Heidi Kumao's art pieces explore ordinary social interactions in order to reveal what lies beneath them: psychological states, emotions, compulsions, thinking patterns, and dreams. She is currently teaching animation, video, experimental television production, and electronic and conceptual art at the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. For 2007-08, she has been awarded a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.


A few years ago i discovered her set of female kinetic sculptures "Misbehaving: Media Machines Act Out," and classified her work under robotics and kinetics. Then i stumbled upon the performative techno-enhanced series of clothing she had developed and here i was trying to fit her work inside the "wearable" category. A closer look on her portfolio revealed household objects sabotaged to become cinema machines, overtly activist projects and the geekiest wedding cake i had ever seen. The experience taught me that any attempt to classify of her work would be pure folly unless i'd try to trick her into giving me a helping hand:

Resist, 2002

You first graduated in photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. How did you come to work with kinetic installations, RFID activist projects and quirky wedding cakes? What made you broaden the scope of your artistic practice?

This is a big question, so I'll answer it in sections as a way to answer the larger issue of shifts in artistic practice. How I get from here to there to there to there...

Re: transition from photography to sculpture

The Art Institute had a very interdisciplinary photo department at the time and we were really encouraged to "go outside the box" of photography, to mix photography with other media, to be artists who USE photography rather than pure photographers. In the 80's and 90's, photography was exploding in 100 different directions and open to a variety of approaches. Everything was possible. Everything could be photographic in some way.


When I entered graduate school as a photographer I was already starting to work with sequential imagery. I was driven by a need to animate physical gestures and behaviors as indicators of psychological states. Simultaneously, I was collecting domestic objects and record players and researching pre-cinema devices and the 19th century creation of spectacle, Emile Reynaud's praxinoscope from the 1880's, in particular. My first kinetic works were homemade-looking zoetropes that projected a sequential loop of 12 images: a child being spoon-fed, a woman's legs curtseying, a woman frantically sweeping. Like a memory that can't be repressed, each animated sequence repeated endlessly and mechanically. In this way, each object seemed to be speaking with its images, a visual and mechanical voice replacing text. Much like the girls' legs I made much later, they were an artificial life form, a stand-in for a real person that I could construct and bring life to. These "cinema machines" (as I called them) allowed me to combine all of my interests (photography, performance, sculptural assemblage and the psychology of everyday life), into one art form. I loved working this way and continued to create cinema machines for several years.

Defense Mechanism

RE: Installation

While much of my work could be categorized as "kinetic installation," a more accurate descriptor might be "animated tableau." I tend to think of myself as a theater director, staging events for the viewer. A lot of my art practice is about creating a situation for something to unfold over time. This grew organically out of my experience staging photographs. It seems to be a mode of art making to which I am intuitively drawn.

Each tableau intentionally uses recognizable objects that suggest a possible scenario from everyday life. As I craft each piece, I am very conscious of the psychological experience that is created for the viewer. Can the space of each tableau imply both a physical site and a psychological state? How can I make the viewer re-examine seemingly ordinary events such as childhood play, family dynamics, television news or even the wearing of clothes?

Still from Zapped! video

RE: RFID Activist projects

I worked on Zapped! a multi-part project about the mass implementation of RFID technology with Preemptive Media in 2005. I met the members of Preemptive Media (Beatriz da Costa , Jamie Schulte, and Brooke Singer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA where I was a Microsoft Artist-in-Residence Fellowship for 1999-2000. Besides being a great school for robotics, computing, AI, engineering and art, Pittsburgh happened to be an amazing hub for art collectives, tactical media practitioners, and technological art at that time. I was surrounded by tons of brilliant people including folks from Critical Art Ensemble, Institute for Applied Autonomy, and Subrosa, to name a few. Just being in this environment made me rethink my artistic process completely, and motivated me to learn how to incorporate electronics, microprocessors, computing, and digital imagery into my work.

Before we ever did Zapped! a few of us had collaborated on a project (Nomadika) about data-veillance and wireless technologies for the 2001 Sculpture Conference in Pittsburgh. We educated and informed the public about the future of data mining by opening a storefront for our fake marketing firm. Researching data mining and privacy loss in our contemporary era later led Preemptive Media to the project on RFID, which seemed to be (at the time) yet another way in which corporations and the government would invade citizens' privacy. As someone who creates and teaches animation and video, my primary role in the collaboration was to make the educational video from all of the research and information we had unearthed as a result of this project.

After working solo for so long, I relished the opportunity to collaborate with others on a project.


RE: quirky wedding cakes

The 6,000 volt wedding cake was a collaborative project with my husband, Michael Flynn, a high school physics teacher and science exhibit designer. As two mechanically minded people, we decided that our cake had to reflect our interests in machines and the project grew from there. It started with the idea to have two cakes cut to look like interlocking gears and progressed to two motorized cakes on gear-run platforms. Michael made two dolls that represented us in our wedding costumes. These dolls were going to stand on the top of each cake and would basically pass one another every time the cakes turned. Eventually, I thought we needed to incorporate an electric "spark" between the dolls, like the "spark" between us (cheesy, I know). This led to the idea of using a Jacob's Ladder to generate a much larger spark. Michael purchased a neon sign transformer and wired the cakes and dolls with opposing charges. When powered on, the cakes turn, and once a turn, the dolls hands meet and a large flaming spark erupts from their meeting hands. It's pretty funny. And like other collaborative projects I've done, it was loads of fun!. Our "how to" article appeared in Make Magazine.

What made you broaden the scope of your artistic practice?

When I look over the various transitions I have made with respect to media

(from photo to cinema machines to kinetic sculptures to animation to collaborative technological projects), I can map those changes onto personal and cultural moments of change. For many years, I made a life as an artistic nomad. I relocated every year or two for jobs, fellowships or other opportunities. This experience of having to re-contextualize and refocus myself in so many different places shaped my art practice in a deep way. Each time I moved, the new school, city or community raised new issues to consider. For example, (like I said earlier) as a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon, I was exposed to art practices that critically engaged technology rather than simply used technology. I had access to people, tools, and resources such as machine shops for the creation of custom parts, computer programmers, robotics labs, video editing equipment, etc. As a result of being at Carnegie Mellon, my work shifted away from more personal themes towards more political issues and cultural critique.

While I had been using technology for many years, my time at CMU caused me to rethink how I used it and why.

Exposure to such a large computing environment had other long-term effects on my art that didn't show up until much later. Researchers in AI, computing, robotics and gaming exposed me to the possibilities of generative artwork, which was a complete paradigm shift from creating "fine art" objects for the art world. I was excited to think about making a dynamic system or a tool as an artwork rather than a fixed object. However, it took me awhile to decide on a project that would best be served by this approach.

Later, when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9-11 and the proliferation of cable news caused me to analyze the visual and conceptual construction of the news broadcast more critically. CNNplusplus, an interactive and dynamic news broadcast, was born a few years later (in collaboration with Chip Jansen.


The short answer to your question is simply new places, new people and A.D.D. or the tendency to get bored easily...

You seem to navigate effortlessly from one discipline to another but are there particular issues or elements that you keep returning to?

Yes! I find that I return to an exploration of ordinary social interactions and their psychological undercurrents, institutional critique (mainstream media, traditional gender roles, others), and performance (creating theatrical spectacle, behaving/acting social roles, performing for a camera). I view performance as an integral part of everyday experience and define it very broadly: as a means to define our identity and sexuality, as an examination of roles we play as employees or family members, and as a tool for self-expression. Every piece has its origins in everyday life: an argument, a memory of childhood, the frustrations of watching television, the act of being a consumer--

My art making process is grounded in these types of experiences.

Combining these three things together has produced two main types of work that are pretty different (at least to me):

1) Work that emphasizes a visceral experience and tells a more personal story: the "cinema machines," the girls' legs, stop-motion animations, and my latest shadow theater pieces


2) interactive projects that are more overtly political and use technology to critique technology: CNNplusplus, Zapped!, Wired Wear

Monitor II: Audio-activated Dress, 2005

I find I am drawn to the more personal works because they provide an outlet for me to imply/suggest a critique of institutions of power without being so literal. Almost every piece starts with a personal story of some kind and the creation of a tableau is an opportunity to create a visual poem of images and objects together. By exposing the physical apparatus that drives the bodies into action, I draw a parallel between this machinery and the mechanisms of our unconscious: defense mechanisms, sex drives, thinking patterns, self control, dreams, impulses, instincts.

