Spaces showing and/or supporting contemporary art which engages with digital and electronic media have started to pop up all over Europe. Very. Slowly.
[plug.in] is one of them but i see at least two reasons that makes [plug.in] stand out from the thin crowd of media art spaces.
First, the Basel gallery exists for much longer than most (it opened in 2000). Second, and more interestingly, its programme is one of the most appealing i've ever seen in the field. [plug.in] exhibits and often commissions new internet, sound, interactive and software art; organizes events on media art and digital culture; offers visitor a library and a bar.
So far i had been following their programme through the newsletter, but when i read that [plug.in] was hosting the first solo exhibition in Europe of Tokyo-based artists Exonemo, i decided it was high time to go up North and visit the gallery.
The main piece is an installation which unfolds over two floors:
UN-DEAD-LINK explores questions of digitized and symbolized death between the physical and virtual world. The audience can see, feel and hear the effects that a symbolic death in a computer game can have in the physical exhibition space.
You're welcome in the gallery by a bunch of objects the artists found on flea markets in Basel. An old sewing machine, a piano, reading lamps, a paper shredder on top of a mountain of paper ribbons, a turntable with a plastic dog sleeping on a spinning disk, an old recorder playing crap music, etc. Each of them is animated by an invisible actor.
The explanation lurks downstairs in a dark room. There, soldiers on a screen do what they are supposed to do: they run after each other, they shoot and sometimes they kill. Each time one of them is killed, its death is given an almost tangible echo upstairs by one of the devices: more paper is shred, a light goes on, the sewing machine makes a few stitches. When visitors push the red button in front of the screen, all the avatars die and upstairs every single device seem to 'scream.'
Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa from Exonemo modified the game Half-Life2 and connected the mod to the piano upstairs. The electrical objects are connected by midi/dmx (protocol) with custom devices.
The work is extremely uncanny: Seeing and hearing the 'consequences' of a virtual death in the real world gives them a sinister weight. It's more disturbing then seeing a real war massacre on television, probably because today tv death seems almost as virtual as the death of an avatar.
[plug.in] is also showing DanmatsuMouse, a sort of geeky snuff movie in which computer mouses (or should i write 'computer mice'?) are happily destroyed using all sorts of tools on hand: the mouse gets fried in a pan, another one is swirled and crushed in a blender, etc. But something subsists beyond the death of the plastic mouse: its cadaver (a couple of tortured mice were exhibited in the gallery) and the cursor, or rather the data. The motions of the mouse and the cursor were recorded simultaneously by a video camera and a computer programme.
A DVD, available in the gallery space (did i mention that they also have a shop selling artists' editions and electronic gadgets), allows you to play back the sinister event: the movie of the mouse murder unfolds in parallel with the movements of its cursor that takes over the ones of the cursor on your own desktop.
exonemo - UN-DEAD-LINK is on view until September 14 at [plug.in] in Basel, Switzerland.
Previously on exonemo channel: Interview with Exonemo, MobLab presentation - Transmediale, Origami bus pattern, their installation at Synthetic Times, Ryota Kuwakubo, exonemo and ressentiment in Liverpool, etc.
You might remember that a year ago Marc Owens designed the Avatar Machine, a system which replicates the aesthetics and visuals of third person gaming, allowing the user to view themselves as a virtual character in real space via a head mounted interface.
A real life manifestation of that practice, the Virtual Transgender Suit replicates the aesthetics of the typical virtual female form and catapults them within a real world context. The piece was specifically designed for men to wear in the real world, creating a bridge between real (where cross-dressing is not really socially accepted) and virtual.
Another of Owens' projects, Sabre & Mace - Second Death, was concerned more specifically with the online environment Second Life.
Collaborating with Tony Mullin, he created SABRE & MACE, a company that offers virtual characters the opportunity to experience death as a way to close their user account permanently. The project examines the notion of feeling sentimental toward a virtual character and examines the link between sentimentality and tangibility.
