According to what i have eaten in the morning i am either a bit cynical about the real impact of activist projects or totally enthusiastic about their objectives and methods. Most of the time i am both. It also depends on the cleverness of the activists themselves. I still have to find any trace of ungainliness when it comes to The Institute for Applied Autonomy. The anonymous activist group believes in the importance of disseminating knowledge, encourages autonomy, and develops methods of self-determination through artistic expression and application of military-like technology to the topics of criminal mischief, decentralized systems and individual autonomy.
You might have read or seen one of their pamphlet-distributing or spray painting robots or participated to the protests during the 2004 US presidential campaign, by using their TXTmob system.
â€śThe Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) was founded in 1998 as an anonymous collective of artists, activists, and engineers united by the cause of individual and collective self-determination.â€? Why did you decide to stay anonymous? How much does that anonymity serve your objectives? Is it part of a strategy?
Initially, we embraced anonymity as a defensive tactic, as many of our projects exist in a legal grey area. Working collectively and anonymously seemed natural to those of us with backgrounds in direct-action politics and the hacker and cypherpunks communities. Groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and native Hawaiian activists Hui Malama gave us a model for action that was both publicly engaged and effectively anonymous.
Weâ€™ve also found anonymity to be a useful tactic in dealing with the press. Many journalists seem to be more interested in writing about artists than about the art they create â€“ this is particularly true when the work has explicitly political content. By refusing to provide any personal information about ourselves, we control the kinds of narratives that journalists create about our work and the issues it engages.
iSee enables users to avoid CCTV surveillance cameras. Some UK-based artists working on ideas of counter-surveillance for the broad public have discovered that in fact most people are totally comfortable with the idea of surveillance in public space. Have you noticed anything similar when you have deployed the project in several cities, both European and American? Did you notice different attitudes towards surveillance according to the country?
Itâ€™s true that many people are comfortable with surveillance of public space, especially when confronted with the usual choice between privacy and security. With iSee, we tried to subvert (or at least complicate) this binary. Initially this meant focusing on the mechanics of surveillance, pointing out that in practice CCTV surveillance has had very little impact on actual crime and that it is subject to the biases of system designers and operators, which means it often gets used to ogle women and single out youth and minorities for scrutiny. Ultimately though, the camera-avoidance part of the project became less significant than the data-collection and visualization aspects. We held workshops in which participants used our tools to create interactive maps of their cityâ€™s surveillance infrastructure. This activity asks a very different set of questions than simply â€śDoes CCTV make you uncomfortable?â€? Instead, it points to the lack of any kind of baseline data about surveillance. Before we can have an intelligent conversation about CCTV surveillance, for example, it would be nice to know how many cameras are in operation, where they are, who owns them, etc. For the most part, this information simply doesnâ€™t exist â€“ In most countries, cameras are put up by individual building owners and their data is increasingly managed by third-party private companies. In effect, we have an emergent infrastructure of video surveillance that is growing on an ad-hoc basis, without any public discussion or oversight. The only way we have any information about the number and location of surveillance cameras is through the efforts of grassroots activists and concerned citizens.
Apart from surveillance and counter-surveillance, what are the issues you find worth fighting for/against?
Weâ€™re generally interested in the intersection between technology, public policy and social control, and with building systems that facilitate freedom of speech and public acts of dissent. This encompasses a number of related issues including surveillance, public space, and law enforcement. Weâ€™re also extremely interested in the ways that technologies and scientific knowledge are produced, which has lead to an ongoing engagement with academic research labs and with the funding agencies that support them.
Your robots have a very peculiar look. Little Brother has a cute metal tin look, while the GraffitiWriter just looks efficient. What or who guides the way you design robots?
We employ what might be called a kind of â€śtactical aesthetics,â€? in which aesthetic decisions are determined by the intended goals of a particular project. Little Brother was intended to distribute subversive literature to unsuspecting audiences, so we tried to make him really cute and engaging.
GraffitiWriter on the other hand leveraged techno-fetishism to confer a kind of legitimacy to robot-mediated criminality, so it needed to look like a â€ścoolâ€? robot. While functionally similar to GraffitiWriter, Streetwriter was intended as a clandestine graffiti writing machine so it looks fairly innocuous, appearing to be an ordinary cargo van. The latest version of StreetWriter, which we call SWX, was intended for the very specific purpose of infiltrating the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge which lead to a particular kind of sleekness in
GraffitiWriter invites the public to spray paint graffiti on the pavement. How much are people ready to forget that they are well-behaved citizens and contribute to this piece of â€śstreet artâ€? protest? Which kind of messages do you receive? Mainly love messages or rather angry complaints?
