Remember i was telling you about "Anti Anti Utopia", the talk that Vicky Messi gave at the FILE festival symposium a week ago? She was highlighting media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.' The first work she presented was Arcángel Constantini's Nanodrizas, a fleet of "flying" saucers deployed in polluted waters to clean them up.

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A second brilliant project she mentioned was Ciudad Nazca / Nazca City, a land art project in which a robot draws a true scale map of an imaginary city onto the surface of the Peruvian desert.

Artist Rodrigo Derteano's autonomous robot plows the desert ground to uncover its underlying, lighter color, using a technique similar to the one of the Nazca lines, the gigantic and enigmatic geoglyphs traced between 400 and 650 AD in the desert in southern Peru. Guided by its sensors, the robot quietly traced the founding lines of a new city that looks like a collage of existing cities from Latin America.

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Nazca monkey, Peru

Because of the city would extend over several squared kilometers, the map can only be appreciated as a whole from certain a height by means of airplanes or satellite imaging. Just like the Nazca lines.

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The project invites to reflect upon the explosive urbanization of the deserts of the Peruvian coast, taking place since the middle of the last century, and its consequences on environmental sustainability and the quality of living.

I asked Rodrigo to talk to us about Ciudad Nazca:

Hello Rodrigo! What is the motivation behind the project? During her presentation at FILE, Vicky mentioned the spectacular growth of the city of Lima and the need to find new ways of designing and envisioning cities, maybe by building them in the desert. Can you expand on this?

I live and grew up in Lima. About 60% of the city today lies within the desert, most of it grew without any serious urban planning. It's a self-made metropolis, the second largest city built in the desert after Cairo. It grew from 1 million to 8 million people in less than 60 years. There's a lot of problems derived from this development in terms of sustainability and living standards which exacerbate the huge inequality of our society. The desert plays a big role in this regard. People living in desert areas of the city are usually poor and often have to pay more for water than those living in more centric (richer) areas. They also lack proper infrastructure and have much less public places and parks. For a long time, these areas were not considered part of the city by the ruling class and the authorities until they became the majority.

By drawing a gigantic map of a city onto the desert, the project not only seeks to draw attention to this facts, but questions our very concept of city, specially in regards to its environment. Lima is a sort of negation of the desert. Our model and ideal of city is very occidental, and does not adapt very well to its context. The desert is seen a kind of non-place, not a part of our living environment. In this sense, there's a sort of irony in using a robot to draw a city onto the desert, as if it would be drawing it on the surface of Mars (exploring the outer space for the possibility of urban life).

I'm also fascinated by the Nasca people and their lines (200 BC - 600 AD). Studying theories about them, I found their notion of desert as ritual space, and therefore an expansion of their living space, to be in sharp contrast to our notion today. Some see the Nasca lines as cult to fertility and life in the desert, trying to communicate beyond. In this sense, Nasca City is kind of a cult to urban life in the desert today, not communicating beyond, but within our society...

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I was also interested in the cities you selected for the final collage. How did you chose them? Why Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro rather than Sao Paulo? Why Bogota rather than Medellin for example?

The project required an interdisciplinary group of people working together to make it happen. In regards to the design of the city we worked together with the Latin American architecture collective Supersudaca, represented by the 51-1 architecture studio in Lima. The collective proposed to do a real scale collage of pieces of the 10 largest cities in Latin America (Sao Paulo is included). They would overlap at the borders creating new urban forms and zones of conflict. The idea was to create a map of mixed references, city patterns already charged with meaning, that people would be able to recognise, compare, and understand the scale of the drawing according to their own real life experience.

Why 10? Well, they like to put up simple rules. The cities pieces were put together conserving their relative geographical position and original orientation.

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The city drawn in the desert is ephemeral is that correct? Isn't it disheartening to dedicate so much energy and see the city being slowly erased by the wind and other natural elements?

Sometimes I also find it disheartening, but most of the time I think it is ok for it to be slowly erased by the wind. The lines loose the sharp contrast with the surface in a couple of weeks, but the relief will be visible for years. I don't know if I would find the drawing and whole action equally meaningful in, let's say, 20 years. The desert is quite a special place for me, and I had my thoughts about leaving permanent marks that large on its surface.

For it to stay forever, we would have had to do it in a terrain with almost identical conditions as in Nasca, which is a protected area classified as world heritage by UNESCO. We would have ended in jail for sure, if we had done it over there. Which brings me to question number 5...

