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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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

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

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

Video:

Here we go now:

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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

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

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

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Expanded Eye, work in progress

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Expanded Eye, by Anaísa Franco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stage Fright, by Nova Jiang

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

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

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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Esther Polak and Pablo Ripollés

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

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

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Image Medialab Prado

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

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Theo Jansen visiting Medialab Prado

Thanks Simone and Alvaro!

Sponsored by:





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!

I discovered the work of Bart Hess just a year ago, at the Salone del Mobile 2007. The video of his graduation project A Hunt for Hightech was shown as part of Family of Form, the exhibition that the Design Academy Eindhoven had organized in Milan that year. Just one video on a small screen and several people glued to it, fascinated and sometimes slightly horrified. The images showed mutant skins, breathing shoes, living furs and metallic gloves. My vocabulary is actually even more limited than ever when it comes to describe the futuristic fabrics and textures that the young designer had imagined. As his website won't give much details about him and his work, i decided to write Bart and pester him with my questions:

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Hi Bart, i found little info about yourself online. Would you mind telling us who you are, what your background is and what you do right now?

I'm Bart Hess, I graduated a year ago from the Design Academy, Eindhoven in the Man and Identity department. This department looks at finding new materials, forecasting trends in fashion and culture. I have always had a fascination with photography, painting and fashion. Some people would say that I am shy and introvert, but when you see my work it reveals an opposite personality. I think I'm not so good at storytelling with words, but rather expressing myself with stories through images and visuals.

Right now I'm working for myself exploring several fields that straddle textile, fashion and animation, these fall within the commercial and art world.

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In the description of A Hunt for Hightech you write that it is "more interesting to imitate an imaginary world"? Why is that?

With a Hunt for Hightech I made a collection of fake fur that touches on elements of fetishism, human instinct and new animal archetypes. With that collection I did not try to mimic real animal kingdoms but create a fantasy world of my own. The way this started was through the process of imagining fantasy animals; animals that could be genetically manipulated, part robot, part organic, how they would move in their environment and what they felt like to touch. I then took my (imagined) gun and 'hunted' them, looking for their extra ordinary, high tech furs. I thought about tactile qualities like reflection, the way the hair grows and three dimensionality and took these characteristics, magnified them, manipulated and exaggerated them.

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Can you explain us which kind of materials you have designed for the project A Hunt for Hightech?

I used materials that were not organic or commonly seen in the fashion world, and blended plastics, metallic's, silicon's and technical foils. With these materials I tried to manipulate and re-create the same qualities and tactile feeling my fantasy animal kingdom has.

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Which technological discoveries have inspired the whole project in general?

Prosthetic technology, where robot or machine meets with human nerve ending and flesh is definitely an inspiration but not an obvious link when you see the result of my project. Genetic manipulation has a clearer connection where it allows or dictates a new or changing evolution. This combination of nature, technology and evolution inspired me to create my own new animal archetypes. In my "Hunt for Hightech Animal Kingdom", animals can change their prints to distract predators, or grow their hair meters longer to appear bigger.

Your work has been exhibited in many venues and magazines. How does the public react to it?

There seemed to be two reactions from the public, there were people who were not freaked out at all and found it very attractive. These were the people who investigated and were intrigued by the furs and discovered the fabrics were quite soft, even though they were made from needles and sharp metallic's. The other type of people were scared and shocked with the idea of breathing shoes, these were the people who would get hurt touching the furs. One of my intentions was to communicate tactility and spire an emotion between the viewer and the furs, and this happened in both cases.

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The models you present in A Hunt for Hightech are futuristic and fascinating. Do you see them more as sculptures or future pieces of clothing?

I really believe these are the fashion furs of the future. Why kill an animal and re-form the fur into a shape? Why not have the animal already shaped to your body, have it living and breathing around you, like the shoes. Whilst the technology is not there yet, in the meantime the animation is used as an inspiration for the fashion industry. At the moment I'm consulting at the Stijlinstituut in Amsterdam making animation and photographic collages to express and create future atmospheres. This gives me the opportunity to re-create ideas that really do have an impact on trends in the future, be it fashion, product or architecture.

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Walter Van Beirendonck, Men's collection Spring/Summer 2008 - SEXCLOWN

You also collaborated with my favourite fashion designer, Walter van Beirendonck. What was your role in the development of his collection? Can you tell us a few words about the collections you participated to?