With the public/interactive projects, the emphasis is more educational and/or ironic. Working collaboratively removes the personal emphasis and creates opportunities to address larger cultural issues and their effects on the general public.

protest_uica03.jpgMisbehaving is a series of three female "performers" for intimate installations. What is the performative part of the work?

Misbehaving consists of three pairs of aluminum, mechanized legs fitted with girl's shoes: Protest, Resist and Translator. The legs in Protest stomp loudly and unpredictably while standing on a coffee table. In Resist, a pair of girl's legs squirms on the floor in a way that is both sexualized and challenging in response to viewers' speech. The girl in Translator is trapped on a track between two "adult" chairs with video projectors for heads. As viewers hand crank her from one side to the other, she becomes like a child caught between two feuding parents, or a political mediator, whose body/screen reveals/exposes the real text of the conversation through non-verbal gestures.

With these pieces, I was thinking about the performance of gender, especially for little girls. We learn what is appropriate behavior so early that it becomes naturalized, we don't realize that we perform it. In developing these pieces, I wanted to intentionally create girls that perform "badly", act out, misbehave, or act against type. As machines and girls, these works operate in stark contrast to a culture obsessed with "increasing job performance," high performance cars, and athletic performance. Their acts of defiance are small, yet powerful, signs of agency.


The kinetic girls legs have also some feminist (may i use that word?) undertones. Why is it still important to propose a view on feminism today?

YES, you may (and SHOULD) use the word "feminist." I consider myself a feminist and I think the stigma around the word (created by conservative males) has (unfortunately) had its prescribed effect of preventing people from self-identifying as feminists.

Those legs were born out of my experience at Carnegie Mellon where I was surrounded by really macho robots: machines that can fight fires or repair a nuclear reactor, robots for combat, robots for Mars, etc. At the same time, television programs were priming the mainstream public for what I call "performative robotics," including BattleBots and Robo-wars, as vehicles for violent entertainment. With technological art and computing still so male dominated, and the research funding driven by the Defense Department, I do think it's important to remind ourselves that robotics has a range of applications that are social, psychological, poetic, beautiful, and quirky. Are those feminist, or just alternatives to the mainstream?

I think it's important to maintain a vigilant feminist critique of the world in the same way that it's important to be vigilant about racism and economic justice.

Sometimes people forget that feminism has benefited EVERYONE, not just women. Civil Rights legislation in the US has benefited everyone, not just African-Americans. In the developed world, we have this idea that everything has been "accomplished" when really, it's just a way to keep people complacent and apathetic.

A couple of years ago you developed Zapped! together with the other members of Preemptive Media. The work examines the mass deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and its effects on our everyday activities. At the time the website of the project said that "RFID is not yet a household name or a pervasive technology, but Preemptive Media predicts that everyday encounters with this technology (whether known or not) will soon be commonplace." How much has changed ever since? How much is the public aware of the possible downsides of RFID technology?


In October 2006, the US started issuing passports with RFID chips that include a digital photo and all other information currently printed in passports. These passive tags in passports are only a small beginning of all-around use as they can be embedded into nearly everything you buy, wear, read, or drive. At the time we did the piece, there was a common fear of surveillance--that by carrying items with tags, you could be tracked, your personal data could be compromised, etc. The reality is that the tags need to be scanned at such a close proximity (a few millimeters) that it's difficult for someone to scan your item without your knowledge. Plus, if all the tag has is a reference number (for another database) rather than concrete data, there isn't much to gain by secretly scanning...In general, as with so many of these new technologies (GPS, for example), people choose convenience over privacy. In our current climate, you can't have both. We all love the convenience of having a cell phone, even though they all have GPS chips. You don't hear people complaining about the possibility of being located through triangulation of their cell phone chip. At least not yet. I think that data privacy is the new "civil rights" issue of our time--at least in the US where there aren't many data privacy laws.


I've always been fascinated by the story of the roach release. I saw a brief mention of it a newspaper one day. Can you explain us what it was about and in which context it took place? But also, how did the public react to the idea?

The roach release was but one part of the Zapped! project. The multi-part project included the educational video, a school kit for "arming" yourself against RFID surveillance, the roach release station, and educational workshops. Each of these reached a different segment of the population with the goal of not only informing the public about the technology, but also providing them with means with which they might take action against it.


At the time, WalMart was setting the standards for RFID implementation by requiring its top manufacturers to embed tags into the cases and pallets of merchandise. As the largest retailer in the world, its protocol affects the business practice of nearly everyone in merchandising. WalMart pushed for this change touting its increased inventory efficiency. At this point, we speculated that if a WalMart had RFID readers and a corresponding database, they would all be located in the loading dock/storage area of the store. We discussed different ways to use or subvert the signal of the WalMart RFID reader- for passive tags, it sends a small signal in order to read the information on the tag and puts that information into a database. As we went round and round with ideas for tricking/toying with this Goliath, the idea boiled down to creating a small interruption in/jamming the WalMart RFID database. If WE couldn't gain access to the loading dock and the readers, perhaps we could send a robot, or, as Beatriz da Costa suggested, a rodent or insect in our place. The final solution was to send a cockroach (with an preprogrammed RFID tag glued to its back) into the store's loading dock area. The RFID tag was programmed with a small text message of resistance--and would definitely cause a "hiccup" in a database that was accustomed to standardized product information. In the video, we gave instructions on how to do a "roach release," and in Houston (at Diverseworks), we gave away all the Zapped! roaches. I am not at liberties to say anything about the actual release. The public loved the idea and the roach became the project's mascot.


Any other Wal-Mart action?

Not with that piece.

What was the impetus for the audio-activated DRESS? How do you exhibit it (or any of your other wearable pieces for that matter)? As part of a performance? As a static piece in a gallery? As a garment you can lend to gallery-goers?

The wearables started as an idea for a fun Halloween costume. I was initially inspired by the humor that could result from providing visual feedback, especially on a woman's body. The lights on the dress light up incrementally, starting at the bottom when the sound is softer, and lighting up the entire column when it becomes very loud. When I wear the dress, I become a walking audio-meter which is really an absurd (and poetic?) image. These pieces are custom made to fit my body, and I use them in humorous video performances. The project is less about the objects and more about what I can do with them. So far, I have exhibited them as objects on mannequins with a video that shows them in use. In the end, the final product is really the short videos. There are many more places I can take them...

Videos 1, 2 and 3.

You seem to be attracted by the idea of "intimacy". Which one of your works expresses the idea better and why?

As an artist, I use machines, projected imagery, and animation because they offer me a visually compelling way to investigate what is unseen: psychological states, emotions, compulsions, neuroses, desires, dreams. I find that I naturally gravitate towards work that examines everyday behavior and personal issues. I've called my work "intimate installation" because of its scale (human sized objects), its content (domestic and interpersonal issues) and its viewer experience (dark or dimly-lit rooms). With a minimum of objects, each tableau recreates a private ritual or occurrence for the viewer. I use the word "intimate" to describe the spaces I create and to draw a distinction between my domestic theaters and other large-scale environments.


"Letter Never Sent" is a good example of this. In this piece, video footage captured under a dissection microscope is projected onto the space of the typewriter page. Sounds of a woman weeping, a doorbell ringing, and someone knocking on the door are juxtaposed with black ink creeping up the page and fading, and turbulent, dirty water which seems to spit out from the base of the typewriter. With this piece, I was trying to describe one woman's difficult experience of writing a letter that is erased or never sent because it is too harsh, too truthful. Rather than use words, I used fluids, like emotions, to wash over the page like a wave. The page is filled and emptied again and again, similar to how one might write and edit oneself in pursuit of the perfect correspondence. Even though the work explores one person's intimate experience, I think we can all relate to written communication, self-censorship and the strong emotions that result.

Yet another video:

You are also teaching at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. What are your courses about? Can you give us a few examples of your students' projects?

