Nice, nice. I've lost my connecting flight and now i'm stuck in Madrid Barajas waiting for the next flight to Sevilla. It's an 8 hour wait but i'm on my way to ZEMOS98 so i am still cheerful.
Anyway, gives me plenty of time to catch up with the emails and the long overdue posts. So back to New York where i was a few days ago and the Exit Art gallery. I'm still wondering how this place managed to escape my radar so far.
Until April 19 they are running a fascinating exhibition on artistic explorations of the current advancements in neurological research. The works shown in BRAINWAVE: Common Senses encourage visitors to consider the brain not only as the center of human activity but as a site for interpretation, for scientific and philosophical debates, for examining our relationship to the world - and for questioning our common sense.
I am usually not very excited by media art works which engage with the little grey cells. Blame it on the BrainBar, when i discovered it i somehow felt that had seen it all. Well, maybe not... I went to Exit Art to see Fernando Orellana and Brendan Burns' robot that "plays back dreams" which was twice as fantastic as i expected but i also discovered 2 or 3 outstanding works.
Suzanne Anker's fascinating and elegant The Butterfly in the Brain uses three-dimensional Rorschach inkblot tests, brain scans and images of butterfly wings to explores the imagery of the symmetrical (or virtually symmetrical) structures of butterflies, the brain, and chromosomes.
I somehow can't get the black hovering butterfly bat she painted on the wall out of my mind. "By taking the butterfly bat image out of a textbook, scaling it up to a large size, and putting it in a site-specific environment, one turns the image into an entirely new and other kind of affective entity," she explained.
Although the use of Rorschach inkblots is controversial in psychology, the images are widely recognized among the public.
Anker used a computer program to convert an inkblot into 3D structure so intricate they could probably not be re-created using traditional sculpture. After which a machine produces the object using plaster and resin. "Looking in 3-D," Anker argued, "one begins to assess new meanings: bones, sea creatures, body parts. These are surrogates for the imagination itself, opening up a dialog between the mind and body. What happens when you can pick up a psychology test in your hand? The mind essentially has been embodied."
She also transposed butterfly wings onto MRI scans, drawing a parallel between genetic patterns in nature and advanced imaging technologies. Like constellations in the sky, butterfly shapes may be found in neurological maps as well as charts of urban sprawl.
Windows of the Soul, asks whether or not one can read madness in another's eyes. 300 b&w mug shot photographs of mental patients, taken in the '50s when they were admitted in the hospital. The eyes of the individuals are projected on a canvas hanging from the ceiling. The rest of the face lays on the floor. Every 5 seconds, another pair of eyes and a face take their place on the split screen. Riveting and disturbing.
Dustin Wenzel's brass sculptures are brain-cavity castings of Great Whales from the New Brunswick Museum collection.
It has recently been discovered that some humpback whales have spindle neurons, a type of brain cell previously considered to exist only in dolphins, humans and other primates, which may indicate a high capacity for intelligence. Although white males possess the largest physical brain of any animals (Wenzel's castings were indeed impressively big), there is no scientific consensus about the nature, magnitude or even existence of cetacean intelligence.
And now for the gizmos:
Artificial neural networks are often used in voice recognition systems and IA research. They consist in mathematical computations that mimic the neural network patterns of the nervous system. Jamie O'Shea's Alvin is a realization of an interactive and electronic neural network constructed with physical hardware. When left alone Alvin is dormant, but if you the lay your hand on the interface provided, you will set an electronic neural-like network in motion.
Alvin is a cellular automaton organized around eight cells which produce sound. The sound one cell produces is determined by what sound the other cells are making. This interrelated input and output scheme is an artificial neural network; a simulation of a brain. The imitation of life goes even further, because Alvin's sound circuits are built and destroyed by one another, rather than just turned on or off.
The chamber where they live contains food, water and light to keep them warm but also sensors that detect the changing light patterns produced by their movements. The sensors send the light data to an on-board microcontroller, which in turn activate the motors moving the device in relation to the movements of the flies.
Oh, look! i took all those little images.