Youâ€™re referring to our â€śRogues Galleryâ€? project in which we took our GraffitiWriter robot to public spaces across the United States and Europe and offered it for use by the general public. One of the things that was so interesting about this project was that so many people were wiling to participate! Weâ€™d simply show up unannounced in a public park or city center, drive the robot around, and invite people to use the machine to spraypaint messages on the ground. Virtually everyone we encountered was willing to give it a try, even though what we were doing was clearly illegal. To us, this seemed to be an interesting inversion of the usual narratives about technology extending human abilities. With Rogues Gallery, the robot overcame certain kinds of social conditioning not because of its mechanical capabilities but simply because it was seen as legitimate, based on the assumption that anyone possessing a robot represented some large research institution which probably had the â€śrightâ€? to spray its messages on public space, rather than simply being a couple of crazy people who built a machine in their garage. Imagine if we had tried the same experiment without a robot, using only a few cans of spraypaint â€“ no one would have participated because the action would have been clearly understood as an illegal act of public defacement.
What are the best locations to unleash a contestational robot?
It turns out you can release them almost anywhere. Although, Iâ€™d probably be careful around airports these days.
With the kind of public art/activist projects that you develop, things might not always go the way you foresaw. How much do you learn from the way users behave and interact with your pieces? Could you give (an) example(s) of unexpected and unwelcome/delightful experience?
Because our work mostly happens in uncontrolled environments, weâ€™re almost always surprised by the way our projects unfold. The Rogues Gallery project we just discussed is a good example â€“ our initial idea for the GraffitiWriter robot was to be able to spraypaint in places that are too dangerous for human activists, like banks, shopping malls, and government buildings. We had anticipated that if there were any problems with authority the robot would be sacrificed rather than the person. However, during its initial public deployment on the steps of the U.S. Capital Building, the robot and its human operators were detained by one of DCâ€™s finest. Surprisingly, the presence of the high-tech looking robot confused what might have been a straight-forward arrest. At that point in 1999 it was unthinkable that juvenile delinquents would have a robot at their disposal. We probably fell between the categories of having to file a complicated report or needing to call for backup, so the officer let us go. In that moment we discovered that the robot functions best not as a covert writing machine but rather as a way to engage the public in participating in subversive activity using a powerfully legitimizing technology. Thereâ€™s a bit of the Stanley Milgram experiment here, only using robots rather than lab coats as the symbol of legitimate authority.
Similarly, with TXTmob the SMS-broadcast tool we created for use by
Terminal Air is a visualization system developed for mapping the movements of planes used in the CIA extraordinary rendition program. How can the project help counter the extraordinary rendition program practice? Has anyone ever tried to silence the project?
There are several components to the Terminal Air project. It is primarily an installation that examines the mechanics of extraordinary rendition, a current practice of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in which suspected terrorists detained in Western countries are transported to so-called â€śblack sitesâ€? for interrogation and torture. Based on extensive research, the installation imagines the CIA office through which the program is administered as a sort of travel agency coordinating complex networks of private contractors, leased equipment, and shell companies. Wall-mounted displays track the movements of aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition, while promotional posters identify the private contractors that supply equipment and personnel. Booking agentsâ€™ desks feature computers offering interactive animations that enable visitors to monitor air traffic and airport data from around the world, while office telephones provide real-time updates as new flight plans are registered with international aviation authorities.
Seemingly-discarded receipts, notes attached to computer monitors, and other ephemera provide additional detail including names of detainees and suspected CIA agents, dates of known renditions, and images of rendition aircraft.
The project was inspired through conversations with extraordinary rendition researcher and author Trevor Paglen (Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights â€“ Melville House Publishing). Data on the movements of the planes was compiled by Paglen, author Stephen Grey (Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program â€“ St.Martin's Press) and an anonymous army of plane-spotting enthusiasts.
The main goal behind the Terminal Air project is simply to raise awareness about extraordinary rendition, to call particular attention to governments, airports, and private contractors who are complicit in its operation, and to recognize the ongoing efforts of various journalists, activists, and citizens who are continuing to uncover and document it.
Weâ€™ve also amassed a large database of flight log information, which we make available to the public. So far, no one has tried to interfere with the project (indeed, public reception has been quite positive), but itâ€™s still in the early days â€“ the first installation of the project was in March, and we anticipate a few high-profile shows this fall, so weâ€™ll see what happens.
Any upcoming project you could share with us?
Weâ€™ve got a few things in the works, but generally prefer to announce projects after they launch rather than beforehand. Weâ€™ll let you know!
