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.

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OMO, Kelly Dobson

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...

0ajuilj90u.jpgJulius 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.


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Hibernator, London Fieldworks

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.

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ALAVS, Jed Berk

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."

Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand
's installation Camera Lucida (Light Chamber). The "sonic observatory" converts sound waves into light by means of a phenomenon called sonoluminescence.

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Camera Lucida, E.Domnitch and D.Gelfand

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.

Delicate Boundaries, by Christine Sugrue, is an interactive installation where human touch can dissolve the barrier of the computer screen.

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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.

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Cloud, David Rokeby

All images courtesy of Fundación Telefónica.

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The winners of the VIDA awards have been made public this morning in Barcelona.

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The international competition on art & artificial life, a project set up 10 years ago by Fundación Telefónica, rewards works of art produced with and commenting on artificial life technologies.

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,
- they will also create an award for a career,
- finally, FT will create a Virtual Gallery which will collect and exhibit the winning works of past and future editions.

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.

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Mission Eternity Sparcophagus

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.

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Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Noark

Second Prize (7.000 euros) went to NoArk (a work mentioned a few weeks ago), by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (Australia).

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.

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Propagaciones

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.

More in Honorary Mentions of the VIDA competition.

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My notes from Natalie Jeremijenko's talk at the New Cultural Networks conference, a one day event organized in Amsterdam by the Sandberg Institute.

Natalie decided to work in new media and techno art because the field promised new worlds, new relationships and looked like a place where social and cultural changes were possible.

Developments in technology are mostly done by the military and big corporations, they work for they own interests and what comes out of their R&D labs has unintended consequences and provides artists with opportunities to create social changes.

She showed one of her previous works which engaged with structures of participation. The project was installed in a "white box" type museum. Traditionally, explanatory texts are hanging or printed on the wall. People stand side by side to read it but never talk to each other. Most museums now have at least one audio tour. Visitors are then immersed in their own private audio space and won't talk to each other either because they simply wouldn't be able to hear each other. Her intervention was a sound installation which broadcasts the message. The sound seemed to pierce through the silence of the gallery but it also temporarily synchronized visitors, giving them more opportunities for exchange, local participation, interaction.

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HSM: The drums spin the jelly beans as workers pour in freshly made flavored and colored syrups onto the centers

How Stuff Is Made is an online visual encyclopedia started 4 years ago. It visually documents every process in the production of goods. If you wanted to transform the industry into something more sustainable which strategy would you prefer? Would your method be characterized by secrecy and non disclosure agreements? Or would you rather promote openness and communicate where are the new ideas, the good materials? If you think of what you possess and what you wear, how much can you really account for? Do you know anything about the labor conditions? Or how these products recycle once they are dumped? We are supposed to live right into the information age, we often complain of being flooded with too much information, yet we know very little when it comes to toxic activities.

For the How Stuff Is Made visual essays, each students have to make their way inside manufactories and discuss with workers, employees, designers, etc. The students document every processes, labor conditions and environmental impacts involved in the production of the good. Afterwards they list a series of suggestions to improve the manufacturing process. Making some discoveries along the way: such as Chinese workers receiving 45 cents per hour to make the American flag or Chinese fortune cookie made mostly in Chicago by Hispanics. One of the project's aims is to redirect manufacturing practices and consumer purchasing decisions toward a transparent and legible information base.

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Haul Trucks. Reminiscent of giant beetles, haul trucks wait in line to deliver their coal loads

Every students who did their assignment felt more responsible after that. They also discovered that reality is much more complex than the idea that there are just bad corporations manipulating poor innocent consumers.

Feral Robotic Dogs was inspired by the craze for interactive toys.What are robotics dogs for? What do you have to learn with interactive toys? To be interactive? We don't need them to learn how to interact.

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The FRD are dogs rescued from the dumps where the abandoned robotic dogs end up. They get an upgrade: a brain surgery, a new nose and some robust legs or wheels to go everywhere.

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Bronx: old tanks underneath the park. When you release a pack of FRD on a contaminated space, they sniff the area for traces of contamination. The media show up immediately and of course if they talk about the robot dogs they have to mention the existence of the contamination, they interview the students, etc.

