If you have to visit one show in London this weekend, make it The Bruce Lacey Experience. Preferably on Sunday around lunch time when the automata are brought to life.
The exhibition page of The Bruce Lacey Experience show at Camden Arts Center filled me with embarrassment. There i was visiting a show dedicated to "one of Britain's great visionary artists." Lacey has been making art for approx 65 years, he participated to Cybernetic Serendipity (the now legendary exhibition of computer art which opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1968), worked with Peter Sellers, he had a show with The Alberts called 'An Evening of British Rubbish', etc. Yet, i couldn't remember having heard of him before.
The show has dolls and early toy robots, costumes of all kinds, posters, memorabilia of performances, videos of science fiction shows, props used for pagan-style rituals, etc. A giant penis is hanging on the ceiling. A room has instruments that measure atmospheric phenomena, such as the 'Homemade Sunshine Recorder', a glass ball which concentrates rays of sunshine and draws traces of it on a piece of paper. But of course i was there for the 'robots'.
The star of the show is Rosa Bosom. Or R.O.S.A. Bosom, the first part of the name standing for Radio Operated Simulated Actress. Lacey needed actors for his performances but he wasn't too keen on collaborating with actors. He decided to make his own electrical actors so that they could take part to his live shows.
He not only exhibited Rosa Bosom and her mate (Mate) at Cybernetic Serendipity, he also asked Rosa to be his 'best man' when he got married and entered her in the 'Alternative Miss World' contest in 1985. Rosa won. Portraits of the lady:
A big room at the Camden Arts Center is filled with these rough assemblages and machines: there's The Womaniser, Old Money Bags, School Days, etc. Each has a history of is won. I'd have documented them better for the article but the show is under a strict 'no photography' regime, and i didn't feel like writing down all the notices on the wall, nor could i track images of the individual automata and posters online.
I did manage to take a photo of the text at the entrance of the room showing his kinetic works:
They may be what we know as art, they may not be, but if they are not, then they are what art should be. No artist should live in an Ivory Tower of aesthetics. The Artist should be at grips with his life, with the essence of life, not its superficial visual manifestation. He shouldn't just be stimulating man intellectually, or emotionally, like a love potion or a panacea, for purely aesthetic motives. It should instead be awakening his conscience and his awareness of life as it is and what it is going to be, as we move forward to a frightening future, where man's very individuality and personality may be lost. It is the artist who must have his finger on the pulse to safeguard us all. For if he doesn't, no one else will.
Bruce Lacey, 1964
The automata- kinetic works are activated only during late opening hours every Wednesday and on Sundays between 1.30 and 2.30pm.
The show remains open until 16 September 2012 at the Camden Arts Center in London.
I entered the cinema wondering how much i'd enjoy a computer animated homage to a genius born exactly 100 years ago and i got out of the screening obsessed with everything Turing. I spent the weeks that followed reading everything i could about the 'father of the computer'.
The short(-ish) film narrates and speculates on the last days of Alan Turing. I knew Turing as the genius who had successfully worked on cracking German ciphers at Bletchley Park during the WWII, as a man who has defined the basics of computer science, and developed the eponymous Turing test, which sets a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".
Turing's name was therefore little more than synonymous with a landmark in the history of computer. I wasn't aware of his personal life so i was shocked to see him portrayed as a broken man about to (maybe?) commit suicide. 2 years before his death, Turing was indeed found guilty of "gross indecency", because of his sexual relationship with another man. Homosexual acts being illegal in the UK at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He opted for hormonal treatment. The conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the British signals intelligence agency.
As the directors write: Our film tells the legendary myth that thinking machines in the future will make about their creator's life; an emotional story about how one of Britain's greatest scientists ended up in a very dark place, because the country which he helped save from fascism, chemically castrated him because he was gay.
This is the background for a film that intertwines Turing's dreams, a therapy session with his psychologist and a couple of intelligent machines looking for their father.
