Daniel Canogar is a media artist living between Spain and Canada. He's also the Artistic Director of VIDA, an international competition on art & artificial life. Launched 10 years ago by Fundación Telefónica, the prize rewards works of art produced with and commenting on artificial life technologies.

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Previous winners include projects as different as a robot that sweats, a table that follows you around, robotic dogs suffering from the mad cow disease, solar-powered devices which modify their own instruction code in response to environmental changes, autonomous non-violent protest agents, a mobile cemetery tank, a Universal Whistling Machine, etc. What these artworks have in common is that they engage with emerging behaviours, which evolve over time, react with their environment and seem to have a life of their own.

The dozens of projects which have received an award over the past ten years form a unique collection documenting the evolution of electronic art in one of its most significant aspects. The looming deadline to submit projects (6th of October 2008) is the excuse i took to interview Daniel Canogar about the competition.

Last year the VIDA competition celebrated its 10th anniversary. How did it evolve over the course of the years? Did it get more ambitious? Set itself new goals? Opened its scope to new territories? i'm thinking about last year's winner, NoArk by Symbiotica, which is not based on electronics but on biotechnology.

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Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Noark (VIDA 10.0)

When VIDA began, A-Life as a discipline was still very recent, a little over 10 years old. So as usually happens with young disciplines, there has been an evolution in the field, which has been reflected in VIDA. A couple of years ago there was a heated discussion amongst jury members if VIDA should be open to biotechnology art projects. The origins of A-Life are in computer simulation, not biotech, so this was quite a controversial issue. In the end, we did decide to include biotechnology projects, as they are closely related to A-Life concerns. The important thing, in my view, is not to remain faithful to categories, but to keep VIDA alive with the kind of art projects that are relevant to our times.

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ALAVS, Jed Berk (Honorary Mention VIDA 10.0)

I guess this will sound like a silly question but do you see trends in the entries the prize has received over the years? For example, artificial life of animals being abandoned at some point because the trend is more in artificial life at a nano-level? How closely do the entries reflect the changes occurring in our society and in research more particularly?

It's not art's mission to be a direct mirror of what is going on in research labs. A-Life art has taken some of the evolutionary concepts of the field, and in a sense created a totally new field that is much closer to the general public. But more importantly, these projects are not so concerned with specific technologies generated in research labs. They are extremely concerned with concepts, ideas, questions about how technology has changed the way we feel about ourselves, about notions of what it means to be alive, or dead, etc. It is exactly the kind of conceptual questioning that is often so lacking in research labs. VIDA submissions do not come out of A-Life lab research, though their contribution to the field is extremely valuable. In fact, I hope scientists working in the field of A-Life take note of VIDA art projects, and take some of the serious questioning that occurs at a sociological and cultural level back to the lab.

VIDA rewards works of art developed with artificial life technologies and related disciplines. How much of this artificial life has already moved away from research labs and artists workshops to crawl into our everyday life?

A-Life research is present in everyday consumer products, such as children's electronic pets (Tamagotchi, Dogz, Catz and many more), video games with characters that evolve over time, or in intelligent interfaces for mobile telephones and other electronic devices which "learn" about the user, including search engines. No doubt, in coming years such technologies will become a staple of our quotidian life.

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etoy.CORPORATION, Mission Eternity Sparcophagus

Fundación Telefónica exhibited the winners of VIDA 10.0 at the ARCO art fair in Madrid last April. Has FT always done that? I found so far that very few art fairs actually give space to art practices engaged with technology. Why is the presence of VIDA in the commercial context of an art fair so important?

Fundación Telefónica has always exhibited VIDA winners at ARCO. First of all, it is important to give ARCO, Madrid's art fair, a little bit of context. ARCO is not like any other fair, it is a fundamental cultural phenomenon in Spain. It transcends contemporary art, arousing interest from every creative field, and people from all walks of live, young and old, rich and not so wealthy, high-school students and major art collectors. Every year about 200.000 people visit the fair. So VIDA's presence in ARCO is a fantastic way of getting the public to learn about the award.

But beyond visibility of VIDA, there is also the art market issue. New media artists need to find alternative ways of circulating and distributing their work beyond the rather small circuit of specialized festivals and conferences. Funding of technologically driven artwork is expensive, and artists need to find ways of financing their projects. There have actually been VIDA awarded projects that have sold at the fair, and of course, the sale goes directly to the artist.

This is very encouraging. It's a very daring thing for the Fundación Telefónica to present this kind of technological work in the context of the art fair, and through the years, Fundación Telefónica's booth has been one of the most successful at the fair.

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Image courtesy Daniel Canogar

VIDA is also involved in a series of workshops taking place in Latin America. Can you tell us something about these workshops? How do they go? What is their objective? What happens there?

Latin America is a region where artists have a hard time funding their new media projects. Fundación Telefónica has exhibition spaces and programs in Lima, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and Mexico City, so VIDA's projects in Latin America grow out of this preexisting network. Certain places have a lively new media scene, such as Buenos Aires. In other cities, the scene is practically non-existant. Funding for VIDA workshops is conceived as seed money for potential VIDA award candidates. We want to tap into the tremendous creative talent that exists in Latin America, and also help create a context for the emergence of A-Life art. For this reason we ask VIDA award recipients to develop workshops for Fundación Telefónica's centers in Latin America. This year Gilberto Esparza, a fantastic Mexican artist that won a VIDA award last year, has directed workshops in Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago and Mexico City. It's a way of creating a community of artists helping other artists create new work. This is an exciting development for VIDA.


Video of the FT workshop in Lima, Peru. Credit: Gilberto Esparza

The Incentive for Iberoamerican productions award helps artistic projects that still have not been produced. How difficult is it to judge the validity of a work which doesn't really exist yet? How far must the artists be in the advancement of the project?

When the artist has a conceptually clear idea of what he/she wants to do with his/her art project, it usually comes through in the actual proposal. The technical description of how the work is going to get made is also important and very revealing. Many members of the jury are very savvy about both software and hardware and can usually figure out if the work can get built as described. Past work by the artist also gives the proposal more context, so we often look at dossiers or webpages. Its always really exciting to see these works actually materialized having seeing them in their infancy as proposals. And what really prides the jury members more than anything else is when we begin to see some of these art pieces circulate in exhibitions and festivals.

Were it not for VIDA and a few other initiatives i, and i'm sure many people in Europe, would know almost nothing about Iberoamerican art projects developed using artificial life technologies, electronics, robotics, etc. Do you have some advice for people curious about what is going on over there?

Well, for starters, it may be interesting to look at VIDA's webpage with documentation of selected past projects: many of them are from Latin America. Another fantastic source of new media art made in this region is the exhibition Emergentes. Curated by Jose Carlos Mariátegui, it is one of the first exhibitions focused on Latin American new media art. This is a traveling show which opened in Laboral, the center for new media art in Gijón, northern Spain. The catalogue is a good source for references, understanding of the cultural specificity and historical background of the emergence of new media art in Latin America.

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Part of the exhibition Emergentes: Spio by Lucas Bambozzi (Brasil)

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Also at Emergentes: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Almacén de corazonadas

Can you tell us something about the project of Fundación Telefónica Virtual Museum? When will it go live? What will web users find there?

It should be available early next year. The Virtual Museum wants to be a didactic tool, the best source for A Life Art on the web, where you will not only see documentation of VIDA awards, but you will actually be able to experience some pieces first hand with web-based projects. It will also document the history of A Life art, and show many landmark projects that have significantly contributed to the field. The interface will allow for a very intuitive and seamless navigation through all this documentation. It's a large project, one that will require constant updating to make it really alive, and hopefully become a significant reference in the new media art scene.

Over the years the competition has gained fame and visibility. How does it translate in terms of number of entries? And do you tend to receive more entries from Spain, Iberoamerica and Portugal?

