Anna Dumitriu is the Director of the Institute of Unnecessary Research and an artist whose work is deeply grounded into scientific research. I met her a few weeks ago at the Mobile Music Workshop in Amsterdam where she was presenting Bio-Tracking, a mobile phone based exhibition using GPS and a software called Socialight which enabled the placement of virtual sticky notes around various locations in Brighton.


Anna sampled various locations in the city for bacteria and moulds, revealing this unseen world to us through digital micrographs. Luciana Haill, Ian Helliwell Ollie Glass and Juliet Kac created a series of sound works to accompany the images. Microbiologist John Paul wrote scientific text descriptions of the microbes.

The use of GPS, to map the locations where the microbiological swabs were taken, brought together the microscopic and the macroscopic, drawing a thread between the satellites orbiting the earth and the bacteria at our feet.

Visitors could download the software and wander around the sites receiving SMS, sound files and images to their phones. Due to the nature of Socialight the exhibition is still live and can be viewed now.

I was so impressed by Anna's enthousiasm and the sense of poetry she brings to an invisible world which i would otherwise find as exciting as a citrus juicer that i asked her to give us more details about her work:

The Bio-tracking Walk Source

How did you get interested in bacteria?

I've always been fascinated with microscopic forms, I think from childhood, but about 12 years ago a key area of research for me was the notion of immortality, that led me to an interest in cell biology, looking at immortalised cell lines such as HeLa Cells and I was invited to do a short residency at St Georges Hospital in London in their Clinical Genetics lab, I became increasingly interested in the differences between our media generated notions about science and the deeper story we don't normally get to hear about. The world of normal flora microbiology is really astonishing, to me it's sublime, there are more bacteria on the end of your finger than there are people in the world, I can't really get my head around that.

You told me (if i remember well) that you collaborated with scientists to develop your project. How do you think they perceive your work? Were they interested in your experiments?

Microbiologists seem to love my work because I am studying the things that they don't get to study. You don't become a microbiologist without the same fascination that I have for the microbial world but because of funding and other restrictions they aren't able to study the normal flora. Clinical Microbiology studies that 1% or so of bacteria that can make us ill, the ones I study are considered to be 'of no commercial or medical interest', it's the needle in a haystack thing, there might be something in that haystack worth looking scientifically at but you'd have to go through a huge amount of hay first, it won't produce the quick results or the scientific papers needed to secure funding.

0aabact56.jpgEpistemologically it's an interesting issue, where do we draw the line about what is studied? Money draws that line. But art is judged in other ways by funders, a questioning of our epistemology can be an important issue, the aesthetics of the work, the way the public is engaged is important (in terms of Arts Council England who fund alot of my work), so I can be funded to look at this area as an artist. In terms of scientific support I've been working with Eastbourne District General Hospital (through Arts in Healthcare) and The Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton as well as a number of other collaborators and institutions. The use of digital media is also important to me (I'm looking at looking computer modelling of bacteria and artificial life technology) and I am currently Artist in Residence at The Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at Sussex University, one of the leading Artificial Life research groups in the world, which is an amazing experience.

I should mention here that I am absolutely an artist, I don't consider myself a scientist, or a hybrid. My relationship to science is that I would rather not collaborate (actually I am not sure if that's entirely true), but what I mean is that I don't feel an artist is fully able to respond to scientific information without a proper knowledge of that subject. I am very hands on, I do all my own lab work (to me it's part of the making) and I am studying clinical microbiology as part of my (Fine Art) PhD, so rather than a superficial engagement with the concepts (a few chats with a scientist where an artist hears about some 'cool' ideas and goes about representing them) I'm basically trying to understand the issues and concepts from the inside and respond to them as an artist in the most informed way. There are equally valid arguements for remaining an outsider, I accept that, and interesting work is being made in that way but it's not how I want to go about it, not something that would achieve the results I am looking for.