Many industrialized countries are about to suffer of the consequences of an ageing society. The rising costs of social benefits and a decrease in healthcare workers has resulted in the elderly and handicapped community growing lonely and falling into despair. Japan is looking at technology, in particular robotics and cybernetics, to solve some of its social problems.
Martin Postler developed the â€śLife/Machine â€“ Scenes from a roboted Lifeâ€? project to investigate the possibility of creating an alternative society in which humans and their alter egos, the robots, can live together in the domestic space. The project started in September 2006 in Japan, where he had undertaken a research residency at the Kyoto University of Arts. He then pursued the project at the Design Products department of the Royal College of Art in London.
The project explores questions such as: Can humanity and technology work together in a factory-like symbiosis, where help and assistance result in a machined life? How much freedom would we have to give up to accommodate the robots needs? How much would we have to bend, how much would we have to adjust to live in such an intimate relationship?
In Martin's near future world the robot has similar physical proportions as the human, but works on common binary computational logics. His intelligence and skills are very limited but that doesn't prevent it from being involved in several every day life procedures to assist and serve the human being in a defined household surrounding.
The project is divided into 3 different areas, representing 3 different everyday routines.
Part 1 - Nutrition
Even a very clean kitchen would be way too complicated for robots as they exist right now. Colors, shapes, functions, order and even the whole concept of a kitchen would have to change. The designer therefore imagined a product system which consists of 74 single elements. All elements can be build up to product structures or â€śfunctional landscapesâ€? accommodating the intellectual and functional necessities of both man and robot.
Part 2 - Hygiene
Martin designed the tools which would make these interactions possible. The main focus lies on the physical exposure and almost humiliating adjustment of the human protagonist to his robotic twin, resulting in an automated morning routine.
Part 3 - Leisure
The project points on the myths of technological development in a rather satiric and ironic way, explains Martin Postler. By choosing a â€śwhat ifâ€? situation, a parallel world, a realistic scenario I intend to confront the protagonist with his own creation, his technological mirror. On the other side the project celebrates the human condition and the fascination and commitment towards technological progress, the ongoing drive to recreate ourselves.
All images courtesy of Martin Postler.
A week ago or so, i read on boingboing and other blogs, many other blogs, about the work of Doo Sung Yoo. Actually i didn't read much, there were just a few words that accompanied a couple of videos of robotic cow tongues and robotic pig stomachs. I started wondering what was behind the spectacular art works. Who is the artist? How did he get interested in robotic and organic pieces? Were they just gimmicks? So i just asked him...
What is your background?
My curiosity about new media arts and mixed media takes me into new areas of study and new major fields. I am from Seoul, South Korea. Before I came here, I was an animator and instructor at Ye-won Arts University. When I was studying for my first B.F.A in Graphic Design in my country, I tried my hand at motion illustrations rather than still graphic images. The university rewarded me by allowing me to study professional animation to gain more advanced experience. For that reason, I worked in an animation studio as animator. After I improved my skills in Digital Animation, I began studying for my M.F.A in Multimedia Animation. During that period, I made experiments on interactive animations with performances. For the projects, I tried interactions between animation and dancing. Although the music, animation, and dance were harmonized through a detailed script, I could not perfectly complete real-time interactions due to poor information about interactive installation in my country. Though I was able to acquire a position as a faculty member teaching I decided to leave my university position in order to move to the USA to study interactive art techniques.
You are a student at the Ohio State University, right?
I am in the Art and Technology B.F.A. major in the Department of Art at the Ohio State University. Last Thursday, June 7, I showed my senior exhibition, in which the robotic cow tongues and a kinetic pig stomach were displayed as part of a series called the Body and Organ Project. Fortunately, the department accepted me in the graduate program, so I can continue to study in this area with the great faculty, colleagues, and alumni of OSU.
My focus is on an intensive study in advanced and mixed real-time interactive media, as well as discovering entirely new media. To achieve success with my works, I am studying laser processes, robotic arts, and visual images that are controlled by interactive computer programming and other electronic equipment. Last quarter, I have made an entertainment urinal, After Duchamp, a distance-activated audio and laser installation. I finally could give Duchamp, who gave me many motivations, a tribute through my technically upgraded urinal. Now, I am launching my new challenge in biotechnology and art, to find new possibilities for my art works.
Why robotic tongue cows?
The robotic cow tongues and the pig stomach are also parts of a series in the Body and Organ Project. There are many representations in these works; one is that robotic and electronic elements with organs represent advanced biological technology. Todayâ€™s medical science can support replacing diseased human organs with new animal organs. If medical science can change all of a humanâ€™s organs and add extra functions, much like a computer upgrade, how we can give a definition for a humanâ€™s body? For many years now, I have been interested in the bodyâ€™s biological change in relation to an increasingly technologized society.