Last year we received close to 200 entries from 25 different countries. There has been a steady increase of submitted projects through the years, a real accomplishment if you bear in mind how specialized the award is. Every year three projects get awards, plus 7 projects are selected as honorary mentions. That means that on VIDA's web page, you can study an archive of over 100 art works related to A Life. About 30% of submitted projects are from Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Contributions from the US and Canada form another 30%, European projects comprise approximately 30 % and the remaining 10% are submissions from Asian countries. One of our objectives for the close future is to reach out to Japan, Korea and China, where significant A Life art has taken place in the last few years. There is always room to improve! VIDA is a unique award, the only one in the world specialized in A Life and Robotic art. I am now hoping for another 10 years of growth, enabling more artists to realize their life-like creations all around the globe.

Thanks Daniel!

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Riitta Ikonen is one very talented Finnish graduate from the Communication Art & Design department at the Royal College of Art in London. I discovered her work at the Summer show last June and fell in love with her costume projects. I wasn't the only one. She received an Helen Hamlyn Design for our Future Selves award for her project Commuter Thrival, a communication campaign that aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding public transport in London through posters visualising people's emotions with quirky costumes.

The description of her work is delightful: My work is concerned with the performance of images, through photography and costume design. Certain items, usually small and insignificant, excite me to the point where I have to wear them and then document that process. The super- garments I make open up new experiences. In my costumes tremendous things happen - to me and to the people I work with. Today I exploded an egg in the microwave. Next, I want to make an egg costume.

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How could i not interview her?

Many of your works involve costumes, so one would hastily assume that you are a fashion graduate. In reality, you graduated in Communication Art and Design. Why didn't choose a career in fashion? And why do you often choose costume as a medium to transmit your messages, concerns and ideas?

There was a sewing machine in my bedroom when I grew up, and I learned to use it from a very early age. I still like the illusion that I can maintain and make ANYTHING with the skills from my hands. I'm by nature curious about this potential, and think my hands still hold the most decision making power in me.

I never rejected the chance of my work being fashion, but thought a fashion degree would have been too narrow for what I wanted to figure out. I wanted to embrace the vernacular through the carefully constructed images in which the outfits form only a part of the story. In a way I did choose fashion, the outfits are vital for the work, just not the pinnacle of it.

Communication Art and Design course didn't tie me down to anything too specific and offered seemingly boundaryless opportunities. (Before the RCA I did BA in Illustration in Brighton celebrating the invention of all things Nylon as my final project.) At the moment I do some live commission work, but I feel most at ease printed and mounted quietly on the wall.

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I did my BA in Illustration in Brighton celebrating the invention of all things Nylon as my final project

Commuter Thrival is a 'communication campaign that aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding public transport through a series of posters visualizing people's emotions with custom-made costumes'.

Did you work on this project with the sole aim to visualize the issues at stake or did you think that these costumes could actually have some therapeutic or cathartic quality on commuters seeing them?

As usual, the costumes were made to communicate the issue in the image and not as a live piece. I wanted to visualize the issue to an extent. Eliminating mental space harassment in the Underground is vital. The campaign is meant to be shown on a London Underground platform completely stripped from any extra information/ adverts etc. I wanted to leave enough space for people's own interpretation. In terms of how the posters are situated I tried to give people what they were lacking. The commuters are doing pretty well in the absurdity of the rush hour tunnels, so the campaign is an ode and appreciation to the performers of this daily operation.

Could you describe us which elements in the costumes you design correspond to the 3 issues you wanted to engage with?

I wanted the images to have a silent potential, giving people headspace in the lack of physical space/ mental cool in the heat of the moment morning rushing.

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1. Being hot / Keeping cool 'You should see the sweat under here, it's like a river'

After some tests the heat costume kept the fiery hot colour and the stiff basic shape, but got much simpler cut and colouring. It is an abstract version of what it used to be- a winged slouch like structure with brightly multi coloured outside.

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2. Lack of space - Privacy 'There is always space to think'

Daydreaming is solid place to seek solace from when your head is squished into a stranger's armpit in the tube. I thought this would not be a bad place to be instead. An image for fantasizing the journey away.

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3. Lack of socialising - Fun 'Hey underneath all this I'm smiling'

Most people I interviewed said they weren't keen on making contact with their fellow passengers, which is an awful waste of casual face to face socializing. I was looking into animal shields, scares, warning systems and colours for ways to attract and also repel (you wouldn't want to look too attractive waiting for the night bus in back end of Brixton). A frilled lizard has an excellent collar which I borrowed for this image. It can spread it out for scaring or keep flat for inconspicuous look. The slippery suit is for slick crowd movements (- how smooth it would be if everybody wore them!)

Your practice also involves photography. How much staging and preparation did the Commuter Thrival project require? Could you explain us how you selected the location, the model, the light and other elements which played an important role in your photos?

The project started with an in depth user research investigation with interviews and involvement all of which provided the starting point for the project.

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As I'm usually in front of the camera (only for the heat image for this project though) I work with a trusted photographer, who has quite a strong say on the final images. Most things to do with the image happen before the shoot of course: research, material hunting, costume making, fittings, sketches and location scouting. I wanted the images for this campaign to have nothing to do with the tube, but anything outside it- life, nature etc. Altogether four leaves were sitting in the tree at one point of the shoot, (I had selected a colourful mix of men and women), once again, less was more, and Hitomi on her own in the tree spoke loudest for the lack of space. She is great in front of the camera -perfect stern look.

We were lucky on the day of the shoot, especially for the heat we managed to hit on a great sunset in Hyde Park. A lot depends on scheduling, weather and luck when working on low budget. Working on film we can't see the images on the spot, so if things are not right the whole team gets to travel back and forth. (I'm amazed I still have friends with all I've put them through...)

Apart from colour adjustments and cropping, I don't photoshop the costumes on the images, they need to be just right on film or we shoot again. For a project called Bird and Leaf we have been traveling to the same location for over a year now with the photographer to get the perfect image for the series... finally, earlier this year it snowed one day when we were all set:

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Looking at your portfolio, i had the feeling that humour is important to you. What part does humour play in your work? How does it help communicating an issue?

Humour is vital. My work is quite telling of my character. A little humour is very compelling and has access to such a broad audience beyond language barriers. Perhaps humour with my work has a bit to do with being overseas and not quite part of this team here, I'm nearly seeing it like everybody else. Very almost. For more murky issues like global warming the message can cut through a lot of fluff if the humour is done well.

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...Setting out to do the Snowflake was heartbreaking rather than humorous though.

I read somewhere that you received an Helen Hamlyn award for Commuter Thrival. Is it true? Does it mean that you are going to push the project further or that you have other plans for it?

It is true, Anja Schaffner, Valerio Di Lucente and I received a Michael Peters award for interdisciplinary collaboration for Commuter Thrival. The project will go public hopefully soon, I'm in talks with the transport for London to get it to the tube in its full glory. It would be very exciting to see it go ahead.

Thanks Riitta!

All images courtesy of the artist.

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A few months ago, i bought a lovely baby blue summer dress with the face of Karl Marx printed all over it. I was made slightly uncomfortable by the irony of acting like a victim of capitalism in the face of and to the detriment of the father of anti-capitalism. I also had the feeling that, somewhere, a bunch of cynical and astute artists were making fun of me. Because that's exactly what happened. The provocative brand has a slogan 'Be Like Us, Be Different', and a shop, located at the time in an art exhibition room, right inside LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijon. Gallery visitors could buy jeans carrying the MARX® logo, boys short-sleeve shirts with the same pattern as the said blue dress and some very expensive MARX® shoes. The shop has now moved to another museum, the CAAM in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

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The artists/company who designed and market the dress are Berlin-based art collective PSJM, made up of Pablo San José and Cynthia Viera. PSJM acts as an trademark of happening art addressing issues of the artwork in the market, communication with consumers, or function as an artistic quality, using communication resources borrowed from capitalism of the spectacle to underscore the paradoxes produced by its unbridled development.