The focus on the session with the German therapist is particularly fascinating. As the film directors explained in the Q&A that followed the screening, Turing arrived in Manchester as an entirely rational and logical man and because his therapist, Dr Franz Greenbaum, was using Jungian psychology and encouraged Turing to write a dream diary, the mathematician was suddenly confronted with the irrational and the unconscious.
The film certainly explores this irrationality, suggesting that after all, being irrational is part of human intelligence.
The Creator is a clever and moving film that not only celebrates the tragic life of a man we owe so much to but also reminds us that Turing is still waiting for an official and posthumous pardon.
Cornerhouse uploaded the video of the Q&A with the film makers. Don't miss it, their passion for Turing is contagious. Bonus! The irresistible accent of one of the artists.
The Creator will be screened again at the Cornerhouse, on Thu 30 Aug, at 15:50 as part of the AND festival.
Abandon Normal Devices (AND), the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art will run from August 29 until September 2.
Robots and Avatars invites visitors to imagine what will happen in a -not so distant- future when the advance of technology will bring us in even closer contact with artificial intelligence and machines. Will we have to re-assess what we now define as 'life' and as 'body'? How do we envisage our future relationships with robotic and avatar colleagues and playmates, and what point does this evolution cross our personal boundaries of what it is to be a living, feeling human being?
As a kind of introduction to the issue, the documentary ROBOT WORLD gives the state of the art of robotics by compiling films from university labs, private footage taken at industrial fairs, military archives, corporate videos and extracts from 1930's movies.
But the spectrum of the exhibition's enquiry is much broader than the documentary. Some of the works exhibited demonstrate how much the artificial imitates human life. Others speculate on how radically it might depart from it. The show leads the visitor from Second Life to invisible architecture, from the familiar to the unexpected and even sometimes to foreign territories. From the physical body to the digital body and back again.
The most thought-provoking and exciting work for me was UKI by Shu Lea Cheang. UKI is a sequel to her 2000 cyberpunk movie I.K.U. The film is set in 2030 and explores whether the replicants of Blade Runner have sex. In 2030, the GENOM corporation is selling orgasms on portable devices and sending a shapeshifter coder out into New Tokyo to collect "orgasm data".
UKI is a live coding / live spam performance where software and body viruses are merging but also a viral game that is presented at FACT on two screens.
About the time of the opening of the exhibition, an actor was playing Public Avatar in the streets of Liverpool. People anywhere in the world could login on the website of the project, instruct the avatar to do simple tasks and follow his whereabouts in the city. This project explores the borders between virtual and real and tests the limits of human machine control.
Base 8 is inspired by Pepper's Ghost , a 19th century illusionary technique that makes objects seem to appear or disappear or make one object seem to morph into another. In the version designed by Chris Sugrue however, the illusion is that of a floating colony of small creatures coming to life around and in between your fingers and hands.
More images from the show:
Robots and Avatars remains open at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool until 27 May 2012. The exhibition will then travel to AltArt, Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and KIBLA (Slovenia) in 2012.
The Robots and Avatars exhibition in the UK is co-produced in the UK by body>data>space and FACT in collaboration with the National Theatre. European co-organisers are KIBLA (Maribor/Slovenia) and AltArt (Cluj Napoca/Romania). With the support of the Culture programme of the European Union, this project was conceived by lead producer body>data>space in association with NESTA.
Last half of my report from the 4th Kinetica Art Fair where some 300 works demonstrated the fascination that artists have for scientific knowledge. The theme this year was "Time, Transformation and Energy", a group of terms that you could apply to almost any work focusing on kinetic, electronic, robotic, sound, light, time-based and multi-disciplinary new media art, science and technology anyway. As i wrote yesterday, Kinetica is a joy. It's surprising, exciting, and its laid-back atmosphere provide plenty of opportunities to discuss with artists, curators and other visitors who are as interested in technology-infused art as you and I might be.