In autumn of 2006, I conceptualized and created a 3D sculpture in a course focused on 3D modeling sculpture and rapid prototyping. The final work combined the forms of a hamburger and fat human torso, Hamburgerbody, which is also a part of the series, Body and Organ Project. This piece represents how the human body is damaged due to fast food in modern life, although high technology is solving old medical problems. It is a strange paradox in our society. Hamburgerbody represents damaging or deforming the human body as in decay, however, the robotic cow tongues and pig stomach represent developing or changing an organ as a technological advance.
Another representation is that the cow tongues are jeering at current artistsâ€™ focus on fame and popularity for commercial success with insensibility to immoral acts in contemporary art. To express tonguesâ€™ jeering movement, I needed a robotic and electronic device. Nowadays, we are surrounded in numerous images and texts due to powerful mass media. People became hardened due to vulgar acts and shock images in mass media. Now many artists are willing to take any risk with shock images and acts for success in market-driven art without considering aesthetic viewpoints. For example, in Nam June Paikâ€™s the first solo exhibition (and the first video art show in modern art), Electronic Television and Exposition of Music, Wuppertal, Germany, 1963, he hung a cowâ€™s bleeding head on a gateway of the gallery. In the same year, Joseph Beuys also hung a dead animal, a rabbit, on a chalkboard for his performance in Festum Fluxorum Fluxus. In Fluxus most active period, 1965, Damien Hirst was born in England. He exhibited cow carcasses and other dead animals as art too, in the 1990s. Marco Evaristti, a notorious shock artist, shot running rats in his performance, Election Day, God save Denmark, 2001. This January 2007, he ate meatballs which were taken from his own body fat by liposuction and the meatballs were displayed in a gallery. What are the different and significant points between Fluxus member Mr Paik and Beuysâ€™ barbaric acts as compared to Damian Hirst and Maroco Evaristtiâ€™s brutal art works? Fluxusâ€™ provocative purpose of anti- art movement, frustrating the high culture and market-driven art, denying banal and serious art, and offering opposition to the ideas of tradition and professionalism, at least contributed and had influences on contemporary art, especially multimedia performance and video art. How about current shock artistsâ€™ purposes? Are they getting a free ride in the art bus? Are they just eating the fruit of Neo Dadaist or Fluxusâ€™ labors? The tongues mock artists who are following popularity without purpose on a stage of immoral competition, especially acts of killing living animals or using carcasses today. Nam June Paik declared "Art is just fraud. You just have to do something nobody else has done before.â€? This quotation is full of suggestion in current art. The tongues represent Nam June Paikâ€™s opinion. If Nam June Paikâ€™s tongue is attached to my machine, the tongue might say, â€śhey, itâ€™s not art!â€? â€śneh, boo, hiss!â€? The tongues also represent other current artistsâ€™ tongues. If tongues from shock artists are attached on the machine, the tongues may say that â€śLadies and Gentleman! This is the art!â€? â€śneh, boo, hiss!â€? Which tongues are lying now?
What are the challenges of working with "meaty" element?
What were you trying to achieve or express with this work?
Developing or changing organs with machines and damaging or deforming organs will offer viewers a new meaning of the body in a high technology society. I would like to bring forth questions about whether the biological body is technologically advancing or simply decaying. Moreover, I would like to arouse artistsâ€™ attention to following fame, popularity, financial-success with the excessive and seemingly immoral concept of robotic jeering cow tongues. In the related work Indigestion,a kinetic pig stomach with a churning machine inside shows how a public cannot digest extreme immorality with commercialism.
How does the public react to it?
Most viewers felt bad and uncomfortable due to the repulsive sight, but they were laughing and enjoying the strange objects. Many people asked me, â€śare these a kind of sex toy representing some sexual concept?â€? I said, â€śif you want it as a toy, I can make a size fit for youâ€?.
Now how about the stomach?
The market price of Damien Hirstâ€™s animal bodies and internal organs are very expensive now and the works are preserved as permanent and unique art works and when they are displayed they attract large crowds. For my works however, no one wants to collect the tainted organs. Moreover, I am not a famous artist, so when I buried the organs, a swarm of flies were just buzzing around and making a big noise.
How does it work technically?
I used a cam mechanism. In the stomach, different shaped discs on a crank are rotating by a gear head motor. I made smooth plastic discs to avoid damaging the thin skin. The plastic plate and motor with discs on the shaft are screwed on a pan and hold the stomach to avoid rolling. I needed to constantly spray water on the surface to prevent the tissue from drying. Ross Baldwin a Columbus artist and also a machine shop supervisor at OSU, was an important facilitator in this production.