While researching the project, the designers discovered that a great deal of second life residents have multiple avatars, some stay in favour for a long time while others lose their interest. One guy who they spoke to had 14. He said that he used a many of them as platforms for different sides of his real life personality, and for others he invented entirely new fantasy personalities. However he admitted that some of his created avatars had fallen by the wayside and he no longer used them.
The service works as follows: Having discovered the Sabre&Mace site on-line (unfortunately the website had to be taken down after the show) or through one of the virtual adverts in Second Life, the prospective customer teleports to the company headquarters.
There, the client meets a manager who explains the full process and guides him or her through the signing of two contacts. Contract 1 - states that at some point (completely random) in their second life the avatar will be collected by a Sabre & Mace officer and taken back to the headquarters for termination.
Contract 2 is in fact the client's 'Last will and Testament' where he or she outlines how they wish their virtual moneys, land and assests to be distributed once they have been terminated.
The client continues to live their second life until one day, a Sabre & Mace officer appears and informs them that the final proceedings are about to begin. The client is collected and taken to the Sabre & Mace HQ.
The client meets again with the client manager, to discuss the final process. At this point the client reveals their 'account password', which is the means by which the avatar is terminated.
The client is led through the cryogenic chamber, where the virtual physical forms of past clients are stored. Upon arrival at the 'Termination Room', the client is instructed to walk through the 'white noise' door. Once he crosses the threshold of the door his Second Life game crashes, giving a Sabre & Mace member of staff time to change the clients password - effectively terminating the character.
The client's former avatar is immortalised as a golden statue. Information about the avatar can be read on the plaque which sits on the monument. Should the client visit the Sabre & Mace memorial gardens he would see his own statue as well as the monuments of previous clients.
Images courtesy of Marc Owens (except the shot of his works at the RCA show.)
Related stories: Mourning and digital culture.
It's not everyday that Dick Cheney gives its title to an art exhibition.
In the weeks following September 11, the U.S. Vice President justified a steep increase of surveillance measures by explaining that "Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. They represent an understanding of the world as it is, and dangers we must guard against perhaps for decades to come. I think of it as the new normalcy." Almost 7 years later, the collection and sharing of personal data by governments, luggage searches, Internet monitoring, and wiretaps have indeed become part of a "new normal" in American life.
The New Normal brings together thirteen artworks which explore private information. All the works have been developed after 2001, the year that ctrl[space] : Rhetorics of Surveillance, a major exhibition on privacy and surveillance opened at the ZKM center in Karlsruhe, Germany. It's not a redux of the exhibition: new factors have changed the surveillance panorama since the ZKM exhibition opened. There's President Bush signing the Patriot Act on October 26, 2001, the number and efficiency of technologies of surveillance have skyrocketed and we have come to accept the new state of "normality".
The New Normal reveals how difficult it is to set clear boundaries around the concept of privacy. The private sphere encompasses domestic spaces, personal data, the content of your pocket, bodies, thoughts, communication, and behaviors--contexts that are usually rendered inaccessible to the public eye by legal, social, and physical boundaries.
What is most remarkable about the show is the subtle way it engages with the complex concept of privacy. The videos and installations do not hammer their messages on your head, you're not told what to think and what to be very afraid about. Instead, the exhibition argues that today's society is indeed living Cheney's new normal life but this doesn't meant that the new condition of public disclosure cannot be harnessed in the service of artistic endeavours and the creation of "tactics for political critique."
Submitting oneself to security measures can be turned upside down by adopting what Hassan Elahi calls an "aggressive compliance". Elahi daily points a mocking finger to absurd security measures with the real-time self-tracking website he set up in a bid to demonstrate to the FBI investigator that he's not spending his time traveling to the Middle East and plotting some attack in the U.S. The models features in Sharif Waked's Chic Point Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints video seem to have adopted a similar strategy.
Sharif Waked's video features male models catwalking in clothes designed to expose the flesh of body parts such as chests and abdomens. It would be hilarious and cheeky were the images not juxtaposed with stills taken from recent years displaying Palestinian men having to lift their shirts, take off their pants and kneel shirtless in order to be authorized to cross Israeli checkpoints. The absurd pieces of clothing evoke the bodily humiliation experienced by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints.