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How long did it take to draw the whole city and did you have to stay near the robot constantly to monitor its work?

The drawing took 5 days (4 under ideal conditions). We had to rescue the robot sometimes and had some problems, but most of the time, it would do fine by itself.

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Did you need to obtain special permits to do this piece of land art or can anyone do anything they fancy in the desert?

In theory, you can't do what you want in the desert (in Peru), unless you own it. And even then, you'll have to do an official and quite expensive study certifying the absence of archeological rests. In a protected area like Nazca, it would be a serious crime (to destroy national heritage). We certainly could not buy up that amount of terrain (!!). But it is permitted to drive around in non protected areas, which also leaves marks. So there's kind of a gray zone. In practice, people exploit the landscape in all sorts of ways, but we wanted to go public with it. We had to make sure we could do it, or at least be prepared for the consequences. The local authorities were sympathetic to the project and we got an unofficial permit...

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Are you planning to repeat or show the project elsewhere in the near future?

The project is not completely finished, because there are lots of follow ups. Maybe I'll take on the topic in further projects or exhibitions. Maybe someday we repeat the drawing process, but it's quite a production and I have no concrete plans. There are no exhibitions planned at the moment, but I have a lot of material and would like to show it again.

Thanks Rodrigo!

And if you speak spanish, check out this interview that Vicky did with Rodrigo:

All images courtesy of Rodrigo Derteano.

Previously: Nanodrizas, "flying" saucers for polluted waters.

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Every year, the FILE festival invites artists and other people who have a hands-on approach to new media art to share their views, works and ideas with the audience during a 4 afternoon long symposium. One of the most fascinating talks for me this year was the one that Victoria Messi, author of the fantastic blog El Pez Eléctrico, gave about media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.'

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Vicky Messi at the FILE symposium

Titled Anti Anti Utopia: Arte Eletrônica na América Latina / Anti Anti Utopia: Electronic Art in Latin America, the presentation introduced us to four projects by media artists who believe that art still has the power to transform society. I was planning to write a long post that contained her whole presentation but i thought it would be more fruitful to highlight the projects one by one. First of all because each of them is so clever, quirky and fascinating that it should have its own space. Secondly because i've just started The Leopard and as much as i'd like this Jo Nesbø gem to last as long as possible i can't stay away from the book more than it is strictly necessary for my mental well-being.

The first project Vicky Messa mentioned is Nanodrizas, a project that Mexican artist Arcángel Constantini has been working on since 2006.

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Shaped like small flying saucers, the Nanodrizas are floating autonomous robots forming a network of wireless sensors, which attempt to interact with biological elements. The robotic prototypes measure, in real time, the environmental conditions (temperature, pH scale, level of humidity, turbidity, etc.) of polluted water surfaces. The data collected is then transmitted via wireless communications for interpretation and analysis. Once to the level and nature of pollution has been identified, the nanodrizas directly intervene by emitting synthesized sound and releasing bacterial and enzymatic remedies in the eco-system that, ultimately, should regulate the quality of the water.

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Prototypes of the nanodrizas have been deployed in heavily polluted locations. In particular, in the river going through the city of Puebla in Mexico. Puebla hosts "La Constancia", an ex textile factory which used to be one of the most modern factories in Latin America. La Constancia relied heavily on water to function: water was used to power its turbines and water was where waste was then dispersed. As a consequence, the river is now suffering from high levels of pollution. The mission of the robots is therefore to intervene directly and revert the effect of the pollution in the water.

The Nanodrizas benefit from relatively sophisticated technologies but were made using discarded materials such as children's toys.

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First prototype, 2006

The work thus moves beyond other environmental tactical media interventions by making an attempt to be actively therapeutic. The work will also functions to alert and sensitise people to the situations via, in the first location, the sound emissions of the Nanodrizas and second via displays in exhibition centers and online.

The project thus exemplifies an admirably holisitic kind of art practice which is simultaneously technologically well informed and technologically inventive, while being engaged with complex social histories and activist with respect to fundamental problems of our time.

Check out this interview that El Pez Eléctrico had with Constantini about the Nanodrizas fleet. I'd recommend watching it even if you don't understand spanish because you will not only see the nanodrizas in action but you will also be able to listen to the artist's melodious Mexican accent.

Related: Nomadic Plants by Gilberto Esparza.

FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival remains open through August 21, 2011, at the FIESP Cultural Center - Ruth Cardoso, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Entrance is free.

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A couple of years ago, Nils Völker cooperated with one of wmmna's favourite designers, Christien Meindertsma, to create a robot that replicates the way we look. In one space, an eye-tracker records the movement of your eyes while you are looking at images of various objects. Further away, a robot, built mainly out of Lego parts and hanging on top of a pile of paper, makes one dot for every point you have just been looking at. The resulting large scale images demonstrate how differently the same objects have been perceived.

The robot was the one work that attracted me to Nils Völker's portfolio but it's his creative path that started with communication design and moved to the use of physical computing in contexts as different as advertising and art exhibitions that made me realize the designer and artist was the perfect material for a quick chat.

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Variations on Pi

You trained as a communication designer so how did you end up working with robotics?

At some point I discovered this Lego set which turned out to be way more than just a simple toy. In the first place I wanted to build a pen plotter, just to create some illustrations. But I realised that constructing and building the whole thing was much more fun than making the illustrations afterwards. So I've started to spend more and more time on building new machines. After a while the ideas became rather complex and Lego just reached its limits. Now I'm constantly dealing with pretty weird electric or programming issues I wouldn't have been even dreaming of about a year ago. But it's somehow great to deal with these purely logical and abstract things to end up with something that isn't logic at all.

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I'd like to come back to Makers and Spectators that you developed two years ago together with Christien Meindertsma for an exhibition at MU in Eindhoven. It is made mainly out of Lego parts and that's part of its charm. Why did you chose to use these children toys? Was it mostly to give the machine a playful appearance or is there any other reason for the choice?

To be honest at that time there wasn't much of a choice, whether I use Lego or not. Back then I didn't knew anything about electronics or even had my hands on a soldering iron. But you're right, I also like this playful appearance as the good thing about Lego is that probably everybody has once been playing with it. So people are less restrained to such kind of a machine and they approach in a much more direct, almost childlike, way. These machines just look like something simple that every child could built but when you look at the details they reveal some nice complexity.

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Now how about the eye-tracking technology? It seems quite sophisticated compared to the Lego blocks. Was it a technology you were familiar with? Did you have to tweak it to make it fit your purpose?

To be honest, I wasn't familiar with it at all and there wasn't much time to change that as there were only about five weeks to build the robot. So when I was developing it I was just assuming that there should be very likely a way to retrieve a text-file containing x- and y-coordinates which then could be interpreted by my machine. And when we were finally building up the exhibition we were lucky to have some help from a programmer who took care of most of the eye-tracking part.

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I just saw images of one of your most recent installations Captured - A Homage to Light and Air and it does look like it was a spectacular work. Could you explain us what the work was about? Did MADE give you carte blanche or did the installation respond to a precise brief they gave you? How did you come to work with inflatable bags made from space blankets? Why did you chose a material that seems to be quite unusual (to me)?

It's a project I realised together with my brother Sven who's a graphic designer. We both decided to come up with something based on these immaterial things like light and air; basically things you can't capture. During almost three months of work we've created a huge installation which covered almost the whole room. Sven designed four large graphic walls reflecting the four different aspects of the intangible idea framing my installation which consists out of 252 inflatable cushions made from these space blankets. And finally both parts were interacting in a twelve minute performance synchronized to sound and light.

One thing I've definitively learned about space blankets is that they aren't made to be heat-sealed at all. It took ages to make enough bags that didn't instantly pop when inflated. But this foil is simply great because it sizzles so much louder than any other foil I know. And in the end the noise inside the room was just incredible. And finally its silver side does perfectly reflect the coloured light coming from the ceiling which was a connecting element for Sven's and my work.

MADE, the place where all this happened, is surely the most extraordinary workspace I've ever been working at. It's situated in the ninth floor right at the Alexanderplatz overlooking the city and in addition to that it's equipped with this pretty sophisticated light system consisting out of 225 lamps and you can let glow any single one in any colour you can imagine.

The ambition of the team running the space is to bring people together who are working in rather different creative fields to end up with something completely new. This time it was my Brother and me combining graphic design and physical computing. And although we have been discussing all of our ideas with the MADE team, in the end we could basically do whatever we wanted to, which is quite extraordinary.

Your "About" page says that you're working on an installation using actuators coming from cars wing mirrors. Could you already reveal us something about it?