Some of the pieces are candidly whimsical, others explore responsive architecture, pay homage to Jean Tinguely or to Newton's third law, take the form of small models of celestial mechanics, or of experimental music gigs on modified Fisher Price Turntables.
Alex Allmont 's LEGO Plaiting Machine is the epithome of what i was expecting to find at Kinetica. The machine slowly weaves together three yarns of wool through the force of gravity. To regulate its speed the system uses an ornate clock escapement from the late 19th century called a 'flying pendulum'.
Mark Zirpel has been focussing on celestial mechanics, particularly the connections between celestial and terrestrial phenomena. He became fascinated with the antikythera mechanism, recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Greece in 1901. After decades of being puzzled by its functions, scientists finally determined that it was the first analogue computer. The 2,000-year-old gear mechanism could predict the position of the planets at any point in time. However, some of the models that Zirpel was showing at Kinetica were directly inspired by orreries, mechanical devices that illustrate the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System in a heliocentric model. The first working model of the kind was engineered for the Duke of Orrery back in 1704. Zirpel used discarded materials (from washing machine parts to bicycle components) and intentionally ignored the design of the original orreries so as to create a more personal version of the mechanism. Besides, his delicately-crafted mechanical models of the solar system are powered by the sun.
Green Ray lights spin so fast, their traces produce a spherical form, the work deals with the illusion that the world consists only of solid bodies.
The intelligent canopy, designed during a Summer workshop at the Architectural Association, demonstrates how "intelligent architecture" responds to the immediate environment. The roof consisting of tensegrity structures shrinks and expands kinetically, its artificial muscle moving in response to environmental stimulus and modes of the space. The prototype model exhibited at Kinetica changes its shape where it senses light.
greyworld's 62cm long Tail comes in various patterns and can be clipped to the belt or waistband. Using the remote control you can make it move at various speeds or dance in time to the music. Apparently hordes of people are keen on getting one for themselves.
Acoustic laptops are wooden briefcases containing springs, stones, metal, rubber, string, needles, memorabilia as well as cheap contact mikes (piezos) to amplify their sounds and turn the case into a musical instrument.
Sophie Cullinan's Worn is just a big patchwork doll that you inflate at the press of a button. For some reason, i couldn't stop watching it.
The Kinetica Art Fair brings together independent galleries, art organisations and curatorial groups who focus on kinetic, electronic, robotic, sound, light, time-based and multi-disciplinary new media art, science and technology. The art fair features installations, robots and small sculptures but also live performances, artists presentations, demos and a cheerful atmosphere that makes it easy to talk to the 'exhibitors.'
The event takes place in London every year since 2009 but this was the first time i managed to be in town during the fair. Kinetica is as bazaar, as garage and as male-frequented as you might expect. There were a couple of interactive horrors "customizable to better suit the lobby of your luxury hotel", and a few aesthetically questionable contraptions. It takes all sorts, as they say. However, i did see a number of projects which made it worth the visit. Hence the necessity to write two posts. Even so, the list of works i wanted to write about was so long i've cut it drastically.
My favourite piece was without doubt Ronin Cho's Weight of Unseen which i had discovered at La Scatola gallery a few months ago. The kinetic sculpture is activated when a visitor pulls strongly on the chain from the hoist. The yellow number then changes but only a 0 or a 1 will appear, following the 00011010 combination, a binary code meaning end-of-file. In a simple and physical way, Weight of Unseen remind us of the place that the 'immaterial' digital world has taken into our life.
boredomresearch was showing his latest work. And it is as brilliant as you'd expect one of their projects to be. Fragments of Lost Flight which creates wing fragments generated by computational processes inspired by descriptions of Turing's virtual machine known as a Turing Machine. Each wing fragment generated by the 'machine' exists only for the time it is on screen and is unlikely ever to be recreated. In nature the process that leads to familiar forms such as butterfly wings are exposed to intense selective pressure with only those of value for survival remaining, in contrast, 'Fragments of Lost Flight' treats all possibilities equally.