Equally politically-loaded is the series of badly photocopies of passports of CIA agents researched by Italian authorities in connection with the abduction of radical Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. On February 17, 2003, Abu Omar disappeared off the streets of Milan. The man had been kidnapped by the CIA, transferred to Cairo, where he was secluded, interrogated and allegedly tortured and abused. He was released 4 years later. The Imam Rapito (or "kidnapped Imam") affair prompted a series of investigations in Italy.
Twenty-six Americans were submitted to a trial in absentia along with several former Italian intelligence officials for their role in this case of extraordinary rendition. Trevor Paglen managed to get a copy of the photocopy of the fake passports that the agents had to deliver while they were checking in posh hotels in Italy in preparation for the kidnapping. The documents were released by Italian prosecutors in 2005. Although every element appearing on the identity document is fake, the picture had to be authentic. This ensured that the cover of the agents was blown and that the surveillance tools used by a government to achieve questionable goals can also become an instrument of justice.
Back to New York City after five years spent in The Netherlands, Magid kept hearing this announcement in the subway "You may be a subject to searches "for security reasons"." She approached a police officer and asked him to search her. He refused because only women officer had the right to search a woman but she managed to convince him to call her and tell her each night where he was on shift. She'd join him to be "trained" and kept record of the meetings in different forms: diary (read excerpts), photos, objects, etc. He would lend her his duty shirt, she'd give him a picture of her wearing it in return. She makes him tuna sandwiches, one day he allowed her to hold his gun. The relationship they build bit by bit is both intimate and somehow doomed: they are so different, the officer has never been to an art museum, Magid is "one of those liberals".
Several works show that the intrusion into the private sphere is not just made of CCTV systems and biometric apparatus, it can also be voluntarily self-inflicted now that new online platforms called blogs, Facebook and image sharing call for self-disclosure.
As curator Michael Connor writes, Private information has never been less private.
The best example of this is probably the collection of videos that Guthrie Lonergan archived on you tube under the title MySpace Intro Playlist. Although they were made to be viewed by others, they convey an embarrassingly intimate echo once they have been decontextualized and exhibited in an art exhibition.
Developed by Michael Frumin during the 2004 Campaign in the U.S., FundRace is back. The website maps donation made to the candidates of the Presidential Election in the U.S. and enables you to search by name or address to see who your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are supporting. You can also search by profession and discover who celebs and museum curators are donating to.
The revelation of famous people's private requests almost makes you say thank you for a society which is so obsessed by the mundane facets of celebrities. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's contribution to the exhibition is part of a series of sculptural displays of the products that musicians contractually require to be present in their dressing rooms after a performance. That's where the loop closes and we get to cross path with Dick Cheney again. Band Rider Series (Dick Cheney) gives a glimpse into the very lack of spectacularity of Vice President's desires when he travels to a new venue to give a talk: all tv sets have to be turned on FOX news, the hotel restaurant menu must be in his room along with bottles of water, etc.
Hasan Elahi at The Colbert Report:
Apart from Joshua Davis' talk, the other main highlight of OFFF, the software and visual communication conference which took place last week in Lisbon, was the panel on Data Visualization curated and moderated by the European evangelist of the discipline: Jose-Luis de Vicente.
As the abstract of the panel reminds: data visualization is a transversal discipline which harnesses the immense power of visual communication to explain, in an understandable manner, the relationships of meaning, causes and dependency found among great abstract masses of information generated by scientific and social processes.
Interaction designer, information architect and design researcher Manuel Lima discussed the story of the website Visual Complexity and the lessons he learnt since he launched it 3 years back. Visual Complexity is not a blog, it is a collection of (so far) over 570 projects of data viz, it is also a space for people to discuss about what is happening in this area.
The project started while Lima was following an MFA program at Parsons School of Design. While working on his thesis project Blogviz: Mapping the dynamics of information diffusion in Blogspace, he had to research extensively the visualization of complex networks, and found out that there was a need for an integrated and extensive resource on this subject.