I'm always in search for ready made components that could be recombined into something new. A while ago I could get my hands on a few of these wonderful little mirror-motors. I was still experimenting with them, when all of a sudden the "Captured" project began an I just restarted working with them lately. So I'm not yet totally sure where it will end up but very likely I'll use them combined with larger mirrors to create moving and constantly reshaping light reflections on the opposite wall.

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Thanks Nils!

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Bomb disposal robot

Another project from the graduate show of Design Interactions at RCA.

What should a robot smell like? Kevin Grennan has augmented three existing industrial robots with 'sweat glands'. Each uses a specific property of human sub-conscious behaviour in response to a chemical stimulus: one makes humans about to undergo surgery more trustful, another one makes women working in production line more focused and the third one is a bomb disposal robot that emits the smell of fear.

The contrast between the physical anti-anthropomorphic nature of the machines and the olfactory anthropomorphism highlights the absurd nature of the trickery at play in all anthropomorphism.

The 3 robots exist only as concept and graphic design works but Grennan also worked on robot parts that are decidedly too anthropomorphic for our human taste. At the show he is showing the prototype of a robot armpit, all hair and fleshy colour.

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Robot Armpit Prototype

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View of the prototype in the exhibition space

The Smell of Control: Fear, Focus, Trust also involved demonstrating the limits of anthropomorphism. The video of the android's birthday shows a lovely android attempting to recreate the most straightforward moment of a birthday celebration: blowing the candles of the birthday cake. Alas! the poor android has no lung and no matter how hard it tries it'll never disturb the flame and the candles will completely consume.

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Quick Q&A with the designer:

You told me on Thursday that making anthropomorphic robots is probably not the best approach to robotics. Can you explain me why? What is wrong with anthropomorphic machines? Would it not be easier to relate to them?

Much current research into robotics is focused on the creation of anthropomorphic robots - machines that look and appear to behave like humans. Although there are valid reasons for this research (and a good deal of egotism), I believe that this approach is fundamentally flawed. As Sherry Turkle put it in her latest book Alone Together these machine are 'pushing our Darwinian buttons ... and asking us to love them'. Their ability to target our innate desire to nurture makes us exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation. Fundamentally our relationships with these machines will be based on falsehoods and ignorance. This is especially worrying if we also believe that these machines are to become more prevalent in our lives and more sophisticated over time.

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Surgery robot

The drawings of the robots are both charming (the graphics are very elegant, there are touches of pink) and repulsive. Why did you chose to add these flaccid shapes, creepy hair and bits of skin to the otherwise very industrial-looking robots?

The designers of android robots we see being developed today have concentrated on humanising them with very broad and obvious qualities; fleshy skin, bright eyes and teeth, with clothing covering everything else. I am interested it how the more complex and private parts of the human body would be translated onto the robot. These are the parts that we ourselves sometimes find disgusting but yet are integral to our humanity. I like to beguile the viewer from a distance drawing them in to the imagery to appreciate the detail only to disgust them as they draw closer. Conceptually I mirror this approach too, whereas initially the ideas I present seem innocent and functional, as the viewer learns more an underlying darkness becomes apparent.

Some of your robots emit smells and sweat. Is this something robot engineers are exploring right now in their labs? Why didn't you just design a perfume for robots? What is the purpose of the sweat and the smells exactly?

I was initially inspired by an idea from the 17th century French inventor De Villayer. He developed a clock that would release a different spice each hour. So if you woke up in the middle of the night and the smell of cloves was hanging in the air you could say that it was 3am. I was inspired by this mechanical communication to investigate whether robots could use smell to communicate in more sophisticated ways.

While there has been some research into chemical communication between robots and also into developing a robotic sense of smell, there is very little inquiry into the use of smell or chemicals in human-robot interaction. Jofish Kaye, currently a researcher at Nokia investigated the area in relation to human-computer interaction as part of his PhD at Cornell.

It was important to me that the odours and chemicals came from within the robots and that they were an integrated means for them to communicate with the humans who would surround them. Each robot that I have augmented with a 'sweat gland' emits a particular chemical that has a specific effect on humans and the chemical has been chosen to further enable the robot's primary function.

In the case of the bomb disposal robot the 'sweat gland' releases the smell of human fear. It has been proven that humans can identify this specific smell and it tends to enhance cognitive performance in. I propose that this robot would enable surrounding humans to work more effectively and to differentiate dangerous situations from false alarms.