BRAINWAVE: Common Senses is on view until April 19, 2008 at Exit Art Gallery in New York. This exhibition is part of Exit Art's Unknown Territories series of exhibitions that explore the impact of scientific advances on contemporary culture and examine in particular how contemporary artists interpret and interact with the new knowledge and possibilities created by technological innovation in the 21st century.
France Cadet had showed us slides of the Hunting Trophies she was working on during the presentation she gave at De l'objet de laboratoire au sujet social (From Laboratory Object to Social Subject), a week of lectures, screenings and workshops she organized at the Ecole d'Art d'Aix en Provence (France.) That was last November and i've been looking forward to see the final result of the work ever since. That day has come, yeah!
Hunting Trophies is a collection of 11 hunting trophies hung on the wall. They feature the most frequent species used in taxidermy for the realization of wall trophies, mainly deer and cat family. Instead of being real taxidermied animals they are chests of modified I-Cybie robots.
An infrared sensor allows the robots, each in its own way, to detect the presence but also the movements of visitors.
As you approach, the robots turn their heads in your direction, their eyes light up, come too close and the robot suddenly growls. The closer you get, the more aggressive its behaviour.
If you walk fast facing the wall of trophies, a chain reaction will emerge such as a wave of protestation following your walk and manifesting their anger at having been tracked, chased, killed, cut up and exhibited as decorative icons.
After raising the side effects and dangers of cloning, eugenics, and other animal experiments in Dog[LAB]01 and Dog[LAB]02, France Cadet chose to focus on a problem which concerns each of us as, this time, we cannot pretend that scientists and directors of laboratories or factories are the sole responsible for it: the unequal consideration given to animals and humans and even between different animals species. Nobody would want to eat their pet, but most don't really care about the fact that some animals are bred for the sole purpose of making food or clothes, that others are hunt for sport, or are the subject of experiments to create unnecessary, yet safe products.
Just how far can we justify human power of life and death over animals?
The idea of the Animal-Machine has long been overtaken by the idea of a pain-feeling animal. Peter Singer argues that because animals have the ability to experience pain and suffering, they should be granted the same moral considerations as any other sentient being.
Besides, these trophies raise new issues about the robots' quality, function and integration into society: Are they different robots species? Rare species facing extinction? Are they the testimony of a future world where androids would be facing extinction? Or where they would have supplanted real animals such as in Philip K.Dick's vision? Will we need a Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist of Asimov's novels?
After all, there are already an AIBO clinic and a AIBO hospital.
In his wonderful book, Les Machines apprivoisées (Tamed Machines), Frédéric Kaplan invites us to reflect upon the place that these creatures could have one day in our society. And beyond that, will we one day be able/allowed to kill robots? With more impunity than animals? Which ones have and will have more value? More respect? More rights?
All images courtesy of France Cadet.
Using recorded brainwave activity and eye movements during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to determine robot behaviors and head positions, "Sleep Waking" acts as a way to "play-back" dreams.
I asked Fernando to give us more details about the robot:
How does Sleep Waking work exactly?
I spent a night at The Albany Regional Sleep Disorder Center in Albany, NY. There they wired me up with a variety of sensors, recording everything from EEG to EKG to eye positioning data. We then took that data and interpreted it in two ways:
The eye position data we simply apply to the position the robot's heads is looking. So if my eye was looking left, the robot looks left.
The use of the EEG data is a bit more complex. Running it through a machine learning algorithm, we identified several patterns from a sample of the data set (both REM and non-REM events). We then associated preprogrammed robot behaviors to these patterns. Using the patterns like filters, we process the entire data set, letting the robot act out each behavior as each pattern surfaces in the signal. Periods of high activity (REM) where associated with dynamic behaviors (flying, scared, etc.) and low activity with more subtle ones (gesturing, looking around, etc.). The "behaviors" the robot demonstrates are some of the actions I might do (along with everyone else) in a dream.
We also use robot vision for navigation and keeping the robot on its pedestal. This camera is mounted about three feet above the robot and it not shown in the documentation.
What do you think the robot can bring to our understanding of possible human-robot relationships?
