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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reconfigurable Dress by Di Mainstone, made at XS Labs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they comfortable to wear during a whole evening?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of Enleon: kinetic electronic garment

What or who inspired the Skorpions collection?

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

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

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

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

Thanks Di!

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

All images courtesy of Di Mainstone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Benito Jiménez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pablo Sanz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ZEMOS98 9th edition, picture by Antonio Iglesias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We've already listed a few.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screenshot from La Liga de Los Olvidados

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eclectic Method

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

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

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

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

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Fountain (v.3) by Benton-C

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

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

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

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

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Scott Pagano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information.

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

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

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La Cosa Nuestra

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

A very important group, with whom we have worked as well, is Hackitectura.net. They are involved in various projects of media and social activism but from an architectural point of view.

Hackitectura.net work on the cyborg dimension of the media-architecture and the social processes. They are currently supporting the creation of a wiki-plaza in Seville. They participate to the development of a very interesting and powerful global streaming platform called Giss.tv and they have recently organized several days dedicated to Media-Architecture.

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

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

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

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

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

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

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

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

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

Muchas gracias Pedro!

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

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

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

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Muneteru in his studio, by Martin Holtkamp

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

"my work is like plastic ikebana."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how about in Japan?

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

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

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

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

How does that compare to the way a Westerner would?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another shot of The Rotators. Courtesy of Muneteru

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

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

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

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

Ok. what's the message in rotators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to make, I wanted a groove.

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

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

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Flyer for Sunday's performance. Courtesy of Muneteru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hidden Love Song

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

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

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

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

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Hidden Love Song

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

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Gamelan Playtime

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

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

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Gamelan Playtime

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

Where does the idea of PLAY.orchestra come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Arlete, Melissa,and Kelsey!

All images courtesy of Milk and Tales.

Vicente Gutierrez, a writer and editor currently based in Tokyo, has kindly proposed to be a correspondent for wmmna in Japan. He recently sent me an introduction and the translation of his interview with Exonemo, adding that i could edit anything to my liking. Well, there's nothing in what you're going to read below that i could improve, so here's his text:

Exonemo, the Japanese duo made up of Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa, have developed several experimental works ranging from sound and video processing, software programming, hardware circuit bending, installations as well as live performance. With enough crossing over, exonemo continue to blur the lines of discipline and if you ask them whether they are designers, programmers, visual or media artists, you'll find they don't really care.

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Exonemo performing (photo credit Martin Holtkamp)

After meeting in university, they started working together under the contrived moniker 'exonemo' and specify the Unix hacker culture of the 90s as a bedrock influence as well as the continuing evolution of the internet- "as web technology keeps developing, it allows us to do more and more."

The concept driven circuit tweakers have reanalyzed the contexts of computer programming and investigated a new potential of the internet, making it their primary platform. As a result, exonemo has created new consequences of hardware and soft technology and their work serves as a lasting commentary on our evolving relationship with technology- whether that be a sense of alienation or [dis]connection.
Exonemo's inviting DIY style and rising popularity have led these two rebel programmers to be often considered the new face of Japan's media art scene.

WMMNA had a chance to catch up with Exonemo right before their performance of Exonemonster, a mix of forgotten electronic instruments revitalized with a mind of their own, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on October 4th.

Here's a video preview.

I heard you were just in China, what was Exonemo doing there?

We just exhibited Fragmental Storm at an art gallery called Long March which was in the Art District in Beijing (798大山?艺术区) from September 25th until October 22nd.

Now you're off to France, what will you be doing there?

We are going to have another exhibition and have a live performance of Exonemonster, a device we created, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on October 4th. For live information, you can check in-famous.

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Exonemonster (image courtesy of exonemo)

Can you tell us about Exonemonster?

Exonemonster is a musical instrument which has several other musical instruments fixed on a board with nails. All of the instruments have had their circuits bent. Its not just a musical instrument but also an object with naked circuits, nail and switches. With Exonemonster, we can play a variety of unpredictable sounds by wiring these circuits to each other and as a result, overdrive them in a somewhat complicated way on stage.

So, where did the idea come from and why did you make it?

