Every year, the FILE festival invites artists and other people who have a hands-on approach to new media art to share their views, works and ideas with the audience during a 4 afternoon long symposium. One of the most fascinating talks for me this year was the one that Victoria Messi, author of the fantastic blog El Pez Eléctrico, gave about media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.'
Titled Anti Anti Utopia: Arte Eletrônica na América Latina / Anti Anti Utopia: Electronic Art in Latin America, the presentation introduced us to four projects by media artists who believe that art still has the power to transform society. I was planning to write a long post that contained her whole presentation but i thought it would be more fruitful to highlight the projects one by one. First of all because each of them is so clever, quirky and fascinating that it should have its own space. Secondly because i've just started The Leopard and as much as i'd like this Jo Nesbø gem to last as long as possible i can't stay away from the book more than it is strictly necessary for my mental well-being.
Shaped like small flying saucers, the Nanodrizas are floating autonomous robots forming a network of wireless sensors, which attempt to interact with biological elements. The robotic prototypes measure, in real time, the environmental conditions (temperature, pH scale, level of humidity, turbidity, etc.) of polluted water surfaces. The data collected is then transmitted via wireless communications for interpretation and analysis. Once to the level and nature of pollution has been identified, the nanodrizas directly intervene by emitting synthesized sound and releasing bacterial and enzymatic remedies in the eco-system that, ultimately, should regulate the quality of the water.
Prototypes of the nanodrizas have been deployed in heavily polluted locations. In particular, in the river going through the city of Puebla in Mexico. Puebla hosts "La Constancia", an ex textile factory which used to be one of the most modern factories in Latin America. La Constancia relied heavily on water to function: water was used to power its turbines and water was where waste was then dispersed. As a consequence, the river is now suffering from high levels of pollution. The mission of the robots is therefore to intervene directly and revert the effect of the pollution in the water.
The Nanodrizas benefit from relatively sophisticated technologies but were made using discarded materials such as children's toys.
The work thus moves beyond other environmental tactical media interventions by making an attempt to be actively therapeutic. The work will also functions to alert and sensitise people to the situations via, in the first location, the sound emissions of the Nanodrizas and second via displays in exhibition centers and online.
The project thus exemplifies an admirably holisitic kind of art practice which is simultaneously technologically well informed and technologically inventive, while being engaged with complex social histories and activist with respect to fundamental problems of our time.
Check out this interview that El Pez Eléctrico had with Constantini about the Nanodrizas fleet. I'd recommend watching it even if you don't understand spanish because you will not only see the nanodrizas in action but you will also be able to listen to the artist's melodious Mexican accent.
Related: Nomadic Plants by Gilberto Esparza.
FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival remains open through August 21, 2011, at the FIESP Cultural Center - Ruth Cardoso, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Entrance is free.
Gambiarra is the Brazilian practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to quirky and smart improvisation in order to repair what doesn't work or to create what you need with what you have at your disposal. Gambiologia is the 'science' that studies this form of creative improvisation and celebrates it by combining it with electronic-digital techniques.
Gambiologia is also the name of a collective of artists - Fred Paulino, Lucas Mafra and Paulo Henrique 'Ganso Pessoa' - who mix this art of improvisation with DIY culture & technology to develop electronic artifacts.
Last year, Fred Paulino gathered the work of Gambiologia along with the one of over 20 Brazilian and international artists in an exhibition titled "Gambiólogos - Kludging in a Digital Era". The objects, sculptures and installations selected explored the concept of technological gambiarra: they adapt, reinvent recycled and found materials using electronic technologies and much improvisation.
Fred Paulino, who is an artist, designer, gambiologist as well as the curator of the exhibition, was kind enough to send me the catalog of the show a few months ago (you can also download the catalog in its PDF form.) I liked its content so much i thought it was my duty to pester him with my questions:
You translate 'gambiologia' with Kludging. How different is it from hacking?
Gambiologia is something like "The science of gambiarra", which is a Brazilian cultural practice of solving problems creatively in alternative ways with low cost and lots of spontaneity, or giving unusual functions to everyday life objects. There is no exact translation for 'gambiarra' so we initially used kludge which means (from Wikipedia): 'a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem, typically using parts that are cobbled together'. In the US they'd call it makeshift. Gambiologia is the study of 'gambiarra' in a technological context.