At this University, I am mostly teaching animation, video and various conceptual classes (this fall, an introductory class on TIME!). The most enjoyable courses focus on creating material for "experimental television broadcasts," and rethinking the space of the television as an art gallery for time-based work. I know it seems like an old idea since video art first emerged as an alternative to mainstream television, but here at the University of Michigan, we have a unique collaboration with our local PBS station, WFUM. PLAY is a "collaborative project from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design and Michigan Public Media, transforming the gallery space for time-based media." This project features time-based work (video, animation, documentary, performance, other experimental forms) by faculty and students in the School of Art and Design. Selected pieces air on television as interstitials-in between programs at the top of the hour, say between "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and "Antique Roadshow," while all submissions are viewable on the web. In my class, "Animation for Broadcast," students get real-world experience producing fun promotional pieces as well as content (under 3 min.) for this gallery space we call a television. You can see some of their promo animations here. They were encouraged to think about the concept behind PLAY Gallery (an online, virtual place for art, television as gallery space) and play (the activity). They were given the PLAY logo and could do just about anything with it.

I think it's a really great moment in history to reconsider what television and broadcast can be, do, say: with the YouTube-ization of the world, everyone's a performer, everyone's a filmmaker. How does that impact what we make and produce?

Any upcoming project you could tell us about?

I'm working on some totally new and different works. "Timed Release" is a series of performative portraits focusing on people who have developed a creative mental space to survive physical confinement. Paper cutouts and small kinetic sculptures contained in bell jars or other containers are brought to life through video projection to create illusionary shadow theater. It's an engaging hybrid of image and object...

Thanks Heidi!

Sponsored by:

While i was at LABoral visiting the Homo Ludens Ludens exhibition, i got to live the uncanny experience of being bossed around by wooden boxes that deliver Situation(ist) quotes, order me to bring them to their friends (which were also boxy and made of wood), carry them upstairs within 30 seconds, and treat them like princesses. I felt like a puppet in the hands of Objects of Desire, the latest game of Ludic Society. This international association of artists, game practitioners and theorists seek to provoke a new artistic re/search discipline, best addressed as 'ludics' (cf. some of their previous works: Tagged City Play for Real Players in Real Cities and The Pong Dress).


Objects of Desire is a Neo-Situationist's walk in the company of capricious spimes through an invisible city of electromagnetic waves. The play-map constitutes of real names of wireless access points, found during a "WIFI-Sniff" through the city of Gijon. Names of actual urban WIFI zones (my favourite was called Familia Alvarez) are mapped and tagged like street-names in the exhibition space while aether waves with the same subjective names are also superimposed on the arts space, as playground.


Instead of writing down what the game is about, i'll just send you to the video of the game . It clearly explains the developments, mechanics and rules of the game. And because the plot unfolds in sunny Gijon and LABoral, you'll also get an idea of what both the city and the art center are like.

I asked Ludite Margarete Jahrmann (who developed the game together with Fleshgordo, imonym, Rene Bauer,
and MosMaxHax) to give us more details about their game:

How does the game work technically? Does it use rfid?

Yes, each object is tagged with a RFID tag. Our self-built LS-Gerät can sniff each box and based on the RFID number and cabbalistic numerology rules the object's desire will be appointed.

On the other side, we hide a couple of WIFI network clouds (some openWRT hacked linksys routers) in the exhibition space by which each player is located through the built-in WIFI function of Nintendo DS. The clouds are named and geographically located like access points in Gijon-city.

Basically, it is a very speculative motion tracking, like a triangulation with cell phones, virtual and real. Anyhow we used them as an inverse surveillance for each player. Each move is logged ;)


The Ludic extensions of SM (standard model) game consoles are extremely beautiful. How exactly do you craft them? Does each shape correspond to a particular function?

They were all DIY self-built and designed in our LSCV (Ludic Society Chapter Vienna). The design is conceptually connected to our ideas of a PCB - 'Pata Circuit Boards - which are standing for Imaginary Machines and Devices of Wonder (read more about in issue#1 of LS magazine).


Each LS-Reader is equipped with a voltage booster, a Wunschmaschine, not only referring to our concept but also in Real by literally lifting the supply voltage up from 3 to 5 Volts. Each shape corresponds to a different conceptual starting point. The little tree refreshes the EM (electromagnetic) aether while the "Blitz" refers to our notion of BlitzPlay (Urban Guerrilla Street Play Tactics - TAZ). The circular shaped PCB is a sequel of our LudicWheel, a living machine, built for playing the game- and the reality engine either-way.


What is the story or motivation behind the objects' stories and desires?

Playtarget: inverse surveillance by mobile toy-gadgetry...walks between WIFI and RFID waves-.. the city waves in Gijon - site specific metaphors...
Some parables between the electromagnetic waves of a city and the waves of the sea...

Then about the inverse control of objects by subjects - a domination and surveillance PlaySurVeillance ;) by "Subjectivated" objects... with eeach RFID tag, the internet of
things gains more power. The boxes are just placeholder for any commodity or tagged object...

Based on what you could observe while you were in Gijon, how did people react to the uncanny experience of being bossed around by wooden boxes?

0aaerichberger.jpgIt was funny to watch people how exciting they became by obeying some very simple instructions, just for the sake of getting some points on a virtual screen. Some were lying on the floor (even the curator Erich Berger), standing against the wall for a minute or shouting out loud.

But with each game, it depends on the *player's obedience* to the rules.

The readers are new bachelor machines to extend the Standard model game

Originally we (in that case me and 3 more Ludic Society members - PM ONG, Fleshgordo and imonym in conjunction with marguerite charmante) thought about making a game through the whole exhibition- with objects tagged - which have certain behaviours -- the visitors shall bring them to their "natural born home" of the Objects (OOH) which is stored in the RFID tag of the object...), we wanted to further develop Ludic Society's urban games into a white cube test area.

Thanks Margarete!

Previous posts about the exhibition in LABoral: Homo Ludens Ludens - Play in contemporary culture and society, the Art of War.

It's Monday and although everyone else is probably thanking Easter break for providing them with an opportunity to lay in bed until lunch time, i've been up early to give the final touch of my presentation about RFID and art at the RFID workshop that iMAL organizes this week in Brussels as part of its series of New Brave World events. You can follow the episodes of the workshop on its blog.

With Hidden Numbers, Meghan Trainor

Just a parenthesis: tomorrow at 8,30 pm Atau Tanaka will give a talk at iMAL about Mobile Music and his other locative media based projects. I wouldn't miss it if i were in a 200-mile radius.


Because rfid had kind of moved away from my radar over the past couple of years, i decided to sex up a bit the preparation of my presentation and share a part of the results with you.

Instead of my usual routine of "let's see what's available and what do i think of that?" routine, i interviewed 5 artists (Paula Roush, Doria Fan, Joshua Klein, David Kousemaker and Meghan Trainor) as well as our favourite expert from Tokyo (Konomi Shin'ishi) about their experience with RFID technology. What comes below doesn't reflect my presentation which was focusing on the ethical and cultural implications of the technology. I used these interviews as background research and thought they might be useful mainly for the workshop participants but also for some readers. So here they are:

1. Doria Fan

Doria Fan was on my victims list because of the sheer gorgeousness of her Medical Alert (RF)ID Bracelet. Technically: a rfid tag has been embedded into the medical ID tag. When the tag is read, the bracelet links the patient to his or her online medical history and automatically places a call to their emergency contact. It would let them know the patient is unwell, and that their records have been accessed.


How and why did you start using rfid in your own projects? What made its use necessary?

I started looking at RFID when I was a student at ITP, during the spring of 2006 for my thesis project, which was about object annotation (description). I was interested in how we relate to things, what these artifacts say about us, and how they often serve as proxies for relationships with people. I was taken by the idea that there is a story behind every object. We make and collect physical things -- artifacts-- that we attach a lot of meaning to. These objects often serve as memory triggers. I was looking at the role of objects (memorabilia, souvenirs, etc.) in storytelling and how digital media can mediate the retelling of memories. I was trying to "embed" personal histories into inanimate objects.