I think it was probably after going to a lecture on Max/MSP (software) or Supercollider software. Max/MSP, can produce sounds by wiring digital objects. So after hearing about that, we decided we wanted to make a kind of free-play system that would be based on analog wiring; and we were twisted enough to decide to use analog while others were focusing on using laptops. So after that, we started working on an instrument with bent circuits. We used it as a Max developed object and fixed it on a board with nails and connected the instruments with clips to change the sounds.

We were trying to get closer to the idea of Outsider Art by approaching it in a subjective way, not an objective way and so, because the sound of exonemonster is uncontrollable, so too, we made its appearance 'uncontrollable.' Then it became a monster that we can't even control anymore. When we play or perform with exonemonster, it always surprises us. Now, we've come to develop a little bit of affection for it, as if it were a real friend.

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Exonemonster (image courtesy of exonemo)

How important is interactivity in your work ? I'm not only thinking of exonemonster but also rgb-f__cker or remixhibition=>reactivity. Are you trying to make some kind of tools for people?

0alamouse4.jpgI think interactivity is something like a ceremony that connects our work and the audience. When we approach a project, if interactivity is necessary, we implement it, and if it isn't necessary, we don't consider it in the project. For example, ZZZZZZZZapp has no interactivity once it starts. DanmatsuMouse is basically an exhibition you can see, but I think its better if the audience can feel the reality.

Some of your interactive software works are downloadable (Discoder). Whose work is it? Exonemo's or the user's?

The part that the user created with our work is the user's work and the program they use to edit the work is ours. But I think a whole new experience is made by mixing both sides, so I can't exactly tell who's work it is.

Most of your work explores the relationship between people and technology, why did you decide to explore and work in this direction?

I don't really think about it in terms of that direction very much, but I do think everyone gets really excited when technology and people meet. It's interesting- people seem normal at first but then turn into animals and totally change their behavior, it changes our behavior. Its like, if it weren't for mobile phones being so popular, if a man talked to himself walking down the street, it would seem like he's crazy but because he's cellphone's are a common technology its OK. I think such a point is interesting.

Well, do you think people today are disconnected from technology?

No, not at all, there's so much technology available and released on the web that you can get so much for free now.

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Road Movie

So, which is more important for you, reaching users individually with personal, interactive software or as a group with public installation or performance?

Well, for us, these two aspects make for completely different experiences so we try to do different things when we produce for the internet or for an installation. But at the same time, the line's been blurred and we have works that people can experience both ways, like the Road Movie. Both channels are important for us.

Yes. and about using the internet in your work (Fragmental Storm, Discoder-Discoder), what is the internet for you? Information? A canvas? A place?

I think its a place like a 'park.' Where people can come and go freely.

Where do you think the internet is going?

Well, its in the hands of the people so it's going wherever there are people's desires, it's unlimited!

And from here, where is exonemo going?

Well, we just finished DanmatsuMouse which we created this year and we have had many exhibitions and performances recently so want to try a different work flow and wait until the next idea comes to us. Next, we want to do something on the internet. We're thinking of something like a website to remix and play with our works ourselves. Its not really a work, per se, but something more like an environment.

Thanks for making time for us Exonemo, we look forward to seeing and playing with whatever you come up with next!

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Please meet Boutique Vizique! Boutique Vizique is Hendrik Leper and Stijn Schiffeleers, plus a bunch of other artists or experts they invite to collaborate with them once in a while.

Stijn and Hendrik come from Ghent. If you're into new media art, creativity and design you might have heard of that small-ish Belgian city. They trained as photographer, started working mostly with video, collaborated with sound artists and are now developing interactive installations. The kind we like: playful, witty and beautifully executed.

Portrait of Boutique Vizique by Koen Broos.

You both studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. How did you end up working on interaction design, reactive installations, performances using real time live generated images and sounds?