Paul, by Patrick Tresset, is another work i had seen in a London art gallery before. I'm glad Kinetica gave me the opportunity to catch up with all the stories that have remained in a rough draft stage.
Paul is an obsessive face-sketcher. After its camera has scanned your facial feature, its mechanical arm gets into action, drawing your portrait with a ballpoint pen. Its style is similar to Tresset's own panoply. Paul is not the first drawing robot nor the first robots able to draw portraits.
What makes it different from the other drawing robots is that Paul investigates the drawing activity and more precisely face sketching. Paul uses some of the technology developed for the AIkon-II project at Goldsmiths, a research that uses computational modelling and robotics to answer questions such as What can explain that for a non-draughtsman it proves so difficult to draw what they perceive so clearly, while an artist is able to do so sometimes just with a few lines, in a few seconds? Furthermore, how can an artist draw with an immediately recognisable style/manner? How can a few lines thrown spontaneously on paper be aesthetically pleasing? Ultimately, AIkon-II aimed at developing a system that would draw in its own style. Like a human artist.
Here's a video of Paul sketching a portrait the artist:
As what the exhibitors called 'a kind of artistic Turing Test', some of the portraits were drawn/controlled remotely by the artist.
If you're interested in seeing more of The Intuition and Ingenuity exhibition (and you should, it's that good), keep an eye on its website because it will be touring the country over the coming months.
Elsewhere in the fair, the drawing robot party has only just started...
Balint Bolygo was showing Mappings, a rotating mechanized globe with no axis. Entirely black, its surface was slowly being covered with white scribbles. The pen was set in motion by two pendulums, which move whenever people interact with them. The mass of the earth is essentially creating the drawing, with the project playing on the idea of using a fundamental force in an imaginative way.
Shih Yun attaches bristle brushes to small robots and lets them draw motifs on the paper. The strokes are dictated by rules she made up and by using the element of chance from a dice.
Part 2 will be online tomorrow.
Previously: Soundwaves at the Kinetica Museum.
I was planning to post this interview next week but because Ivan Henriques's action plant is yet another brilliant work on show at ArtBots Gent this weekend, i thought it would be silly to wait and not promote the event with a timely post.
Ivan Henriques worked with professor Bert van Duijn (Biology University and Hortus Botanicus in Leiden) on a research into the "action potential" of the Mimosa Pudica. The result of their collaboration is Jurema Action Plant, a machine which interfaces a sensitive plant (Mimosa Pudica), enabling it to enjoy technologies similar to the ones humans use. The project also explores new ways of communication and co-relation between machines, humans, and other living organism.
Plants don't have nerves, wires nor cables but much like humans, animals and machines, they have an electrical signal traveling inside their cells. The plant is fitted with electrodes and placed on a robotic structure. A signal amplifier reads the differences in the electromagnetic field around the plant to determine when it is being touched. Any variation triggers movement of the robotic structure by means of a custom-made circuit board. Touching any part of the plant is enough to make it move away from the person touching it. One of the most common names given to that plant after all is 'touch-me-not.'
If the plants can fell the touch and this signal travels inside the plant and be can be measured in any part, does it means that plants have memory, consciousness?
Imagine if we could communicate with plants and work together. Is it possible to reshape and redefine our tools to be coherent with the environment? Would we keep on destroying the few existent plants/animals and forests?
Hi Ivan! How did you get the idea and why did you want to build this plant-machine and give some power to the plants?
The main idea of empowering the plant comes from a range of work that I am developing called Oritur (Oritur is also the title of the book which is a compilation of texts from myself and invited artists and researchers from different countries - it will be published soon by Verbeke Foundation).