Natalie showed a map of Silicon Valley which is the area with most Superfund Sites.

Ooz is zoo backwards and without cage.

We are facing a new phenomenon of urban migration. It used to be the poor from rural areas who migrated to the city in search of work in the industry. Nowadays, the animals "formally known as wild" are migrating to our cities. So it might be time to rethink our relationship with the natural system.

Several remote-controlled robotic geese let loose in various urban areas. The robotic goose interacts with the local goose population. The interface allows people to follow the birds closely and interact in ways that would not otherwise be possible. The goose drivers (or "gooser") can 'talk to' the geese through the interface, delivering prerecorded goose 'words,' their own vocal impersonations, or other sounds (such as goose flute hunting calls). Each utterance via the robotic goose triggers the camera in the robot's head to capture 2-4 seconds of video recording the responses of the animal. These video samples upload to the goosespeak database that the participants can annotate.

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Left to their own devices, the robotic geese repeat what another (real) goose has done a few moments before. It's like a big gameboy, except that the platform is your local park.

Natalie freed her robotic gooose in the ECO Park of Los Angeles. Kids came running, they wanted to play with the robotic goose too and realized in the process that they had never noticed the existence of the geese before. By tiptoeing around to see the habitat of the geese, the children saw broken shells. They did their research and discovered that if the shell was broken it was because the pesticides and fertilizers used in the park were bad for the eggs. By playing they had discovered the complexity of ecological connections. That's another difference with Gameboy, here the game is open-ended not crypted.

Together with Debra Solomon, Natalie cooked a Dinner for Geese and People with food delicious for both the goose and the humans. Natalie and Debra are working on an interspecies cookbook and are still in search of a publisher for it.

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Pasta di Larvae (image Debra Solomon)

She also designed bird operable technology. For the Whitney Biennale, the artist installed public twoilets (toilets for pigeons), the guano was collected and used for soil fertilization. She also developed perches allowing birds to communicate with humans. When the birds land on the perch they trigger a sound file that translate birds concerns into the human dialect. The messages range from "Buy some health bar (you call it bird food) and scatter it around. That's a good person!" to "It's in your interest that i am happy and healthy. Bird flu so please share your lunch with me and do not monopolize the nutritious resources."

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Ooz for the Fish communication: Fishface Sensor Array. When a fish swims underneath the buoy, the light is turned on to tell humans that the fish is in that area at that particular moment and that they can throw it some food. The same goes for the fish who knows that it is the signal: food is likely to appear.

In zoo, you'll see almost everywhere notices that say "Do not feed the animals". Why not? What we eat is good enough for us but not for them? Why can't we interact with the animals? Whether we like it or not we keep interacting with them and interfering with their life and habitat.

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Fish Restaurant interaction window

Fish restaurant where you feed the fish instead of eating fish.

New laboratory.
What if we are in the middle of a climate crisis? How can we react to global warming? What can we learn from our experience with participative media?

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We all know about global warming. Consuming less gas, closing the water tap while brushing our teeth, writing to politicians, etc. doesn't make us feel useful enough. It makes us feel impatient. But that doesn't mean that we cannot make progress. We need high standards of evidence: What works where, how and with whom? We need to concentrate our effort on our local environment.

That's how Natalie came up with her new project: a health clinic not for patients but for the environment. Impatient people would come with their environmental concerns and get our with prescriptions and advice. Prescriptions for action and referrals to relevant art, design, participatory projects, local environmental organizations, etc.

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The records of the visits and treatments would be like Facebook, they are external and shared. You can log on and create your own impatient page.

You could be prescribed a tadpole. You get one, raise it and set up a social network page for it where you can upload videos of it. Tadpole are so sensitive that we can regard them as experts in environmental pollution. PCB level in women's breast milk is the same as in the Hudson River.

The age of puberty of US girls has fallen of 3 years. A tadpole could detect the quality of the water.