Boutique Vizique was originally intended to be a short-term venture. A few years after we had left the Academy, we decided to collaborate on a small video project which was supposed to last for two weeks. But two weeks became three, and this summer we are celebrating our seventh year as a collective. It has been a gradual growth and looking back reveals an organic development of our practice. Originally doing mainly video work for musicians, DJ's, opera singers, actors and dancers, we slowly made the transition to a more three-dimensional approach. We both look back at those early experiments with a blush on our face, but nevertheless we were able to let things sprout out of these early, naive try-outs.

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A Dustbunny

So from the beginning, it has been like hopping from one stone to another, leaving a zigzag trail of encounters, realizations and reactions. One project lead into another and we tried to remain open to all of it. Boutique Vizique is rooted in curiosity and its exploring nature also reflects our previous wanderings. It is clear that we both like to wander and, as a result, quite often find ourselves "off-track". Last October at Matchmaking, an annual festival for electronic arts and new technology in Trondheim, we structured our lecture around the thought of 'being lost'. Supported by a quote from Rebecca Solnit's essay 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' we discussed the role of the unknown and open doors in the line of our work. We like to believe that, as artists and human beings, every time we feel lost, it gives us an opportunity to stumble upon something new. Slowly, step by step, we have mastered different tools which are not necessarily related, but always find an integration under the Boutique Vizique umbrella.

You often develop your piece with the collaboration of other people. How does the creation start? You get an idea and look for someone who has the skills that you need? Or you meet someone you'd like to work with and decide on a project together?

Throughout the years we have collaborated in various ways on a wide range of distinct projects. Some of these collaborations were pure technical and some emerged because other artists shared similar interests. Boutique Vizique germinated from a project with two DJ's and this collaborative aspect became a natural ingredient in our practice in those first years. A handful of music bands with complete different styles asked us to provide video projections for their concerts and we also worked closely with AIM Records, a small Ghent based independent label that gave us a lot of freedom in our creations.

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Os Gauchos do pelatao

To a certain level we were fine with just delivering a visually interesting backdrop, but simultaneously felt the urge to look for a more direct cross-pollination. 'Super Setup', 'Starbot Ensemble', 'Early Electronics' and 'Os Gauchos do pelatão' are four projects that grew out of the desire to come to a true collaboration where sound and video got completely interwoven. Around that time we also started working closely with other forms of performing arts and theater. We had to learn about the dynamic relation between story, performer and video; and various new ways of interaction were applied to finally come to a complete integration of all components.

A turnaround occurred at the moment we took time to convey our personal ideas independently and looked for a format that would fit our personal needs. After 3 years working in collaboration with performers we began to develop interactive installations autonomously, without any specific assignment and far away from any stage or other limitations. Following collaborations mainly arose mostly out of technical needs or the lack of certain skills. We involved other artists and engineers to create specific sections like a sound file, a printed circuit board or a piece of code.

Since then, people have been coming and going and it makes sense we will continue to work this way in the near future. After seven years we often run on autopilot mode when dealing with each other during certain stages of the development process. Having completed so many projects we understand, through a minimum of communication, where the other one wants to go and it all feels very natural that way.

You worked several times on installations for kids. What are the challenges and advantages of developing projects that are aimed to be enjoyed by children?

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Babble

Our older video and performance oriented work had been embedded with a decent amount of playfulness long before we made our first reactive sculpture. It seems that having this playful facet deeply rooted in our work made it almost inevitable not to develop projects specifically for children at some point. We never had an outspoken intention to do so, but also did not doubt a second at the moment we were asked to make a real time video choir for a children's music festival. Later on, we evaluated the pros and contras and from a brief look at the body of work following Babble, you can tell we enjoyed it. Seeing all those young faces light up every time we present our work is highly rewarding and it is this kind of appreciation that keeps us going I guess.

Challenges related to child and adult specific projects are often very similar. In fact we consciously endeavor to create installations that are intended to be enjoyed by both young and old. It is obvious that part of our plan is to awake the child in each one of us. And since play, poetry and simplicity are a constant in our work those challenges seem to overlap quite often. Any major difference probably revolves around the threshold of your interfaces. With children as a target group you cannot afford to make extreme subtle changes in your output. Everything needs to be more straightforward and responses from sensors must immediately cause an impact on the environment. Simultaneously the interface needs to induce an intuitive interaction and encourage participation without any instructions. Kids luckily do not need much of an explanation and often copy others to come to an understanding of what is going on.