Jurema Action Plant (JAP) is a hacked wheelchair and an electronic board of communication with the Mimosa -- acting as an interface of communication between the bio-machine and us. In order to realize this work I thought about three aspects: biodiversity, plant intelligence and machine intelligence. 1) Creating a new kind of specimen, an assemblage of a plant and a machine -- a hybrid; 2) A simple movement of a finger towards the plant leaves makes it move away after the touch; 3) The plant triggers the hacked machine via the electronic board of communication into movement. While developing this work at the Summer Residency at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam/NL, it raised some questions:
Are the mechanics found in some plants species an intelligence? Do plants feel? How do they respond to the environment? Are plants considered in a lower level than us because they don't move and communicate in the same timescale as ours? My position in Jurema Action Plant is to explore plant behavior, research this intelligence to find possibilities for direct interaction and create a work which makes people think about our future.
You're going to spend several months at the Verbeke Foundation for a residency. What are you going to work on there?
At the moment I am rebuilding a piece called Three Seconds which will be part of Verbeke's collection. It is composed of a closed circuit where a video camera, which faces and captures images from a rectangular aquarium containing a live Goldfish, the image is transmitted to a monitor, which has the same proportions of the aquarium and also faces it. Between the camera and the monitor there is an apparatus, which gives a three second delay to the live image. In this way the fish, which as we know has a three second memory-span, can see its recent past, which it would otherwise not be able to reach.
I am very exited to start the residency at Verbeke foundation (which will complete two weeks October 11th) and I have several ideas which are in a cloud of concepts such as architecture, recycle, interaction, biology, evolution, utopia, movement, kinetics and living organisms.
You worked with professor Bert van Duijn from the Biology University and the Hortus Botanicus, in Leiden, to develop the action plant. How was the collaboration going? Do you find it easy as an artist to communicate with a scientist? Do you use the same language, for example? Do you have to adjust to each other's way of working and thinking about nature?
While researching about plants mechanics, physiology and biodynamics, I had the opportunity to meet professor Bert van Duijn who uses a technique called action potential to measure electrical signals that travels inside the plant for agricultural purposes. Through professor van Duijn I met the organization from Hortus Botanicus Leiden which opened their doors to my research about this specific plant and helped me seed the Mimosas. We had to adjust our vocabulary and tools all the time and the whole team had different perspectives and goals when working with nature.
Can you also tell us something about the rhythm of the plant? Sometimes it rests, it doesn't react as fast as the machines we are used to (from toaster to robot)... Do you think humans are ready to accept and respect this 'slowness' of the machine?
Much like humans, animals and machines, plants have an electrical signal traveling inside them, but they do not have nerves like humans and animals; nor wires and cables like machines. Plants are completely independent and can exist without humans, but humans and animals need plants to survive. They are also moving, to extend their territory, but on a very different timescale to ours. Jurema Action Plant has its own time, it is an equalization of ourselves, machines and plants. In my opinion we have to re-think about the machines we develop and the concept of bio-sensors. There are plenty of machines in the world and we keep on making them. Do you know where these electronic components comes from, how they are made and in which conditions? Why not re-use? The machines we create are coherent within themselves but I think that our machines could be much more coherent to the environment. JAP is a prototype of machines for our future, where we can communicate with all the specimens at the same level to achieve a common evolution. Even if we have signs of a catastrophe in the next future due to global warming, war, deforestation, population growth and a very strong economical difference from place to place, I believe in a good future. The problem is not the technological development, but who is in charge of researches, innovations and changes.
What are you doing when you're not working on Jurema Action Plant?
I have some projects going on and I'm preparing new ones, making drawings, graphics, researching about kinetic architectures and motors that run with very low voltage and current. I am also preparing the third edition of EME - Estúdio Móvel Experimental (first edition 2009 and second in 2010), a mobile residency in Rio de Janeiro that works as a platform for artists and researchers to explore and create public artworks/workshops in the natural and urban environment in Rio.
This year's ArtBots is organised by timelab Gent, in cooperation with ArtBots US, Ugent and Foam. It's open only over the upcoming weekend in Ghent, Belgium.
If you miss ArtBots, Jurema Action Plant is also exhibited at the Verbeke Foundation and it will travel to Leiden in October for the Scheltema festival.