Netherlands. Art projects that are available online can be easily accessible as long as their internet address is known. Some of these projects have been created taking in mind an audience that would access them from their own computer, so it is logical to question the typical white cube scenario.
Consciously or not these works are deﬁnitively reshaping the relationship between artists, cultural organizations and the public.
You recently won ﬁrst prize in the competition ARTE 2.0 VOCENTO: the art of exhibiting art online. Your proposal "Everybody is a curator" challenges current hierarchies in the art world and explores new forms of interaction and participation among the general public. Can you tell us more about the project and what you tried to achieve with it?
Rui Guerra: The proposal Everybody is a curator is integrated in a long term research focused on the relationship between software and curating. The prize was quite important for INTK not only in ﬁnancial terms but also as an impulse to experiment with techniques and approaches for which we might not have an obvious business model. We think it is important for artists to explore alternative ways of presenting and distributing their work. In a nutshell, the proposal explored the notion that websites cannot be perceived as isolated islands and in fact they are nodes of a larger network. To give an example, INTK has been developing a series of creative interventions meant for existing websites. So rather than presenting works on our website, we prefer to install our projects in a guest website for a speciﬁc amount of time. This approach introduces several novelties. We can reach different audiences depending on which website the work is installed on. The website regular online audience has certain expectations, they are accustomed to the interface and aesthetics so the changes that our interventions introduce often create a strong impact.
For example, last November there was a national protest in the Netherlands against planned cuts in government arts funding. In order to increase the awareness among an online audience, we released a script that could be included in any website. The code literally tilted the website in order to reveal the national campaign in the background. To our surprise in less than 24h several organizations and individuals had their website tilted. We are quite fascinated about this approach. While we should be searching for a renowned gallery to represent our work, we prefer to spend our time checking websites that we would like to run our scripts on. In terms of audience numbers, it might be more interesting to show our work on google.com than let's say at moma.org but until now cultural institutes have been more receptive to our interventions than other organizations.
Is there any contemporary art institution you think is in need of a serious
Rui Guerra: Haha! Half a year ago, we made a survey of the 100 most visited museums and inspected their websites. You can still ﬁnd the screenshots in a Flickr set. We think that most of them are in urgent need of help. But seriously, creating an online strategy means to work closely with an organization, so rather than pick up the desperate cases we would prefer to work with organizations that challenge us. We imagine that eyebeam.org would be a great place to experiment and try out new models.
On the other hand, we have been increasingly interested in online platforms for recurrent events, such as, festivals and biennales. It strikes us, this approach of creating an new website for each edition of a festival. We really would love to see a platform that could evolve along with the festival. Besides that, we think such events are an intensive social experience and that online platforms could play a larger role before, during and after the event.
And one that sets the example?
Rui Guerra: I do not think that there is any cultural organization that can be a role model in its entire online strategy. There are several isolated initiatives that can be praised. The videos published on the Tate channel work really well online. They are short and engaging. I've been watching them for a while now and I can't get enough. Ubuweb, which is not an institution but an endeavor of a small group of people, have done an amazing job in terms of publishing art related content. It has become an essential tool for any art educator. One could say that, they are the art wikileaks. Guys if you are listening; backup all that data and release it on a peer-to-peer network before is too late. Google art project is at the same time encouraging and disappointing. It is nice to see museums open up in this way but quite disappointing to see that google approaches all information with an standard methodology. To google it does not seem to make any difference whether we are talking about the earth, the human body or art. I could go on mentioning isolated initiates but these are just pieces of a puzzle that no one has managed to put neatly together into a cohesive online strategy.
Justin Lui trained as an architect before earning an MFA degree from the UCLA Design | Media Arts in Los Angeles where i met him last Spring. He also has experience in web design, DJing and music production. He's so versatile, i wouldn't know whether i should define him as an interaction designer, media artist or architect. It probably doesn't really matter. Justin Lui is developing programmed and interactive spaces that act at the scale of the spectator's body. He is also part of Defectikons, a team of media artists with whom he has co-created media installations and music projects.
When we first talked to each other he had just dismantled the amazing Superficial Superglow: OPENINGS, a storefront installation facilitated by UCLA Architecture & Urban Design plus UCLA Design | Media Arts, which was built into the wall of the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions gallery on Hollywood Blvd's 'Walk Of Fame'. The illuminated prototype glows in intensity according to the motion of passersby. On the street side, LCDs were displaying animated text remembering exhibitions culled from the 30-year history of LACE, while LCDs on the interior of the gallery showed text derived from artist Douglas McCulloh's '60,000 Photographs in Hollywood' describing characters encountered on Hollywood Blvd. Later on, when Justin told me about Animate Field, his MFA Thesis Project at UCLA Design | Media Arts, i thought it might be a good opportunity to interview him.
I think the first thing I would do with an expanded budget would be to expand the scale...! A project like Animate Field could really benefit from being enlarged to a more expansive field, to get closer to the infinite Ganzfeld-like spatial condition that James Turrell - for example - has in some of his work.
I'd also love to continue using the digital fabrication tools that were used in Superficial Superglow: OPENINGS, technologies such as CNC milling, vacuum-forming and 3D printing; all of which don't come cheaply. Also, I've recently begun experimenting with bend sensors, so that might come into my work at some point. The opposite of a bend sensor is arguably muscle wire (shape memory alloy), which is a material I'd also like to explore.
So if money were no object, I would essentially put the money towards making my work more immersive, more formally engaging, and more tactile.
Animate Field requires the involvement of the body far more than your other installations. Is it something you are keen to explore even further?