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When working with children, you also might consider building everything a little stronger. The first version of our Dustbunnies, for example, got smashed under the weight of some kid, exactly two days after the opening. Five months of work only needed a 10 year old foot to flatten and short circuit every component inside of it. Funny thing is that Dustbunnies was never intended for a young audience, because otherwise we would not have created a shape that does resemble a soccer ball to such extend. We learned a lot from that experience and it is actually wonderful to have these limitations push your creativity to another level. How do you make a large swinging object that won't chop off some kids head? Try it, it's a great exercise!

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Dustbunny "fried"

Finding a satisfying balance between the experience for the child and our personal creative impulses is probably the most intriguing challenge every time we come up with a new installation. How do you create a situation that expresses your vision and simultaneously intrigues the children? You can hang big spheres in a space and project warped faces around them, but what reference does a child have to the elements you use? In order to keep the experience for everyone as open as possible, we intentionally never create a narrative. The circumstances we set up always require a certain level of communication, verbally or not, and multiple senses get stimulated at once. Every installation needs to be explored creatively and can be approached both as an individual or within a group. By steering these conditions we aspire to find a right balance for every child or at least something enjoyable for each one to be found.

The main advantage of developing installations for children is that in general they have less social boundaries. They are allowed to play and seem to connect easier with someone they don't know. It is also beautiful to see them sink into in the environment we set up and make them forget about the world around them. The greatest advantage of course is that we ourselves are still allowed to be kids. We can play as much as we want this way!

'Kontakt' and 'Stopkontakt' invite the audience to use their body as a conductor between electrical circuits. How did you get the idea to work on that piece? How did the public react to it? Did you observe any unexpected behavior?

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Image by Lies Declerck

Kontakt was conceived during workshop, called Media Knitting, at DEAF 2003, the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam. This is where we met Karmen Franinovic, who at that point was getting her Master's degree at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy. The workshop was set up so people with different tool sets could possibly connect and collaborate. Karmen was working on a custom-made pressure sensor using conductive foam and we had just received our first Teleo module. We combined both components and a bit later we were all holding hands to test how conductive our bodies actually were. Kontakt was born and we constructed a prototype version in the stairwell within the three-story building of V2. Bright orange metal plates, with hands painted on them, encouraged visitors to use their bodies and form a human chain between them. Several of these active touch points where spread throughout the space and connecting caused a set of sound and video sequences to be played. The interface required people to collectively explore the space, as it was impossible for a single visitor to make connection between the various points. Holding hands, kissing and using differently conductive objects to modulate the output all became part of the interaction. The human skin and body, mobile and unpredictable, became the sensor and the actuator of this active space.

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A few months later we were commissioned to create an installation for the Happy New Ears Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium. The location was a formerly blocked off part of the directors house in an old textile factory. The space was submerged in a gloomy atmosphere as it had been collecting dust for more then a decade. The setting itself was too impressive to ignore and we had the Kontakt concept ready to unfold. Inspired by the space, we developed Stopkontakt, meaning wall outlet in Dutch, in a very site specific format.

Four rooms and the grand central stairway got wired up, filled with touch points, speaker and data cable. As an output we picked various analogue objects, like a kitschy pendulum clock, some plastic bird flutes, a water dripping valve, an old record player and more junk.

Although the system is very simple, it remains surprising to most visitors that you can start a coffee grinder with a handshake. Questions from parents about possibly getting shocked or failing pacemakers pop up regularly. While the grown-ups look and try to figure out how it all work, the kids do not seem to bother and just go wild holding hands, feet and knees with friends, family and complete strangers.

What are you trying to achieve with Tortuga? Do you plan to develop the project further?