Does your work refer or is it inspired by any other artists?
I refer to Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuysâ€™ provocative performances, Damien Hirstâ€™s cut up animal bodies, and Stelarcâ€™s concept of extending the human body for my works. Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngsâ€™ bio-art works had influence on the works and gave me many motivations. By studying the technical mechanism of Ken Rinaldoâ€™s Autotelematic Spider Bots and Autopoiesis: Artificial life Installation, I can solve many technical problems in my works. I really appreciate these artistsâ€™ great ideas, concepts and techniques.
Images courtesy of the artist.
More notes from my conversation with Antonio Cerveira Pinto, the curator of Bios 4. It's probably the first time that so many unstable art works are being shown for several months in a museum (as opposed to a few days in an art gallery during a festival) and, as Antonio notes, the experience has shown that there's a whole new relationship to be built between on the one hand, artists who use technology in their practice and on the other hand, museums which are usually wary of showing works that are not static and "quiet" like paintings are.
The existence of bio art, environmental art and in general new media art constitutes a challenge for museums. They have to be aware that art is evolving, and open up to new artistic forms. New expertise is needed to deal with machines and living things. Robots need to "rest", for example. Otherwise their electro-circuit dies. Museum curators and directors also have to accept that if you want to hide a computer in a sleek box just because it is "ugly", the container should be big enough to avoid any crash when the machine heats up.
Artists on the other hand, have to specify clearly how the museum has to manage and take care of the electronic, digital or living bits of their work when they are exhibited over a long period of time (as these pieces are usually shown in the context of a one-week festival). Another challenge for artists is to become experts in usability and design clear interfaces that tell visitors how to interact with their pieces.
The public too has to learn how to engage with these art pieces, adults in particular have spent decades being told "Don't touch!" "Don't go too close!", etc. Both museums and artists will have to take these challenges into account.
Yesterday i spent a few fantastic hours with Antonio Cerveira Pinto in Sevilla. He showed me around Bios4, the exhibition about bio and environmental art he curated at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo. I am going to write about it from A to Z, focussing on some of my favourite pieces and bits of my conversation with Antonio. But let's start the lazy way with just an appetizer of what i've discovered there.
Alexithymia is a term that means the incapacity to verbalize emotions. When some sufferers want to talk but are unable to utter the words, they start sweating to manifest the desire to communicate.
Alexitimia is also the name that Paula Gaetano, an artist from Buenos Aires, gave to her robot. It's a big blob that feels like rubber when you touch it. But it also sweats when you caress its surface. Paula Gaetano has a background in fine art but collaborated with scientists and techno experts to develop the robot. The only sensors are for touch and the only output is water that runs from a tank hidden in the base of the work.
It is creative intuition that permits both the artist and the viewer to leap over logic, whether scientific or artistic, and emotionally experience the problem laid out here of reconciling the "wet" domain of nature with the "dry" domain of electronics.
Yesterday i was hoping to attend Niklas Roy's presentation of his latest project at the UdK (University of the Arts in Berlin) and instead had to stay home and wait for the gas guy to come and check the boiler.
Gallerydrive is a completely automated drive-through art exhibition. The system allows curators and artists to control the way single artworks are perceived, and the way, a whole exhibition will be experienced by a gallery or museum visitor. They can determine how the visitors move in relation to their works but also from which perspective, when and how long each work will be noticed. Besides, artists can define the presentation of (meta-) information over the vehicles display and on the sound environment, in which each work is perceived.
The first element of the project is the Gallerydrive car, a modified wheelchair fitted with a series of features:
So far so good. What makes the experience sound like one of my worst nightmare is the Robotik Room, a large electro-mechanical sculpture that becomes a white cube, when a Gallerydrive vehicle enters it.
The Room is about 50% finished. "I have to push buttons to operate the mechanism and then, the room descends and the walls flap down and surround the visitor(s)," explains Niklas who is still working on the electronics to let it move automatically.
The drawing below shows what it should eventually look like. "Inside the room, there'll be four golden frames, one on each wall," adds the artist. "The wall inside each frame will be cut out, so that the visitors will look outside through those frames instead of seeing normal pictures inside them. Outside the room, there are four installations, which might look strange and abstract, if you have a first look at them. But if you are being driven with the vehicle inside the room, and if you stop at the defined positions for watching each of those "pictures" at the walls, they will appear as an image inside these golden frames."
The system itself does not determine contents for an exhibition. But guidelines for the content of exhibitions can be specified for each exhibition.
A project developed together with //////////fur////.