Yeah, the direct bodily engagement of that piece was a bit of a left turn compared to my previous work, but I also see it as a continuation of earlier investigations. For example, Superficial Superglow: OPENINGS (and some prior projects) used bodily presence as a catalyst for interaction, but Animate Field added to that by incorporating the issue of direct contact with the body. This sense of touch is something I'd like to develop in future work, possibly with things like muscle wire and bend sensors.
About participation with Animate Field, I noticed that audiences were evenly split: older people tended to stay outside the cloud of fibers, while younger people (say, in their 20's and younger) were much more open to wading into the fibers. The choice between observing from outside the thicket of fibers and participating inside it probably wasn't about the fear vs. embrace of technology, as the fibers themselves looked more like a natural plant-like substance than something mechanical and intimidating. Instead, I just chalk it up to the participant's sense curiosity vs. personal inhibition. What happened often was that one brave soul would enter the fiber cloud, play with the fibers, then others would follow inside - like a chain reaction. Sometimes it became a shared experience between strangers. I didn't really anticipate this sort of sociability in Animate Field, but it was gratifying to see.
Another thing I observed was that the fibers would collect and stick together into branching structures after several days of having people pass through and comb them with their hands. At first I tried to 'correct' this by going in to the thicket to untangle the fibers, but I soon decided to let these forms accumulate because I realized that the installation wasn't a defined discrete form (as designers are accustomed to creating), but instead was a set of conditions for a formal structure to emerge over time. It was a 'socially generative' formal mechanism as opposed to an explicitly designed form.
Water Clouds of Light looks like a remarkably simple installation. Some water jugs, a few light bulbs. Is the work really as straight-forward as i just made it sound?
Yes, I wanted it to have a clear and direct reading. It's an unfussy installation; simple, serene, but not static as the lights 'breathe' in and out in a way that is life-like.
Compared to my other work, I think Water Clouds of Light stands apart in a couple of ways: it has a stated allusion to the natural world, and it runs autonomously as opposed to being specifically interactive (which some people found refreshing considering the contemporary disposition for interactivity and responsiveness).
Many of the works in your portfolio have been devised for safe, closed exhibition spaces. Superficial Superglow: OPENINGS, however, was built into the exterior wall of an art gallery right on the famous Hollywood Blvd. Are you more comfortable in closed exhibition spaces or do you rather welcome the challenge of installing your work in contexts where you have less control over its surrounding (light, public, weather, etc)?
I see the value in both situations. A lot of my installations are dependent on the control of environment-related factors like light levels and physical access, so I like the degree of control in a gallery. But I also find that public spaces present an opportunity to engage a larger audience; one that isn't pre-disposed to look for art, which means there's a greater potential to surprise people (provided the piece has the conceptual clarity required to connect them in a meaningful way).
Since it was a double-sided installation, OPENINGS actually addressed audiences in both types of situations; gallery visitors inside Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE gallery), and passersby on Hollywood Blvd. The materials and construction were almost identical on both sides of the glass wall, but the experience on either side was different because the LCD data content was different for each side, and the sensors of the lighting-interaction system were exclusively aimed at the street to capture the movement of pedestrians.
There were some serious physical challenges on the exterior side, as you hinted at. With the security gate that rolled down every night, it was a tight and narrow space to build in to. Also, that area of Hollywood is a little bit seedy, so vandalism was always a concern. We actually had one of our ultra-sonic sensors stolen - twice!
What have you learnt from the Superficial Superglow: OPENINGS experience?
That project was a great experience for me and my partners: Andrea Boeck and Jihyun Kim. The three of us formed a well-balanced and even-tempered team. I learned several things, including the value of maintaining that balance and good temper, and the importance of visual and conceptual clarity in a publicly-sited interactive piece. That was probably the most important thing, that interactive installations generally need to be designed and calibrated to express clearly to the participants what the interaction is; what they are being prompted to do, what the rewards or results are, etc. Clear communication, essentially.
Since the project was in a public space with a constant supply of test subjects, we were able to do some on-site testing and observe passersby triggering and relating to the interaction system. Consequently, we were able to tune the sensing, lighting and display systems to try to maximize the project's ability to communicate and interact.
I also gained some valuable experience with managing and executing a fairly large interactive installation involving multiple technical systems and multiple outside parties (various UCLA departments, the gallery, suppliers, and so on).
Who are the artists or architects who inspire you today?
Creators of otherworldly atmospheres like Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell... Tara Donovan for the accumulative formal quality in her work... United Visual Artists, whose work represents to me an ideal marriage between behavioral electronics, physical space and people... realities:united, who also do great work combining electronic interaction and animation with physical architecture... Toyo Ito's dynamic installations and structures from the late 1980's and 1990's, which pioneered a lot of the qualities I see in dynamic and interactive architecture today... Toshio Iwai, Tokujin Yoshioka, Scott Snibbe, and more.
You are also part of DEFECTIKONS::, a collective creating works that blend the architecture, design, visual art and sound disciplines. Can you tell me a few words about your role in DEFECTIKONS?
The Defectikons are a group of three partners; Chris McCullough and Shaheen Seth. I was one of two DJs, and I also shared the work on installation design and assembly, graphic design and music production. What happened fairly often was that I would work iteratively, refining things towards an end while the other two partners often created great beginnings.
Our media-installation projects were really fun and great to learn from. For us, they were a happy combination of architecture with DJing and video, like humble precursors to the Daft Punk pyramid.
At this point our creative energy has been refocused into a musical band, with the addition of two other members.
What have you been doing since I met you last Spring in Los Angeles?
I graduated from UCLA Design | Media Arts a few months ago, and have been working on various endeavors: teaching graphic design, web design, and physical computing; making project submissions with my OPENINGS partners; and showing Water Clouds of Light at a couple of light-art exhibitions. Next I'll be working with Variate Labs and Miles Kemp (who co-wrote the book Interactive Architecture) to develop next-generation interfaces and interactive spatial architecture projects.