RFID provided a way to link, or embed, information to physical objects. RFID is an identification technology that is fairly discreet and can be embedded in most materials. Tags come in all sizes and shapes, and frequently require no power source, and are fairly indestructible. I considered other (automatic) identification technology, including bar code, semacode optical character readers, retinal scan, etc. I chose to use RFID because it is not a optical/visual identification system. It is physically discreet and less obtrusive. I felt that it was important that the tag didn't overwhelm the object it was identifying. I didn't want to put a large bar code on something of (sentimental) value. And, in the case of the bracelets, I didn't want the technology to overwhelm the aesthetic of the piece of jewelry.

One of the bigger challenges of physical computing and wearables is packaging the circuitry. Size does matter. It'd be hard to view that bracelet in the same way if it were tethered to a lot of wires and a breadboard.

0aashapingt.jpgHow much of Bruce Sterling's vision of spimes do you share? Did anything in your experience with RFID confirmed in any way his prophecies of an upcoming spime'd world?

I have read Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things, and also Julian Bleecker's Why Things Matte (PDF)r. I'll leave it to others to write manifestos. I'm happier when I'm making things. To me, RFID is another technology that is part of my suite of tools and materials to make stuff.

We have the technology to collect and process a lot of data. I'm more interested in the narrative -- qualitative than quantitative information. I'm more prone to remember a good story than facts and figures. My personal view is that of all the data we record, the most precious ones are stories. These are impressions --- real, reconstructed, or imagined memories -- that are a trace of our human experience. Ultimately, the network of things, that they both write about, is connected to a network of people.

There's a lot of controversy surrounding RFID, are you optimistic or worried about the way it is and it will be used?

I'm not any more optimistic or worried about RFID than any other technology out there. Humans are capable of great kindness and cruelty. That is independent of any technology. There will always be something newer down the line, and there will always be debates about the ethics. For people who are worried about the implications of any technology, the best way to allay your fears is to educate yourself about the technology. Knowledge is power.

Privacy, surveillance -- those are real concerns. A lot of people fixate on this for better or worse, when dealing with RFID. I chose not to. When I made the bracelets, my basic premise was that I was going to ignore the issue of privacy altogether, because it gets plenty of attention already. I wanted to deal more with other more pressing issues that are often ignored when designing for healthcare and personal well-being. I was more interested in issues of self-expression and identity, particularly in situations where the user has no choice in wearing a technology, i.e. for medical (assistive technologies be it for a physical or mental disability, etc.), safety, utilitarian reasons, where I find issues of self-identity much more pressing. A person's health affects not only themselves, but the people around them, so I thought it was important that this be a true networked object. The bracelet provides access to a person's medical history, and places a phone call to the person's emergency contact.

This is just one example. There are so many other cool ways RFID, and networked devices, can be used.

What were the challenges and glitches of RFID technology you encountered while using it?

Yes! Figuring out different protocols and getting different things networked can be hard. This is coming from someone who doesn't derive great pleasure in staring at manuals and code. However, the outcome makes it worthwhile. In moments of frustration, beer or a run help, too.

In of itself, I don't find RFID that exciting. When it's connected to a greater network (e.g. a database, the web, other intelligent devices, etc.) , that's when it can get really interesting. Dealing with the different protocols was the tricky part for me.

Any advice for artists who would like to use RFID in their projects?

Read the manual. Learn to read the manual and the spec sheets, granted they're not always user-friendly. All the info is there to get you started.

There are a handful of RFID readers that are available and affordable for artists, designers, and students to use for prototyping and proof of concept. There's a lot info online, too, from folks working on projects, who can write about their work and research in laymen's terms. I've found that people are very generous with their knowledge.

A bit unrelated. these bracelets are gorgeous. do you sell them? and did you do the design yourself?

Thank you. No, I don't think the question is "unrelated" at all.

Yes, I did design the bracelets. I think the design of the bracelet is very relevant and integral part of the project, even more so than the (RFID) technology behind it. The typical person engaging with a product/project is more interested in the experience, than the nuts and bolts behind it. Part of reason medical ID bracelets, and other "utilitarian" things out there are underused, is because they don't address some of the basic needs, such as self-expression and identity, of the person its designed for. Emotional, visceral, psychological needs are not to be underestimated in the success of a product or experience. While making it, I was just as interested in design of the bracelet than the technology (RFID, Asterisk) behind it. One of my requirements for this project is that bracelets had to be attractive.

No, currently, they aren't for sale, although I have received a few inquiries, which is encouraging. I'm guessing that the people inquiring about the bracelet are drawn more to the design of it than the technology.

Thanks Doria!

More info on the bracelets on Doria's website and on the course page.

2. David Kousemaker, Blendid

Next is David Kousemaker from Blendid.
He was one of the developers of iTea, an uncanny tea table that spilled "facts" of your own life on its surface during the Picnic conference in Amsterdam last September.


By dropping your conference Tag in an old porcelain tea cup, the system will search the internet for data about you. The information will start to appear on a flat projection underneath the cup. Sentences will appear as ripples and move out towards the edges of the center.

The system searches the Picnic social network for information about this person, it will also do a google search to retrieve even more "facts" on him/her. Together, these facts will blend and show the (hopefully) untrue image that person has been given by the community on the net. In fact, it is even possible to use information appearing on social networks like Flickr, hyves and hotmail. Be aware and beware of the global opinion about you!


I was truly charmed by iTea when i saw it last year at Picnic in Amsterdam. I was also amazed at how fast you managed to imagine it, build it and have it working. Behind its playfulness there is an element of critique and awareness (i think!) Do you think that we should be more afraid than happy about new technologies and about RFID in particular?

Although I recognize its double face, on the whole I'm personally quite optimistic about technology's ability to improve our lives. Many of the concepts that inspire the fierce debate on RFID and privacy are part of scenarios we live through every day already. Most of us are probably aware the huge surveillance capabilities of mobile phone networks, yet few of us dare to be without our handsets. Having this privacy debate late might be better than not having it at all. I'm just not sure if narrowing the discourse to such a specific technology is that helpful.


What was the biggest challenge when building iTea and how did you overcome it?

The iTea was build with a group of designers/artists who initially didn't really know each other very well. It took us some time to figure out what direction we wanted to work in. On a 3 day project the clock is obviously one of the biggest possible challenges, but I think coming up with a concept that made use of our individual talents was the trickiest task.

Any other projects where you used RFID with success?

In the last year or 2, we've used RFID in a several different Blendid projects. We developed an interactive media playing straitjacket for 2 dutch artists (Straitjacket Embrace) with RFID tags and readers build in to trigger different audio and video samples. We also used RFID in Wixel Play, a very physical computer game we created for the Cinekid festival.

Straitjacket Embrace

More generally, what does RFID bring to a project that you can't achieve with any other technology?

Many people seem to think RFID systems can tell us the exact locations of particular tags. This is only partly true as(for the moment) RFID systems can only tell us if a particular tag is in close proximity of the reader (about 10 cm). We have used these boolean proximity signals as triggers for events in our games or installations. Being able to use objects with hidden tags or readers as a direct interface brings something both obvious and magical to our designs.

Thanks David!

3. Josh Klein

Next, i asked Joshua Klein (he of the Vending Machine for Crows) to tell us something about OwnYourStuff. Joshua and his wife made a site that enabled them to track everything they own. "The basic premise is that having both quantitative and qualitative metadata about your things allows you to more closely examine your relationship to those things. It's been our experience that this maximizes the quality and lowers the quantity of your stuff (and thus reduces the time, expense, and attention that stuff demands.) Right now this seems daunting as we've had to enter in everything by hand, but as RFID technology gets more pervasive this sort of examination is going to become available to everyone - whether we like it or not."

I read on the website of Own Your Stuff that you've been working on this project for several years. Was RFID part of the project right from the start? How and why did you start using it for OYS?

OYS isn't yet using RFID as we're working with several major manufacturers to find the best resource. We're really interested in using as open a hardware platform as possible so to analysis and code that we develop can be available to everyone. That means being able to read a wide range of tags, specifically.

Your idea was inspired by Bruce's spimes. How much of his vision do you share? Did anything in your experience with RFID confirmed in any way his prophecies of an upcoming spime'd world?