Sleep Waking is a metaphor for a reality that could be in our future. In the piece we use a fair amount of artistic license. Though the eye positioning data is a literal interpretation, what we do with the EEG data is a bit more subjective. However, perhaps one day we will have the technology to literally allow a robot to act out what we do in our dreams. What could we learn from seeing our dreams played back for us? Will we save our dreams like we save our photographs?
Taking a wider view, robots are increasingly used to augment human experience. From robotic prosthetic devices, personalized web presences, and implanted RFID chips, technology is moving from being an externalized tool, to being a literal extension of who we are. By giving an example of and drawing attention to this process. We hope to give people the opportunity to think critically what personalized technology actually means.
Did you use an existing robot or did you build it from scratch?
We used a modified Kondo KHR-2HV humaniod robot. In the next iteration of this piece, we will be fabricating my own design for a humanoid robot.
Ever since i heard the endearing and hilarious talk of Wim Delvoye (ha! every single gesture or word from this guy screams "Belgium!") at ars electronica last September, i'm trying to follow the episodes of his Cloaca adventure.
The Casino de Luxembourg has recently held a retrospective exhibition of Delvoye's defecating machines.
The whole family was there: Cloaca Original, Cloaca - New & Improved, Cloaca Turbo, Cloaca Quattro, Cloaca N° 5, Super Cloaca and Personal Cloaca. Plus original drawings, 3D and x-ray photographs, models of Cloaca Clinic gates, videos, sealed bags of Cloaca Faeces and other paraphernalia.
The brand new 8th Cloaca, Mini Cloaca (on the left), was premiered at the Casino. The tubular structure is made of metal and glass, and composed of mechanical organs that swallow, grind, digest and defecate a given amount of food. While Super Cloaca consumes 300 kg of food and produces 80 kg of faeces per day, the quantity of food ingested by the dwarfed one is equivalent to that of a breakfast.
The idea of a mechanical reproduction of the human digestive system goes back to the Digesting Duck by 18th century engineer Jacques de Vaucanson and just like Piero Manzoni 's Merda d'artista [Artist's shit] Delvoye's machines can be regarded as an assault on the system of art.
The best part of the exhibition for me were the video extracts of tv films about Cloaca.
Favourite is an extract of "Is This Sh*t Art", an episode from the very very brilliantissimo Art Safari.
I will go to any lengths to find out if art means something. Just talking to the artist and looking at the work is never enough. The artists are usually inarticulate, or English is their second language, or they're just not very bright. None of these criticisms was true of Delvoye - but his art was so ambiguous it was impossible to work out what it meant. Was it raising up the lowly, or humbling the mighty? Was it optimistic or cynical?
In this case not only did Lewis get himself the same tattoo as one of Delvoye's pigs (video extract), he also ate the same meal as a Cloaca machine, gathered some of the product of its digestion, went to the toilet, collected some of his own faecal matter and brought the two samples to a laboratory. The scientist compared the two samples bacteriologically and found them very similar. Video:
I could not find the other videos online, except this extract from Eurotrash. Definitely not the best of what i've seen there but if you're interested in cloaca's farting problems and the solution to it...
I realized that what i liked best in Delvoye's work was not that much the work itself but to listen to Delvoye talk about it. Cloaca, he said in an interview, is not about aesthetics. Each machine is in total synchronicity with the advances of technology, there is no frivolity. Every single element you see has its function: you pour the food into the "oral" side of the machine, it is then processed by a series of mechanical organs (there is the stomach, the small intestine and the colon). Yet, Cloaca is not a commentary of science and is not either meant to be useful. The artist actually refused to sell one of his machines to a diaper company that hoped to use it for tests.
Delvoye also set himself the task to insert the products of Cloaca in the global economic system. The Casino Luxembourg had a special Wim shop where you could buy a Wim action figure but also a whole range of Cloaca products: Cloaca T-shirts, a 3D Viewmaster, Cloaca toilet paper, posters, etc. But that's just a merchandising detail: the Cloaca machines are works of art which produce works of art. On show were dozens of vacuum-packed Cloaca eliminations made during the 5 first exhibits of the machine around the world. There's apparently a waiting list of collectors eager to buy one of those, and the faeces made during the New York exhibition are the most sought-after. The matter is irradiated with gamma rays to kill bacteria, dried and vacuum-packed. After that they are packed air-tight in a plexiglass box. In 2003, they were offered for sale online. The faeces were also integrated into the company Cloaca Limited as a contribution in nature.