Lima's presentation was very very fast with a lot of information crammed in a small amount of time. But here's a few elements from it:
The transmission of information started with the wall paintings, got more sophisticated with the oldest registry of a written language (the Sumerian cuneiforms) and later with Ptolemy's world map. More key landmarks for data viz can be found in Alfred W. Crosby's essay The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600.
One first important factor for the development of data viz is computer storage.
A third factor is online social networks.
Over his three years observing dataviz, Lima spotted a number of trends: mapping blogosphere relationships, visualizing del.icio.us tags, terrorism, air routes, gps data, etc.
Next spoke Santiago Ortiz who started by presenting the spectacular website that Bestiario has put online a few days ago. The website gets a third dimension as you can "twist" and manipulate it in order to see its full length. The nicest feature is the navigation: you can browse Bestiario's projects anti-chronologically of course but also according to the number of hours they spent working on the projects, by keywords, combination or exclusion of keywords, etc.
Founded 2 years ago, Bestiario is a small Barcelona/Lisbon-based company with a very impressive portfolio. Combining art and science (Ortiz is also a mathematician) they design interactive information spaces which follow their own moto: 'making the complex comprehensible.'
It wasn't the first time that i got to be impressed by Bestiario's work and Ortiz' thoughts on dataviz. One of Bestiario's project was exhibited recently at LABoral as part of the Emergentes exhibition which closed a few days ago. The imaginary biological universe Mitozoos encodes and creates virtual organisms called "mitozoos" which interact among themselves. You can watch their life in a 3D environment that simulates birth, existence of a genetic code, the quest for food, energy dissipation, reproduction and death. Each variable and parameter of the model has a graphical representation.
One of Bestiario's latest projects was developed together with Irma Vila and JL de Vicente. The Atlas of Electromagnetic Space is an interactive representation of the services that use our electromagnetic radiospectrum, ranging from 10Khz "radio navigation" to 100Ghz "inter-satellite communication". The activities which unfolds throughout the spectrum (e.g. mobile, satellite, wireless internet, broadcasting) are sorted by electromagnetic frequency. What totally won me over was the features showing the artistic interventions that are commenting on and/or taking place in the spectrum.
City Distances illuminates the strength of relations between cities from searches on google. The main idea is to compare the number of pages on internet where the two cities appear one close to the other, with the number of pages they appear isolated. This proportion indicates some kind of intensity of relation between the cities. The "google proximity" is then divided by its geographical distance. The result indicates the strength of the relation in spite of the real distance, a kind of informational distance between cities.
Finally, Aaron Koblin took the stage to present his own work. Crap! this guy is so talented it's scary. Aaron studied Design and Media Art with Casey Reas at UCLA and used processing a lot in his projects which not only represent huge amounts of data, but are also producing data to raise questions about a series of issues.
Narrative made sense for cultures based on tradition and a small amount of information circulating in a culture - it was a way to make sense of this information and to tie it together (for instance, Greek mythology). Database can be thought of as a new cultural form in a society where a subject deals with huge amounts of information, which constantly keep changing, said Lev Manovich whom Aaron quoted to further ask the audience:
If the database is the new narrative, then what is the role of visualization?
A first answer is that visualization help us understand what it means to have dozens of thousands of planes flying above North America every day. Video demonstrating how Flight Patterns does exactly that:
Data from the U.S. Federal aviation administration is used to create animations of flight traffic patterns and density.
The Sheep Market is one of my favourite projects ever. The very Petit Prince work manages to be critical and poetical at the same time. Thousands of workers on Amazon's Mechanical Turk webservice were paid two cents to "draw a sheep facing to the left." Their sheep drawings were collected over a period of 40 days, selected and printed on stamps. You can also head to the project website and spend the evening counting the animals.
Aside from his purely artistic works, Aaron also works for Yahoo and collaborate on research project. For example, he developed the visualizations for the New York Talk Exchange, a project by the Senseable City Lab at MIT.
Based on a principle similar to The Sheep Market, Ten Thousand Cents has thousands of individuals working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of of a $100 bill without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each via Amazon's Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase are all $100. The project, which has been developed in collaboration with Takashi Kawashima, explores the circumstances we live in, a new and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, "crowdsourcing," "virtual economies," and digital reproduction.