I feel very strongly about engaging with the widest possible audience and use my skills to get these issues and concepts out to the public, I don't like the way that scientific language almost seems designed to be incomprehensible (or incommensurable), I believe anyone has the ability to understand anything if it is explained properly. Creating threads and networks of knowldege fascinates me, like bringing crocheters and scientists together to crochet a bed cover based on the light microscopy of the bacteria on my bed. It's a learning curve for everyone but the results, in terms of both the personal exchanges that take place and the resulting art object it's very worthwhile.

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Bio-tracking: Using the GPS and Playing the sound works

How much in general do you think that the science world can learn from the art world and vice-versa?

As far as I'm concerened the "claim to truth" that science has made since the Enlightenment is really now open to question. Notions of rational empiricism seem to be under attack as unachievable. The phenomenological relationship of the experimenter to the experiment is now becoming increasingly key. The ability of art to express multiple layers of meaning, from the analytical and the philosophical to the emotional makes it an ideal method to investigate knowledge within this new paradigm, acting, I believe, as a form of meta-knowledge.

Thanks Anna!

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Still trying to catch up with my notes from the Mobile Music Workshop. I doubt that i'll manage to post everything, the workshop's blog and flickr account and tag might be helpful if you want to fill in the blanks.

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Yolande Harris and gps trace of a boat on anchor

One of my favourite talks was Yolande Harris' presentation of Taking Soundings - Investigating Navigations and Orientations in Sound. During her presentation she explained how she connected live sounds to a gps receiver and discovered that although the gps doesn't move the sounds revealed changes in the reading of the satellite. She then mapped the traces of these sound over a certain period of time and it turns out that although the device is static, the readings indicate movements over relatively large distances. In such context, a building seems to be a "mobile" entity. Which leads to questions such as what does the word "mobile" actually mean? Is the entire system actually floating?
Atau Tanaka, Guillaume Valadon and Christophe Berger presented their paper Social Mobile Music Navigation Using The Compass, an interface that seeks to fuse elements of proximal interaction, geographic localization and social navigation to allow groups of wifi-equipped phone users to intuitively find friends, network connectivity or new music. Precursors of the project include TunA and Push!Music, Malleable Mobile Music, net_derive. Compass would facilitate music sharing tendencies witnessed when students use bluetooth or IR to exchange music on their mobile phones. A user of Compass seeking music to listen to would turn to its Compass to seach for friends who might be nearby. The user selects which friend he wants to contact and follows the Compass direction to walk within range of his or her friend. The system will then propose the two users to bootstrap a proximal network. Once this spontaneous private network is established, the two users compare playlists based on various musical criteria. A song of interest to the first user is then copied using the phone Wifi connectivity.


Dan Wilcox demoed the robotcowboy, a human­computer mobile performance that consists of a “one ­man band? wearable computer system which allows him to perform computer-based music without being tied down by the computer on stage. It is composed of a computer and input devices such as midi controllers, game controllers, and environmental sensors.

Wilcox' paper (PDF) mentions previous music projects that focused on soundwalk such as Sonic City, Sonic Interface, Bodycoder - a body sensor array which controls live sounds through Max/MSP environment, the MIT musical jacket, and CosTune (PDF) - a wireless jam session with users wearing mobile gestural instruments such as gloves, jacket and pants.


Bernhard Garnicnig and Gottfried Haider took us to the nearby park for a demonstration of Craving, a Spatial Audio Narrative. Wearing headphones and a portable computer equipped with a software that determines their position via GPS, users can listen to voices and sounds placed in precise locations.

Image of the robotcowboy stolen from Christophe Berger's flickr stream.

I've blogged, seen and talked about many artistic projects that remind us of the omnipresence of technologies of control --and in particular surveillance cameras-- in public space. And grown increasingly sceptical. The audience of such art works usually "knows", right? Most of them are already very critical of the big brotherization of our society. It sometimes feels like preaching to the converted. What about the others? Those who don't go to the ars electronica of the world or feel safer when they are video'd on CCTV, can they really be shaken by these artistic and activist projects? Is "trying to rise awareness" enough? I was thinking again about those questions today while travelling, arrived in Turin and stumbled upon an article on BBC news where Bill Thompson discusses an upcoming session at the ENTER_ conference that will take place in Cambridge at the end of the month. One of the projects presented is (re)collector, by James Coupe.