Cloaca X-Rayed immediately brings to mind another famous art piece by Delvoye: his X-ray views of people having sex which he then turned into stained-glass church windows. Utilizing mammograms, sonograms and MRI's in addition to standard X rays, the artist captured skinny (they had to fit inside the machines) models tongue kissing, masturbating, or doing blow jobs. The key to getting such images was to slather the models with barium powder mixed with Nivea cream in order to "illuminate" the bones during x-raying.
I give the microphone back to Ben Lewis: Delvoye's work satirises the art world, with its inflated prices and daft intellectual cul-de-sacs. Cloaca makes the ultimate criticism of modern art - that most of it is crap; that the art world has finally disappeared up its own backside. 'When I was going to art school, all my family said I was wasting my time, and now I have made a work of art about waste,' he told me happily.
My set of images.
Previously: Winners of the VIDA awards announced.
Here is a list of the Honorary Mentions of VIDA, the international competition on art & artificial life.
Human beings, animals and even machines are affected by overlooked aspects of machines: sound, movements, vibration, heat, electromagnetic waves, etc. While similar to "carebots" and companion robots, Omo draws on Kelly Dobson's ongoing Machine Therapy work revealing the psychological, social, and political dynamics between people and machines.
In their scenario, most of the time these robots are predominantly focuses on conscious behaviour. Omo is an alternative relational object which interacts with the subconscious.
Omo's role is empathic and sometimes unexpected rather than normative. It is not a perfectly behaving companion, it does not always privilege soothing but it is neurothic and surprising. Omo isn't cute, it just looks like a big green egg, it breathes and senses the breathing of anyone interacting closely with it, matching--or seeking to lead--patterns of breathing.
Sensors can pick up tiny vibrations when placed against the torso and over time the robot can develop an informed interaction.
Placed on a machine which vibrates and works in cycles (such as a washing machines), Omo will pick up the vibration and attempt to communicate with the washing machine. There is no market for machines that counsel other machines. Not yet...
Julius Popp's bit.flow. Red and transparent liquids travel through a long flexible tube. The aim of the machine is trying to understand what it is doing, developing an understanding or some sort of consciousness. By releasing the red liquid and following the flow of the information, it somehow builds up a code which is injected in the tubes and sometimes builds a pattern which it will recognize.
Once the machine is able to reproduce patterns then it has gained some kind of consciousness. It knows what will happen if it takes this or this action, which action will follow a particular decision. Once it has recognized a pattern, it sends it to a "twin machine" and asks "Can you reproduce this pattern?" However to do so the machines, though identical, have to agree on a similar language, so a back and forth negotiation has to take place to build up a common vocabulary.
Here's a video of a previous prototype:
Hibernator: Prince of the Petrified Forrest by London Fieldworks. Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist created a working animation studio in Beaconsfield's upper gallery to explore and link themes of natural animal hibernation, the cryonics movement and the myth surrounding the death of Walt Disney. The project utilised a range of video animation techniques, soundtrack, narrative, prosthetics and solar activated animatronics. The artists worked in the upper gallery to produce an animated film - Prince Of The Petrified Forest - part inspired by the seminal eco novel, Bambi by Felix Salten and Robert Ettinger's Prospect of Immortality. The 30 minute long animation was presented as a series of weekly episodes in Beaconsfield's arch space as it developed over a 7 week period. While the Disney industry was about manipulating our perception of the world, with their project, the artists invited people to come to the studio and see the making of an alternate reality.
Jed Berk's ALAVs are Autonomous Light Air Vessels which communicate the concept of connectivity among people, objects, and the environment. People can use their phones to influence the behavior of the ALAVs by starting conversations and building closer relationships with them.
The Interactive Voice Recognition system allows mobile phone users to engage in a conversation with the blimps -either the entire group or an individual, affecting both their own and the blimps' behavior.