Other examples of prescriptions:
Mouse live in our houses and share our diet. One of the prescriptions is a mouse trap to take blood samples from the mouse. When the animal is in the trap, the trap sends a text message on your cell phone so you can rush there, take a blood sample, have it analyzed and check if there is anything suspect in your body.

Energy return system in shoes, a spring installed in the heel of the show "returns a spring to your steps."

2 specially-developed prescription products:

0aadalighte4.jpgGreenlight (x design) addresses indoor air quality.

The solar-powered lighting product diffuses light by coupling to photosynthetic processes. Planting strategies can be specified to address particular indoor air quality issues including VOC, benzene and formaldehyde removal.

Like other prescription products this product requires a clinic appointment to introduce the design parameters involved, and the novel issues involved in distributed power production.

The second one: If we are in a climate crisis what you need is a spacestation.

Portrait of Natalie Jeremijenko by Trujillo-Paumier for GOOD magazine.

Previously: OOZ, Inc. (...for the birds), Reverse Engineers.

Aharon Ozery´s installation has peacefully invaded a big room at the Davide Gallo Gallery in Mitte, Berlin.

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The Egg Project is an extremely charming kinetic mechanical structure whose arms move big egg-like objects from one location towards another in a circular movement. Again and again. It is elegant, smooth, slightly absurd and certainly less noisy than the video would have you believe.

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The machine behaves like a mother whose delicate rubber fingers only live for the pleasure of nesting her eggs from one platform to another. The machine in its role as a care-taker reflects the ambivalent relation our culture sustains with machines which is that of suspicion and admiration. The machine' s potential of self awareness makes the human a possible anachronism. Not only does the machine simile humanity, it aspires to be more than human - a better version, which frightens us.

On view until 10th November 2007.

More images. Thanks for the tip Tikva!

Fancy more eggs?

almost certified (grade A noise for non-discerning consumers) are robotic drum machines that make music by playing an exotic range of real eggs.

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Enjoy By employs eggs sawed in half and implanted with microcontrollers and LED displays.

Myriam Laplante gave a fantastic performance during the City of Women festival (well, that's what everybody says cuz i stupidly missed it, i arrived too late and just saw the video of the event this afternoon).

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The inspiration is Brothers Grimm’s tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids. A mother goat warns her kids to be wary of the wolf and leaves the house. Enters the wolf who claims to be their mother. The kids let him in, wolf tears apart the house, finds them and eats them all except the youngest, who was hiding in the clock.

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The mother returns, sees the crime scene, looks for nasty wolf and finds him sleeping. Something is struggling inside his stomach. Mother and the son cut him open, and the other six emerge alive.

Myriam's performance Lupus in Fabula turns the image of mother the saviour into mother the destroyer of the world she herself creates. There's no woolf but three big and lovely bears sleeping on the floor. She cuts them open, disembowels them and little robot bunnies emerge from the stomach (giving a new sense of purpose to all those Chinese toys banned from the European and US market) which is really cute and endearing... Until she grabs a big hammer, goes after the bunnies in the gallery and smashes them one after the other. When i went to the gallery today, everything was neat and peaceful, all traces of the massacre had disappeared apart from a small carpet that the artist had crafted using what was left of the bear fur.

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Video and more images. The remains of the tragedy are on view until October 13 at the Moderna galerija/Mala galerija in Ljubljana.

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Please meet Boutique Vizique! Boutique Vizique is Hendrik Leper and Stijn Schiffeleers, plus a bunch of other artists or experts they invite to collaborate with them once in a while.

Stijn and Hendrik come from Ghent. If you're into new media art, creativity and design you might have heard of that small-ish Belgian city. They trained as photographer, started working mostly with video, collaborated with sound artists and are now developing interactive installations. The kind we like: playful, witty and beautifully executed.

Portrait of Boutique Vizique by Koen Broos.

You both studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. How did you end up working on interaction design, reactive installations, performances using real time live generated images and sounds?

Boutique Vizique was originally intended to be a short-term venture. A few years after we had left the Academy, we decided to collaborate on a small video project which was supposed to last for two weeks. But two weeks became three, and this summer we are celebrating our seventh year as a collective. It has been a gradual growth and looking back reveals an organic development of our practice. Originally doing mainly video work for musicians, DJ's, opera singers, actors and dancers, we slowly made the transition to a more three-dimensional approach. We both look back at those early experiments with a blush on our face, but nevertheless we were able to let things sprout out of these early, naive try-outs.