Yes and no. For example, I think that we'll see a huge rise in RFID'd goods, but I don't know that this will cause them to automatically start staffing themselves in our home. For example, a huge proportion of the items you buy are boxed, and the boxes are tagged with RFID. The boxes go out in the trash, but the goods stay behind.

This means that different classes of items are likely to be readable in the home, depending on the market, packaging, manufacturing, as well as local and individual trends. So while I think Bruce has a very solid handle on things the transition to the services he describes is going to be scattershot and erratic. Which is pretty much in line with what he describes, really. :)

There's a lot of controversy surrounding RFID, are you optimistic or worried about the way it is and will be used?

Certainly, although I'm pretty concerned about the lack of privacy concerns that exist now. In the US polls indicate that people are happy to give up freedoms in exchange for perceived security - hence the current state of airport theater. I'd rather worry about my online transactions being recorded before I worry about someone being able to tell how many cans of peaches I bought.

Since you've been working with RFID for several years, what were the challenges and glitches of the technologies you encountered while using it?

As I understand it the biggest problems with RFID are range and noise - specifically how many tags you can read at once. Conceptually RFID is very clean, but the reality of it is that, like any energy signal, it's prone to being disrupted by other signals, by proximity, by the number of items in a certain configuration or size of area, etc. We like to think that we could just aim an RFID detector at a room and be told what and where every item is, but it's hard to do that really reliably.

That's a big part of the reason why our own design is using doorways to limit the detection area.

Thanks Josh!

Rafael Macedo de la Concha, the first RFID'd attorney general

4. Meghan Trainor

Meghan Trainor was on the top of my list of artists to interviewed because she's been one of the first to investigate artistic uses of RFID.

How and why did you start using rfid in your own projects?

In 2004 I was halfway through getting my Master's degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP.). I had a background in traditional visual art, but had come to ITP to explore technology as a medium, and had become increasingly interested in the aesthetics of ubiquitous computing. Computational media was interesting to me, but I wanted my audience to experience it outside of the standard computer screen keyboard interface. Tom Igoe's Physical Computing & Networked Objects classes had a huge impact in the evolution of these ideas. So in the summer of 2004 when I read Dumbing Down Smart Objects, an article by Bruce Sterling about RFID, I caught the RFID bug. He described a landscape that was going to allow data to seep into the physical word that really spoke to where my head was at already, plus as a bonus you could inject these things. What was different about RFID, as compared to other methods of bringing technology into physical objects, was that the cost of a single tag was exponentially less than using microprocessors or cellphones or bluetooth, so rather than a few devices making up a system, I could have dozens, if not hundreds of "dumb objects" within a system.

I also liked that the RFID allowed an object to become digitally augmented, rather than existing simply as a piece of technology. A rock with an RFID tag in it is still a rock, but a mobile phone is tied to a specific time and phone plan. In 100 years the rock will still be a rock, but the phone will be a relic that does not function. As an artist it was also important to have work, or tangible relics of that work, that would in some way exist long after the computer program it interacted with stopped working.

How much of Bruce's vision of spimes do you share? Did anything in your experience with RFID confirmed in any way his prophecies of an upcoming spime'd world?

Oh, I was tremendously excited by Bruce's vision, the idea the objects can become protagonists in a documented process was a key piece of poetry that drove my work. I think he did, and does, do a really good job of standing just past the present an imagining reasonably plausible outcomes. That's what makes a good science fiction author, right? And why this is important is that these changes may come quite soon, so how do we make decisions without getting to a place where we, as individuals, can sort of "feel" what the future implications of things are?

From a practical standpoint I've been a little frustrated at how hard it is to actually build even a small scale model of that spime idea. There was a lot more to it than just RFID, I mean I'm waiting for those household 3D printers to become a reality, at which point I fully expect to be sending little RFID embedded sculptures through the interweb to people on the other side of the country...I am ready!

I think one thing I don't focus on myself, but is an interesting part of Bruce's concept, is the potentially positive impact of RFID tags on the environment, I feel like that gets lost sometimes. I know there are a lot of privacy concerns, and I feel that some of those are quite valid and important to hold companies to task on. But the idea of sifting through dump and simply returning that crap to the manufacturer is a powerful idea. "Ok manufacturers, here's your crap back, now we have a playground." The consumer isn't the end of the product life cycle, he's just a renter.

It's a little early to weigh in on a prophecy coming true or not, but I will say this. My conception of RFID, how it works, what it's capable of, changed radically once I started actually working with it. Based on my early research I was envisioning a scenario in which objects could be tracked in space, sort of like an inverted form of virtual reality, where a computer is mapping the physical world into a model it could understand. But this notion of "tracking" in the sense of say, GPS or something like that, is not really how RFID functions. RFID tracking is really most like the way UPS tracks your packages with a bar code. It can tell you when an object passed near a specific place, like a toll booth or a checkout counter. In the UPS scenario you know your parcel left the warehouse, but you won't know where it is again until it hits Tulsa. Now with more powerful systems and other tools you can start to make specific spaces that function like the GPS tracking model, but this is pretty technological intensive, and by that I mean expensive. That also doesn't mimic how it's used in its natural environment. RFID in the wild is used as a momentary switch; you unlock a door with a keycard, you buy groceries with a keyfob, you pay for your toll with EZ Pass. So for me as an artist, I also use RFID this way, although my work generally involves different sets of objects that impact each other's behaviors. At the end of the day I'm not so much interested in RFID itself, but rather, how to build environments in which computational capabilities are experienced in a new and tangible way. Right now I'm doing research into creating objects using brainwaves and 3D printers, which doesn't involve RFID at all, but does involve new and tangible ways of interacting with, or more accurately in this scenario, creating objects.

Transmission at NERD, image courtesy of Meghan Trainor

There's a lot of controversy surrounding RFID, are you optimistic or worried about the way it is and it will be used?

I would say I'm less worried than that average human and that that is primarily a result of working with this technology for years. While I wouldn't put my concern at zero, I would say there are a lot of other things I worry about first, like our government's investigation of citizen phone records, torture at Guantanamo, my credit card data, people posting pictures of me on Flickr without me knowing about it.

I think there are really bad design choices that can be made with RFID and those design choices can lead to problematic scenarios. Writing actual sensitive data onto the tags is just stupid, to which I say...don't. If you look at the design changes to the US Passport and ID cards you can see the transition from a bad design, in which actual personal data was to be stored on the RFID tags, to current designs in which the RFID tag is a key to remotely stored data, which is how most function. The RFID tag in my arm doesn't have anything on it but a long number, so you can skim my arm all you want but it just doesn't tell you anything. Well if you stored the number, it could tell you I'm in close proximity to you, but you probably could smell me at that point, or I could wear a shirt with metal threads in it to block the signal.


So there are quite a few different concerns about RFID, there are consumer concerns about privacy, there are security concerns about hackable keycards, there are human rights concerns about injected tags, the list goes on. But if your concern is privacy, I think there are a lot of other technologies out there that just do a much better job at tracking you than the tag in your jeans, so yeah if the systems get more robust and/or ubiquitous and the tags get smaller and/or cheaper negative scenarios could come to pass. But today, right now at this very moment, the police can locate my cellphone using triangulation, which is just about the same as locating me.

I think part of the concern comes from it being a novel way of transmitting data, although this technology has been around for a long time and radio itself is hardly new. But RFID can seem sort of magical, and it's hard to understand what data is actually being sent and how far that transmission range is, and because there are so many different kinds of tags and use scenarios it gets complex. A passport broadcasting your social security is different than a library book spitting out a random number that only identifies the book as number 5 of the 10 copies of Moby Dick in circulation to the library system.

I think another thing we all have to just sit down and think about it that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as emerging technologies and the ramifications of ubiquitous computing. We do that by thinking about it and writing about it and at some point we have to start building little scale models of the future and testing our hypotheses.

Since you've been working with RFID for several years, what were the challenges and glitches of the technologies you encountered while using it?

Initially my greatest hurdle was how do I design for readers that can only scan at a few inches? How do I create a scenario where the audience will trigger the objects embedded with tags? And how do I create the objects so that they can be read no matter how they are orientated? This immediately informed a very specific size range for my objects.