In the case of the picker robot. It releases a chemical called androstadienone, which is found in male sweat. This has be shown in research to effect mood in females under certain circumstances. I have speculated that this robot when used on a production line could enhance the performance of female employees in it's vicinity.

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The third robot is a surgery robot. It releases a mist of oxytocin, a chemical found in the human brain. This chemical when inhaled nasally has been shown to cause people to become more trusting. I speculated that a patient could meet this robot before surgery and the chemical mist would cause the patient to trust in its abilities to a greater degree.

While from a functional perspective these 'sweating' robots might be able to perform their tasks and interact with humans more efficiently I hope that the dark thought of robots taking subconscious control of humans will cause viewers to reflect on how we really want to interact with these machines in the future.

Thanks Kevin!

The Smell of Control: Fear, Focus, Trust remains on view at the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition until 3 July 2011 on Kensington Gore.

I'll come back with more projects in the coming days but if you're curious or can't make it to London before July 3, check out the website of their show where all the projects are documented.

Back to the DMY International Design Festival Berlin which kicked off on Wednesday evening in Berlin and closed on Sunday. Starting with the absolute star of the festival: Tempelhof Airport. I'll never get tired of saying how much i loved this airport. The architectural masterpiece retired from its function of iconic pre-World-War-II airport three years ago and has since been hosting a number of fairs and cultural events.

Planes used to land and park here:

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Now it's currywurst paradise:

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Couple of inside views.

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Isn't this a beauty?
But to get in, you had to queue under the sun:

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Once inside, the first designers that visitors noticed were Dirk vander Kooij and his yellow robot, both busy making a model of the 'Endless' chair. The machine is a reengineered old Fanuc robot that draws and shapes furniture, layer after layer, out of one endlessly long plastic string.

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Dirk van der Kooij, Endless

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Dirk van der Kooij, Endless

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Dirk van der Kooij, Endless

Marre Moerel was showing a collection of ceramic tableware and lamps cast directly from pig intestines, sheep brains, cow hearts, bull testicles. I had the feeling i'd seen that sort of gutsy objects before but the pieces were nevertheless elegantly crafted.

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Marre Moerel, Food on the Table

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Marre Moerel, Food on the Table

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Marre Moerel, Food on the Table

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Marre Moerel, Food on the Table

There was some curious action going on in the RCA corner but by the time i arrived there, my brained was completely knocked out by the lamp galore, the vaguely quirky armchairs and the furniture made from recycled materials that should have been left in peace. My attention nevertheless got caught by:

1. An ingenious photobooth that involved no technology but a lot of intimacy between two people. I thought that the project (as well as The Scanner and the others in the Human Error series) was a great example of the many 'high-tech gets back to no-tech' / 'digital gets back to analog' projects i've seen around.


Household, HUMAN ERROR, The Photobooth

2. A Sausage Machine that extrudes fake meat into sausage casings and functions as a tool to create a new world made out of meat.
Meat-phobic little me remains speechless.

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Marjan van Aubel, Ola Mirecka and Hilda Hellström, The Sausage Machine

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Marjan van Aubel, Ola Mirecka and Hilda Hellström, The Sausage Machine

Inspiration for Alexey Petrov and Alexandra Goloborodko's Baba Valja is the traditional Russian felt boot. Like the boots, the lamps is made by hand from natural sheep's wool.

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Alexey Petrov and Alexandra Goloborodko, The Light Object Baba Valja

Mark Braun collaborated with Austrian company J. & L. Lobmeyr on the installation FORTUNE, 21 glass carafes engraved in traditional techniques by Lobmeyr with the outlines of existing lakes, rivers and glaciers.

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Mark Braun + J. & L. Lobmeyr, Fortune: 21 carafes showing international waters

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Mark Braun + J. & L. Lobmeyr, Fortune: 21 carafes showing international waters

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Mark Braun + J. & L. Lobmeyr, Fortune: 21 carafes showing international waters

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One of David Hanauer's Worldwide Carpets

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Helga Schmid and Kika Espejo, Whimsical Cloud

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That's it for today, i'll get back to you with a story or two about DMY's MakerLab workshops which were by far the most interesting part of the festival.

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Previously: Open Design Now - book launch at the Berlin Design Festival.