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A Dustbunny

So from the beginning, it has been like hopping from one stone to another, leaving a zigzag trail of encounters, realizations and reactions. One project lead into another and we tried to remain open to all of it. Boutique Vizique is rooted in curiosity and its exploring nature also reflects our previous wanderings. It is clear that we both like to wander and, as a result, quite often find ourselves "off-track". Last October at Matchmaking, an annual festival for electronic arts and new technology in Trondheim, we structured our lecture around the thought of 'being lost'. Supported by a quote from Rebecca Solnit's essay 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' we discussed the role of the unknown and open doors in the line of our work. We like to believe that, as artists and human beings, every time we feel lost, it gives us an opportunity to stumble upon something new. Slowly, step by step, we have mastered different tools which are not necessarily related, but always find an integration under the Boutique Vizique umbrella.

You often develop your piece with the collaboration of other people. How does the creation start? You get an idea and look for someone who has the skills that you need? Or you meet someone you'd like to work with and decide on a project together?

Throughout the years we have collaborated in various ways on a wide range of distinct projects. Some of these collaborations were pure technical and some emerged because other artists shared similar interests. Boutique Vizique germinated from a project with two DJ's and this collaborative aspect became a natural ingredient in our practice in those first years. A handful of music bands with complete different styles asked us to provide video projections for their concerts and we also worked closely with AIM Records, a small Ghent based independent label that gave us a lot of freedom in our creations.

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Os Gauchos do pelatao

To a certain level we were fine with just delivering a visually interesting backdrop, but simultaneously felt the urge to look for a more direct cross-pollination. 'Super Setup', 'Starbot Ensemble', 'Early Electronics' and 'Os Gauchos do pelatão' are four projects that grew out of the desire to come to a true collaboration where sound and video got completely interwoven. Around that time we also started working closely with other forms of performing arts and theater. We had to learn about the dynamic relation between story, performer and video; and various new ways of interaction were applied to finally come to a complete integration of all components.

A turnaround occurred at the moment we took time to convey our personal ideas independently and looked for a format that would fit our personal needs. After 3 years working in collaboration with performers we began to develop interactive installations autonomously, without any specific assignment and far away from any stage or other limitations. Following collaborations mainly arose mostly out of technical needs or the lack of certain skills. We involved other artists and engineers to create specific sections like a sound file, a printed circuit board or a piece of code.

Since then, people have been coming and going and it makes sense we will continue to work this way in the near future. After seven years we often run on autopilot mode when dealing with each other during certain stages of the development process. Having completed so many projects we understand, through a minimum of communication, where the other one wants to go and it all feels very natural that way.

You worked several times on installations for kids. What are the challenges and advantages of developing projects that are aimed to be enjoyed by children?

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Babble

Our older video and performance oriented work had been embedded with a decent amount of playfulness long before we made our first reactive sculpture. It seems that having this playful facet deeply rooted in our work made it almost inevitable not to develop projects specifically for children at some point. We never had an outspoken intention to do so, but also did not doubt a second at the moment we were asked to make a real time video choir for a children's music festival. Later on, we evaluated the pros and contras and from a brief look at the body of work following Babble, you can tell we enjoyed it. Seeing all those young faces light up every time we present our work is highly rewarding and it is this kind of appreciation that keeps us going I guess.

Challenges related to child and adult specific projects are often very similar. In fact we consciously endeavor to create installations that are intended to be enjoyed by both young and old. It is obvious that part of our plan is to awake the child in each one of us. And since play, poetry and simplicity are a constant in our work those challenges seem to overlap quite often. Any major difference probably revolves around the threshold of your interfaces. With children as a target group you cannot afford to make extreme subtle changes in your output. Everything needs to be more straightforward and responses from sensors must immediately cause an impact on the environment. Simultaneously the interface needs to induce an intuitive interaction and encourage participation without any instructions. Kids luckily do not need much of an explanation and often copy others to come to an understanding of what is going on.