I started working with Walter van Beirendonck for my internship. For six months I worked on the "Stop Terrorising our World" collection doing computer illustrations for prints. This was where it all started and I have been collaborating with Walter ever since. For the "Sex Clowns" collection, Walter had the idea to create avatars and he asked me to visualize his illustrations into 3d drawings. The Sex clowns collection combines new digital life-form, with an all time classic fascination of Walter, fetishism. Fantasising about new types of Fetishism, he created a group of self-conscious men, proudly presenting their masculinity and body diversity.

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In some of your work it seems that the garment or shoe is almost part of the wearer's body. How do you think new technologies could impact the body aesthetically and fashion-wise?

I think a good example of where technology and the body meet, is a project that `I have worked on with Philips Design Probes team, a provocation for an Electronic Tattoo. In this scenario a tattoo traverses across the landscape of the body moving and morphing with touch and gesture. In this case the tattoo becomes a fashion accessory using the body as canvas for moving image, where the technology opens up new forms of communication between two people.

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The photographies you make together with Lucy McRae present alternative bodies or body accessories, cosmetic surgery, etc. Where does your inspiration come from?

I work with Lucy McRae in a primitive and limitless way. We work with our instinct and start by using a material on our body, exploring volumes and ways of re-shaping the human silhouette. We work fast, for one day at the end of the week expelling all our creative energy and stress, making a series of photos that capture an atmosphere. We share a fascination with genetic manipulation and beauty expression, but it is not our intention to communicate this. I think unconsciously our work touches upon these themes, we create future human shapes and new body form's. LucyandBart is blindly discovering a low - tech prosthetic way for human enhancement.

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Any upcoming project you could share with us?

I have an exhibition coming up in the Summer in Fort Asperen called 'Closer to the Skin'. For this show I'm making large scale furs, approximately two metres square, I have developed a method for making the furs automatically that enables me to create the pieces much faster and bigger. I'm also starting a project now with the Textile Museum in Tilburg where I am designing my own collection of textiles using a 3d knitting machine, laser cutting and a loom. There are several other projects I am working on, but unfortunately I can't mention them yet, they will be on my website when they are finished!

Thanks Bart!

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Portrait of Bart Heiss

Related: Lucy McRae's talk at NEXT.

Reading the lovely blog of Cati Vaucelle, i discovered the work of Kate James. Kate is a second year graduate student in the Visual Arts Program at MIT. After having studied dance/kinesthesia and architectural history at Brown University, she did a Master of Architecture at MIT before transferring into the Visual Arts program.

Her design, fashion, performative, video and space projects focus on the body, its habits, movements, and the dynamic sectional relationship to its surrounding structures. They have this wonderful mix of quirkiness and deep relevance to the issues she investigates.

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You have a background in both dance/choreography and architecture. How does your knowledge of the body and its dynamics feeds your thoughts and creativity in architecture? How do you make these two seemingly different fields meet?

I started studying dance and architecture at the same time, during my first year as an undergraduate. Maybe because of that, my understanding of architecture has always been rooted in the body. I think of architecture as a built echo of body itself: corporeal issues of public/ private, structural systems, skins, orifice and interface all resound in architecture.

Now, I often site my art practice between the body and its surrounding structures. This dynamic negative space houses habitual life and cultural inscription, and is therefore subject to interrogation through artistic intervention.

Your MIT page says that your work attempts to "question and complicate the interfaces between the corporeal and the environmental". In a time when most designers talk about "making it simple", why do you think it is important to "complicate"? Which form does this complication take?

I guess by 'complicate' I mean to acknowledge and engage with the complexity of the interfaces already in play. We so easily naturalize our interactions and surroundings, ignoring the layers of choreography imposed on the everyday. By tweaking and reframing the everyday relations between the body and its environment, my work refutes the source and nature of that everyday ritual.

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I was very intrigued by the atHABITat costumes. There is one for vacuuming, one for serving food and a third one for putting away the dishes.
What was the inspiration for them?

Can you describe us what they are about and how each of them should be used?

The atHABITat costumes are about a contemporary vision of the woman in the home, and a need to multi-task and overlap the upkeep habits of the body and the home. They are costumes worn to augment the household maintenance task, transforming it into an iso-kinetic exercise. Each costume records and accentuates the ergonomics of the activity.

In one, resistance band connects the vacuum wand to the wearer, intensifying the sweeping motion of the vacuuming. The 'putting away dishes' costume attaches a similar resistance band between the dishwasher and the wearer's vinyl gloves. In the 'serving food' costume, bands run through an oven mitt corset piece to accentuate the tension in the serving motion.