We actually stopped translating Gambiologia at all :^)
I 'd say it is a specific kind of hacking - it's the proposal of hacking not only electronics or codes, but objects as well. It's about using things (or bits, maybe) in functions they were not initially proposed to. Modify them or join them in improvised and creative ways so they'll not accomplish the original task anymore. Using parts that were not supposed to be together to create a distressing whole. In our case it's also deeply linked to Brazilian folk culture.
Before we go to the artworks themselves, could you give us a few examples of everyday gambiology in the streets of Belo Horizonte?
It's easy to find many samples of 'gambiarras' if you travel anywhere in Brazil. You can also get many pics if you google it but I attached some I collected myself.
Audio cable fixed with candy wrapper:
Beer chilled in suspended pail:
Shower in a pet bottle:
Mobile beer chilling:
Pet bottle lamp:
Simplest way to leave it open:
Among the works presented in the catalogue i was particularly curious about the following ones:. O Grivo, Polvo, Eles estão vivos, Furadeiras. Can you describe them briefly and tell us what they are about?'
Passo a Passo (Step by Step) is a work by the guys of O Grivo. They propose a random percussion symphony where different notes are played as the shadows of small pieces of wood are detected by sensors connected to a computer. Each of these pieces is attached by the end of a stick which rotates 360º at random speed, so when it gets to 0º, it plays its own note very loud. It proposes an interesting contrast between a very delicate structure and loud music tones in a kind of physically constructed musical timeline.
Polvo (Octopus) from Paulo Nenflidio is a sound machine made by plastic conduits. These are originally used to hold electric cables but Paulo used them to hold compressed air. As the visitor "plays" a keyboard made out of door ring bells, the conduits blow, generating different sounds. The seven bells form a complete tone set. This bizarre octopus-instrument still have an 8th note generated by an water spray on its top.
Eles Estão Vivos (They're Still Alive) was created by Paulo Waisberg. I initially invited him to be the scenographer of the exhibition but he also came with this work. We had all these old displays and keyboards that were donated by the city's council but we didn't know how to use. Paulo created this artwork during the exhibition preparation just a day before the opening, using old footage of blinking eyes in the displays. In my opinion it tells a lot about how re-creating can be much more interesting than recycling. It's also a good demonstration of how a strong sense of improvisation and spontaneity was incorporated all through the exhibition.
Furadeiras (Drills) is one of the simplest exhibited artworks but surely one of the smartest. It's by Guto Lacaz, an experienced artist from Sao Paulo. He proposed an unusual meeting between "different generation" drills - one being analogue and the other electrical. It's an ironic interpretation between planned obsolescence and how technology evolves, sometimes just rotating around itself in an infinite loop. Or how the old (low-tech) and the new (high-tech) can live collaboratively.
How about Gambiociclo? What made you decide to create this 'mobile unit of multimedia transmission"?
The Gambiocycle is inspired on Graffiti Research Lab's mobile broadcast unit. I got to be friend with those guys a few years ago, we made some stuff together, they proposed to me run GRL Brazilian sister cell www.graffitiresearchlab.com.br . We run it in parallel to Gambiologia.
I always wish to have a multimedia vehicle that could project video and digital graffiti in public space. It's terrific how that can be a straight path to a democratic dialogue between people and the city itself. But our MBU should be gambiological - reflecting the logics and aesthetics of 'gambiarra' with this strong Brazilian accent. So we built it inspired by trolleys of salesmen who ride here mostly selling products or doing political advertisement. The idea was to mix performance, happening, electronic art, graffiti and 'gambiarras'.
Yes. People are always surprised as they're not much used to digital graffiti or having electronic art in the streets here. But what impressed me the most is the immediate affinity that the Gambiocycle caused in ordinary people not directly involved to art. I was initially most worried about the vehicle's funcionality or the performances' visual contents, but probably due to the strong local aesthetics it incorporates, people were suddenly feeling more like touching the MBU, taking pictures with it or riding it. I believe it comes from this unconscious feeling of spontainity the work proposes and everybody practice some way since childhood.
And we just got the news that Gambiocycle got an Honorary Mention at Prix Ars Electronica 2011 yeah!