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When working with children, you also might consider building everything a little stronger. The first version of our Dustbunnies, for example, got smashed under the weight of some kid, exactly two days after the opening. Five months of work only needed a 10 year old foot to flatten and short circuit every component inside of it. Funny thing is that Dustbunnies was never intended for a young audience, because otherwise we would not have created a shape that does resemble a soccer ball to such extend. We learned a lot from that experience and it is actually wonderful to have these limitations push your creativity to another level. How do you make a large swinging object that won't chop off some kids head? Try it, it's a great exercise!

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Dustbunny "fried"

Finding a satisfying balance between the experience for the child and our personal creative impulses is probably the most intriguing challenge every time we come up with a new installation. How do you create a situation that expresses your vision and simultaneously intrigues the children? You can hang big spheres in a space and project warped faces around them, but what reference does a child have to the elements you use? In order to keep the experience for everyone as open as possible, we intentionally never create a narrative. The circumstances we set up always require a certain level of communication, verbally or not, and multiple senses get stimulated at once. Every installation needs to be explored creatively and can be approached both as an individual or within a group. By steering these conditions we aspire to find a right balance for every child or at least something enjoyable for each one to be found.

The main advantage of developing installations for children is that in general they have less social boundaries. They are allowed to play and seem to connect easier with someone they don't know. It is also beautiful to see them sink into in the environment we set up and make them forget about the world around them. The greatest advantage of course is that we ourselves are still allowed to be kids. We can play as much as we want this way!

'Kontakt' and 'Stopkontakt' invite the audience to use their body as a conductor between electrical circuits. How did you get the idea to work on that piece? How did the public react to it? Did you observe any unexpected behavior?

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Image by Lies Declerck

Kontakt was conceived during workshop, called Media Knitting, at DEAF 2003, the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam. This is where we met Karmen Franinovic, who at that point was getting her Master's degree at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy. The workshop was set up so people with different tool sets could possibly connect and collaborate. Karmen was working on a custom-made pressure sensor using conductive foam and we had just received our first Teleo module. We combined both components and a bit later we were all holding hands to test how conductive our bodies actually were. Kontakt was born and we constructed a prototype version in the stairwell within the three-story building of V2. Bright orange metal plates, with hands painted on them, encouraged visitors to use their bodies and form a human chain between them. Several of these active touch points where spread throughout the space and connecting caused a set of sound and video sequences to be played. The interface required people to collectively explore the space, as it was impossible for a single visitor to make connection between the various points. Holding hands, kissing and using differently conductive objects to modulate the output all became part of the interaction. The human skin and body, mobile and unpredictable, became the sensor and the actuator of this active space.

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A few months later we were commissioned to create an installation for the Happy New Ears Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium. The location was a formerly blocked off part of the directors house in an old textile factory. The space was submerged in a gloomy atmosphere as it had been collecting dust for more then a decade. The setting itself was too impressive to ignore and we had the Kontakt concept ready to unfold. Inspired by the space, we developed Stopkontakt, meaning wall outlet in Dutch, in a very site specific format.

Four rooms and the grand central stairway got wired up, filled with touch points, speaker and data cable. As an output we picked various analogue objects, like a kitschy pendulum clock, some plastic bird flutes, a water dripping valve, an old record player and more junk.

Although the system is very simple, it remains surprising to most visitors that you can start a coffee grinder with a handshake. Questions from parents about possibly getting shocked or failing pacemakers pop up regularly. While the grown-ups look and try to figure out how it all work, the kids do not seem to bother and just go wild holding hands, feet and knees with friends, family and complete strangers.

What are you trying to achieve with Tortuga? Do you plan to develop the project further?