The other challenge is to create a scenario that is rich enough to help my audience envision a world of objects that have changing properties in both the digital and the physical world, but isn't so muddled that everything just seems random. In performance this is easier because I control the interaction and can slowly build up the audiences understanding of what they are observing. In interactive scenarios I have no way of determining what my audience will do or how long they will participate, so every possible interaction has to be accounted for; the interaction needs to be immediately felt or understood, but also has to be rich enough to be explored over time. In the beginning I was trying to create a networked "Internet of Things," but for the user, just getting used to the idea that an objects was a trigger that could change properties was about the limit of new information, so I began to focus on just that aspect of my original ideas.

Transmission at NERD, image courtesy of Meghan Trainor

Any advice for artists who would like to use RFID in their projects?

Design your projects after you've played around with an actual RFID system first. Gaining a real concrete grasp on what RFID can and cannot do can have a huge impact on the design of your project. Sometimes RFID isn't actually the right technology for your goal, maybe you need video tracking equipment or you need to combine RFID with something else to get the desired effect. Get a reader, get some tags, build a mock-up and test it. Also I would encourage user testing too once you've got something built, audiences can be great at showing you what is actually being communicated and challenging your assumptions. Performance with RFID can be easier, because you've determined what happens when, but in an interactive scenario you've got to design for every possible interaction. How does the user know what to do? What should the user make of this interaction? Is there a "right" way to interact? One of the most challenging things is that once you cross over into art that is interactive, whether it's made with RFID or not, art that can be touched, is that people will test it, and that can often mean they will break it. So either you have to design with this in mind, control the interaction closely or surrender to the experience.

Thanks Meghan!

5. Paula Roush

The London-based media artist ih is probably the first who have explored the sonic properties of RFID.

From the project page: "Arphield Recordings is a project documenting impromptu arphid sound performances produced by people scanning their oysters cards in the daily routine of access control to the London tube stations.

The methodology of field recordings (documentation of site-specific soundscapes through audio recording equipment) is, in this case, focused on the sampling of sounds produced by the use of arphid (rfid) technology (cards and readers) complemented by digital processing involving sampling and synthesis from the source, speculating on the ad infinitum convergence of arphid tags and readers into an endless symphony of sound surveillance and compliance.

The project started with the idea for an arphid mob, inviting friends to join me at a designated tube station for a semi-coreographed sound jam using our oyster cards. The main question was 'when and where' as a major impediment would always be the heavy security at all the gates. It was decided I would do some observation and this would eventually indicate the best timing and location for our arphid mob. Observing the familiar tube's access control gates, initially with no equipment and later with a camcorder, I realised that people were already engaging in impromptu sound performances. My documentation led me to discern varied patterns and even participatory scores, with mass arphid soundscapes punctuated by silences, glitches and cracks in the system, all warped up in a circadian rhythm of work-rush hours.

The first arphield recordings - documenting the impromptu sound performance of people moving through the London tube access control gates were done in Brixton, Kings Cross and Caledonian Road tube stations during march 2006 for the TAGGED one day event at SPACE Media Arts (NodeLondon March 2006), when cds with the tracks and locational tags were distributed.

The second arphield recordings- the stockwell sound/jam memorial happened on Saturday 10th of June 2006 when people in london were invited to gather in the Stockwell tube station and scan their oyster card for 30second sync periods accompanied by a podcast of pre-recorded oyster beep tracks.

Image courtesy of Paula Roush

The project remains open to contributions. One way of doing this is downloading the arphield recordings and visiting the station gates with the sounds on a portable music player to experience a mix of live and prerecorded oyster beeps.

Another way of participating is by contributing arphield recordings from a tube station access control gate. You can do this by opening an odeo.com account and uploading your recordings , tagging them as arphieldRecording followed by the number unique to your oyster card (as in arphieldRecordings-0503266130-03)"

I sent Paula my questions and she almost immediately emailed me an interview she did for Armin Medosch in the framework of the Tagged exhibition by Space Media Arts (btw, don't miss his text about RFID: The Spychip Under Your Skin). She authorized me to reproduce it below:

Why did you decide to propose an RFID project? What was your specific motivation in this case?

Arphield Recodings was conceived as a probe into the practice of sousveillance and a more general understanding of the the arphid surveillance/equiveillance of public space and transport. It also foregrounds itself into the field of networked performance and possible notions of community, interaction, and connectedness among participants.

The emerging field of personal sousveillance - the capture, processing, storage, retrieval, and transmission of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity (i.e. personal experience capture) using camera phones, and wearables has been mainly focused on the visual. See the dominance of weblogs as photo- and video-blogs. Surveillance studies as well have given a proeminence to the visual. However, "The history of surveillance is as much about a sound history as a history of vision" / "we need a sound history of surveillance" / "the polyphony of sounds increasingly regulates and is regulated by us" as Michael Bull and Les Black write in the intro to the Auditory culture reader (2003).

'eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power' writes Jacques Attali.

'The technology of listening is on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this appparatus...who among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern state into a gigantic, monopolising noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalised eavesdropping device (Attali, 1985)

Heritage: back to the initiator of urban field recordings Pierre Shaeffer's Etudes aux chemins de fer (1948), first example of musique concrete he also employed a variety of manipulation techniques because for him the sounds remained too recognisable which led him to define it as sound-works but eventually reject as music.


Into the present where collage and field recordings in the electronic age include Dialtones (A Telesymphony) (Golan Levin), data noise (Ryoji Ikeda).

In 'sync or swarm' -improvising music in a complex age, David Borgo (2005) positions music-sound as an excellent site for the study of sync in performances and in the dynamics that shape a musical community.

'coordinated rhytmic activity ' crucial to social life /"muscular unison" collective bonding are as much at at play in improvised musicking as when people are moving through the arphid gates, sharing a sonic experience there is some sort of group interactional synchronicity/ observing one can see an underlying modulation between sync and swarm, order and chaos mediated by the network.

Michael Bull / Les Back / Jean-Paul Thibauld have all described the ordinary experience of moving through the city with mobile sound devices: walkmans, car radios, ipods and how new sonic territories are created in the course of this journeys. Similarly. The experience of public space is transformed as users move through with their oyster cards / the daily regulation of city walking/journeying through the beeping of several electronic devices as oyster card users (oycus) engage with sound-technology use / jean-paul thibaud in The sonic composition of the city (The Auditory Reader) uses te term 'sonic bridge' to refer to the way music links the inside and outside of social experience into a seamless web

What do you think about RFID in terms of its cultural-political significance?

The oyster card has an added layer due to the arphid's identity features the processes involved include:

1-the registration of the card with one's id and a product identifier ( unlike the barcode the unique id number inserts one into a traceable network that can map you in space/time >spime). Id technologies, such as passports, national id cards, have been designed to facilitate identification by binding identity to the body, by associating w/ other identifiers such as the name, address, signature, but crucially arphids bind the body to a unique identification number, that will be associated with a database allowing for all sorts of correlations between data and other personal/social identifiers

2- the second step is connected to topophonic knots (Thibauld's term), the interference point between media listening (in this case sound-producing) and architectural space/ is the one of access which leads us to think of the traveling space as one of doors (bus), gates (tube/trains), with the transition from the motion of walking into the one of being transported; the gates of the tube station or the readers inside the bus are sonic doors/or outposts intermediary between two ways of traveling the city in the case of the tube even more accentuated by the shift in verticality from the underground space into the street level.

Also the space where regulation is more visible and the identification of the body becomes audible and thus public and de/re/territorialised.

Image courtesy of Paula Roush

How does this (your thoughts about RFID) fit into a bigger picture about a digital and network culture? For instance do you think we experience a real paradigm change from industrial to information age? What are the key aspects of this change? Where are highly developed countries heading?

Towards a network of things. For me Shaping Things (2005) is an inteseting speculation into the way our relationships with the objects in our environment is changing. For the first time we start to be surrounded by objects that have an identity which can be associated with our own identity and that being traceable in space and time spread that traceability to its users.

Bruce Sterling dates this techno-social change to the dawn of spimes to 2004 when the United States Department of Defense demanded that its suppliers attach arphids to military supplies. You could add to that the WalMart demand for its suppliers to add arphids to the commodities in order to standardise stock inventory. The full implementation of EAN_UCC (which might take from one to three decades) will bring a technosocial change which we are are already experiencing.