Having googled the name of the artists i found a series of interviews, statement texts and essays so interesting that i immediately thought that it would be foolish of me to stop my enthusiasm at the cuteness of a blue dress. Hence this interview (the original version of PSJM's answers is in spanish, i pasted it at the bottom of this post):

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PSJM is made of artist Pablo San José and management graduate Cynthia Viera. Excuse the banality of my prejudice but how can people with such a different background manage to dialog? What brought you together? Did Cynthia's mindset and knowledge influence Pablo's artistic practice and view of the contemporary art landscape? And vice-versa, have Cynthia's management skills been "affected" by her collaboration with an artist?

In reality we do not have such different backgrounds. At some point during his artistic career, Pablo worked for some years as a creative for a big corporation of the advertisement sector, creating campaigns and brand images for international companies. In 1998, and in parallel to his work in publicity, Pablo decided that his artistic signature would become a brand. He was interested by the promotion processes of artistic brands and its parallelism with other commercial brands. He then started a work that continues today, a project that builds itself with each work realized. "The artist is the brand, the work is the product" became the slogan of the PSJM brand. In 2003, Cynthia, a graduate in Direction of International Commerce and Marketing, and until then working as the Head of Marketing Services for a major telecommunication company, joined the project. With her arrival, the theoretical objectives to work under the same structures as a company and to legally establish the team as a commercial brand became reality. We work as a team in which the point of view of each of us affects without a doubt the work of the other one. However, we both use the same language. Pablo doesn't correspond to the typical romantic idea of the artist more than Cynthia fits the usual profile of an executive who puts the quest for maximum benefits above social or aesthetic commitments.

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Photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

One of the striking elements of the MARX® brand is the price. All the garments, be they jeans or dress, carry the same price tag (220,40 euros), while the one and only shoe available costs way more than most people could afford. What were the motivations behind the price tags?

While the main objective of marketing is to satisfy the client in exchange of economic benefits, we use marketing as a critical tool that enables us to provide consumers with an aesthetic or intellectual gratification. We use the "4 Ps" of the Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Promotion and Placement) to interweave a strategy of meaning where each of these
"Ps" is regarded as a creative opportunity, as a poetic license. This way, the product constitute the artwork, the price constitutes the artwork the promotion is in itself an artwork and the distribution (placement) is also part and parcel of the artwork. We like to call 'Marketing experimental' this process of experimentation of a representational kind.

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With MARX® we have used once again the price as a poetic license and vehicle of meaning. The fact that garments exhibited have a high price tag creates some kind of reflective impotence in the mind of the visitor who has finally the opportunity to act as a consumer in the museum space but is inhibited by the aspect of the aspect of exclusivity of the goods. In any case and in order to keep the work alive and continue creating meanings and mixing reality and fiction, and because the next exhibition of the garments will be at the CAAM in July, they will be on sale. Let's see what happens.

I don't know if you've read about the fight that the daughter of Che Guevara is putting to protect her father's image.

0aaslavesslalce.jpgHow did you deal with the thought that some people might come up and criticize you for using Marx' figure in a way that they consider to "be an affront to his dignity"? And did you at any moment think that you'd encounter a censorship similar to the one you experienced with one of your previous works, Project Asia?

The experimental aspect of our projects involves a certain dose of uncertainty once we are launching the work. Even if you try to direct the work towards a certain meaning you never know the kind of reaction you're going to encounter. All along our career we had to face anything from censorships from brands, complains from right-wing to passionate critiques, either negative or favorable.

For example, with the public intervention that took the shape of a promotional campaign for the MARX® brand in Gijón, we were expecting some forms of violent reaction to the association of the name of the father of communism with the aesthetic of fashion, especially if we take into account the revolutionary tradition of Asturias. But to our surprise the public is so used to the absurdity of the paradoxical messages emerging from the market that the work got totally diluted into the reality.

On the other hand, in this case, it would be difficult for any brand to censor us, as Adidas did with the Asia Project. The first conceptual and practical step of the MARX® project consisted in registering the brand MARX®, and it is this action which really supports the main axis of the artwork, the rest can only be seen as its natural development.

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Photo: © LABoral - Author Marcos Morilla

The MARX® project was accompanied with a promotional campaign in the streets of Gijon. The promo posters looked like any other posters designed by mainstream fashion brand. The general public, whether they wanted it or not, was thus in direct contact with your project. How much do you value their look and reaction to your work? Do you give it more credit and importance than you would give to an art critic or to anyone familiar with artistic discourses?

0loascocooreai.jpgFor us it is crucial that our proposals should not remain exclusively at the reach of the cultural elite. The commitment to open up our discourse to a broader public is at the basis of our work, we strive to create pieces which have two levels of lectures and try to unite experimentation and communication. We call this difficult operation " the dilemma of Mayakovsky", as it was a theme that kept the Russian poet awake at night. To achieve this we use the media and the strategies of mass culture. The broad public understands perfectly its language and this provides us with a space for experimenting while generating various meanings. However, we also have the objective of placing our proposals inside the theoretical discourse of contemporary art, all our projects involve a text which we write ourselves and which constitutes and additional element of the art piece. Our work can be situated between reality and the art institution, both spheres are important to us.

You obviously don't share Takashi Murakami's bulldozer and very mercantile approach. However, MARX® and other projects of yours evoke (to me at least and under certain aspects) the Japanese artist's exploration of the merging between consumer goods and artwork, art fetishism, the demythification of the concept of art work as a one-off, etc. Am i writing a total heresy or do you somehow see some similarities between his approach and yours?

Who are the other artists you feel close to?

There are indeed many aspects in Murakami's work which makes us feel quite close to his line of work but also many others which sets us apart from it. The ones that connect us to his way of producing art are the ones that you enumerated. Those that distance us from Murakami are his lack of critique and his ideological positioning regarding the establishment. Murakami follows the trail of Warhol and Koons, but he doesn't go further, let's say that it's a development of apolitical Pop. Murakami's main concern is to make money. His is a very nationalist position, and we find that totally outdated and dangerously conservative. However, our peculiarity is that we combine spheres which seem to be antagonistic and shortcircuit meanings. Our vision of artistic production, organized in the same way as a company where the creator is presented as professional with a defined social function, follows the tracks of thinkers such as Proudhon or Benjamin, who reject the figure of the 'artist as a genius' and propose the one of the 'artist as a worker', a position that the Russian Productivists made their best to put into practice all the while enjoying the support from the Party. Just as Modernity gave way to postmodernity and production lost its importance in the favour of consumption, the company became brand. This conversion of the company into brand recovered in a sense the mythologico-symbolical value of genius to give way to an apparently paradoxical artist-brand which behaviour is strategically planned, scientifically programmed. On the one hand the elitist and godlike figure of the romantic artist is de-mythified. On the other hand, a new myth is created, and this time it is coldly designed under the rules of marketing applied to the world of art. The paradox, the blending of antagonist and irreconcilable forces constantly underpins the way we make art.

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Consumer Demonstration, Mural Installation, 2007

We don't really find any artist whose line of work corresponds to ours, but if we had to give a couple of names it would be the Spanish group Democracia and the artistic corporation Etoy. We admire their work a lot.

Many of your works have a very strong provocative element to them which makes them very appealing for the media. How much is the "shock tactic" important in your practice?

Our work owes much to the Dadaist and Constructivist tradition and to its commitment to merge art with life. Today, reality is built by the media and if we want to be involved in reality we have to step into the media.

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Nudist Zone, FIB-Art '05, Intervention on the beach of Benicassim, August 2005

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

We are currently working on two projects which will be presented in 2009, in various galleries and institutions. Unfortunately we cannot reveal their content as we are still at the creative and production stage, but we can tell you that in one of the projects we will be using a traditional technique: painting. Our subject focuses on merchandise and painting is still the number one merchandise in the world of art.

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The MARX® shop at LABoral has now closed. If people want to buy one of those shirts and jeans, is there any other gallery (or shop?) they should turn to?