Video of Ten Thousand Cents:
The panel ended with JL de Vicente reminding the audience of the Visualizar workshops he periodically organized at Medialab Prado in Madrid. A new call for project proposals will be launched later this year.
Related: Coverage of Visualizar workshop.
Gold Farmers are young people who earn their living by playing MMORPG games. They acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually by carrying out in-game actions repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker.
They sell the artificial gold coins and other virtual goods they've harvested to players and/or farming organizations and get "real" money in return. Players from around the world will then use the golden coins to buy better armor, magic spells and other equipments to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters.
Many companies have attempted to block the use of gold-farming services by specifically stating in their End User License Agreements and Terms of Service that any and all game assets (from the player's characters themselves, to any items that they may be carrying) remain the sole property of the company itself, and taking aggressive action to close the accounts of any that are found to be using gold-farming (or similar) services.
Although there are gold farmers or gold farms in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico, Chinese are by far the most dynamic. There, young players typically work twelve hour shifts, with just a lunch break somewhere in the middle.
There are gold farmers or gold farms in other countries as well, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico. However, they do not approach the scope and scale of the Chinese farm industry.
Ge Jin, a 30-year-old Shanghai native and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego, has shot a Gold Farmers, a documentary that delve into the background and lives of Chinese gold farmers.
Gold farming puts down the mechanisms that govern a universe in which everyone starts at the same level, no matter how rich their parents are, no matter how many degrees they've collected at the university. Players trying to work their way up according to the rules and in all fairness are the ones who get hit hardest by the practice of gold farming.
Watching the documentary, you can't help but feel some compassion for the gold farmers: they have very little free time, they are paid quite poorly to feed the whims of the Western consumer, they have to deal with the ire of a family who doesn't approve of what they do for a living, they must face the hostility of other players as soon as these realize that gold farmers are on their turf, their english is not good enough to enable them to communicate with other players, and they work hard. Don't be fooled, they don't sit there for hours just for the fun, most of their activity is extremely repetitive. In fact they would sometimes end their day at the "factory" by playing a real game in WoW. Just for the fun.
Chinese Gold Farmers Preview video (Ge Jin has uploaded more video previews):
I asked Ge Jin to discuss his documentary for the blog:
First of all, is the video on show at laboral only part of the documentary you are making or is it the full version of it?
I have another 40 min. long version, but this one is complete in itself as a short version.
Gold farmers have the challenging task of constantly navigating between clandestinity and the need to advertise their service. i suspect that finding and getting the "gold farmers" to talk must have been difficult. how did you locate the players and how did you gain their trust?
It is indeed difficult to get into the exclusive "gold farming" circle. But I was lucky to have an old friend in Shanghai who was running gold farms from 2003 to 2005. This friend introduced me to some gold farm owners. But the reason that the gaming workers/gold farmers trusted me was mainly because I treated them with respect. They face discriminations from non-gamers who see them as game addicts who are losers in real life as well as discriminations from gamers who think they care about more about money than gaming itself. I tried to be a good listener for them and they can see I didn't approach them with many assumptions.
How much has the phenomenon evolved since you started working on this documentary in 2005 (it think)?
Yes I started following this phenomenon since 2005. I think the market become much more competitive and the profit margin for gold farmers are much smaller now. Meanwhile, more sophisticated services like power-leveling have become the mainstream of real money trade. Also, the domestic demand for in-game goods in China has risen so much that Chinese gold farmers no longer just work in foreign games.
You are right that I'm not taking a stand. And I try to let the people involved in real money trade to tell their own stories in my documentary. But I think some of my "biases" do make their way into the documentary. For example, I don't really care if real money trade changes the regular gaming experience, I'm more concerned with how people's virtual life and real life affect each other, so you don't hardly hear the game industry's point of view in my documentary.
Is gold farming regarded differently in China than it is in the USA, Europe or Japan for example? Is the practice seen as more acceptable by the public and the government? How much does China try to tax and regulate the business?
