Just a really quick post to tell you that if you live within a 4 hours by TGV radius from lovely Aix-en-Provence, you should head to your car or the nearest train station and visit the sixth edition of the GAMERZ festival. I had to chance to attend the opening and i can tell you it's good. Very good.

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GAMERZ festival runs until the 19th December and spreads to various cultural centers all over the city. The focus of the festival is gaming of course but the installations, performances, robots, screenings, talks and video games by 85 French and international artists also reach out to other areas where contemporary art and new technologies interact. Not strictly and solely game thus but there's always an element of entertainment. And in many cases, a critical agenda as well.

Just a few images as a teaser and i'll be back with a series of reports when i'm done sorting out all the images and information laying in and around my lapotop.

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You can visit the GAMERZ festival until the 19th December, 2010 in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival.

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Previously: Hello Process! (El proceso como paradigma - Process Becomes Paradigm)

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Leo Peschta, Der Zermesser, 2007 (image courtesy laboral)

Laboral's new exhibition, El proceso como paradigma - Process Becomes Paradigm reflects the shift in contemporary art and culture from finished, stable objects to processes. Flourishing beyond the limits imposed by the market, this is art in continuous flux and execution, that has a life of its own, that grows, changes and decays. Curated by Susanne Jaschko and Lucas Evers, El proceso como paradigma invites visitors to come back once or twice over the course of this 5 month exhibition in order to see how the works have degenerated, grown or simply evolved over time.

El proceso como paradigma is the first exhibition i have visited that had to face the chaos and hardships brought about by the eruption of that Icelandic volcano with an impossible name. Some artists couldn't attend the opening, others drove hundreds of kilometers in a car to transport their work to Gijón, some material arrived at the last minute. This adverse situation echoes only too well the underlying topic of the show. El proceso como paradigma reflects the globalized, complex world in crisis we live in. The curators quote Baudrillard who, in Impossible Exchange, wrote, "The irruption of radical uncertainty in all fields and the end of the end of the comforting universe of determinacy is not at all a negative fate, so long as uncertainty itself becomes the new rule of the game. So long as we do not seek to correct that uncertainty, by injecting new values, new certainties, but have it circulate as the basic rule."

El proceso como paradigma navigates the area that separates predictability and stability from their complete yet manageable antithesis.

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The exhibition is articulated over 6 chapters. One of the most spectacular is The Autonomous Automat: Beyond the Newtonian machine. The works in this section tirelessly perform the same task. They are imbued with an almost neurotic behaviour that recalls some of J/G. Ballard's dystopian short stories.

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Ralf Baecker, The conversation, 2009. Image courtesy Laboral

I had already been swooning over one of Ralf Baecker's previous pieces, Rechnender Raum (Calculating Space), a few months ago at the Share festival in Turin. The work he is showing at Laboral doesn't disappoint.

Part of a series of works that deconstruct the fundamentals of symbolic processes, The Conversation incorporates an analogous and a digital part that strive to adapt to each other. As the process does not have a linear program it is not obvious which part controls whom.

99 solenoids mounted in a circle carry three rubber bands (an office staple that acts here as attractors) in their center. Each magnet works autonomously and tries to adapt to the forces in the network. The aim of the system is to keep a balance of forces. By turning the machine on, a process is activated that tries to conserve its initial state by contraction and relaxation. The rubber band acts as mediator between the single solenoids. Different initial rubber-band configurations (tensions) generate different patterns in time. Constellations appear and stay until disturbances make them decay. The whole installation is immersed in a polyphonic buzz generated by the constant shifting forces of the solenoid array. The Conversation is part of a series of installations and sculptures that deconstruct the fundamentals of symbolic processes.

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Leo Peschta, Der Zermesser, 2007

Leo Peschta's Der Zermesser is an innerving and puzzling tetrahedron that is constantly searching for a way to fit its own form into the surroundings space. Each of its sides and each corners are autonomous entities that constantly communicate with each other. The four corners are capable of recognising when the object reaches the borders of the space and the six sides can control their own length and thereby change the shape of the whole object, enabling the object to move freely within the space by changing its centre of gravity and its dispersion. Der Zermesser is a pitiful creature, always on the lookout for a balance and a place it will probably never encounter. Video.

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Leo Peschta, Der Zermesser, 2007 (detail)

And then there is 400s, a machine-sculpture is specially made for the exhibition. I was glad to see that Henrik Menné (whose work i knew so far through a machine spitting glue) had lost nothing of his taste for the absurd and the obsessive.

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Henrik Menné, 400s, 2010

Over the course of the whole exhibition, 400S is patiently producing two large-scale stearin cylinder shaped objects. They will be approximately three metres high and 1,30 metres in diameter. Although closed and controlled, the system changes its immediate environment almost as much as it is sensible to the changes in the environment. The instability of the physical context is indeed what causes variations in the shapes of the slowly rising cylinders.