The ALAVs have the following predefined behaviors: flocking, feeding, bread crumbs, sour milk, hide, scatter, courtship, guardian, bump, call back and the "happiness factor."
The continually evolving light sculpture allows one to see sound moving through space - at the meeting point of acoustics and optics. Using sonoluminescence, sound waves are directly converted into light inside a glass chamber filled with gas-infused liquid. After adapting to the darkness surrounding the installation, one can gradually perceive the highly detailed shapes and movements of multiple sound sources.
David Rokeby, Cloud. The kinetic installation is suspended in the Great Hall at the Ontario Science Centre. 100 elements, arranged in ten by ten grid, are rotated at slightly differing speeds by computer-controlled motors. The elements slowly shift in and out of synchronization. When the motors are just out of sync, huge waves ripple across the space. When completely in sync, the work appears almost solid then suddenly almost invisible. When far out of sync, the sculptural elements float in apparent chaos.
All images courtesy of Fundación Telefónica.
The winners of the VIDA awards have been made public this morning in Barcelona.
The many projects which have received an award over the past ten years form an inestimable and unique collection documenting the evolution of electronic art in one of its most significant aspects. Previous winners include a robot that sweats, a walking table, robotic dogs suffering from the mad cow disease, solar-powered devices which modify their own instruction code in response to environmental changes, autonomous non-violent protest agents, a Universal Whistling Machine, etc.
The Head of Fundación Telefónica, Francisco Serrano, came with some good news at the press conference:
- next year they will double the amount of money granted to the artists,
The winning projects will be exhibited at the Fundación Telefónica stand in ARCO which takes place on February 13-18 in Madrid. Coinciding with the Madrid Contemporary Art Fair, a exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of VIDA will present a selection of the past award-winning works and an International Forum will gather experts from all over the world to discuss artificial life art.
There was a presentation of the three winners this morning but a very brief mention of the honorary mentions. So i'll just dive into the DVDs and paper documentation i got this morning and get back with more details on the honorary mentions later. In the meantime, here are a few words about the 3 winners.
First prize (10.000 euros) went to Mission Eternity Sarcophagus by etoy.CORPORATION (Switzerland), a mobile cemetery tank which allows for simple re-location of the "massive body of information" remains of up to 1000 M∞ PILOTS. The interior of the SARCOPHAGUS is covered with a LED screen which displays the ARCANUM CAPSULE content and functions as a public installation wherever the TANK travels. Visitors of the SARCOPHAGUS access and interact with ARCANUM CAPSULES via their mobile phones or a web browser. The VIDA jury liked the project for the way it expresses eternal human fears in an innovative way and for the fact that death and the technologically-mediated memory of a person are intricately linked to life itself, be it artificial or not.
NoArk is an experimental vessel designed to maintain and grow "neo-life", a mass of living cells and tissues that originated from different organisms. This vessel serves as a surrogate body for a collection of living fragments which are presented alongside technologically preserved specimens of organisms. The work questions the validity of taxonomical systems. These new organisms, instead of being part of a cabinet of curiosities like it would have been the case in the 19th century, are now collected inside hospitals, research centers, labs of the biotech industry, etc. Today we get to know life by tweaking it, not by just observing it. How can we define these new categories of life?
The artistic director of the Vida awards, Daniel Canogar, explained that the work met with much discussion inside the jury. For the first time VIDA didn't give an award to a work based on electronics but on biotechnology. Yet it is still dealing with the concept of life, but in a broader sense.
The third prize (3000 euros) went to Propagaciones, a work by Leandro Núñez (Argentina) which brings John Conway's cellular automaton The Game of Life (1970) to reality. The installation counts 50 small robots placed on top of a pole and made with low-tech elements. They have similar circuits and components but they all look different. They form a kind of ballet, interacting both with visitors and between themselves by turning on their lights or spinning around. Besides, the robots are divided in 10 nodes. Each robot interact with the other robots around but their behaviour inside a given node also depends on the one shown by the other nodes.
All images courtesy of Fundación Telefónica.