Is there a conscious art community of gambilogos in Brazil but also beyond it? Or is it more like a natural and widespread way of using technology that doesn't really need a name or a purpose community to exist?
Gambiologia was initially the name our three guys' collective but the word is now being used here to identify a new way of think about technology, hacking and (Brazilian) pop culture. Like a science or a movement... It somehow captured the feeling of many creators, and I believe not only in this country. Many artists worldwide are "gambiólogos" (gambiologists) without knowing that. I recently had been in touch with the work of European artists like Niklas Roy which are pretty much gambiological! That's the feeling that Gambiólogos exhibition proposed to group and show.
It doesn't need a name at all but if it had that should be in Brazilian Portuguese :^) Yes I strongly believe this country is a perfect example of chaotic miscegenation - cultural or technological - that results in a notion of creative spontaneity. As a colonial country we initially didn't have enough resources for solving everyday problems so we had to invent simple and cheap solutions... Gambiologia tries to go beyond this, bring it into the art scene with an aesthetical and political discussion about technology.
Does Gambiologia have any consideration for aesthetics?
Sure! But for us we had enough of Apple-like clean aesthetics, we had enough newly-released electronics. People can't stand so many rubbish and consumption... That's why we love to work and play with recycling, remixing and - why not - reproposing the notion of "old" and "new".
Sorry for being so silent over the past few days. A combination of medicine-proof flu and weak wifi at the hotel have thrown me into the arms of Jo Nesbo again and i've only emerged from this lethargy now. So here's a last and light post about the ongoing London Street Photography Festival where i discovered Anahita Avalos's tableaux of everyday life in Villahermosa, Mexico.
More of her images on flickr.
Anahita Avalos's work can be viewed until June 22 at Photofusion in Brixton, as part of the show On Street Photography: A Woman's Perspective but her photos have also been selected for the festival award along with the following talents:
Told you that was a light post. I'll do better tomorrow when i finally know how inspector Harry Hole catches the serial killer who marks his victims with the 'devil's star.'
Previously: Vivian Maier at the German Gymnasium.
Yesterday i was going through the press images of the 11th Biennale de Lyon which will open on September 15 and stumbled upon a work by Marina De Caro. I know nothing about it, except what Frieze magazine writes: Marina de Caro's work 4 Ojos (4 Eyes, 2007) is a video that portrays the artist wandering through Buenos Aires as a comical yet oddly poignant two-headed being. This four-eyed creature purports to have two consciousnesses, owing to the fact that its second head, which exhibits the will of a helium balloon, floats any which way it pleases while tethered to its twin only by a lengthy, limber neck.
That's it, now i just want to see the video.
More images in the project flickr set.
Peeping Tom's Digest is an experimental and subjective publication dedicated to contemporary art. Each issue focuses on trends and movements of a particular geographic area and highlights the artists and initiatives represented within it. The point of departure for each edition is a residency of the Peeping Tom collective lasting several months in the chosen city, region or country. Deliberately empirical, without critical, theoretical or historical pretensions, its approach allows them to veer off the beaten path. Not only sharing the work, the artists, and the artistic and cultural efforts they encountered, each volume also aims to reveal the specificity of a depicted art scene: the curatorial process and the structure of the magazine (graphic design, format, number of pages and so on) varies from issue to issue reflecting the characteristics and stakes of each locale. The genealogy of the experiment and its numerous protagonists are showcased in the publication as an inserted poster.
Curator/photo editor Caroline Niémant and graphic designer/artistic director Stéphane Blanc are two Parisians who applied the dérive principles to the world of art magazines. For each edition, they pick up a city, country or region, fly there for a couple of months and set up to discover its art scene through a fairly unplanned journey that relies mostly on word-of-mouth. They boarded the plane in the Autumn of 2009, knowing next to nothing about contemporary art from Mexico, apart from the usual suspects (Orozco, Ortega, Margolles, etc.) They sent emails to a couple of people who recommended people to meet there. These people in turn recommended other people to meet. And so on.
My love for Mexico knowing no boundaries, i was overjoyed to received the second issue of Peeping Tom's Digest. The collective stayed in the country from October through December 2009. First in Mexico City, later in Oaxaca and Guadalajara (a word which, like jorongo, i've attempted to pronounce correctly countless times without even a shadow of success.) They met artists, curators, gallery owners, students, art historians, collectors. They interviewed plenty of them and received essays or photo galleries from others.