The MARX® project was produced by LABoral in collaboration with CAAM (Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno) in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. That's where they will travel from July to October. We are also working on its international distribution, but it is still to early to reveal the name of the possible spaces.

Thanks Cynthia and Pablo!

The MARX® exhibition is running though October 12, 2008 at the CAAM in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.

Spanish version of the interview:

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Image Marcos Morilla, courtesy of LABoral Centro de Arte

PSJM is made of artist Pablo San José and management graduate Cynthia Viera. Excuse the banality of my prejudice but how can people with such a different background manage to dialog? What brought you together? Did Cynthia's mindset and knowledge influence Pablo's artistic practice and view of the contemporary art landscape? And vice-versa, have Cynthia's management skills been "affected" by her collaboration with an artist?

En realidad no tenemos backgrounds tan diferentes. En una etapa de su carrera artística Pablo trabajó bastantes años como creativo publicitario en una gran multinacional del sector creando anuncios e imagen de marca para empresas internacionales. Paralelamente a su labor como creativo publicitario, en 1998 Pablo decidió que su firma artística se convertiría en marca. Le interesaban los procesos de promoción de las firmas artísticas y su paralelismo con el resto de firmas comerciales y comenzó un trabajo que aún continúa, un proyecto que se construye con cada obra realizada. "El artista es la marca, la obra es el producto" pasó a ser el slogan de la marca PSJM. En 2003 Cynthia, licenciada en Dirección de Comercio Internacional y Marketing, y hasta esa fecha Responsable de Servicios de Marketing de una gran compañía de telecomunicaciones, se incorpora al proyecto haciendo realidad las intenciones teóricas de trabajar bajo las estructuras propias de la empresa y formalizar legalmente el equipo como una marca comercial. Desarrollamos un trabajo en equipo donde los puntos de vista de uno afectan sin lugar a dudas al trabajo del otro, pero ambos utilizamos el mismo lenguaje. Ni Pablo se corresponde con la imagen típica del artista romántico, ni Cynthia encaja con el perfil típico de una ejecutiva que persiga el máximo beneficio por encima de compromisos sociales o estéticos.

One of the striking element of the MARX® brand is the price. All the garments, be they jeans or dress, carry the same price tag (220,40 euros), while the one and only shoe available costs way more than most people could afford. What were the motivations behind the price tags?

Mientras que el marketing consiste en proporcionar satisfacción al cliente obteniendo un beneficio económico a cambio de ello como principal objetivo, nosotros utilizamos el marketing como una herramienta crítica que pueda proporcionar una satisfacción estética o intelectual al consumidor. Las "4 Ps" del Marketing Mix (product, price, promotion y placement) nos sirven para entretejer una estrategia de significación en la que cada una de estas "Ps" es tomada como una oportunidad creativa, cada "P" es utilizada como licencia poética. De este modo el producto constituye obra, el precio constituye obra, la promoción se presenta como obra y la distribución (placement) es también una parte integrante de la obra. Nos gusta llamar Marketing experimental a este proceso de experimentación de índole representacional.

Con MARX® una vez más hemos utilizado el precio como licencia poética y vehículo de significación, el hecho de que las prendas que se exhiben tengan un precio alto, crea una cierta sensación de impotencia reflexiva en el espectador, que por fin puede consumir en un museo pero se ve coartado por el carácter exclusivo de la mercancía. En todo caso y para mantener la pieza viva, seguir creando significado y entremezclando la realidad con la ficción, ya que la exposición en el CAAM comienza en julio, se harán rebajas. Veremos qué pasa.

I don't know if you've read about the fight that the daughter of Che Guevara is putting to protect her father's image.

How did you deal with the thought that some people might come up and criticize you for using Marx' figure in a way that they consider to "be an affront to his dignity"? And did you at any moment think that you'd encounter a censorship similar to the one you experienced with your Asia project?

El carácter experimental de nuestros proyectos conlleva también una cierta incertidumbre una vez que "lanzas" la obra, aunque intentes dirigirla hacia una significación determinada nunca sabes con qué tipo de reacción te vas a encontrar. A o largo de nuestra carrera hemos tenido desde censuras de marcas, pasando por quejas de vecinos derechistas a críticas fervorosas, tanto negativas como favorables. Por ejemplo, con la intervención pública en forma de campaña publicitaria de MARX® en Gijón, a priori esperábamos algún tipo de reacción violenta al ver asociado el nombre del padre del comunismo con la estética de la moda, tanto más si tenemos en cuenta la tradición revolucionaria de Asturias, pero para nuestra sorpresa el público ya está tan acostumbrado al absurdo de los mensajes paradójicos del mercado que la pieza se diluyó en la realidad al completo. Por otro lado, en este caso difícilmente una marca nos puede censurar, como sucedió con Adidas en Proyecto Asia, ya que el primer paso conceptual y práctico del proyecto MARX® consistió en registrar la marca MARX®, y es realmente esta acción lo que supone el eje primordial de la obra, el resto únicamente puede ser visto como su desarrollo natural.

The MARX® project was accompanied by a promotional campaign in the streets of Gijon. The promo posters looked like any other posters designed by mainstream fashion brand. The general public, whether they wanted it or not, was thus in direct contact with your project. How much do you value their look and reaction to your work? Do you give it more credit and importance than you would give to an art critic or to anyone familiar with artistic discourses?

Para nosotros es primordial que nuestras propuestas no se queden exclusivamente en el terreno de la elite cultural, en la base de nuestro trabajo subyace el empeño de ampliar el discurso a un público más amplio, nos afanamos en crear obras con dos niveles de lectura intentando hermanar experimentación y comunicación. A esta difícil empresa la llamamos "el dilema de Maiakovski", ya que este tema le quitaba el sueño al poeta ruso. Para conseguir esto nos servimos de los medios y estrategias de la cultura de masas, el público medio comprende este lenguaje a la perfección y nos brinda un campo con el que poder experimentar generando significados distintos. Sin embargo también tenemos como objetivo instalar nuestras propuestas en el seno del discurso teórico del arte contemporáneo, todos nuestros proyectos incluyen un texto redactado por nosotros que consideramos un elemento más de la obra total. Ciertamente nuestro trabajo se mueve entre la realidad y la institución arte, ambas esferas son importantes para nosotros.

You obviously don't share Takashi Murakami' bulldozer and very mercantile approach. However, MARX® and other projects of yours evoke (to me at least and under certain aspects) the Japanese artist's exploration of the merging between consumer goods and artwork, art fetishism, the demythification of the concept of art work as a one-off, etc. Am i writing a total heresy or do you somehow see some similarities between his approach and yours?

Who are the other artists you feel close to?

Efectivamente hay muchos aspectos de la obra de Murakami que nos acercan a su línea de trabajo y muchos otros que nos separan de él. Los que nos vinculan a su modo de producir arte tú misma los has expuesto. Lo que nos distancia de Murakami es su falta de crítica y su posicionamiento ideológico cercano al stablishment. Murakami sigue la estela de Warhol y Koons, pero no va más allá, digamos que es un desarrollo del Pop apolítico. A Murakami le interesa hacer dinero como principal objetivo. Él tiene además un fuerte posicionamiento nacionalista, algo que a nosotros nos resulta totalmente desfasado y peligrosamente conservador. Sin embargo nuestra singularidad es que combinamos mundos aparentemente irreconciliables para crear cortocircuitos de sentido. Nuestra visión de la producción artística organizada al modo de una empresa, en la que el creador aparece como un profesional con una función social definida, sigue la estela trazada por pensadores como Proudhon o Benjamin, que rechazan la figura del artista-genio y proponen aquella otra del artista-obrero, postura que también los productivistas rusos se encargaron de llevar a la práctica mientras gozaron del apoyo del aparato del Partido. Sin embargo, del mismo modo que la modernidad dejó paso a la postmodernidad y la producción cedió su importancia al consumo, la empresa devino marca. Con lo que esta conversión de la empresa en marca recupera de algún modo el valor mitológico-simbólico del genio para configurar un aparentemente contradictorio artista-marca cuyo comportamiento es estratégicamente planificado, científicamente programado. Así que mientras por un lado se desmitifica la imagen elitista y endiosada del artista romántico, por otro se genera un nuevo mito, esta vez fríamente diseñado bajo los presupuestos de la mercadotecnia aplicada al mundo del arte. Lo paradójico, la conjunción de fuerzas opuestas e irreconciliables sobrevuela constantemente nuestro modo de hacer arte.