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Once you have an idea for a project how do you push it forward and bring it to life? Do you test the idea on other people? Ask for feedbacks? Get depressed because it is technologically impossible to prototype it? What is the path that leads from idea to working prototype?

I would say the process goes like this: dream, doodle, make, discuss, research, make more, research more, discuss, display.

In terms of the making, I'm not a pre-planning type. I design and make things in one fluid mess of a step, whether this involves sewing, welding, or performing. The concept and research frame are usually fixed, but the work formally develops in an organic way as it goes along.

My biggest frustration is usually the scope of the projects compared to my personal capabilities. Because my work is very much about self-production, and because of the flow of my design process, I am committed to be involved with the craft and production of my costumes and props. But this production can involve 200 pounds of steel to weld or 60 hours of hand-sewing on a particular project.

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Kate's working space

The garments you create are very well-designed. But do they function purely as accessories for performances or could you imagine everyday people wearing a modified version of them?

When I make costumes, they aren't intended as prototypes for products. They are very individuated, for one thing, designed specifically for my own home and body(both formally and functionally).

The costumes are an integral part of my performance practice. They are there to suggest that there is a latent potential for self-production in the scene of the everyday, and to transform actions into performances.

0aadressailsls.jpgWhat was the inspiration for Dressails?

As a dancer, I was fascinated with falling. I studied how to fall, and tested gravity all the time.

I also sailed a lot when I was younger. I was terrified of, and in love with, especially strong winds that would tip the boat up on its edge and press hard on the sail.

I thought about this moment of negotiation between the control of the boat and the natural force of the wind. I wanted to give over some control of my body's movements to the wind in the same way, and used clothing design to achieve that. The dresses cause the wearer's body to teeter, spin, and lean, to be engaged with a natural and sporadic force a way that wouldn't be possible otherwise.

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Could you tell us about some of your recent projects?

One thing I'm working on in an ongoing way is a series of videos about my (7) vacuum cleaners. One piece involves assessing the manual instruction versus reality of use. Another documents a normal vacuuming session that turns into a full-on wrestling bout with the machine.

I also made some wearable trampolines last year, and performed with them in a piece called 'Six Corners'. There is a dynamic relationship between the body and the material and weight of the skirts. They are meant to discuss movement pattern, issues of personal boundaries, and body extension.

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Which artists or designer do you find most inspiring and why?

Artists whose work I look most often at include Rebecca Horn, Martha Rosler, Bruce Nauman, Miranda July, Joan Jonas (who is my thesis advisor, which is an amazing privilege), Nina Yuen.

More and more I find myself looking at dancers/ choreographers who make art, especially Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Ann Carlson.

I look at screen stars as well, those who use their bodies to tell stories: Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the cast of Three's Company.

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Any upcoming projects you could share with us?

I'm working on a project right now in conjunction with my thesis (titled 'homebody'). I'm making more home maintenance costumes and associated performances. So far, I've made a video of a phone conversation I had with my mortgage agent while wearing/using a dress constructed of Swiffer rosettes.

A last one: what is your relationship with fashion?

As an artist, I certainly engage with fashion. By this I mean that I think closely about how the body is clad, and how clothing can inform the body and vice-versa. Fashion becomes a key interface in the investigation of the body in the environment.

In terms of performance and the impact of costuming, fashion offers a fantastic bank of codified aesthetics, which can be drawn from for conceptual and phenomenal meaning.

Thanks Katherine!

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0aamarisaa.jpgBefore meeting her, i had always imagined Marisa Olson to be an hyperactive blond girl running around the internet playground. She seemed to have so much fun online... surely that girl was made of pixels. And even now that we've met several times, i'm not totally sure that Marisa is real.

Marisa's work combines performance, video, sound, drawing, and installation to address intersections of pop culture and the cultural history of technology, as they effect the voice, power, and persona.

Marisa lives between California and New York, where she shows one of her (half) serious faces: she is a "Curator at Large" at Rhizome. You can find her on her whatamidoingwithmylife blog, on the Nasty Nets Internet Surfing Club, on her website and 3 years ago she was writing about her preparation to audition for the popular reality TV show, American Idol on yet another blog

How does one become Marisa Olson? What is your background and how did you get involved in technology-based art making, reviewing and curating?