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Tortuga is another good example of how Boutique Vizique functions as a learning place. The technical part of it originates from a class on PCB design and microchip programming I took last year. Its circuit board is drafted to contain an ultrasonic transceiver and a Zigbee module in order to measure the distance between two objects without any other external hardware involved. From this pure technical starting point it has grown out to a personal research project and Tortuga is actually an extended prototype for a larger installation that has been put on hold for various reasons. Its concept is formed around creating several large mobile structures and the ability to move these objects throughout a space, dependent on their acceleration and their physical location. It is one of those projects that could have stayed half finished in a closet for the rest of our life, but when curator Virgil Pollit asked us to be part of a group show called 'Fertile Grounds', we decided to continue and build some iceberg structures around the already functioning mechanical basis.

000acicbeorg.jpgWhen I fantasize about the full-scale version I see some undefined objects being moved around by a group of people in a free-flowing way. The motion is smooth and will only be interrupted if a sudden push occurs or in case the objects come within a minimal distance to each other or a wall. All visitors have to collaborate to generate a fluent movement and I am into the idea of using a loud sound or earplugs to prevent the audience from communicating verbally. I guess with Tortuga I am looking for new forms of interaction and ways to provoke pleasures similar to the one I get from moving rocks in a river. The 'useless' act of relocating random objects within a limited space, knowing they will move again once you have left, fascinates me. Still, while moving river rocks might result in a sculpture or a structure, Tortuga consciously tries to avoid any logic result or outcome. Although never choreographed, it will probably end up looking more like a dance than a sculpture at certain moments. The installation becomes an engine for a performance.

Showing the first version of Tortuga in a gallery environment has taught me a few lessons. Although the exhibition resulted in some fruitful conversations and animated interactions, it certainly was too early to present this work to a larger audience. As an artist you can not expect visitors to jump right into your fantasy world. They need a grip, something that guides them through your brain. Leaving them clueless just resulted in an uncomfortable situation and my hopes for now, Tortuga is buried in our closet again. Maybe its dream will be picked up again some day.

Can you explain us what Beat Blocks is about? And what makes it particularly exciting for you?

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Beat Blocks is the result of a series of encounters with Jeff Hoefs. After I moved to San Francisco, Jeff became one of the new people in my life with whom I like to share my thoughts and dreams about physical computing. One day we decided to challenge ourselves with the design of a tangible interface that could function as a sequencer and would cost less than 300 dollars. After some initial tinkering the idea of using wooden blocks on a grid popped up and the next meeting we spend brainstorming about all possible ways to read out the different values using a relatively cheap technology. Our thoughts grew out to a project and at this point we have a functioning prototype and are in the midst of developing a second and extended version. So the way this project originated, without any request or budget from the outside world, is already pretty exciting to me.

Most fascinating about the interface is its simplicity. A wooden grid and a series of blocks form an uncomplicated interface that is completely self-explanatory. As a user you can create and manipulate a small sound loop by physically re-arranging the wooden blocks within the grid. Doing so will turn the matrix into a rhythm sequencer that operates at a 1/16 note resolution. Each block has a pattern of colored stripes representing 1/4 measures, directly indicating what kind of sequence the underlying system will play. The sequence runs in a continuous loop and a LED indicates the speed of the loop that can be changed by means of a simple slider. The direct relation between these minimal visual aspects and the instantaneously generated sound makes 'Beat Blocks' very accessible to anyone, even with little or no musical background. Since the whole system generates a MIDI output, it can be hooked up to a lot of other hardware devices.

Another exciting feature is that its unsophisticated first design can be further developed in numerous directions. The layout of the PCB allows us to connect multiple grids simultaneously and the magnetic connectors could be build into any other shape. Its flexibility enables Beat Blocks to be used for very different purposes and various situations. It could be part of an interactive museum display and so far we have plans for constructing 'Beat Blocks' both as a performance tool and as an installation. The possibilities that our basic structure offers have also seem to inspire other people. A while ago, for example, we read on a blog a comment by a visually impaired person who was wondering if the striped pattern actually could be perceived by touch. A wonderful thought and the question actually motivated us to include this facet in our next version. It also got us both excited about creating a 'Beat Blocks' blog to share our ideas and be open to suggestions for potential variations.

You are both from Belgium right? How does the country or your region support your work? Do some of your pieces get financed? Do you receive many opportunities to teach and show your work?

Continue reading the interview with Boutique Vizique.

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