Fernando Orellana (whom i interviewed a few years ago) is currently having a solo show at the Ben Bailey Art Gallery, Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

The line-up of robots, sculptures and installations the New York artist and assistant professor at Union College summoned to his show is pretty impressive: there are suitcases maniacally monitoring the space, dysfunctional toys, a bird that talks in its dreams, people trying to jump the queue, Adam, Eve, even the Spaceman is there. Each of them provided me with the perfect excuse to ask Fernando to tell us about some of his latest pieces.

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View of the exhibition space. Image by Patrick Flores

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Me and You, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

You currently have a solo show at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Can you tell me how the exhibition came to be? Is this a solo show with a curator who selectioned existing pieces and commissioned new ones? Or were you the captain of the enterprise? 

The story behind the exhibition starts five years ago while I was a graduate student at the Ohio State University. While there, I met Jesse De La Rosa, a gifted painter who is as passionate and crazy about making art as I am. We became fast friends, staying in contact over the years. Last year he approached me to put on an electronic art exhibition at Texas A&M University-Kingsville where he is an Assistant Professor of printmaking. He gave me complete freedom, with the condition that I would send him, in his words, "robots, robots, robots!" Beyond that, I could do whatever I like with the 3000 sq ft. Ben Bailey Art Gallery. Thanks again Jesse! 


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No Cuts, No Buts, No Coconuts, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

How come so many works of yours emerged this year? It's only March! Did you get a sudden burst of energy or were you working on the pieces for a long time? Do you see these pieces as a sole body of work or are they all individual and almost unrelated? 

Last year was my first sabbatical from Union College, which allowed me lots of time to develop completely new work, travel, and participate in a couple of residencies. I designed the new work for the exhibition in Texas last year during my residencies at the Vermont Studio in Johnson, VT and the Takt Kunstprojektraum in Berlin, Germany. It was all finalized this year during the months of January and February.

I do see these new artworks as one body of work, though it isn't quite done yet. I have three other pieces in the studio that need to be completed and they are of the same vein. Though they do range slightly in conceptual models, I believe that all of this new work shares the same aesthetic in the use of materials, the technology within, and emphasis on minimalism. After these works are complete (by the end of the Summer), I'll be moving on to new ideas, which will involve creating robotic vessels and technological interfaces for the dead. Stay tuned!

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Corpus Callosum, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

I certainly shall. Let's start the tour of the Texas show with Corpus Callosum. What do the birds tell to each other exactly? Where do the words they tell each other come from? Why did you call the work Corpus Callosum? 

The artwork Corpus Callosum was born from my research and interest in dreams. I like to believe that we are living two separate lives, one in the dream world, and one in the waking world. I find it fascinating that, for the most part, we forget about our waking-selves in our dreams and forget about our dream-selves in our waking-life. This maybe why we rarely understand our dreams. The narrative inside the dream world is as complex as the one in our waking world. If we could drop a person's consciousness randomly into another person's body for a couple hours, and then, after the fact, asked them what was going on in the life of the body they inhabited, I suspect they wouldn't have a clue what was taking place. They could probably only report bits and pieces of the entire narrative. Especially if all the rules of normal physics did not apply like in our dream universes.

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Corpus Callosum, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

I know the whole thing sounds crazy, I definitely concede that. But once you push through the ridiculous, there are some interesting questions and possibilities that surface. For me, one of the questions I kept returning to was what would our waking self and our dream self talk about if they could have a conversation. My response to this question was creating Corpus Callosum.

Corpus Callosum is the anatomical part of the brain that connects the left hemisphere with the right hemisphere. It is the information superhighway of our minds, pushing data back and forth. I thought that was a nice title to frame the premise of the piece.

The words that the birds speak to each other are a list of phrases I wrote. Each bird has about fifty phrases that it can randomly choose from. Some of the phrases yield specific behaviors and others do not (i.e. if a question comes up, the bird will face the other bird). The waking bird's dialogue is grounded in this world, based on the ego and focusing on daily issues relating to errands, anxiety, and other common real-world problems. The dream bird's phrases branch from the illogical; scenarios that might be found in dreams or are associated with the Id.

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Paradiso, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores


Paradiso, 2011

Paradiso, a piece where Adam, Eve and an astronaut face tiny tv screens, uses a database of character dialogue. And the result is pretty strange. Where does this database come from? What is the scenario in Paradiso? How did the spaceman come to find himself between Adam and Eve? What did you try to achieve/communicate with this work? I have even more questions but i guess it's better if i stop here!

Why did you stop?! More! More! More!