Hmm... That could be hard to answer quickly. I was always a geek. I programmed the heck out of my C64! I was also always obsessed with mediated communication in the form of pop culture (radio and tv) transmissions. Add to this the fact that my dad worked in intelligence, growing up (I grew up in Germany, where he worked until I was 10) and I was surrounded by scary military technologies all the time (isn't the gun one of the most significant inventions ever?) and that all spells a strange fascination with technology. I always wanted to make art, but I'm actually related to one of the most famous French impressionists and I was raised thinking that's what "real art" was. It turns out I wasn't very good at that kind of art. So I stopped worrying about what was and wasn't art and just focused on what I found interesting. I spent most of my undergrad and grad school years in the SF bay area, and lived through the surreal waxing and waning of the dot-com. I wrote for Wired, consulted a few start-ups, and that sort of thing. Meanwhile, the area was overflowing with artists expressing themselves in work that engaged technology. And I really related. After that, the progression was natural and rapid. I threw myself into new media--as an artist and in terms of supporting the field, not entirely distinguishing between my writing, teaching, or curating. The more peculiar thing, for me, has been switching gears from being a musician (I've been a singer and lyricist in a few bands and grew up in choirs) to making work about music (most recently my Oh.Yeah.I.Love.You.Baby. remix album). There's definitely an interest in the DIY there, but I guess this is also why I often organize my projects as "albums" (like my Break-Up Album (Demo) video project) and I tend to think of curating like making a mixtape.

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In Abe & Mo Sing the Blogs, an online project for which the Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned an Artport Gatepage, you and Abe Linkoln sing posts from your favorite blogs. What was the impetus for that project? There's been several discussions of trying to turn blogs into an art form or an art project. What is you take on this issue? Could you name us other examples of successful "blogs-turned-art" projects?

Abe and I are both compulsive web surfers and love unusual blogs. We decided to pick our favorite posts from our favorite blogs and sing them, in a sort of concept album mixtape. His and mine are pretty different. They are all really funny. In our official description of the project, we say that blogs, like the blues, have been credited with channeling the "voice of the people" and we wondered if we could identify specific genre conventions on blogs. We were kind of interested in the blog as a stage for "site-specific" performance, which also carried over into our Universal Acid project. We'd both done blog-based projects before, which was how we met, online. We sent each other fan letters about his conversion of net artist Olia Lialina's My Boyfriend Came Back From the War and my American Idol Audition Training Blog. I also loved Screenfull.net, Abe's old blog with Jimpunk.

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Our first collaboration was actually a blog called Blog Art, which was a curated blog listing blogs that are art projects. At the moment, I'm really into group blogs that ride the line between art practice and some other sort of internet fan culture. For instance, some friends and I founded an "internet surfing club" called Nasty Nets--in which we sort of simultaneously celebrated and critiqued the internet--and I love other group surf blogs like Supercentral, Spirit Surfers, Double Happiness, and Loshadka.

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When you blogged your efforts to audition for "American Idol." How did people around you react to that decision? What did the whole training teach you (i'm not only talking about sun beds and stilettos boot camps of course)?

Well, my family and grad school professors at the time certainly thought I was crazy. I made what was probably the mistake of announcing it by emailing people out of the blue with the subject line "I need your help" and inside I asked for help in picking what song I should sing. Even though I linked to a New York Times article about the blog, a lot of people told me later that they really thought I was seriously delusional about trying to get on the show! They didn't recognize it as a parody, which is kind of awesome. I started the project wanting to critique the show (which I admittedly also loved) and the gender normative stereotypes it pushes. I was concerned about how artists rights to their own work & identity were violated by the producers, in my opinion. But the project took on a life of its own. The lead-up to my audition (in 2004) was the same as the build-up to the presidential election between Bush & Kerry. I started thinking of how the show is predicated on a model of democracy and voting but I kept hearing how my generation (the main demographic for the show) wasn't showing up to polls. They would stand in line for 8 hours to audition, but not 15 minutes to vote. So the project became all about voting. I told readers how to register to vote, brought registration forms to the auditions, and I had readers vote on what I should wear & sing. Ultimately, I collected over 10,000 votes in the course of trying to get young people to think about the many ways in which they could use their "voice."

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You are also a curator, both independently and as part of your activities at Rhizome. Your curating often deals with new media art pieces. What are the challenges of curating and exhibiting works of new media art today?