The installation uses footage from CCTV in Cambridge to extract daily storyline narratives, and make up larger computer generated feature films

Surveillance cameras were programmed to recognise and capture public activities including farewell scenes, meetings, escape scenes, chases, love scenes, etc. Each day over the festival, the results will be edited to produce a daily feature film, rather than a documentary, showing just how much variety, interest and excitement can be reflected in everyday lives. The daily films will be organised to have a premise, protagonists, locations, plot, etc. to be viewed at a public screening in Cambridge during the festival programme. Interesting, not as powerful as the Surveillance Camera Players but i'd love to see what comes out of it. Would innocent passersby be disturbed (or just amused) to discover that their most banal activities can be material for a soap CCTV opera?

I was about to leave the story as a link but 3 seconds after read about another surveillance project on plus six.

Tracking-the-trackers is a mobile unit that provides participants with an expanded audible experience of the proliferation of video surveillance in urban space. A bag contains a laptop, GPS-receiver, earphones, and a mouse is taken on a walk through the city. The sound in the headphones changes whenever the participant enters the vicinity of a surveillance camera. This effect is not automatic but created by other participants who are continuously adding new locations to the existing database.

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Track-the-trackers got all my attention because the technology used in the piece is documented with precise instructions to allow others to build similar systems and improve on the design. Apparently the last time they carried out the experiment was in 2004. Too bad... I might be sceptical but i still want to believe that artistic projects do matter.

0oldenbuuuur.jpgLast week i took the train to Oldenburg. That's a 3 and a half hour journey from Berlin. I checked the Soundbytes exhibition at the Edith Russ Haus, briefly saw the city ("briefly" was enough i think) then, back. Yes, that's another 3 and a half hour train trip. But the exhibition was well worth the bother.

Julian Opie's Escaped Animals, street signs with hedgehogs, squirrels or cats painted on them, are installed since 2002 at the entrance of the Edith Russ Haus. Good, put me in a merry mood straight away.

The starting point of the exhibition are mobile communications media and the new horizon they offer: be they mobile phones, the internet, wireless LAN or GPS, mobile media enable the listener to perceive everyday situations acoustically in a new way, overlapping electronic acoustic sound and data spaces, for example.

Soundbytes takes a look at the way artists are using these technologies to explore sound materials (especially those we cannot hear), develop innovative electronic acoustic concepts and create installations.


The space is not huge but it is big enough to comfortably host 9 pieces on two levels. First stop: the groundfloor.

The most striking work there is Yunchul Kim's (void)traffic which translates codes of a data stream into in waves of activity - with increased activity, the waves grow higher, and vice versa. ASCII signs and tones form an ever-moving organism that reflect the operations of the server in real time. This highly-aestheticised representation of the ongoing traffic of digital information is enchanting enough on its own, i sat there a while before feeling the need to look for a piece of text that explained what i had under the eyes.


Christina Kubisch was presenting some Electromagnetic Soundwave recordings and visuals.

In her ongoing Electrical Walks project, Kubisch wears specially designed headphones that capture electromagnetic signals from the environment and convert them into sound that she uses to create compositions. Magnetic Nets, for example, is composed from recordings of anti-theft gates of major shops around the world. The sounds (heard at Esprit, Gap, or H&M) are alike or very similar all over the world: globalization is manifested in security sounds. The more expensive the shop, the more aggressive and heavy the sound. Kubisch also discovered that the security gates at the entrance of some smaller shops are fake (via leonardo).

Visitors can get one of her those headphones and wander around the exhibition space to listen to the electromagnetic signals that surround them.

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Other pairs of headphones are also available for people who fancy a walk around downtown Oldenburg. The artist has previously mapped the most interesting sound places of the city. Visitors are invited to collect, burn on a DVD and take home those EM sounds.