Realmente no encontramos ningún artista que coincida con esta línea de trabajo, pero si tuviéramos que apuntar un par de nombres serían el grupo español Democracia y la corporación artística Etoy. El trabajo de ambos grupos nos interesa y nos produce una gran admiración.

Many of your works have a very strong provocative element to them which makes them very appealing for the media. How much is the "shock tactic" important in your practice?

Nuestro trabajo está en deuda con la tradición dadaista y constructivista y su compromiso de fundir arte y vida. Hoy la realidad la construyen los medios de comunicación, si queremos intervenir en la realidad debemos introducirnos en los medios.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

Estamos ahora preparando dos proyectos que se presentarán en el 2009, en diferentes galerías e instituciones. Por desgracia no podemos desvelar su contenido ya que aún nos encontramos en proceso de creación y producción, pero sí te podemos adelantar que en uno de ellos se utilizará la técnica tradicional de pintura. Nuestro discurso está centrado en la mercancía y la pintura sigue siendo la mercancía reina en el mundo del arte.

The MARX® shop at LABoral has now closed. If people want to buy one of those shirts and jeans, is there any other gallery (or shop?) they should turn to?

El proyecto MARX® ha sido producido por la LABoral en colaboración con el CAAM (Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno) de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria en la Isla Canarias. Allí viajará en julio y permanecerá hasta octubre. También estamos trabajando en su difusión internacional aunque aún es pronto para adelantar el nombre de los posibles espacios.

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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

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

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

Video:

Here we go now:

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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

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

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

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Expanded Eye, work in progress

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Expanded Eye, by Anaísa Franco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stage Fright, by Nova Jiang

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

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

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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Esther Polak and Pablo Ripollés

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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Theo Jansen visiting Medialab Prado

Thanks Simone and Alvaro!

Heidi Kumao's art pieces explore ordinary social interactions in order to reveal what lies beneath them: psychological states, emotions, compulsions, thinking patterns, and dreams. She is currently teaching animation, video, experimental television production, and electronic and conceptual art at the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. For 2007-08, she has been awarded a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

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A few years ago i discovered her set of female kinetic sculptures "Misbehaving: Media Machines Act Out," and classified her work under robotics and kinetics. Then i stumbled upon the performative techno-enhanced series of clothing she had developed and here i was trying to fit her work inside the "wearable" category. A closer look on her portfolio revealed household objects sabotaged to become cinema machines, overtly activist projects and the geekiest wedding cake i had ever seen. The experience taught me that any attempt to classify of her work would be pure folly unless i'd try to trick her into giving me a helping hand:

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Resist, 2002

You first graduated in photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. How did you come to work with kinetic installations, RFID activist projects and quirky wedding cakes? What made you broaden the scope of your artistic practice?

This is a big question, so I'll answer it in sections as a way to answer the larger issue of shifts in artistic practice. How I get from here to there to there to there...

Re: transition from photography to sculpture

The Art Institute had a very interdisciplinary photo department at the time and we were really encouraged to "go outside the box" of photography, to mix photography with other media, to be artists who USE photography rather than pure photographers. In the 80's and 90's, photography was exploding in 100 different directions and open to a variety of approaches. Everything was possible. Everything could be photographic in some way.

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When I entered graduate school as a photographer I was already starting to work with sequential imagery. I was driven by a need to animate physical gestures and behaviors as indicators of psychological states. Simultaneously, I was collecting domestic objects and record players and researching pre-cinema devices and the 19th century creation of spectacle, Emile Reynaud's praxinoscope from the 1880's, in particular. My first kinetic works were homemade-looking zoetropes that projected a sequential loop of 12 images: a child being spoon-fed, a woman's legs curtseying, a woman frantically sweeping. Like a memory that can't be repressed, each animated sequence repeated endlessly and mechanically. In this way, each object seemed to be speaking with its images, a visual and mechanical voice replacing text. Much like the girls' legs I made much later, they were an artificial life form, a stand-in for a real person that I could construct and bring life to. These "cinema machines" (as I called them) allowed me to combine all of my interests (photography, performance, sculptural assemblage and the psychology of everyday life), into one art form. I loved working this way and continued to create cinema machines for several years.

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Defense Mechanism

RE: Installation

While much of my work could be categorized as "kinetic installation," a more accurate descriptor might be "animated tableau." I tend to think of myself as a theater director, staging events for the viewer. A lot of my art practice is about creating a situation for something to unfold over time. This grew organically out of my experience staging photographs. It seems to be a mode of art making to which I am intuitively drawn.

Each tableau intentionally uses recognizable objects that suggest a possible scenario from everyday life. As I craft each piece, I am very conscious of the psychological experience that is created for the viewer. Can the space of each tableau imply both a physical site and a psychological state? How can I make the viewer re-examine seemingly ordinary events such as childhood play, family dynamics, television news or even the wearing of clothes?

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Still from Zapped! video

RE: RFID Activist projects

I worked on Zapped! a multi-part project about the mass implementation of RFID technology with Preemptive Media in 2005. I met the members of Preemptive Media (Beatriz da Costa , Jamie Schulte, and Brooke Singer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA where I was a Microsoft Artist-in-Residence Fellowship for 1999-2000. Besides being a great school for robotics, computing, AI, engineering and art, Pittsburgh happened to be an amazing hub for art collectives, tactical media practitioners, and technological art at that time. I was surrounded by tons of brilliant people including folks from Critical Art Ensemble, Institute for Applied Autonomy, and Subrosa, to name a few. Just being in this environment made me rethink my artistic process completely, and motivated me to learn how to incorporate electronics, microprocessors, computing, and digital imagery into my work.

Before we ever did Zapped! a few of us had collaborated on a project (Nomadika) about data-veillance and wireless technologies for the 2001 Sculpture Conference in Pittsburgh. We educated and informed the public about the future of data mining by opening a storefront for our fake marketing firm. Researching data mining and privacy loss in our contemporary era later led Preemptive Media to the project on RFID, which seemed to be (at the time) yet another way in which corporations and the government would invade citizens' privacy. As someone who creates and teaches animation and video, my primary role in the collaboration was to make the educational video from all of the research and information we had unearthed as a result of this project.

After working solo for so long, I relished the opportunity to collaborate with others on a project.

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RE: quirky wedding cakes

The 6,000 volt wedding cake was a collaborative project with my husband, Michael Flynn, a high school physics teacher and science exhibit designer. As two mechanically minded people, we decided that our cake had to reflect our interests in machines and the project grew from there. It started with the idea to have two cakes cut to look like interlocking gears and progressed to two motorized cakes on gear-run platforms. Michael made two dolls that represented us in our wedding costumes. These dolls were going to stand on the top of each cake and would basically pass one another every time the cakes turned. Eventually, I thought we needed to incorporate an electric "spark" between the dolls, like the "spark" between us (cheesy, I know). This led to the idea of using a Jacob's Ladder to generate a much larger spark. Michael purchased a neon sign transformer and wired the cakes and dolls with opposing charges. When powered on, the cakes turn, and once a turn, the dolls hands meet and a large flaming spark erupts from their meeting hands. It's pretty funny. And like other collaborative projects I've done, it was loads of fun!. Our "how to" article appeared in Make Magazine.

What made you broaden the scope of your artistic practice?