Culturally, real money trade is indeed more accepted in China than in other countries. For example, the successful game Legend from Giant. Ltc thrives on incorporating real money trade in game design. Western game companies dare not do so blatantly because many gamers may think the game is not a level playing ground that way. But the Chinese gamers seem to accept this inherent unfairness, as if they see so much injustice in real life that they don't expect the virtual world to be better. The government doesn't seem to have any problem with the gold farming business. It has not figure out a good way to tax virtual trade yet, in some rare cases, some gold farms pay a fixed amount of tax based on very rough estimation of trade volume. There is currently no policy directly regulating this industry. Though there are regulations generally aiming to purify content of games and limit how long people can play online games.
Did your research on gold farming sparkle the interest of Western commercial gaming companies? Asking your help to crack down on farmers? Or asking for your opinion on how to make the most of this new form of economy?
To my surprise, I was contacted by gold selling websites who want to use my website to advertise themselves, by gold buyers who are looking for a steady supplier, and by market researchers who want to measure the supply and demand of gold trade. I wish I could seize such opportunities to make some money for myself. But unfortunately I was occupied by exploring the social implications of this economy.
Thanks Ge Jin!
Another documentary part of Homo Ludens Ludens is the fantastic 8 bit movie.
There's something about Second Life that totally repels me: its aesthetics. No matter how sexy W. James Au makes his adventures in the online universe sound, i just can't go beyond the barrier of SL's dull and flavourless look. On Saturday while i was visiting the Holy Fire exhibition at iMAL in Brussels, i got to meet with Gazira Babeli and change my opinion. Gazira Babeli is not a human being, she's an avatar performing and living inside Second Life.
Like everyone, i had read times and times again how SL residents actions inside the synthetic world impact on their daily life, how one can make a living there, how businesses and organizations were rushing to get a space inside the online gaming platform but yesterday was the first time i could feel SL's tangible effect on my life: i had bought a train ticket to Brescia (only 50 minutes from Milan). There, the Fabio Paris Gallery is dedicating a solo show to Gazira. I couldn't think of a better place to get to know her work with more depth. Yeah! don't smirk, please. I know i could do all that online but i'm old school. Still, i can't believe i took the train to see the work of an artist who was born only two years ago.
An old entry of mine (The Second Life code performer) and a beautiful text by Domenico Quaranta will tell you all you need to know about what she does. I'll just move to what i saw in Brussels and Brescia.
The Brussels exhibition shows one of the episodes of Gaz of the Desert , a 23 minute movie which might very well be the first high definition movie entirely shot within a virtual world. Gaz of the Desert is inspired by Luis Buñuel's 1965 movie Simón del desierto (Simon of the Desert) which focused on St. Simon Stylites, a 4th century religious man who climbed on a column to be nearer to God and stayed there during thirty seven years preaching Christianity to passersby. If you were already taking for granted the fact that the virtual merges with the real, Gazira's machinima messes with your algebra by adding surrealism to the operation. The artist takes you on a rollercoaster ride which will drive you from dream to nightmare with the elegance of Buñuel, a Persian carpet, rows of call center employees, and a motorcycle killer. The movie is online.
In Brescia, there are several projects by Gazira. There's also Anna Magnani, an Italian actress everybody remembers as 'Pina' in Roberto Rossellini's neorealist masterpiece Roma, Cittá Aperta (Rome, Open City). Now Magnani was famous for that very Italian characteristic of constantly moving her hands and the expression of her face while talking. Gazira gave the actress' name to another video where the avatar gesticulates and where all kinds of expressions seem to fight and take power over her face.
For people like me who wear their lack of knowledge about SL on their sleeve with some kind of pride this might not seem much but the making of the video actually required some coding skills. In the virtual realm any gesture is the result of a script. Anna Magnani is thus more than a video, it is also (as the catalog, Gazira Babeli explains) a script that forces the avatar to perform all the animations present in his or her inventory, in random order, one after the other.
If Gazira is Saint Simon, i've had my epiphany the other day in rainy Brussels: Miss Babeli is like Anna Magnani, she's not beautiful, she's better than that.