The sounds will in turn be used by Christina Kubisch and Lutz Pruditsch, known as Tarkatak, for their music performance on Friday, 13. April, 8 pm. They will mix them live with their own recordings in a concert of neon advertising, security devices, mobile phones, automated teller machines, or electric devices.

I am not sure that i understood fully what Carl Michael von Hausswolff's installations were about. The woman at the entrance was not speaking a great english and i'm way behind my plans to learn german in 5 days without effort. There was a radar drawing and projecting on the wall an abstract luminous image that continuously changes.

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Here's what the press release said:
For Carl Michael von Hausswolff, delicate interference in the grid or disturbances caused on the paths of communications technologies are formable raw material he can translate into acoustic and visual terms. His take on them can be heard in installations RADAR und SPIRICOM and at his concert "Circulating over Square Waters" on March 2nd 2007.

At the Edith Russ Haus in Oldenburg, extended until April 29.
Flickr set. Image on top: micromusic, Lowtech music for hightech people.

Related: Invisible Geographies: New Sound Art from Germany, an exhibition about the "physical" topography of sound at the Kitchen in New York.

0goooape.jpgThe Ludic Society's Tagged City Play for Real Players in Real Cities was recently presented at Social Hacking, a series of temporary public art commissions for the city of Plymouth (UK).

Attracted by the slogan Become a game figure by implant!, participants were invited to get an injection of “RFID Judgement tags? under the skin. They then become Real Players, 1st life personae who are also game figures in the Reality Engine while playing in a real city. They can drive tuned Plymouth racing cars to tag the city and receive a tagging toolbox containing graffiti, spray stencils, stickers, RFID stickers and implant injection kits.

Real objects in the city are subjectively chosen for tagging. The tags are functional but useless (RFID-tags with zero data.) By putting this zero-tag on an object, players de-valuate real world things into virtual play-objects. If the Real Players find a tagged object with a value assigned to it, they zap it. The goal is to change the value of tags into the value Zero by using their “Wunderbäumchen? (inspired by the car air fresheners in the shape of a pine), technical toys used for finding and reading tags and/or emitting a target-oriented electro magnetic pulse.

0aaadammap.jpgThe players come in person to the play's Pit Stop to be refreshed and to be read. The ID information carried by the bodies of game figures/real players is uploaded. The implants are scanned to receive an individual play time pattern.

The Pata Play Map, a collectively en-played graphical machine, shows the score of each player depending on objects tagged and de-tagged. Depending on each player’s RFID-number, it generates a graphical element to display the routes between tagging actions over a satellite map. Each location of a tagging action is marked with a Wunderbäumchen sign. The interface integrates GIS systems such as Google Earth and Wikimapia. The look of the map as game score and display, for uploading subjective play data, forms the uncensored on-line map of ‘the Internet of things’.

The difference to existing locative mapping games is that it is no Game, just play, according to the Ludic Society slogan: We sell Play – no Games!

Via internetactu.

I never post calls for projects* for two reasons: i'm too lazy to keep up with them and nettime-ann and networked_performance already do a great job at informing artists about residency and exhibition opportunities.

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Waymarkr, bagels and You Are Not Here

I do one exception for the Conflux festival because i had such a fantastic time there last year, it is THE most stimulating, fun and smart people-infested event i attended in 2006. Conflux takes place in Brooklyn and invites visual and sound artists, writers, urban adventurers and the public to explore the physical and psychological landscape of the city.

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Clusterings and Air

Conflux by definition is interactive, presenting projects that require a participatory audience. Festival events are free and open to the public and include lectures and panels, street games, public walking tours, workshops, tech-enabled expeditions, interactive performance, temporary public art installations and interventions, audio/video projects and more.

Please, please, join the fun in September. Christina Ray has just posted a call for proposals.

And be fast, the deadline is April 17.

* there's a free and lazily updated "website/call of the moment" banner dedicated to that on the hompage.

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