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Henrik Menné, 400s, 2010 (detail)

El proceso como paradigma - Process Becomes Paradigm is on view at Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón until August 30, 2010.

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Photo Gilberto Esparza

Gilberto Esparza first appeared in the radar of bloggers a couple of years ago when he started colonizing Mexico City with Urban Parasites. Made of recycled consumer goods, the small robotic creatures explore the urban space in search of any source of energy they can feed on. Under its quirky, amusing side, the project also had the objective of providing a basis for a critical exploration of the role that technology plays in cities.

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The dblt feeds on the energy that runs through electric wires. The species collects sounds in the environment and reproduces them sporadically. Photo Gilberto Esparza

Gilberto Esparza is currently showing one of his latest projects, Nomadic Plants, at Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón. Just like Urban Parasites, this new work is part of a series of experiments that aim to stimulate a critical discussion about the ambiguous forces wielded by technology.

Vegetation and microorganisms live in symbiosis inside the body of the Nomadic Plants robot. Whenever its bacteria require nourishment, the self-sufficient robot will move towards a contaminated river and 'drink' water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cell, the elements contained in the water are decomposed and turned into energy that can feed the brain circuits of the robot. The surplus is then used to create life, enabling plants to complete their own life cycle. As Gilberto wrote in our email conversation, "The nomadic plant is a portray of our own species. It also deals with the alienated transformation of this new hybrid species that fights for its survival in a deteriorated environment."

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Photo Gilberto Esparza

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Image courtesy Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre

I'll quote the artist again, this time from a text included in the press material for the exhibition:

The fact that a new species, the by-product of those alienating processes, appears -merely by coexisting- in those areas of ecological disaster represents a manifestation pointing to the serious social and environmental impacts on communities that once depended on rivers, now the source of their ailments. At this point, it is important to highlight the ambiguous potential of the transforming power of the human species, due to its ability to destroy but also to restore. For that reason, what is required is a new way of thinking, which would position us as antibodies on the planet, and a proper understanding of the importance of living in symbiosis with our planet and with all species.

Extracts from our online conversation:

When i first read about Plantas Nomadas, i  immediately thought about Archigram's Walking City because of the nomadic and self-sufficient qualities of Plantas Nomadas. But what was your actual inspiration?  Sci-fi novels and movies? Ongoing research in laboratories exploring the possibilities of microbial fuel cells in robotics?

I have been researching and building autonomous robots that can survive in urban space, stealing the energy that the city itself generates. Later on, i found online some publications about research projects using microbial fuel cell. I was immediately inspired to develop a project that would engage with the issue of pollution in rivers. I visited El Salto Jalísco, a community very affected by this problem. I was therefore interested in making it the location of the intervention.

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Drawing by Gilberto Esparza

Can you tell us which kind of plants and micro-organisms cohabit inside the body of your machine?

The microorganisms that live inside the robots are identical to the ones you can find in the river. I prefer to use the plants that used to be native to the river before it became so polluted.

How has the public reacted to your work so far? Both in Mexico and in Spain?

People liked it a lot because the project opens many doors on issues such as our relationship with nature, the thin line that separates the inert and the living and also the directions taken by scientific research which, very often, respond to the interests of the current economic system.

Thanks Gilberto!

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Image courtesy Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre

The installation at Laboral features the robot but also a video of the process of its creation, a documentary showing the robot in action in the river Santiago, El Salto, Jalisco (Mexico), a series of photos taken by the artist and computers showing the project's webpage.

Plantas Nomadas is on view at Laboral, Gijón (Spain) until June, 7, 2010.

How about more works from the Design Interactions work in progress show?

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Fashion Design by Aephie Huimi + Photography by Hitomi Yoda

Crowbot Jenny is a reclusive girl who prefers to spend time surrounded by technology and animals rather than with humans. To better communicate with the birds, she built the Crowbot. Perched on her shoulder, the crow-shaped robot can vocalize a variety of crow calls to control and converse with her bird army.

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The Crowbot: Technical Support by Louise Porter

Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!) developed the character to explore the world of animal intelligence and interactions. Placing the issues in the context of anime and manga is far from trivial as the genres frequently discuss complex topics about the future, technology and society.

Hiromi worked with two world specialists in crow intelligence, Prof. Nathan Emery and Prof. Nicola Clayton, who provided her with samples of rook calls (the ones flocking in London parks are usually 'rooks', not crows.) Hiromi then reproduced and used the calls to attract, repel and engineer the behavior of rooks in Finsbury Park and Hyde Park.


Crowbot test

Crowbot Jenny is also going to find her way in a film based on the character and the scientific research with the University of Cambridge. Finally Hiromi plans to write and perform outdoors a Crowbot Jenny song featuring crow calls - which will hopefully please the human crowd as much as the crow one.

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Illustration by Nasos (N.C.Empire)

The exhibition is on view until February 10th at the Royal College of Art in London.
Previously: The Gesundheit Radio.