When I look over the various transitions I have made with respect to media

(from photo to cinema machines to kinetic sculptures to animation to collaborative technological projects), I can map those changes onto personal and cultural moments of change. For many years, I made a life as an artistic nomad. I relocated every year or two for jobs, fellowships or other opportunities. This experience of having to re-contextualize and refocus myself in so many different places shaped my art practice in a deep way. Each time I moved, the new school, city or community raised new issues to consider. For example, (like I said earlier) as a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon, I was exposed to art practices that critically engaged technology rather than simply used technology. I had access to people, tools, and resources such as machine shops for the creation of custom parts, computer programmers, robotics labs, video editing equipment, etc. As a result of being at Carnegie Mellon, my work shifted away from more personal themes towards more political issues and cultural critique.

While I had been using technology for many years, my time at CMU caused me to rethink how I used it and why.

Exposure to such a large computing environment had other long-term effects on my art that didn't show up until much later. Researchers in AI, computing, robotics and gaming exposed me to the possibilities of generative artwork, which was a complete paradigm shift from creating "fine art" objects for the art world. I was excited to think about making a dynamic system or a tool as an artwork rather than a fixed object. However, it took me awhile to decide on a project that would best be served by this approach.

Later, when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9-11 and the proliferation of cable news caused me to analyze the visual and conceptual construction of the news broadcast more critically. CNNplusplus, an interactive and dynamic news broadcast, was born a few years later (in collaboration with Chip Jansen.

Video:

The short answer to your question is simply new places, new people and A.D.D. or the tendency to get bored easily...

You seem to navigate effortlessly from one discipline to another but are there particular issues or elements that you keep returning to?

Yes! I find that I return to an exploration of ordinary social interactions and their psychological undercurrents, institutional critique (mainstream media, traditional gender roles, others), and performance (creating theatrical spectacle, behaving/acting social roles, performing for a camera). I view performance as an integral part of everyday experience and define it very broadly: as a means to define our identity and sexuality, as an examination of roles we play as employees or family members, and as a tool for self-expression. Every piece has its origins in everyday life: an argument, a memory of childhood, the frustrations of watching television, the act of being a consumer--

My art making process is grounded in these types of experiences.

Combining these three things together has produced two main types of work that are pretty different (at least to me):

1) Work that emphasizes a visceral experience and tells a more personal story: the "cinema machines," the girls' legs, stop-motion animations, and my latest shadow theater pieces

and

2) interactive projects that are more overtly political and use technology to critique technology: CNNplusplus, Zapped!, Wired Wear

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Monitor II: Audio-activated Dress, 2005

I find I am drawn to the more personal works because they provide an outlet for me to imply/suggest a critique of institutions of power without being so literal. Almost every piece starts with a personal story of some kind and the creation of a tableau is an opportunity to create a visual poem of images and objects together. By exposing the physical apparatus that drives the bodies into action, I draw a parallel between this machinery and the mechanisms of our unconscious: defense mechanisms, sex drives, thinking patterns, self control, dreams, impulses, instincts.

With the public/interactive projects, the emphasis is more educational and/or ironic. Working collaboratively removes the personal emphasis and creates opportunities to address larger cultural issues and their effects on the general public.

protest_uica03.jpgMisbehaving is a series of three female "performers" for intimate installations. What is the performative part of the work?

Misbehaving consists of three pairs of aluminum, mechanized legs fitted with girl's shoes: Protest, Resist and Translator. The legs in Protest stomp loudly and unpredictably while standing on a coffee table. In Resist, a pair of girl's legs squirms on the floor in a way that is both sexualized and challenging in response to viewers' speech. The girl in Translator is trapped on a track between two "adult" chairs with video projectors for heads. As viewers hand crank her from one side to the other, she becomes like a child caught between two feuding parents, or a political mediator, whose body/screen reveals/exposes the real text of the conversation through non-verbal gestures.

With these pieces, I was thinking about the performance of gender, especially for little girls. We learn what is appropriate behavior so early that it becomes naturalized, we don't realize that we perform it. In developing these pieces, I wanted to intentionally create girls that perform "badly", act out, misbehave, or act against type. As machines and girls, these works operate in stark contrast to a culture obsessed with "increasing job performance," high performance cars, and athletic performance. Their acts of defiance are small, yet powerful, signs of agency.

Videos:

The kinetic girls legs have also some feminist (may i use that word?) undertones. Why is it still important to propose a view on feminism today?

YES, you may (and SHOULD) use the word "feminist." I consider myself a feminist and I think the stigma around the word (created by conservative males) has (unfortunately) had its prescribed effect of preventing people from self-identifying as feminists.

Those legs were born out of my experience at Carnegie Mellon where I was surrounded by really macho robots: machines that can fight fires or repair a nuclear reactor, robots for combat, robots for Mars, etc. At the same time, television programs were priming the mainstream public for what I call "performative robotics," including BattleBots and Robo-wars, as vehicles for violent entertainment. With technological art and computing still so male dominated, and the research funding driven by the Defense Department, I do think it's important to remind ourselves that robotics has a range of applications that are social, psychological, poetic, beautiful, and quirky. Are those feminist, or just alternatives to the mainstream?

I think it's important to maintain a vigilant feminist critique of the world in the same way that it's important to be vigilant about racism and economic justice.

Sometimes people forget that feminism has benefited EVERYONE, not just women. Civil Rights legislation in the US has benefited everyone, not just African-Americans. In the developed world, we have this idea that everything has been "accomplished" when really, it's just a way to keep people complacent and apathetic.

A couple of years ago you developed Zapped! together with the other members of Preemptive Media. The work examines the mass deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and its effects on our everyday activities. At the time the website of the project said that "RFID is not yet a household name or a pervasive technology, but Preemptive Media predicts that everyday encounters with this technology (whether known or not) will soon be commonplace." How much has changed ever since? How much is the public aware of the possible downsides of RFID technology?

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In October 2006, the US started issuing passports with RFID chips that include a digital photo and all other information currently printed in passports. These passive tags in passports are only a small beginning of all-around use as they can be embedded into nearly everything you buy, wear, read, or drive. At the time we did the piece, there was a common fear of surveillance--that by carrying items with tags, you could be tracked, your personal data could be compromised, etc. The reality is that the tags need to be scanned at such a close proximity (a few millimeters) that it's difficult for someone to scan your item without your knowledge. Plus, if all the tag has is a reference number (for another database) rather than concrete data, there isn't much to gain by secretly scanning...In general, as with so many of these new technologies (GPS, for example), people choose convenience over privacy. In our current climate, you can't have both. We all love the convenience of having a cell phone, even though they all have GPS chips. You don't hear people complaining about the possibility of being located through triangulation of their cell phone chip. At least not yet. I think that data privacy is the new "civil rights" issue of our time--at least in the US where there aren't many data privacy laws.

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I've always been fascinated by the story of the roach release. I saw a brief mention of it a newspaper one day. Can you explain us what it was about and in which context it took place? But also, how did the public react to the idea?

The roach release was but one part of the Zapped! project. The multi-part project included the educational video, a school kit for "arming" yourself against RFID surveillance, the roach release station, and educational workshops. Each of these reached a different segment of the population with the goal of not only informing the public about the technology, but also providing them with means with which they might take action against it.

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At the time, WalMart was setting the standards for RFID implementation by requiring its top manufacturers to embed tags into the cases and pallets of merchandise. As the largest retailer in the world, its protocol affects the business practice of nearly everyone in merchandising. WalMart pushed for this change touting its increased inventory efficiency. At this point, we speculated that if a WalMart had RFID readers and a corresponding database, they would all be located in the loading dock/storage area of the store. We discussed different ways to use or subvert the signal of the WalMart RFID reader- for passive tags, it sends a small signal in order to read the information on the tag and puts that information into a database. As we went round and round with ideas for tricking/toying with this Goliath, the idea boiled down to creating a small interruption in/jamming the WalMart RFID database. If WE couldn't gain access to the loading dock and the readers, perhaps we could send a robot, or, as Beatriz da Costa suggested, a rodent or insect in our place. The final solution was to send a cockroach (with an preprogrammed RFID tag glued to its back) into the store's loading dock area. The RFID tag was programmed with a small text message of resistance--and would definitely cause a "hiccup" in a database that was accustomed to standardized product information. In the video, we gave instructions on how to do a "roach release," and in Houston (at Diverseworks), we gave away all the Zapped! roaches. I am not at liberties to say anything about the actual release. The public loved the idea and the roach became the project's mascot.