Arphid became almost synonymous with the internet of things and with ubiquitous computing, with its tendencies to use centralised proprietary systems, sharing information between authoritarian structures of commerce, policing and control but creating a form of segregation by excluding the surveilled from access to this data.

What is the role of artists working with 'new media' vis-a-vis the ICT industry and commercial creative industries? I would like you to answer this question in a personal way. What is 'your mission' as an artist working in this environment?

The most interesting position one can take now is to expand or enlarge on current studies of surveillance. On one hand, metaphors that describe our current state of surveillance as panopticon are now well established and there is also an acknowledgment that people are starting to use the panopticon tools for playful, entertainment and tactical purposes. On the other hand, unlike surveillance that isolates and dis-connects, there is a feeling that today's personal sousveillance technologies like camera phones and weblogs might help to connect and build networks or a sense of community.

The work of Humberto Moran addressing the role of free open source software and privacy-friendly technologies as a way of maximising the social and environmental benefits of RFID is also relevant.
Crucially, equiveillance -the balance between surveillance and sousveillance- which allows the individual to construct their own case from evidence they gather themselves, rather than being subjected to surveillance data that could possibly incriminate them, remains the more viable road.

For example, one of the most disputed events following the 7/7 attack, following the murder of Jean Charles Menezes in the Stockwell tube station is the narrative surrounding the use of oyster card by Jean Charles and whether he jumped over the ticket barrier running down the escalator to jump onto the train. This was registered in the post-mortem report but later the police briefed the family that he had actually used the travel card to pass throught. According to the leaked IPCC documents, Menezes passed through the barrier normally using his pre-paid Oyster card. Police initially refused to release CCTV footage while the IPCC investigation was ongoing, even to the family. It had been suggested that the man reported by eyewitnesses as jumping over the barrier, may have been one of the police officers in pursuit. Even more chilling than this slippage, is the fact that such technology is already in place that allows for the tracing of public transport users throughout the city as a centralised database to which its subjects cannot themselves have access.

In March 2006 the BBC reported that Oyster data is 'new police tool' and that the Police are increasingly using the unique serial number identifier built into the by now familiar Oyster Card travel smartcard, to track criminals' movements, according to new figures.

The smartcards, used by five million Londoners, record details of each bus, Tube or train journey made by the holder over the previous eight weeks. The figures disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act show that In January, police requested journey information 61 times, compared with just seven times in the whole of 2004. In total, 229 of the 243 requests made by police to access records were granted.

Remember that the Oyster Card itself stores the travel / payment history for the last few transactions (up to the capacity of the memory on the chip), but that Transport for London have the entire history of any particular Oyster Card on their centralised database systems.

Note that this statement by Transport for London does not preclude bulk transfers and "fishing expeditions" for "national security" or for "the prevention and detection of crime" loopholes in the Data Protection Act.

Similarly, there is no mention of the combination of CCTV surveillance and Oyster Card monitoring of millions of innocent people, rather than just the minority of criminals who are under specific criminal investigation.

What will the final output, in terms of an exhibition, feel like, look like, etc. Please try to give me a sense of what exhibition visitors actually will see, hear, experience.

I will perform the arphieldrecordings in the Space and we may do it as an arphid sound/jam at the nearest tube station (Bethnal Green). I am planning on putting a proposal forward to Platform for Art (agency managing art projects in London's tube stations) to make a sound installation in a tube station activated by the daily use of arphids by people moving through the gates.

Thanks Paula!

6. Shin'ishi Konomi

Last but not least, Shin'ishi Konomi, a nomadic computer scientist with international and interdisciplinary experiences, who currently lives in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo and works as a research scientist at the University of Tokyo. He used to update regularly the blog RFID in Japan.

Do you know Bruce Sterling's idea of spimes?
In August 2004 he suggested a type of technological device (he called it "spime") that, through pervasive RFID and GPS tracking, can track its history of use and interact with the world.
How much of his vision do you share? Did anything in your experience with RFID confirmed in any way his prophecies of an upcoming spime'd world?

I like his discussions about SPIME. It sounds very relevant to the RFID technology.

As a person who was heavily influenced by Mark Weiser's vision of ubiquitous computing, I view RFID as one of the most important first generation "disappearing" computing devices ( RFID tags are not merely improved barcodes.)

To make computing "disappear," one would have to make devices physically small, like Hitachi mu-chips, but it is also important that we embed computing in the right way, into people's activities and their environments.

The discussions around SPIME are interesting to me because they suggest that fitting RFID into existing practices is NOT enough. Bruce Sterling's historical reflection about technological artifacts suggest certain paths RFID and users (or wranglers) may coevolve. It's thought-provoking and could help us understand how things could be in the future, and envision alternative kinds of RFID-based systems.

Things seem *slowly* changing towards "the SPIME world" -- for example, in the consumer electronics arena, major Japanese companies have been discussing RFID-tagging appliances at different levels: parts (e.g., circuit boards), products and packages for better recycling.

Authorities have been discussing RFID tagging building materials for similar purposes. And there are food traceability systems (QR Codes are more likely used for tagging food packages -- they are cheaper than RFID tags)

One thing I notice here is that parts (such as circuit boards) are also RFID-tagged. So, a thing can have many RFID tags.

Also, when people talk (or wrangle) about a thing, they may be actually talking about a class of things (e.g., "iPod" rather than "this iPod") or even relevant other things (e.g., Nike iPod shoes) or people (e.g., Steve Jobs).

So the correspondence of the objects we wrangle (perceived by humans) and RFID tags (perceived by machines) may not be one-to-one. Some RFID tags are mutually closely related, others are not.

Can you give me a few examples of the latest advancements in terms of RFID in Japan?

To be honest, I haven't been checking RFID-relevant news so diligently these days. After browsing a few Japanese RFID information sources, I don't see so many unique ideas.
They are mostly about small improvements and slightly different applications. I don't see so much stuff about small readers, phone integration, sensor integration, etc. as I expected.

That said, there may be some early stage explorations that may eventually lead to something interesting. Recycling is one thing. Another is "place tagging" -- RFID tagging
physical spaces and use them as location reference points (and complement GPS).

I am involved in a "place tagging" project and one of my colleagues in that project use a hybrid tagging device -- a package that contains multiple RFID tags with different communication ranges and capabilities.

For example, by combining long-range read-only tags and short range read-write tags, users can sense the presence of a tag using the long-range signal and walk up to the tag for full read/write communication. Another device my colleague developed is an active RFID tape. That's a tape that can be pasted on a floor for example. Active tags (that provide much longer communication range than passive tags -- e.g., 10 meters) are embedded in the tape at some fixed intervals providing location information to pedestrian devices. Only one battery is needed at the end of the tape making it easier to change the battery.

It's also easier to maintain location-tag mapping database -- if you determine the position of the two ends of the tape, positions of intermediate RFID tags can easily be calculated.

Since you've been working with RFID for several years, what were the challenges and glitches of the technologies you encountered while using and/or studying it?

One of the challenges was the deployment cost. Even though the tags are cheap, it can be expensive to embed the tags in things and places. The way you place RFID tags can greatly affect radio communication characteristics of the tags. But it is often difficult to place tags at best places because of physical, legal, and social constraints.

Another major deployment cost is the database cost. In many applications, you need some data that are linked to RFID tags. It is expensive to manage the data about a large number of RFID tags.

And there are issues about who can read/write the data -- this is also related to privacy and security.

In our project, we are trying to use the tags' radio signal strengths to estimate the positions of the tags. But this is quite challenging as the radio signals are affected by many environmental factors. UWB devices may allow more accurate position estimation though expensive.

Any advice for artists who would like to use RFID in their projects?

There are things that are technically possible but not available just because we don't have good usage scenarios.

For example, Japanese mobile carrier KDDI developed a cell phone with an integrated long-range (active) RFID reader. But they wouldn't make commercial active-rfid-phone products without a good application scenario.

Artists' works could possibly inspire the novel usage of not only existing RFID technologies but also possible-but-not-available-yet technologies. RFID tags are simple devices but embedding them (if we must embed at all; in places, things, processes, practices, and relationships) requires creative spark as well as deep reflection enabled by critical and challenging proposals.