I think that there is presently a very exciting turn happening in new media, with respect to both the art world and the context of "traditional media." It used to be very important to carve out a separate space in which to show, discuss, and teach new media. Nowadays these spaces are sometimes seen as ghettos, but at the time, they were safe havens championing under-recognized forms. Things are more co-mingled now. Not everyone will agree with me about this, but I think it's great that some people no longer even know new media when they see it. I know curators who turn their nose up at that phrase, but they love Cory Arcangel or Paul Pfeiffer. There doesn't seem to be a need to distinguish, any more, whether technology was used in making the work--afterall, everything is a technology, and everyone uses technology to do everything. What is even more interesting is the way in which people are starting to make what I've called "Post-Internet" art in my own work (such as my Monitor Tracings), or what Guthrie Lonergan recently called "Internet Aware Art." I think it's important to address the impacts of the internet on culture at large, and this can be done well on networks but can and should also exist offline. Of course, it's an exciting challenge to explain to someone how this is still internet art... If that really matters...

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Your Media Change course at ITP/ NYU explored the "evolution" of technology. How does your teaching explore an area which is well... evolving so fast?

I feel like this is a great opportunity and a perfect class to teach at an amazing place like ITP, which evolves daily, with the technology. But I think the way to do it is to try to see media change as having a longer-tem trajectory. I have a background in media theory. I studied History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz and am PhD Candidate in film studies and new media in the Rhetoric department at UC Berkeley, where my dissertation is on The Art of Protest in Network Culture. So I've read, loved, and taught the classic McLuhan, Benjamin, Kittler, Flusser, Baudrillard, Jameson, etc over and over again. The aim of this class was to consider the cultural and political forces behind the evolution of technology and the broader concept of "change" (which most certainly also incorporates social/ political change). So we read these classic historiographies but tried to read them from the present context as well as the original one. And we read them beside Alex Galloway, Henry Jenkins, Clay Shirky, and other great contemporary writers. I mean, this stuff can never be pinned down long enough to be considered in an isolated temporal context, but it's still important to consider the personal and political forces that compel media change--the desires and impetuses.

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In your recent Golden Oldies performance/ video, you seem to give a very hard time to a bunch of electronic devices. What is your own relationship with technology?

Ha, well... It occurs to me now that you could probably say that my relationship to technology is a bit sado-masochistic. I don't mean for that to sound weird or sensational. I think, in the true classical psychoanalytic sense, many people's relationship with technology is very wrapped up in both their libidinal and death drives, as Freud would call them. I guess this video demonstrates that I enjoying abusing technology as much as I enjoy observing its abuse of me. I've always been a fetishist and could never try to hide that. My studio is littered with blinged-out headphones, radios, and cassette tapes. But the tapes I've been calling Time Capsules. I mean, they are moments of time that are disappearing but not really going away, so instead I try to prevent their burial (in a landfill) by taking them out of circulation and painting them gold, much like the symbolic bricks in Fort Knox. InGolden Oldies, I try unsuccessfully to instigate communication between media of various generations--tapes, vhs cassettes, records, cds.... And after drilling, hammering, and chiseling each one, I give up and wipe the garbage to the floor--where is becomes "out of sight, out of mind," as we say in the US. I feel like this is what's happening with all of our tv's, walkmen, air hockey tables, nintendos, etc as we follow our drives to upgrade. They just get pushed into dumpsters and disregarded. And I've been trying to think about my own role in this cycle, because I certainly love my ipod as much as the next gal.

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Any upcoming projects you could share with us?

Well, we just released a DVD of Nasty Nets members' work (there are 25 of us, including some of my very favorite net artists), and that was generously funded by Rhizome. It includes videos as well as loads of data files and a type-in website by fellow Nasty Michael Bell-Smith. People can get the DVD online, and if they are in New York, they should definitely attend our premiere screening at the New York Underground Film Festival this Friday, April 4th, called Nasty As U Wanna Be.

Otherwise, as you can see, I'm really obsessed with the future, at the moment, which is kind of funny for someone who tends to say that her work is about the cultural history of technology. I'm just starting to work on a project called "Martha Stewart Assisted Living" and it's a near-future version of Martha's show (guess who I play!) aimed at an aging audience whose lives have been lengthened by new technologies, but who are also suffering side effects, like head goiters from their cell phones or Global Warming-Related Illnesses (GWI's). I'm devising special recipes and craft projects for those 130-year-olds!

Thanks Marisa!

Previously: Sousveillance culture, a panel curated and moderated by Marisa Olson.

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