Video:

Any other Wal-Mart action?

Not with that piece.

What was the impetus for the audio-activated DRESS? How do you exhibit it (or any of your other wearable pieces for that matter)? As part of a performance? As a static piece in a gallery? As a garment you can lend to gallery-goers?

The wearables started as an idea for a fun Halloween costume. I was initially inspired by the humor that could result from providing visual feedback, especially on a woman's body. The lights on the dress light up incrementally, starting at the bottom when the sound is softer, and lighting up the entire column when it becomes very loud. When I wear the dress, I become a walking audio-meter which is really an absurd (and poetic?) image. These pieces are custom made to fit my body, and I use them in humorous video performances. The project is less about the objects and more about what I can do with them. So far, I have exhibited them as objects on mannequins with a video that shows them in use. In the end, the final product is really the short videos. There are many more places I can take them...

Videos 1, 2 and 3.

You seem to be attracted by the idea of "intimacy". Which one of your works expresses the idea better and why?

As an artist, I use machines, projected imagery, and animation because they offer me a visually compelling way to investigate what is unseen: psychological states, emotions, compulsions, neuroses, desires, dreams. I find that I naturally gravitate towards work that examines everyday behavior and personal issues. I've called my work "intimate installation" because of its scale (human sized objects), its content (domestic and interpersonal issues) and its viewer experience (dark or dimly-lit rooms). With a minimum of objects, each tableau recreates a private ritual or occurrence for the viewer. I use the word "intimate" to describe the spaces I create and to draw a distinction between my domestic theaters and other large-scale environments.

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"Letter Never Sent" is a good example of this. In this piece, video footage captured under a dissection microscope is projected onto the space of the typewriter page. Sounds of a woman weeping, a doorbell ringing, and someone knocking on the door are juxtaposed with black ink creeping up the page and fading, and turbulent, dirty water which seems to spit out from the base of the typewriter. With this piece, I was trying to describe one woman's difficult experience of writing a letter that is erased or never sent because it is too harsh, too truthful. Rather than use words, I used fluids, like emotions, to wash over the page like a wave. The page is filled and emptied again and again, similar to how one might write and edit oneself in pursuit of the perfect correspondence. Even though the work explores one person's intimate experience, I think we can all relate to written communication, self-censorship and the strong emotions that result.

Yet another video:

You are also teaching at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. What are your courses about? Can you give us a few examples of your students' projects?

At this University, I am mostly teaching animation, video and various conceptual classes (this fall, an introductory class on TIME!). The most enjoyable courses focus on creating material for "experimental television broadcasts," and rethinking the space of the television as an art gallery for time-based work. I know it seems like an old idea since video art first emerged as an alternative to mainstream television, but here at the University of Michigan, we have a unique collaboration with our local PBS station, WFUM. PLAY is a "collaborative project from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design and Michigan Public Media, transforming the gallery space for time-based media." This project features time-based work (video, animation, documentary, performance, other experimental forms) by faculty and students in the School of Art and Design. Selected pieces air on television as interstitials-in between programs at the top of the hour, say between "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and "Antique Roadshow," while all submissions are viewable on the web. In my class, "Animation for Broadcast," students get real-world experience producing fun promotional pieces as well as content (under 3 min.) for this gallery space we call a television. You can see some of their promo animations here. They were encouraged to think about the concept behind PLAY Gallery (an online, virtual place for art, television as gallery space) and play (the activity). They were given the PLAY logo and could do just about anything with it.

I think it's a really great moment in history to reconsider what television and broadcast can be, do, say: with the YouTube-ization of the world, everyone's a performer, everyone's a filmmaker. How does that impact what we make and produce?

Any upcoming project you could tell us about?

I'm working on some totally new and different works. "Timed Release" is a series of performative portraits focusing on people who have developed a creative mental space to survive physical confinement. Paper cutouts and small kinetic sculptures contained in bell jars or other containers are brought to life through video projection to create illusionary shadow theater. It's an engaging hybrid of image and object...

Thanks Heidi!

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I've discovered Fernando Orellana in 2004, the year i realized that there were artists playing with technology out there. All along my tumultuous and whimsical 4-year relationship with new media art, artists have been appearing and disappearing from my BVBMA (Best of the very best media artists) list. I'm slowly moving away from the entertaining, the merely playful, the very geeky, the strictly techy and i'm now looking for something called "an artistic experience". Well, Fernando's installations are quite geeky in a sense and some are even playful but, no matter how you define art, i've always found something extremely meaningful and touching in Fernando's work: a robot dreams, others are unable to make a decision, an elevator appears to be self-aware and a vintage radio relentlessly searches for God. Needless to say, Fernando's work has always amazed me and i can see in my crystal ball that it's going to be that way for the years to come.

The artist has uploaded several videos about his work on you tube. As a starter, here's an ABC news segment on his robotic art piece "Sleep Waking":

When i first met you in Gijon at the opening of the exhibition Emergentes, you told me about the personal story behind 8520 S.W. 27th Pl. v.2 (don't miss the video of the robot assembly), an installation about the pointlessness of our never ending decision making process. Can you share it with the readers?

8520 S.W. 27th Place is the address of the home I grew up in Davie, Florida after my family moved from El Salvador in 1979. It is in a housing development called Rolling Hills. I've linked it in Google maps.

For the most part, my siblings and I assimilated and became part of American culture. Subsequently we grew up in the burgeoning suburban sprawl that has now swallowed southern Florida into an endless ghetto of cookie-cutter dream homes. This is what frames a large portion my childhood memories. Neatly cut lawns. Driveways with two-car garages. Manicured gardens adorned with transplanted trees. Swimming pool parties. Mosquito nets. Packaged people living out their packaged lives. Day in. Day out.

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8520 S.W. 27th Place, 2004

This imagery is what fueled the aesthetic for this 8520 S.W. 27th Place. I wanted to reference the suburban dwelling that millions of other people worldwide grew up in as well. I thought it this would be the appropriate stage for a sculpture that speaks of humanities' decision-making process. It is within the walls of these prefabricated, automated homes that we ceaselessly make decisions about everything; from the type of partners we want, to the garnishing on our pizza delivery, to what color we want our IPods. Endlessly. Back and forth. From the moment we are born till the day we die.

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Extruder, 2008

How did you come up with Extruder? Where did you get the idea of making a machine that makes play-doh cars?

I arrived at the idea for Extruder from a couple different places. It branches from a series of drawing machines that I made a couple years back. Extruder started because I wanted to make a machine that could make sculpture. I had been doodling designs for this mechanism for years. I suppose funding issues kept them from materializing until now.

This last summer I made a series of paintings that spoke of war, dismemberment, IEDs, and automobiles. During that process, I came to appreciate the impact that the automobile has made on this world. I read a statistic that still baffles me when I think about it now. There is one car for every 11 people in this world, roughly 590 million passenger cars total. The automobile is involved in everything. From pancakes to penicillin, Play-Doh to parking lots.

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Extruder, 2008

I developed Extruder as a response to this machine that we worship. I wanted to celebrate it. Criticize it. Emulate it. Making hundreds of Play-Doh cars. Millions. The ultimate goal of Extruder is to make the total number of automobiles that were made in 1947 (the year Henry Ford died) by the Ford motor company, an estimated 429,674. As you can imagine that is also a whole lot of Play-Doh; about 11 tons. Until May 11th 2008, Extruder will be making Play-Doh cars at the Mandeville Gallery at Union College in Schenectady, NY. When the next venue emerges to exhibit it, the process will continue.