Paradiso stems from my childhood. As a toddler, I remember my mother telling me the story of Genesis, specifically the fable of paradise and the Garden of Eden. To a kid, with a hyperactive imagination, this story was really fun to entertain and explore. Amongst other things, what I wondered then, and still do now, is what Adam and Eve talked about before they were expelled from paradise.

At the same time, for a couple years, I have wanted to make a piece that generatively made a television show; specifically a reality television show. I'm not sure why, I guess I just thought it would be funny. In the story of paradise I discovered my reality-tv actors. In Adam's character I imagined the beta human, completely satisfied and accepting his surroundings, and yet, confused and bewildered by everything. With Eve I found the desperate scientist, thirsting for knowledge and answers to her endless stream of questions and criticism. Together I found them to be an interesting whole, comprised of what is in all of us.

Then there is the spaceman. The mysterious spaceman, who tries to relate, but is out of touch or perhaps too busy to really connect. Yet, he is completely enamored with both of them, always encouraging them to move forward, and helping in unrelated ways. With one unbending truth: his spacesuit is totally awesome.

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Paradiso, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

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Paradiso, 2011

I wrote a good portion of the dialogue for all three actors myself. The rest of it came from a brainstorming session with my wife, Melinda McDaniel, and four of our artist friends, Heather Willems, Seamus Liam O'Brien, Nora Herting, and Gregor Wynnyczuk. I asked them all, "What would Adam, Eve, and the Spaceman talk to each other about"? After a couple hours of deliberating, one or two bottles of wine, and some technology clarifications, we came up with a list of phrases. We then took turns acting out the scripts, embodying the characters, and noting if the phrases worked with each other. The exercise was great, allowing me to see the script live, much like a director of a television program does.

The whole thing is works using a Mac-mini, Processing, and some flavor of an Arduino. The computer program I wrote decides at random who will speak, what direction they will face, and what they will say. The resulting real-time show can only be described as surreal and a bit creepy. There are long moments in the show in which the doll's avatars sync up in dialogue perfectly. Much like dada poetry, they arrive at insightful windows into the nature of our relationship with one another, and, perhaps, with the spaceman who we may or may not branch from.

In the future, I plan on broadcasting the live video feed through the internet so people can tune in whenever they like. That will likely happen the next time I exhibit the work.

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The Living, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores


The Living, 2011

There's no description of The Little Houses and The Living on your website as i'm writing. They both look great. Really great (note that my enthusiasm is sincere.) I know you're busy updating the website but if you find time to tell me something about them i'd be very grateful....

The Living draws inspiration from Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which speaks of the nature of our perception and delusion with reality. The six large heads in this sculpture cannot look behind themselves. Speaking to each other with bursts of light emanating from their mouth, they can only look forward and side-to-side. The large light bulbs on their heads are symbolic of both their consciousness and the sun that blinds them from truth. The wheels that are fastened to their cribs allow them the potential to escape at any moment, and yet, they do not; they remain happily anxious in the bliss of ignorance.

In many ways, The Living is a sketch for a much larger piece I have planned. The subject matter of that future piece will be different, but the use of materials and stylization will likely remain the same. I also think that it is one of my first successful attempts at blending my painting imagery with my sculpture. If you ask me what my sculpture will look like in five years, I would point to this piece.

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The Little Houses, 2011. Image by Patrick Flores

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The Little Houses, 2011

The Little Houses is a piece about the dwellings we all live in. In some ways it is a continuation of my piece 8520 S.W. 27th Pl.. We live out our lives in enclosed spaces, looking out through our windows and our doors and our peepholes and our video screens. Inside we live in separate but intertwined universes, completely aware that we are helplessly out of control. We distract ourselves just enough with different flavors of pleasure and erotica, so as not to be driven mad by the desperation of it all. Tomorrow, we fall away into our appointment with oblivion. We might as well tune in the Disney channel to pass the time. Again.

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Elevator's Music, 2007

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Elevator's Music, 2007

While clicking around your website i came upon Elevator's Music which isn't included in the exhibition at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, Texas but i'm still curious about it. I read on the project page that you installed the work in an elevator of the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College. How did people react to the robots? Didn't they feel threatened? Did you have to warn elevator-goers of their presence or could you leave them the surprise? Btw, do they still put music in elevators? Or is this just a legend? 

In Manhattan, a couple days ago, I saw a DJ playing records in an elevator, so yes, I think they still put music in elevators.