More nuggets from the RCA show. This time from Design Products' edgy and inspiring Platform 13, headed by the very talented Onkar Kular and Sebastien Noel.

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Images courtesy Jen Hui Liao

Jen Hui Liao's Self-Portrait Machine is a device that takes a picture of the sitter and draws it but with the model's help. The wrists of the individual are tied to the machine and it is his or her hands that are guided to draw the lines that will eventually form the portrait.

The project started with the observation that nearly everything that surrounds us has been created by machines. Our personal identities are represented by the products of the man-machine relationship. The Self-Portrait Machine encapsulates this man-machine relationship. By co-operating with the machine, a self-portrait is generated. It is self-drawn but from an external viewpoint through controlled movement and limited possibility. Our choice of how we are represented is limited to what the machine will allow.

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Images courtesy Jen Hui Liao

The project aims to explore the cooperation process of human & machine. The designer explains: I found some the relationship between human and machine are amazing and could be horrible (like this one that shows how we human invent machines then put human inside to it to manufacture goods), The final object - A machine is a miniature of what I understand through the process of research, and the aim of the machine is to let people have a chance to feel the condensed process of how we generate our self identity from external point of view as from the society, which is a big machine we all in.

P.S. the website of Self-Portrait Machine will be on line soon, it will show more about the background research and the building process of it. I'll update this post as soon as the website is up.

Videos of the machine in action.

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Exhibition view. The designer had aligned portraits made by the machines along with portraits made by painters

The Royal College of Art Show is open every day from 11amd to 8pm until July 5, 2009.

Previously: Winners of VIDA 11.0 announced (part 1)

The second Prize of the VIDA competition was given to Performative Ecologies, a work by young artist, architect and too rare blogger Ruairi Glynn.

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Performance Ecologies © Ruairi Glynn

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Performance Ecologies © Ruairi Glynn

Performative Ecologies is made of 4 independent 'creatures' that observe the public and dance for them. At the beginning of the exhibition, the creatures are rather dumb, they have little understanding of the way to move their heads and react to visitors. The only instinct they have is 'to be looked at" so they search their environment for people. As soon as their camera has detected that someone is watching them, they start dancing in order to keep the attention on them. In the beginning, they perform randomly. As time passes however, the little machines learn which kind of dance is more successful with observers, they improve their movements and choreography. They become increasingly smart and informed.

The dancers learn and behave as individuals. In fact, they even compete with each other to get your attention. But they also form a community. When foreigners are out of the room, the dancers share what they have learnt. Just like what happens in real life, their relationships is based on mutual understanding but also on disagreement.

Glynn believes that his role is not to come up with a pre-choreographed set of 'interactions', he merely built an environment for these creatures and gave them the ability to develop their own individual personality. Instead of working on the usual action-reaction mode that characterizes many of the so-called 'interactive installations', Performative Ecologies evolves through a series of experiences that generate genuine and new information, unexpected results and multiple layers.

The third prize of the competition went to Chico MacMurtrie's Sixteen Birds.

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Sixteen Birds © Chico McMurtrie

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Sixteen Birds © Chico McMurtrie

The inflatable robotic birds extend and move their wings in a coordinated flight-like motion as they sense the presence of visitors. But beware! If people come too close and in too high a number, the birds suffocate and deflate, as if deperishing. A strong environmentalist position is already implicit in the bio-mimetic shape of the birds, and is reinforced in other features of the work. For example, in the first exhibition of Sixteen Birds, the configuration of the sculptural group as a whole suggested the flow of the local river, threatened by over-development.

Ruair Glynn made a brilliant little video about the VIDA exhibition:

The list of Honorary Mentions is full of small jewels. Here's just two of them:

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Meet the two robots of Sobra La Falta: the "dibujante" (sketcher) is in charge of drawing sketches on the floor using rubbish thrown on the floor by the audience. Dibujante collects the rubbish and arranges it on the floor to create a drawing of a stickman, a "@" symbol, or other iconic symbols. The second robot enters when the drawing is over. It's the "barredor" (sweeper) and it will diligently undo the drawing by collecting the rubbish and storing it to one side. With this work, Argentine group Proyecto Biopus questions the point of creating a work of art using technology in a country like theirs, which has to face so many social problems.

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Allison Kudla's Search for Luminosity stars six living shamrocks, arranged on a disc; an array of six lamps above, and in the center, a rotating custom optical scanner. Because it has a programmed memory, or an endogenous rhythm, the Oxalis plants open up their leaves in the morning in preparation for the sunrise. The scanner detects this movement and switches on the lamp for that plant. The plants have been prearranged such that they awaken in a clockwise sequence over 24 hours. The lighting of a lamp, based on the respective plants behavior, also switches off the lamp diametrically opposite, putting that plant to sleep. Viewers are therefore able to see in one look the plant in several periods of its cycle from fully awake to fully asleep. An ironic echo of those dreaful floral clocks found in old gardens.

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