The colors that Play-Doh comes in were also a nice reference to my recent paintings. Vivid primaries and secondaries, suggesting the Technicolor cartoon reality that we in the developed world live in. Entertainment for the masses, delivered in candy-wrapped doses of violence, humor, and erotica.

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Carry On

The Carry On installation features a series of suitcases fitted with robotic arms and micro-cameras which survey their surroundings. Why did you feel the necessity to develop a work that explores surveillance and paranoia? How much impact on the public can artists have when they comment on surveillance technology?

Carry On is a direct reaction to post-September 11th paranoia, both in the USA and abroad. Since the attacks, I have traveled quite a bit. On these trips, I have passed through countless security and surveillance systems, always hunting for the would-be terrorist. Subway cars now display and sometimes speak "Report ANY Suspicious Activity". If you happen to look even slightly of Arab descent, you may think twice about growing a beard or wearing your traditional garb. Leaving your luggage or backpack alone in an airport or a train station, even for a moment, could lead to a cavity search.

Holding a miniature video camera, on one side of each suitcase in Carry On is mounted a two axis robotic arm. The live video feed from this camera is displayed on a LCD screen mounted on the other side of the suitcase. Every couple of minutes, the robots change the position of the cameras, thus changing what is being displayed in the LCD screens. Lacking image analysis of any kind or other sensory capability, these suitcases blindly look about, never understanding what they see.

I'm not sure what impact artists make when they reference surveillance technology. Perhaps it may give a person a moment of peace or clarity. Realizing that, like the artwork in front of them, the whole affair of paranoia and fear based politics is an illusion; clever clockwork designed to create the reality they want us to believe in.

0aapetitphone.jpgI saw that images of one of your recent project, Phoney. What is the work about?

Phoney is a toy. It is a kind of absurd videophone. There are two terminals to the piece. The terminals are installed in separate parts of a gallery, with no line of site between them. Each terminal is fit with an old-school telephone receiver, a video screen, and a black and white camera attached to the head of a modified mechanical toy. When a person speaks into the telephone receiver of one terminal, their voice makes the mechanical toy on other terminal dance. This causes the video image they are looking at to shake, since the camera on the other side is attached to the mechanical toy. If two people are involved, a bizarre and sometimes funny conversation can commence. To me the piece references the countless methods or proxies that we now communicate through and the ridiculous information that we pass through them.

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Elevator's Music, 2007

I read that your work is about "creating systems that seem to be alive". How much life is there really in your artworks? and how would you define such kind of life?

0adanslelelavateur.jpgThe key part in the quote above is this: "seem to be alive". My machines are not alive. They never will be. I have become much more interested in the simulation of living systems. It is remarkable how easily we anthropomorphize things, especially things that are in motion. The perception of what humans will assume or believe to be alive is where much of my robotic work is headed.

The latest iteration of this investigation is Elevator's Music, a site-specific robotic sculpture that I exhibited in an elevator at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY in the winter of 2007. It consisted of four small robots that emerged from the elevators translucent ceiling panels. When people entered the elevator, the robots would sense them and might emerge. Fitted with sonic sensors and having the ability to maneuver in three axes, they were programmed to seek out and respond to near and far objects. If a robot found something near by, it would try and interact with it via randomly determined mechanical gestures and a watery stream of sounds. The robot would also send a message to the other three robots (through a local network), informing them that it had found something of interest. This would cause all robots to look in the direction of the object, causing a kind of musical symphony to commence. If the object was somehow to close, or if nothing was found, they would recoil back into the safety of their ceiling panels.

With this relatively simple set of instructions the elevator robots were able to illicit innumerous reactions from their passengers. Some believed that the robots were watching them or trying to attack them in some way, while others became enamored with them, whistling and talking to them like one would to a pet bird. When one of the robots failed (as all robots eventually do), passengers reported it immediately to museum officials, feeling empathy for the hurt machine. Future robotic sculptures that I design will foster this tendency to assign anthropomorphic qualities to inanimate objects. Through this investigation I hope to arrive at more sophisticated and realistic artificial life simulations.


Video of "Elevator's Music" at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Spring, NY

What can technology developers or scientists learn from digital artists like you? Is there any reason why they should pay more attention to what crazy artists are doing?

I like to think they should pay more attention. In this country there is a general undervaluing of fine art and art education. Art departments all over the nation are the first to suffer from severe budget cuts. The argument that art is not a "mission critical" subject has dominated the establishment for decades. The problem with this of course is that students become completely illiterate to the visual culture all around them. In engineering and science I think this becomes a handicap. The engineer or scientist that can beautifully communicate their findings will undoubtedly fair better on the world stage. Moreover, those engineers or scientists that are willing to experiment with ideas that seem pointless or ridiculous may arrive at discoveries, innovations, and conclusions that otherwise might have eluded them. Perhaps "crazy artists" do have something to teach, other then just being dismissed to be irrelevant or a waste of time.

What is your favorite gadget or bit of technology and why?

It would have to be my laptop. I basically live inside it (or through it?). That aside, I have to say that I am a huge space technology nerd. I read everything and anything about space. Spirit and Opportunity, the two rovers scooting along on mars, or Voyagers one and two, speeding out of the solar system at this very moment are like aphrodisiacs to me. In fact I have a number of art projects that I am just waiting to develop specifically to be put into zero-g environments. Hopefully by the time I am retiring, this will be a possibility! In classic nerd style however, I would first need to over come the crippling and ridiculous sea-sickness I suffer from, sometimes even on sea-side docks.

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Nail Jar, 2007

What are the common factors between your media art installations and your paintings? Or maybe they have nothing to do with one another?

Painting and drawing is something I have always done. It was my doorway into art and in many ways it keeps me balanced. Until recently, the subjects I painted came from the schools of dada or surrealism, seemingly from my subconscious. This all changed in my recent work. Without really knowing why, last summer I started tackling the subjects I was exploring in my electronic sculptures in the paintings. Painting allows me to quickly approach different angles or points of view within a subject, some of which would not be possible in media sculptures due to funding or physical limitations. It is also a way for me to quickly explore new ideas, some of which are now leaving the canvas surface and becoming sculptures.

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Gasoline, 2007

You are also developing an electronic art program at Union College in Schenectady, NY. Can you tell us what the highlights of the program are?

I was hired three years ago to help start an electronic art program at Union College. Our program is one of the few electronic arts initiatives that is jointly sponsored between the Computer Science and Visual Arts Departments. Drawing from aspects of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The Ohio State University's Art and Technology programs (both of which I graduated from), we have created a thorough course of study, covering topics in digital imaging, video, 3D modeling, physical computing, experimental computer programming, web-design, interactivity, and animation. We have worked hard to make the program as cross-disciplinary as possible, offering courses that computer science, fine-art, and students from other disciplines can benefit from. In many ways the program was a perfect fit at Union College, since it has a long tradition of combining world-renowned engineering within a equally solid liberal arts education.

Any upcoming project or event you could share with us?

There are a couple projects cooking. The most imminent is a real-time video series titled Plain Text. The series plays on the "infinite monkey theorem" which states that given an infinite amount of monkeys, typewriters, and time, the monkeys will type out any particularly text you choose. If one instructs the monkeys (or monkey simulators), to type the King James Bible one of them eventually will. Interestingly, this also includes all the text that you did not choose or any text that might ever be written.

I apply a version of this theorem to a series of short phrases that over an extended period of time cycle through every possible permutation of themselves. For example the phrase:

"You want _ _ _ _ _ _."

Starting right-to-left, like an odometer only with letters, all the blank spaces in the phrase sequentially cycle through every letter in the alphabet. By this, every word that is six characters long will eventually appear in the phrase above. Differing in theme, amount of blank spaces, and speed, each piece in the series has a different phrase displayed by itself on a large LCD screen.

0aapluggdinnn.jpgFor the PluggedIn Exhibition happening in Hudson, NY from May 17th - 30th, two of these phrases will be on display in the vestibules of the Mark McDonald store, along with one large phrase projected on the store's second floor windows.

Thanks Fernando!

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