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Tortuga is another good example of how Boutique Vizique functions as a learning place. The technical part of it originates from a class on PCB design and microchip programming I took last year. Its circuit board is drafted to contain an ultrasonic transceiver and a Zigbee module in order to measure the distance between two objects without any other external hardware involved. From this pure technical starting point it has grown out to a personal research project and Tortuga is actually an extended prototype for a larger installation that has been put on hold for various reasons. Its concept is formed around creating several large mobile structures and the ability to move these objects throughout a space, dependent on their acceleration and their physical location. It is one of those projects that could have stayed half finished in a closet for the rest of our life, but when curator Virgil Pollit asked us to be part of a group show called 'Fertile Grounds', we decided to continue and build some iceberg structures around the already functioning mechanical basis.

000acicbeorg.jpgWhen I fantasize about the full-scale version I see some undefined objects being moved around by a group of people in a free-flowing way. The motion is smooth and will only be interrupted if a sudden push occurs or in case the objects come within a minimal distance to each other or a wall. All visitors have to collaborate to generate a fluent movement and I am into the idea of using a loud sound or earplugs to prevent the audience from communicating verbally. I guess with Tortuga I am looking for new forms of interaction and ways to provoke pleasures similar to the one I get from moving rocks in a river. The 'useless' act of relocating random objects within a limited space, knowing they will move again once you have left, fascinates me. Still, while moving river rocks might result in a sculpture or a structure, Tortuga consciously tries to avoid any logic result or outcome. Although never choreographed, it will probably end up looking more like a dance than a sculpture at certain moments. The installation becomes an engine for a performance.

Showing the first version of Tortuga in a gallery environment has taught me a few lessons. Although the exhibition resulted in some fruitful conversations and animated interactions, it certainly was too early to present this work to a larger audience. As an artist you can not expect visitors to jump right into your fantasy world. They need a grip, something that guides them through your brain. Leaving them clueless just resulted in an uncomfortable situation and my hopes for now, Tortuga is buried in our closet again. Maybe its dream will be picked up again some day.

Can you explain us what Beat Blocks is about? And what makes it particularly exciting for you?

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Beat Blocks is the result of a series of encounters with Jeff Hoefs. After I moved to San Francisco, Jeff became one of the new people in my life with whom I like to share my thoughts and dreams about physical computing. One day we decided to challenge ourselves with the design of a tangible interface that could function as a sequencer and would cost less than 300 dollars. After some initial tinkering the idea of using wooden blocks on a grid popped up and the next meeting we spend brainstorming about all possible ways to read out the different values using a relatively cheap technology. Our thoughts grew out to a project and at this point we have a functioning prototype and are in the midst of developing a second and extended version. So the way this project originated, without any request or budget from the outside world, is already pretty exciting to me.

Most fascinating about the interface is its simplicity. A wooden grid and a series of blocks form an uncomplicated interface that is completely self-explanatory. As a user you can create and manipulate a small sound loop by physically re-arranging the wooden blocks within the grid. Doing so will turn the matrix into a rhythm sequencer that operates at a 1/16 note resolution. Each block has a pattern of colored stripes representing 1/4 measures, directly indicating what kind of sequence the underlying system will play. The sequence runs in a continuous loop and a LED indicates the speed of the loop that can be changed by means of a simple slider. The direct relation between these minimal visual aspects and the instantaneously generated sound makes 'Beat Blocks' very accessible to anyone, even with little or no musical background. Since the whole system generates a MIDI output, it can be hooked up to a lot of other hardware devices.

Another exciting feature is that its unsophisticated first design can be further developed in numerous directions. The layout of the PCB allows us to connect multiple grids simultaneously and the magnetic connectors could be build into any other shape. Its flexibility enables Beat Blocks to be used for very different purposes and various situations. It could be part of an interactive museum display and so far we have plans for constructing 'Beat Blocks' both as a performance tool and as an installation. The possibilities that our basic structure offers have also seem to inspire other people. A while ago, for example, we read on a blog a comment by a visually impaired person who was wondering if the striped pattern actually could be perceived by touch. A wonderful thought and the question actually motivated us to include this facet in our next version. It also got us both excited about creating a 'Beat Blocks' blog to share our ideas and be open to suggestions for potential variations.

You are both from Belgium right? How does the country or your region support your work? Do some of your pieces get financed? Do you receive many opportunities to teach and show your work?

Continue reading the interview with Boutique Vizique.

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