Thanks Konomi!

And i'll leave you with my favourite interview. The video was made by Drew Hemment, director of the Futuresonic festival. While he was in Barcelona a few years ago, eh went to the Baja Beach Club, the first night club to swap VIP cards with an injection of RFID chip. Drew talked with the owner of the club, Conrad Chase:

0aaropong.jpgPostings will be slow as i'm currently running from one exhibition to the other in Lyon, Brussels, Gent, etc. and visiting my family and friends around. Normal service will resume on December 27. Meanwhile, Vicente Gutierrez visited yet another Tokyo art exhibition and sent us a report from it:

A follow up to the 2004 version, the 36 artists featured in Roppongi Crossing were selected by a team of four curators to introduce new emergent talent from Japan while juxtaposing such work alongside influential Japanese artists from the formative decades of the 1960s and 1970s. With both group’s work spanning the spectrum of painting, sculpture, design, video, photography, manga as well as a side of traditional craftwork [with the deliberate exception of architecture and fashion], this exhibit is meant to take the pulse of the Japanese contemporary art scene.

That this team of curators brought them together for this exhibit raises a question- What unites these artists? Is there a kind of Japanese-ness that acts as a gravity? Roppongi Crossing is another high-profile exhibit grouping Japanese artists in recent months which leads me to believe it is curators who have been more focused on asserting a unifying sense of Japanese-ness in the contemporary scene rather than the artists themselves. Meanwhile, younger artists have found themselves confronted with a choice to perceive this Japanese-ness as a unifying theme or as a departure point for themselves.

Some selections on exhibit until January 14, 2008:

Sato Masahiko + Kiriyama Takashi, Arithmetik Garden 2007. Photo: Kioku Keizo

Sato Masahiko and Kiriyama Takashi employed RFID technology into an interactive installation whereby participants select a card with a number on it to hang around their neck, essentially becoming a number themselves. Each card is embedded with an RFID chip and participants must pass through the various gates in the mathematical garden with the goal of attaining the total of 73 via various math operations before [successfully] exiting. The computer in the corner tracks user’s steps as well as their current “number.?

Enoki Chu, RPM-1200, 2005. Hirakakiuchi Yuto courtesy of Mori Art Museum.

Viewable from within the center or from a recessed observation deck, RPM-1200 [2005] by Enoki Chu is a futuristic cityscape characterized by highly detailed craftwork with [scrap] metal. Popular since the 1960s, the veteran metalsmith crosses his highly detailed craftsmanship with a scaled-down design installation of an urban landscape right out of a science fiction film.

3-Iwasaki-Woodtemple.jpg 4-kohei-sculpture.jpg
Iwasaki Takahiro, Reflection Model, 2001. Photo: Tomoeda Nozomi and Nawa Kohei, Scum-Compulsion, 2007. Photo: Kioku Keizo

The traditional side of the exhibit emerges from this meticulously constructed scaled-down replica of the much-revered Kinkakuji temple [and it’s reflection, slightly offset for refraction] in Kyoto by Iwasaki Takahiro. Iwasaki’s exercise of restraint and good taste at the same time allows us to see a side of Japan's orderliness and cleanliness in presentation. Meanwhile, Nawa Kohei's amorphous sculptures command whatever room they are in, an embodiment of chaos in sculpture. While what is abstract makes deciphering more difficult, Nawa Kohei's sprawl of white styrofoam is set alongside Kito Kengo’s colorful, spinning hypnosis-inducing polyhedron.

Image on the right: Kito Kengo, Royal, 2007. Photo: Kioku Keizo

Entitled Royal, Kito’s colorful and vibrantly visual polyhedron is equipped with small propeller blades and although quietly humming, draws more attention from our eyes than our ears. That their works were intentionally juxtaposed radically reminds us of the varied directions within the younger camp of emergent artists.

Yamaguchi Takashi’s algorithm-based interactive models place us in a new environment where we question the effects of our behavior and perceptions of [virtual] data. Centered around a generative-code program, the featured physical-interaction-digital-realization, interactive model pits two drummers against each other in a virtual space where a grounded colorful grid modulates while each drummer plays.

Yamaguchi Takashi, d.v.d.

Roppongi Crossing exhibit does say a lot about what these four Japanese curators will label as Japanese 'art’ and as a survey show, the grouping of the 36 artists seemed to result in more fractions than a complete image. Perhaps a more apt title for the exhibit would be questioning what is 'Japanese-ness' is Japanese contemporary art- Where do young artists think they are coming from and going which may paint a clearer picture of the Japanese contemporary art scene, although, before we know it, will be time for the next Roppongi Crossing.

All images Courtesy of Mori Art Museum

"Roppongi Crossing 2007 — Future Beats in Japanese Contemporary Art"
Until Jan. 14 2008 at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo.

0aamakingthingsjat.jpgMaking Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects, by Tom Igoe (whom i interviewed over a year ago). Available on Amazon USA and UK.

Publisher O'Reilly says: Building electronic projects that interact with the physical world is good fun. But when devices that you've built start to talk to each other, things really start to get interesting. Through a series of simple projects, you'll learn how to get your creations to communicate with one another by forming networks of smart devices that carry on conversations with you and your environment. Whether you need to plug some sensors in your home to the Internet or create a device that can interact wirelessly with other creations, Making Things Talk explains exactly what you need.

This book is perfect for people with little technical training but a lot of interest. Maybe you're a science teacher who wants to show students how to monitor weather conditions at several locations at once, or a sculptor who wants to stage a room of choreographed mechanical sculptures. Making Things Talk demonstrates that once you figure out how objects communicate -- whether they're microcontroller-powered devices, email programs, or networked databases -- you can get them to interact.

Image stolen from Ti.mo's photo stream

Making Things Talk is a cookbook for people who want to connect objects. There are step-by-step explanations, a clear language and plenty of illustrations to make it all simple and approachable but beware! That doesn't mean that anyone can find their way around. You need basic knowledge of electronics (if you don't, Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, a book that Tom wrote together with Dan O'Sullivan is made for you), as well as some understanding of programming (if you have none, then run to Processing).

Favourite quotes:

"This is not a book for those who are squeamish about taking things apart without knowing whether they'll go back together."

"Networking objects is a bit like love. The fundamental problem in both is that when you're sending a message, you never really know whether the receiver understands what you're saying , and there are thousands of ways for your message to get lost or garbled in transmission."

Tom takes you by the hand to make sure that everything will go right. Starting with the basics: pictures and explanations to tell you what a soldering iron is, a comparison between Wiring and Arduino, clear indications on where the hardware suppliers and the software sources are, etc.

Uncommon Projects: The Ybox

And you'll learn through practice:
- While making a wireless Monski pong, you'll be introduced to data protocols, flow control and addressing, switching cable connection with a Bluetooth one and other things to better understand data communication.
- By building a cat-email camera system, you'll get to understand better the structure of the internet, how it is organized and how things works on the net and in networked applications.
- the next chapter is about doing projects like the networked kitten but without having to connect to a computer. That's how you'll get the lowdown on connecting a microcontroller to the internet through a simple module. A networked air quality meter will walk you through the theory.
- Creating a networked game, complete with a physical client that works like a seesaw, will teach you how to work with real time connection.
- Chapter 6 explains the basics of wireless communication -whether radio or infrared- between objects.
- With chapter 7, things are starting to get serious as it shows you how to make multiple devices on a network talk to each other directly or talk to all the other devices at once, without having to pass through a serial port. That's where my favourite project from the book enters: a monkey toy that plays cymbals to warn you when you might be breathing too much fumes of toxic chemicals.
- Now that you're a master of packets, sockets, clients, servers and all sorts of protocols, it's time to get acquainted with location technologies and identification technologies. First you'll see what it takes to develop projects that use location systems and finally you'll learn some methods for giving physical objects network identities.

Perform-O-Shoes, by Andrew Schneider (image Yodel Anecdotal)

Each chapter is illustrated with images of projects developed by some of Tom's students at ITP in New York.

Appendix A and B are the icing on the cake. The first one contains pieces that never made it to the main text but you might still find useful. The last one sums up where to find the necessary hardware and software.

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.

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