The result is a lively, partial, passionate and absorbing snapshot of Mexican art scene in 260 pages. No matter how whimsical and intuitive Peeping Tom's method was, it nevertheless managed to capture the spirit and flow of Mexico's contemporary art scene (at least what i have experienced about it.) The experiment sometimes made me think about the Postopolis edition we had last year in Mexico. Except that Peeping Tom didn't benefit from Daniel Hernandez's expertise of what is Down & Delirious in Mexico City.
Although Peeping Tom features the work of established artists living in Mexico such as Miguel Calderón and Francis Alÿs, the collective also set themselves the mission to uncover new talents. I posted a series of images of artworks i've discovered in the magazine below but before we go there i'd like to highlight two artists in particular.
The first one is Marcela Armas whose work uses and comments on technological media. Together with two other young and talented artists, Gilberto Esparza and Ivan Puig, Armas is part of the collective TRiodO. Her portfolio is quite impressive. I think i should try and interview her soon. Here's just one of her installations:
Soaking the gallery wall in burnt motor oil, Cenit (Zenith) traces the history drawn by 20th century fossil fuel consumption. Slowly pumping a black viscous liquid through plastic piping shaped as a city skyline, the piece unfoldis over a period of approximately five days to build an ongoing period of excess.
The other wonderful discovery of the book is Orlando Jiménez who is a researcher but also a lucha libre referee, researcher and producer. Jiménez has been organizing events in the art world that involve luchadores. He would either screen movies about or staring luchadores or export in Europe lucha libre as a live art form, often in festivals, exhibitions and non-lucrative events.
Elsewhere in the book i met:
Unfortunately i missed the symposium which took place on July 1 to 3 but some of the videos of the presentations are available for online viewing.
This year, the biennial closed a trilogy dedicated to cybernetics. Emoção Art.ficial followed a logical sequence that started with the basics in 2006 when the exhibition and symposium were dedicated to interaction. That year, i even had the chance to interview Guilherme Kujawski, one of the organizers of the biennial. The 2008 edition of the event went a step further by exploring emergence: artworks in which the cybernetic cycle allowed the devices themselves to generate behaviors and rules that were unforeseen even by their creators.
In 2010 the biennial was guided by the notion of cybernetic autonomy - by the evolution of principles and patterns derived from the emerging behaviors of the devices themselves. The devices not only possess the ability to enter in a dialog with their surroundings, they also determine the rules for this interaction and change their behavior as if they had "personality."
I'll just highlight two works which, i think, illustrate perfectly the scope of cybernetic autonomy explored by the exhibition.
The images above illustrate one of the works on show, Silent Barrage by SymbioticA. This forest of little robots going up and down white columns connects the exhibition space to nerve cells cultured miles away from Sao Paulo, in the Potter Neuro-Engineering Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.
This video gives more details about the work:
Silent Barrage investigates the nature of thoughts, free will, and neural dysfunction. The work focuses at the bursts of uncontrolled activity of nerve tissue, a typical characteristic of epilepsy and cultured nerve cells. Silent Barrage uses audience movements in, and responses to the architectural space of amplified neuronal activity to feed it back to the cultured nerve cells in an attempt to silence the barrage of electrical impulses. The scientists hope that this might help them understand better how to quieten the activity in the culture dish, and this in turn would assist in treating epilepsy.
One of the pieces which amazed me the most when i visited the exhibition is a 1994 video by Karl Sims, a pioneer in the use of particle systems and artificial life in computer animation.
The video Evolved Virtual Creatures stems from a research project involving simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures. A population of several hundred creatures is created within a supercomputer,. Each of them is tested for their ability to perform a given task, such as swimming. The most successful ones survive, and their virtual genes containing coded instructions for their growth, are copied, combined, and mutated to make offspring for a new population. The new creatures are again tested, and some may be improvements on their parents. Creatures with increasingly successful behaviors emerge through this cycle of selection.
The creatures in the video are results from independent simulations in which they were selected for swimming, rowing, walking, jumping, following, and competing with their little cuboid 'limbs' for the control of a green cube. The video is actually more gripping than it sounds.
Some of the works exhibited at Emoção Art.ficial [Art.ficial Emotion] include:
My pictures from the exhibition.