If I had it my way, I would embed robots in all of the elevators! I cannot think of a better place for a robot to live. There is a consistent source of power, the weather never changes, someone is always around to keep an eye on them, and they are far more entertaining than elevator musak. If any elevators out there want a robot, please send me an email. Long live the robots!

I have learned a couple things about installing robots in an elevator. First, I learned that a very small portion of the population is 100% not cool with hanging out in a small enclosed room with four curious robots. This same minority group did feel threatened, but only because they thought big brother was watching them (which he wasn't) or that laser beams were going to disintegrate them (which is crazy). I suspect that these are the same people who are afraid of spilling salt, breaking a mirror, or were very disappointed when they learned Santa Clause was not real.

On the other hand, I learned that most of the population is completely fascinated with robots in elevators, so much so that they tend not to leave the elevator. The people hangout in the elevator, riding along a couple times, until they realize they might be in the way. Perhaps the weirdest part about the whole ordeal is when you enter an occupied elevator at the ground floor and most of the previous passengers do not get out. For a moment, you find yourself wondering why this crowd is loitering inside, why they are all smiling staring at the ceiling, and why not one of them is pressing a button for a destination in the building. Of course, you immediately discover why that is, as those elevator doors slam home and the laser yielding robots emerge.


Elevator's Music, 2007

In our previous email conversation (if you don't mind me reproducing part of it here), when i told you how i felt that your work was not so much about technology anymore, it has its own sculptural quality. You answered that indeed your work had transitioned from tech objects to simply sculptures, that it had been a very conscious effort. Why this transition? Did it occur naturally or it part of a strategy?

I feel like I have done a lot of maturing in my romance with technology and art. When I first met technology, I was completely dumb struck: amazed at the magic and the endless possibility of its applications. I spent years in this infatuation, happy to only use technology for the sake of technology. An old acquaintance of mine called it "technomasturbation". In recent years I have become completely uninterested in this approach. In a way, the magic of technology has faded for me. Perhaps it is because I now feel comfortable using it in my art. Or maybe it is because the process isn't as important anymore. Regardless, what is surfacing now is much more of my classical training in art, with an emphasis on concept, form, material, and design. I like to think that my new work is no longer about advancing technology, using the latest greatest technologies, or discussing the theory. For me, it is now simply about poetry.

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No Cuts, No Buts, No Coconuts. Image by Patrick Flores

I have this theory: when artists first recognize that they can use digital technologies in their artwork (I include myself in this), almost all of them get seduced by this magical medium. They end up making artwork about technology itself, probably because learning the process is such an uphill battle, drawing skills from so many different non-art related disciplines. When they talk and write about the resulting art they have made, they usually focus on the fine details, embellishing on what it took to make the work, what makes it tick, and what special technology they used. Whatever concept they had takes a back seat to this conversation. I see this in my students over and over again. Even the most gifted students, who are well versed in conceptual art, buckle at the knees when they realize the potential of the medium. Soon they too are reinventing the drawing machine (to my credit, I did come up with a unique design for my drawing machine rerun), the super-cool-multi-touch data remix screen saver, or the custom built, Arduino driven, LED matrix display they could have just purchased.

However, this is a just a phase. Perhaps we can see this as the techno-puppy-love stage of electronic art. I think most artists who continue to use digital technologies in their artwork will eventually find their way to a comfort level with the medium. Once there, they can refocus their energy on the poetics and concepts of art, not the tools. Certainly you see this in the traditional mediums. When a painter first starts down his/her path, they usually lose themselves in the process, obsessed with the paints, the canvas, and that funny looking fan brush. Only after some practice and discovery do they arrive at more meaningful subjects.

I think this techno-puppy-love stage also goes for the audience of electronic art. Since the medium is very much in its infancy and many people still have trouble accepting Pop art, I can see why most of the questions are about how the thing works, not what it means. Asking what something means suggests it might be art. Asking how it works keeps it safe in gee-whiz gadget land.

With the audience the transition period from techno-puppy-love to a real relationship is much slower, probably because they aren't in the trenches with the tools. Perhaps this is why so many new media art fairs and conferences are still focused on showcasing the latest greatest technologies and less in the poetry found within it. Certainly that approach is a better marketing tool, considering that this technomasturbation is what the audience is thirsting for.

Thanks Fernando!

Fernando Orellana - At the Tone, Please Leave a Message is on view until April 1, 2011 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

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